Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesians

Introduction to Ephesians

The City:

Ephesus was one of the capitol cities of Asia Minor in the region that today is the nation of  Turkey.  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 (Diana) 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. 

It’s not that the idols are real nor do they represent gods that actually exist. But all false religion is inspired by and infused with the presence and power of demons. Which is why the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers (partakers) in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (I Cor. 10:19-21).

The false gods are not real but there is a demonic power and presence infusing the idolatrous worship of those false gods and that is why, 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 and trinkets of our past religious entanglements 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 Paul looked at all his former 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 — it represented their liberation from slavery to demonic forces. This was unavoidable, inevitable and absolutely necessary. As Paul said to the Corinthian Church, so he says to all churches, “What fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I  will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me’ says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

This was also economically significant. As the followers of Christ separated themselves from a demonically based economy, this massive movement away from darkness and unto Christ impacted the economy.  It is no coincidence that this produced a backlash of violence against Paul and the young church (Acts 19:23-41). 

As we said, this was unavoidable. Christ cannot be peacefully preached among idols. When demons are cast out, when lives are 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 anti-Christian 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. Not only did the Apostle Paul spend three years there (Acts 20:31) but Timothy was a bishop there and according to tradition, the Apostle John spent his last years at Ephesus.

The letter to the Ephesian church is similar to the letter to the Colossian church in the grandeur of its Christology, possibly written at about the same time. Also the bearer of both books was Tychicus (Col. 4:7,  Eph. 6:20).

Date:

The epistle was written during the time of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, probably between AD 60-62. There are several references to prison:  3:1,  4:1,  6:20.

Authorship:

Some people have denied Paul’s authorship for the following reasons:

1. They note that 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 — three years (Acts 20:31).  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, critics contend that it is unusual that he would not include any to a church with which he was so intimately connected.

b. Critics also point out 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). It might appear that Paul and the members of the church had heard of one another but had no personal contact.

However, we reject these criticisms. The impersonal nature of the letter may be explained by the fact that it was not written to specific 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, not only to believers whom he knew in Ephesus, but also to people he had never met — the general congregations of Asia Minor.  The purpose was not church business, but a deeper theological 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 is easily 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 as in some previous letters. He was a Roman prisoner 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, along with his letter to the Colossians, would become the foundation of our understanding of Jesus Christ.

We are therefore correct in rejecting these critics and accepting the traditional validation 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 Themes of Ephesians:

1. One great theme is 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 internally in soul and spirit; find in Jesus Christ alone the point of reconciliation, wholeness, integration.

In Christ, we are brought into union with God, with one another and with our own fractured being. It is in Christ that the Lord blesses us with every spiritual blessing 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 theme is the exaltation of Christ over opposing powers in the universe. Jesus Christ, 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 head over all things to the church (1:21-22). A co-theme of the exaltation of Christ is the display of His fulness in and through His church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:23).

3. A third theme is God’s mighty work of salvation in which He raised us from spiritual death to everlasting life by grace through faith (2:1-19).

4. A fourth theme 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 theme is the unity of believers in Christ in His church (4:1-16) and the holy relationship of believers which protects unity (4:17-5:21).

6. A sixth theme is relationship in the family, an institution ordained by God (5:22-6:9).

7. A seventh theme is the reality of spiritual warfare against spiritual powers and the necessity of using spiritual weapons skillfully (6:1-19). The believers in the church at Ephesus had come out of lives of demonic entanglements, had renounced the powers of darkness and as a result, found themselves in conflict with those powers. Though the members of the church were being persecuted by people, Paul wanted them to understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (6:12). It was necessary that they learn, as Paul said to the church at Corinth, that the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Cor. 10:4).

Paul also includes one of the most beautiful prayers recorded in the Bible, found in 3:14-21. It’s a prayer for the church, that we would grow in our understanding of all that God desires to do in and through us. May this be our prayer as we study this exalted, inspired book.

Study Questions

1. Just from this introduction, how would you describe the spiritual climate of Ephesus and what impact did the Gospel have there?

2. What are two themes of this book which are relevant to your life?

Ephesians 1:1-4

Ephesians 1: 1-4

Ephesians 1:1-4

1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus.”

Paul says 3 things about himself and his self revelation reveals truths about our own lives: 

1. He is an apostle. Apostolos is derived from a verb which means to send out or dispatch (apostello). An apostolos is someone who is carrying a message. The Biblical office of Apostle (capital A) no longer exists. These were twelve men who had seen and known Jesus and were called by Christ to establish His church. Paul is included because He encountered Christ in vision. But by the end of the first century the office of Apostle ceased to exist. The wall of the New Jerusalem has twelve gates and on those gates are written the names of the twelve apostles — only those twelve.

However, the gift and minstry of apostleship still exists. In Luke 9:2 Jesus sent the twelve out to minister. The verb sent is apostello but in Luke 10:1 Jesus sent out seventy others and the same verb is used — apostello. (The noun equivalent is apostolos). So there is the office of Apostle, which no longer exists. And there is the gift of apostleship, which is still in operation. 

Apostleship is the God given ability to communicate the gospel across cultural boundaries and plant churches where there are none. The modern day equivalent would be the pioneer missionary who starts and oversees the development of new churches and ministry structures where there was nothing before. Those who exercise this gift are visionaries, seeing those things which are not as though they are. The church you attend may have been begun by someone exercising an apostolic gift.  This gift manifests in more ways than merely planting new churches. Whenever the church has adopted new structures of ministry, new ideas and concepts and paradgms for ministry, new goals and vision for ministry, there has probably been some kind of apostolic gift in operation.

An apostle is sent by someone or some governing body of greater authority and to whom power and gifts are delegated by the sender. In Paul’s case, the sender is Jesus Christ and in a general 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 and so for each of us, as he reminds us, “For you have been bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:20). We are of Christ, belonging to Him. We are also from Christ — called, commissioned and sent out by Jesus with a witness about Jesus. This 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 predetermined design and call. So for each of us. We do not decide on our mission in life.  We discover it as we walk with the Lord but the decision has already been made by Jesus who said, “You did not choose Me but I chose you and appointed you” (John 15:16). 

God has purposefully designed our lives and works in us, enabling us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phlpns. 2:13). Paul reminds us in chapter two of this letter, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

1:1 Paul says 4 things about His readers.

1. They are saints: 

The word is hagios, a common New Testament word for believers.  It means holy ones, consecrated ones, called out from sin and separated unto God. Saints are not people in stained glass windows. They are the people of God as 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). 

We are saints and royal priests serving at the altars of God’s choosing. The time and place where we live 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 own priesthood encounters the high priesthood of Jesus.

Priests offer sacrifices to God and so we offer the sacrifice of our living unto the Lord. Paul exhorted the church to, “Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). 

We offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebr. 13:15). 

Priests pray and so we are intercessors for Christ’s holy church and for the harvest of the lost and broken of this world. 

Priests serve people on behalf of God and so we serve as we bless others with mercy, as we proclaim and live the Good News of the kingdom of God breaking into history. We also serve as we confront evil with truth spoken in love.

2. They are at Ephesus: 

As we said in the introduction, not all early manuscripts contain the words at Ephesus. This may have been a general epistle to the churches of that region. However, everyone reading or hearing this letter was a member of a particular church in a specific city. And so for each of us — 

though we are members of the eternal, universal church, we are assigned by God to a specific place in time and history with a particular community of disciples.  

If we believe that God directs our steps, then where we live, where we work and who we worship with is part of 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 and the kingdom of darkness but called into relationship with God in a particular time and place as children of light with other children of light. 

3. They are at Ephesus but in Christ Jesus. 

They were in the world but not of it. They were 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 was. What does it mean to be in Christ Jesus?

a. It means we are joined to Christ by faith in an intimate love relationship as Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He reminds us that we have clothed ourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). We have been brought into union, by faith, with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-5   Col. 2:12,13). We have died with Christ and are now raised in union with Him as new creations (2 Cor. 5:17   Eph. 2:5,6). 

 

b. It means that we enjoy communion with Christ daily in worship and prayer. We hear from Him in His Word and He disciples us through His Word. We receive His ministry as the Holy Spirit acts on us and in us. We enjoy communion with Christ in and through His holy church.

4. They are faithful in Christ Jesus: 

God has saved us, called us and separated us unto Himself so that we can serve Him faithfully at a particular time and place in history.  God is not asking us to be famous disciples or even successful as the world defines success but we are expected to be faithful. We are able to faithfully obey and carry out our assignments as we allow Jesus to live in us 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 shares His life with us, flows His life through us and we are able to be faithful by His empowering presence. 

1:2 “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is within the authority of a “sent one” to share these gifts of grace and peace 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). 

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 goodness over 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 grace and power of God.  

The follower of Christ enjoys peace on two levels. First, we have peace with God, an expression of His grace. In our natural state we were separated from God by our sin and under His judgment. But, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). How did God establish peace with sinners? The Lord has reconciled “all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, we have peace with God.

We also enjoy the peace 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 or on the recognition or reward of the world or 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. It is His gift to us.

We could have luxury and wealth and power but no peace. Paul was a Roman prisoner when he 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 abiding in Him and doing His will. The Psalmist reminds us, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness (feed on His 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).

Peace is a fruit, a work of the Holy Spirit within us (Gal. 5:22). The Lord, like a good gardener, will cultivate His peace within us as we abide, as we rest in Him.

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. These are also gifts which we may bestow on others. Jesus taught His apostles to speak peace to a household, upon entering (Luke 10:5). May this be our prayer for all the churches and people of God. May we speak grace and peace to our generation.

1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”

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? 

The word blessed is eulogeo from which we derive the English word eulogy — a declaration of someone’s goodness. Because God is perfectly, eternally and infinitely good in all He says and does, He alone is worthy of our greatest hymns of blessing.

We bless God as we worship Him, as the Psalmist reminds us: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits” (Ps. 103:1,2).

The Psalmist reminds us, “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 bring pleasure to God as we bless Him, as we lift up our songs of praise and our prayers of thanksgiving. But we also bless the Lord as we live lives of holy, worshipful obedience, humbly yielding our lives to Him and serving where God places us. All that we do may be done as worship unto the Lord, and therefore, as blessing to the Lord. Paul said, “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

Not only on earth but in heaven also, people and angels are committed to blessing God: “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever’” (Rev. 5:13).

2. What is it that inspires Paul’s worship? The fact that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing which can be found in heaven.  

a. Has blessed is an accomplished fact — it’s done. The blessings needed to live this life of faith are not merely a promise — they are a possession.

b. Every spiritual blessing.  Every means all that is needed to fulfill the purpose of God for our lives has been granted in Christ Jesus. James reminds us, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). 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 live this life of faith to the glory of God has been granted to us in Christ Jesus.

c. Every spiritual blessing does not merely refer to immaterial blessings in the realm of the Spirit. It refers to the Source of all blessings — the Lord God, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” All things refers to the gifting and empowerment and wisdom and purity and strength and resources needed to fulfill the Lord’s purposeful design for our lives.

b. In the heavenly places (literally, in the heavenlies): 

Paul does not mean that our blessings are in heaven and we have to go to heaven to experience or activate them. If that were true, they would be of no use to us in this life. He means that 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. 

c. In Christ: 

Our blessings do not originate in this natural order — they are located in Christ with whom we have been brought into union by faith, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (I Cor. 6:17, see also Rom. 6:4,5). The Christ who transcends this natural order, the Christ who is enthroned above all powers, both spiritual and temporal, who rules over the governments and powers in the spirit realm and those of this world; the Christ with whom we have been brought into union is the Christ in whom our blessing are located. Since the source of our blessings cannot be overcome or nullified, neither can our blessings.

Because we share the life of Christ and have been joined to Jesus in spiritual union, therefore, to be found in Christ is to possess 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). If our life is being conformed to the heart and mind of Jesus, then His desire becomes our desire and we ask and pray in agreement with His desire. As a result of this union, the blessings necessary to fulfill His desire flow into our lives and through our lives into this broken world.

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 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (In love)”

1. He chose useklegomai — means to select out of favor, kindness or love. 

The great mystery 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. We have been chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world.

The foundation of our salvation is not in us but in the mind and eternal purpose of God. In the ancient councils of eternity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit agreed and decreed that Jesus would be incarnate in human form and give Himself as a holy sacrifice for sin. Then, as Risen Lord, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, He would pursue, awaken and redeem a world of fallen human creatures. What a revelation of the loving heart of God for people! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

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, indeed, before there was a universe.  Our lives are not random circumstance. God has chosen to make us objects of His grace. Paul does not attempt to explain this choice. He only gives thanks for it.

2. Chose us 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 us and work His redeeming purpose in all who will be found in Christ. It is only in Christ that we encounter the eternal, saving grace and love of God.

How do we reconcile, on the one hand, God’s sovereign choice to redeem human beings and the human will which appears to be free to reject God’s choice? Our finite minds cannot understand this. But we believe what Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). And we believe what the Apostle Paul said, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, awakens us to the grievousness of our sin and separation from God, gifts us with the capacity to turn from our sin, gifts us with faith to believe God’s offer of grace in and through Jesus Christ. Having been awakened from spiritual sleep, having been drawn to the Father, we are free to accept reconciliation with God through faith in Christ. We are then regenerated as new creations in Christ, surrendered to His Lordship.

An anonymous hymn writer expressed this so well:

“I sought the Lord and afterwards I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me

It was not I that found, O Savior true

no, I was found of Thee  

3. Before the foundation of the world: 

God did not choose 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 as a stage upon which God is working out the drama of His glory and our salvation. The billions of brightly whirling galaxies 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 principal in this play.

God chose to set His grace upon us before time began. And in the fulness of time, Jesus was born into time and declares, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

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 redeemed sinners, transformed as new creations, will someday stand before Him, holy and blameless, and sing with all the hosts of heaven, “Worthy is the Lamb.”

b. Our consecration, our holiness 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 and blameless. 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 passive observers of God’s work in us.  We commit our lives to the active, daily discipline of holiness, though it is God who transforms us. Paul reminds us, “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” (Phlp. 2:12,13). Holiness is a cooperative effort, a partnership.

c. Holy (hagios) means consecrated, separated.  A Christian is to be separated from the world and unto God. To be hagios is to be 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 some 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 temple 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. It’s not about perfection in this life. It’s about a direction, an orientation. We are not chosen because we are holy and blameless but that we will be someday by the power and grace of God. But be assured, that someday is certain. Jude reminds us, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24,25).

Study Questions

1. Paul is writing this letter “to the saints who are at Ephesus.” What does the word saint mean and how does this apply to you? (see v. 1)

2. Paul says that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” What does it mean that God chose you before there was a universe? (see v. 4)

Ephesians 1:5-10

Ephesians 1:5-10

Ephesians 1:4b-10

1:4b,5 “(In love) He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention (good pleasure) of His will,”

1. Paul proclaims the marvelous truth that we were predestined by God to adoption as His children. Our lives are not random coincidence. We are not forgotten victims drifting helplessly on the tides of history — we are intentionally purposed beings. This is not to deny the reality that many people have been victimized and traumatized by the evil of this world but we must not fall prey to a victim mentality. Rather, we may see ourselves as God sees us — eternal beings who were chosen, destined to be adopted into the everlasting family of the Creator of the universe; chosen, destined to be redeemed, forgiven overcomers who are being transformed and set apart in Christ. 

2. The motive of God’s choosing is love — agape. Agape is not an emotion that God has, not a feeling. It is an eternal attribute of His being. It is this love which caused God to predestine us for adoption as His children. The reason for the love of God is hidden in the heart of God who knew that humanity would rebel against Him, knew that we would desecrate His creation and grieve His heart, yet from eternity chose to set His love upon us. 

3. The means or enablement of our adoption is through Jesus Christ. Through His Self-giving as the holy Substitute for sinners, we are restored to family relationship with our Creator. Though created in the image of God, created to know and worship God, created to live in union with God, humanity fell from relationship with God through sin. But the gracious plan of God, from before the foundation of the world (1:4), has always been to reconcile us to Himself, to bring us back into relationship with Himself, to adopt us as His children. It is our destiny to be members of God’s family, a destiny established before we were born, indeed, before there was a universe. The fact that God is able to bring about His choice of us without violating our will is the mystery of grace.

We must emphasize that our reconciliation with God, our adoption into His family, is only 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 the Christ who said, “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 through Jesus Christ, who testified,  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). This narrow gate of grace is wide enough to include all who turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus. It is narrow enough to exclude any who attempt to enter apart from Christ.

Because we were dead in our sins and blind to spiritual truth, we enter only as God comes to us and awakens us, as Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44) and, “No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). The Lord said through Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jere. 31:3). It is God who chose, in eternity past, to come to us and awaken us to His redeeming grace, chose to draw us to Himself and adopt us in Christ as His sons and daughters.

4. Our adoption is according to the kind intention of His will.  

Kind intentionagathos eudokeo — may be translated good pleasure or delight. It was delightful to God, pleasurable, to awaken us to His grace, reconcile us to Himself and adopt us into His family. We did not earn, achieve or in any way merit this salvation. We were not yet born when God ordained our salvation and therefore we had done nothing to deserve it. Salvation is purely an act of grace motivated by the kindness of God. God intentionally willed our salvation as an expression of His mercy and this was a source of pleasure, of delight to God.

1:6 “to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

1. Salvation and adoption are gifts of grace which glorify God and therefore, result in the praise of the glory of His grace. Indeed, the entire universe exists as a stage on which God displays His glory. The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1). The beast of the field gives Him glory (Isa. 43:20). In the wilderness of Sinai, the glory of the Lord covered Israel by day and night (Ex. 13:21,22). God fed the people with manna and the glory of the Lord was seen (Exodus 16:7). When Moses went up on the mountain to commune with God, the glory of the Lord covered the mountain (Ex. 24:15-17). In Numbers 14:10, when God poured out judgment, His glory was seen. In the fulness of time, God displayed His glory in the incarnation of Christ in human form (John 1:14, Hebr. 1:3). All that God does is for the purpose of displaying His glory.

But there is no greater display of glory than grace — the blessing and favor of God freely poured out upon undeserving sinners. There is a surpassing glory to grace and the God of this glorious grace is worthy of our praise.

2. This marvelous gift of grace which resulted in our adoption as children of God, is freely bestowed on us in Jesus the Beloved. The word which we translate freely bestowed is charitoo from the root charis, which is the New Testament word for grace. We have been graced with grace.

3. Grace was freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, in 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 is 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.

4. Jesus is the Father’s Beloved, as the Father testified,“Thou art my Son, the Beloved” (Mark 1:11; 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. In fact, Jesus prayed this on the night He was arrested, “And I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Jesus prayed that the Father’s love for the Son would be lavished on His adopted children. And so it is that the eternal, infinite, boundless love of the Father for Jesus overflows the Son into the lives of those whom the Son has redeemed by the gracious act of the Father’s will. In union with the Beloved, we are adopted into the family of the Beloved.


Really, what God has done is to open the family circle of the Trinity, qualified us through redemption to be adopted as sons and daughters and invite us to share in the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

1:7,8a “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.”

1. In Him:

Again, as with every other blessing, our redemption is to be found only in Him, in Jesus. As Peter testified, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

2. We have redemption: 

Redemption is a word used for a prisoner of war who is liberated, a condemned criminal or hostage who is released, a slave whose freedom is purchased — as when God delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. Redemption has to do with being set free from a circumstance in which we were powerless to help ourselves. For the follower of Christ, redemption refers to the reality that we have been purchased, delivered, ransomed out of our hopeless slavery to sin and to a world system characterized by corruption and death. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). But we have been set free from slavery to sin into the liberty of redeemed, adopted children of the Creator of the universe.

3. Through His blood:

The means or currency for this redemption is 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. Only a perfectly holy Christ could offer a perfectly holy sacrifice. 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 took our injustice upon Himself while we, the guilty, are pardoned of all offenses and declared to be just.  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).

4. The forgiveness of our trespasses. 

The result of redemption is that our sin, which separated us from God and from His blessings, has now been forgiven, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebr. 8:12). The all-knowing God chooses to never again recall the sin that has been dealt with by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus. 

This gift of forgiveness is entirely free, a gift of grace, yet there is nothing in the universe more costly than the free gift of God’s grace. 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.

Therefore, on the cross, Christ took our sin upon Himself and bore God’s judgment of our sin, offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. The result is the forgiveness of our trespasses. The result of this act of forgiveness is that the sin barrier which once separated us from God has been torn down and we can truly be reconciled to God and become members of God’s family.

5. According to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us:

The source of this redemption is the riches of His grace which He lavished on 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). That joy is that we would be reconciled to Him and spend eternity with Him.

b. This forgiveness has been lavished on us by a Heavenly Father who loves us more than we can measure. The word lavish — perisseuo — could be translated superabundance. This abundant outpouring of grace is an etr5ernal act. God chose us in eternity past to be recipients of His grace. In these present moments of our lives, He lavishes grace upon us and this outpouring will continue forever, as Paul reminds us later in chapter two of 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.” 


1. From eternity, God’s salvation purpose in Christ was designed in all wisdom and insight. With perfect understanding of all events that could ever take place, with no power, factor or truth hidden from His knowledge, God purposed the salvation of fallen sinners. There is nothing that can overcome this purpose for there is no opposition that was not anticipated, no puzzle that was not decoded, no depth that was not fathomed, no darkness that was not illuminated from before the beginning.

2. Again we read the motive for God’s redeeming purpose. It was His kind intention (eudokeo, good pleasure, delight) to redeem fallen humanity. Motivated purely by kindness, in the fulness of time, at just the right moment in history, at just the right place on earth, God released His grace in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It was pleasurable to God, delightful to do this.

3. And God has not hidden His purpose, rather, He has made known to us the mystery of His will. There are many secrets of the universe which our minds cannot contain and God has not revealed.  But it is God’s kind intention to make known to us the mystery of His salvation purpose, a purpose which was formed in God’s mind before time began. God’s mystery was hidden but now out of kindness has been made known to us. It is delightful to God to make known to us His will, His purpose to redeem us.

4. Notice that the revealing of this mystery is in Him, in Christ, as is every other gift, blessing and revelation of God to us. We see in Jesus — in His birth, death and resurrection, the unveiling of God’s redeeming purpose.

It is not surprising that the atheist, the secularist, the false religionists do not recognize or understand God’s salvation purpose in Christ. Paul reminds us,“A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (I Cor. 2:18). Natural man refers to someone who still lives in their old, unredeemed, Adamic nature. They cannot understand spiritual things because they are spiritually dead. Paul also reminds us that, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing (eudokeo, delightful) in Your sight” (Matt. 11:15,16). We are the infants, redeemed children of God to whom the Lord has revealed mysteries, for it was pleasing, delightful to Him.

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 reads, “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).

1. God waited for the fulness of the times to reveal the mystery of His will, waited for the world to prove its inability to heal itself before He sent the Healer; waited for the world to prove its inability to save itself before He sent the Savior. As one ancient Roman historian wrote, “We can neither endure our vices nor their remedies” (New Int. Comm., The Epistles to the Eph. and Col., p. 32). But in the fulness of time, God sent forth the divine remedy — His Son. 

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 from and toward the birth, life, death and resurrection 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 experience this salvation event.

God’s purpose is that Jesus, Son of God and second Person of the Trinity, would be born in human form, would die as a sacrificed Lamb for the sins of the world, would rise from the dead having disarmed powers and principalities of darkness, would ascend to heaven to be enthroned in majesty and would return in the fulness of God’s timing to establish His kingdom on a restored earth. At that time, the destroyer will be destroyed, evil will be put away, the kingdoms of this world will have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and all aspects of this divided, warring world will be gathered up into peaceful, just union with this risen Christ. 

Although the purpose of God was designed 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. Though He exists before time and beyond time, yet He meets us in time. Though to Him, “One day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8), yet He is sovereign over each moment of time and meets us in our moments of time.

God is moving all of time and 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 purposed fulfillment in Christ.

2. The word administration is interesting.  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, stewarding the affairs of time, history and nations, toward the fulfilling of His eternal, redeeming purpose. 

3. That purpose is simply and grandly this: the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. All things in heaven and earth will be united, gathered up in Jesus. All the threads of time, all the powers and forces of history will be gathered 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).  

In Hebrews 1:3 we read that Jesus, “upholds the universe by His Word of power” (Hebrews 1:3). That word, upholds, is the same word used of some men who were carrying to Jesus a friend who was paralyzed (Luke 5:18). The man could not move to where he wanted to be so his friends carried him, upheld him. Jesus is moving the universe toward the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose. All the many splendored blessings and manifold grace of God will be brought into union in Jesus who is, “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 unending 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, for all time and all space, is Jesus.  All things find their destined fulfillment in Jesus.  The Christ in whom the universe was created is the Christ in whom the universe will be fulfilled. Just as all things were created by, for and through Jesus, so all things will someday find their point of fulfillment and unity in Him.

The warring nations of divided humanity and the brokenness of our own being will find 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).

Remember what we read in verses 8 and 9, In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will. To us God has revealed His purpose. We are not specks on the macro-cosmic map. We are creatures unto whom the Creator of the universe has revealed mysteries.

Part of this mystery is that 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 in heaven and on earth will be placed under His authority and then He will fill all in all. He is the Alpha, the Beginning of the first pulse of light from the first star and He is the Omega, the final blaze of the final uncreated galaxy which will no longer be needed, for the New Jerusalem will have “no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).

Study Questions

1. You have been adopted into the family of God. What is the means for your adoption?

2. In the midst of all the confusion and war and tragedy of our times (or any times), what does it mean to you that God is moving all of time, history and creation toward “the summing up of all things in Christ”?

Ephesians 1:10b-14

Ephesians 1:10b-14

Ephesians 1:10b-14

1:10b,11 “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance (or “We have been made an inheritance”), having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,”

The verb form allows two possible translations.

1. We have been made an inheritance. 

This refers to a truth found throughout Scripture, that the redeemed are the Lord’s inheritance. The Lord said through Malachi of those who reverence His name, “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him” (Mal. 3:17). All who worship the Lord are His possession, His inheritance.

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). The redeemed are the Father’s love gift to His son. It’s as if God the Father asked Himself, “What can I give My Son — He owns the universe?” And then the Father said, “I’ll give Him the one thing He does not have — a Bride who will love and adore Him forever.” So in that sense, we are Christ’s inheritance, the Father’s love gift to His Son. We are also His inheritance because He purchased us by the gift of His life on Calvary, as Paul reminds us, “For you have been bought with a price” (I Cor. 6:20). 

In verse 18 of this chapter Paul prays, “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know … what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). What a marvelous thought, that we are Christ’s inheritance.

2. However, the preferred translation reads, We have obtained an inheritance. Our inheritance is so certain that Paul says, we have obtained. It’s done. All redeemed Jews and Gentiles have a personal inheritance in the eternal, universal purpose of God in Christ. Peter also reminds us that we have been redeemed, “To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4). Though much of our inheritance is in the future, reserved in heaven, the verb tense indicates something that cannot fail to happen.

Inheritance Truths

1. What do we mean by inheritance? Our inheritance includes the forgiveness of our sins, the gift of righteousness in Christ, reconciliation with God, the day by day presence and resource and blessing of God, the promise of resurrection and everlasting life with God and countless unfathomed riches of His grace lavished upon us now and throughout eternity.

2. Our inheritance is in Him, that is, in Christ.  Just 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); just as the grace that is freely bestowed on us is only in the Beloved (1:6), so again, In Him also we have obtained an inheritance. Every blessing that God has stored up for us is to be found in Jesus and is released through Him.

God predestined that Jews would be saved along with Gentiles and we would be presented holy and blameless before Him. 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. Our inheritance is not only in Christ — it is the inheritance of Christ. In Romans 6:3-5, Paul reminds us that we died and rose with Christ and that our life now is lived in union with Christ. Therefore, we are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17 ). We inherit with Christ.

4. Our inheritance is predestined.  Before the universe was created, from eternity God ordained that condemned sinners would be forgiven, redeemed, declared just and righteous in Christ through faith in His redeeming work and would stand holy and blameless before Him.

5. Our inheritance is part of the purpose of this God who works all things after the counsel of His will.  All things — every detail of history, not just salvation but all of world history — is being worked out in conformity to God’s willful design and purpose. The word works, energeo, is the word from which our English word energy is derived.  The same God who by His power created the universe, is also by His divine energy sustaining and upholding the universe, working out His redemption purpose in the history of nations and in the life of each forgiven sinner in every generation.

6. Our inheritance is everlasting, reserved and protected by the Lord. It must be everlasting, for the God who determines and provides our inheritance is eternal and works all things after the counsel of His will. Therefore the Psalmist reminds us, “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” (Ps. 33:10,11). 

Nothing can destroy the inheritance that the Lord has purposed for His redeemed. Peter reminds us that this is “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:4,5).

7. Our inheritance includes everything necessary to live out our life in Christ now. Peter reminds us, “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 1:3). 

1:12 “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”

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 to 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 and Gentiles is that we 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 and 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.

The entire universe exists as a stage on which God displays His glory. Human beings were created to behold His glory and praise His glory. The result of sin is that we were blinded to the presence of God’s glory and refused to give Him glory. But redeemed from sin and reconciled to God, we now live to the praise of His glory. 

A few hours before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Jesus desires that we will be with Him in glory so we can behold His glory and give Him glory.

So it shall be. In eternity, the redeemed will be like a million, million mirrors reflecting Christ’s glory, ablaze with His glory, living to the praise of His glory. But even now we may live to the praise of His glory. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebr. 13:15). Paul reminds us, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Not just our music and dance of praise but all of our living can be a continual thank-offering to the praise of God’s glory.

1:13,14 “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

The Gospel is the message of truth, proclaiming and revealing the truth about ourselves, our world and the true and living God. Those who believe are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Notice again the primacy of Christ: in Him we believed. Having believed in Him we were sealed in Him. 

Notice the progression:

1. We listen and believe.

In 1:4 we read the amazing truth that God chose us in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” Before the universe existed, God chose to pursue us and awaken us to His grace. God sovereignly chose to save lost sinners. But there must be a human response to God’s choice: we must listen and believe. Faith is the necessary response to grace. The Gospel inspires faith in those who listen and in fact, faith is God’s gift as we will see in 2:8. 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. 

In Romans 10:9,10, Paul reveals, “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 he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

It is necessary that we listen to the message and believe and 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).

The process is this: someone preaches, we listen and believe. God is sovereign in this process — it is God who sends the messenger, it is God who awakens us to our sin and sin’s offense. It is God who awakens us to our separation from God through sin. It is God who awakens us to the possibilities of grace and it is God who gifts us with the ability to turn from our sin and believe the good news of grace. But there is a human response required. We must be willing to listen to the message, turn from our sin by the grace of God and believe, by the grace of God.

2. Those who believe are sealed in Him (in Christ) with the Holy Spirit of promise.

The proof that we truly are redeemed is the indwelling presence of 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, which is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, authenticates the Lordship of Jesus Christ in and over our lives and identifies us as His possession, proving or attesting that we belong to God.  We are declared to be His and His authority is invested in our salvation.

3. The Holy Spirit is also God’s pledge (earnest, guarantee, down payment) 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, a foretaste or promise of the life we will someday enjoy in full union with God.  The greatest of our riches will be that we will see God as He truly is and live in perfect communion with Him.  As a guarantee of the riches of that communion, God the Holy Spirit now lives in each believer.

Though not mentioned here, the Holy Spirit also works in us to consecrate and mature us, to teach and guide us into all truth. How incredible that the same Holy Spirit who, under the Old Covenant, 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).

This phrase, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession reminds us again of God’s motive in lavishing the grace of salvation upon sinners — that we will be His possession. He created us in His image and likeness so we could know Him, have fellowship with Him, represent Him on earth, glorify Him and worship Him. And though through sin we fell from grace and severed our unity with God, He redeemed us so that we again could enter into the intimacy of relationship with Him.

In the regaining of this intimacy, we are again able to behold His glory and live, “To the praise of His glory.” In verses 4-6, Paul said that the Lord chose us in Him before the foundation of the world …  predestined us to adoption as sons … to the praise of the glory of His grace. In verses 11,12, Paul said that we have obtained an inheritance to the end that we “would be to the praise of His glory.” As each glorious aspect of the mystery of grace is revealed, we see the glory of God and the only fitting response is praise. 

Study Questions

1. Paul says, “We have obtained an inheritance.” What are some truths of that inheritance? (see v. 11).

2. What does it mean that the Holy Spirit is a seal and a pledge? (see v. 13,14).

Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15,16 “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.”

For this reason refers to all the promises and blessings which Paul has listed in the preceding verses. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (1:3), chosen in Him before the foundation of the world that we would be holy and blameless before Him (1:4), predestined to adoption in the family of God (1:5 ); blessed with redemption through His (Christ’s) blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace (1:6), blessed with inheritance in and with Christ (1:11), blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit as a seal and pledge of that inheritance (1:13,14). 

For this reason Paul gives thanks for the faith and the love which he knew existed among these saints. Their faith and love was a testimony. Our testimony is not just something we say at a church service. Our faith and our love testify of us, for good or bad. Notice that their faith in Jesus issued in love for all the saints, not just some of the saints. Faith brings us into union with Jesus and with His church and our experience of His love for us enables us to love all of His redeemed.

Paul reminds them that he does not cease giving thanks for them as he prays for them. There is a timelessness to thankful prayer and these continual, unceasing prayers of thanksgiving are an expression of his love for them.  When we love people we remember them, we 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 also 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.

Paul’s prayers are also an expression of his identification with the church. The church at Ephesus had a mandate from heaven to proclaim Christ in the midst of opposition, idolatry and paganism. Paul stood with them in their commission and their trials as he knelt with them before heaven’s altar.

1:17 “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

Paul prays for the release of specific spiritual gifts in the lives of the saints. He wants to enlarge their capacity for gift and grace and 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 heaven and earth.

Paul prayed that the Lord would give the church a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This underscores the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit based in the holy Scriptures, the word of God, 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” (Jn. 16:13) and “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (Jn. 16:14). 

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, not merely in gaining information about God, but to grow in experiential relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, the beginning of all wisdom is to know and reverence God (see Prov. 9:10). 

Paul is not saying that we need more of God. Rather, we need a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know how much of Himself God has already given us; wisdom and revelation to know how to take hold of what God has given and revealed of Himself in Christ and in His word.

Because God is Spirit, we cannot see Him and because our sin has blunted our spiritual senses,  we cannot discover Him by our own senses. We can know that there is a mighty Creator through the grandness of creation and we can know that there must be a First Cause of moral reason because of our innate consciousness of right and wrong (see Rom. 1:19,20). But we cannot know God Himself through these means. Therefore God revealed Himself to us, first through revelation to the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets and psalmists, then by incarnating Himself in human form. John said, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). 


The writer to the Hebrews proclaims that Jesus “is the radiance of His (God’s) glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebr. 1:3). Paul reminds us in that Jesus is “all the fulness of Deity in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). 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” (Col. 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, as Paul said, “We have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16). That mind is available to us as we study the Scriptures and as we listen to Godly teachers.

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. All things necessary to live the life God has called us to live are available to the believer in Christ.

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 Cor. 2:9,10,12).

Paul testifies 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 (and for us), not that we would have more of God but that they would know how much God has already freely given to us; not that we would have some unfocused mystical revelation but that we would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, that we would know the heart and mind of the Lord intimately. This is not about information — it is about communion, abiding in the Lord as He abides in us.

Wisdom to live and fulfill Christ’s purpose, arriving at new and deeper revelations of His heart, these are gifts from God, gifts which God is perfectly 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).  

The Lord has promised, “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. Jesus said, “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.

Paul prays that we would know how much of Himself God has poured out to us, that we would have wisdom and revelation to take hold of what God has already given.

1:18-20 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are 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.”

Paul continues his prayer for the church, that the eyes of our 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).  If there are no impure obstacles in our spirit, we can have insight and revelation into the things of God through fellowship with God Himself.

The enlightenment of our spiritual being is not simply a matter of receiving facts or information about God.  It is an expanding 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 now prays for three specific blessings in the lives of the saints:

1. Paul prays that we would know the hope of God’s calling on 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 to 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 (1:13,14).  

In a more general sense, we are called to partner with Jesus in the release of His ministry on earth and to that end He has gifted us in unique ways. Paul prays that we would know the fulness of God’s calling and purpose in our lives and in all creation.

The kingdom of God will someday be established across the earth. Creation will be restored in the beauty and fertility which God purposed in the beginning. Justice and peace will be the foundation of human society as Christ reigns from His throne in Jerusalem and the saints will rule and reign with Him, sharing in His inheritance. This is our blessed hope and toward this hope God calls us. Paul wants us to know the hope of God’s calling in our lives; and not just know in the sense of having a piece of information tucked away in our minds, but know as a motivating factor in the way we live this day and as we live toward that future day.

 2. Paul prays that we would know the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

Remember that an alternate translation of 1:11 is, We have been made an inheritance. 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 — He removed His robe of glory, assumed human form and gave 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, pouring out our worship on God as He pours out the riches of His grace upon us. But even now, Paul wants us to have revelation of the Lord’s rich and glorious inheritance in us. He wants us to understand this almost inexpressibly wonderful truth, that the God who created this universe and needs nothing outside of Himself, desires us as His inheritance. What dignity this attaches to our lives!

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, released toward us, 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, that we would realize, that the same power of God which was exerted in raising Christ from the dead 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 spiritual death to resurrection life, from a state of separation from God to reconciliation with God; translated us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son 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 progressive 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, “For we are His workmanship (poeima, craftsmanship), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

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 God’s purpose. It is the word from which we derive the family of English words: dynamic, dynamo, dynamite. It is used to describe the promise of God’s working in Mary, “The power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). 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) and in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. 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 Cor. 1:18  and 2:5).

“These are in accordance with 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. 1:19,20); to describe 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 power that conquers and is used in I Timothy 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 (kratos) of death.”

“Of His might” (ischus). Ischus is forcefulness, endowed 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 (ischus) 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 your strength” (Mark 12:30,33).

As we have said, Paul is not praying that we will have power — we already do. He is praying that we will know the power of God that is at work in us. In Philippians 2:13, Paul said, “For it is God who is at work (energeia) in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” In Ephesians 6:10, Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength (kratos) of His might (ischus).” In Ephesians 3:20 Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power (dunamis) that works (energeia) within us.”

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 ischus, might, which is at work in us who believe. The Lord wants to impact this world through us, wants to release His ministry, His life through us and He wants us to realize and experience the power that is at work toward us, in us and through us as we pray, as we sing and dance, as we testify with our words and our lives.

1:20-23 “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. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

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 when He raised Him (Christ) from the dead. The resurrection of Christ contains and prophesies all resurrections. It is this power that has been exercised in the lives of believers in raising us from death to life, transferring us out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God, restoring us to relationship with God, and progressively transforming us in His likeness. 

2. God revealed the greatness of His power when He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. This is the position of authority, far above all rule (rulearche — principality, magistrate) and authority (exousia — delegated jurisdiction) and power (dunamis) and dominion (kuriotes — government, lordship). Christ’s authority transcends heaven and earth, transcends all earthly and angelic governments and principalities. 

3. Far aboveevery name that is named. In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul reveals that through Christ’s humble sacrifice and triumphant resurrection, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phlpns. 2:9-11).

4. 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.

1. In His triumphant exaltation Jesus is head over all things. 

Headship denotes rulership. Though Christ’s authority is not yet visible over all things, it is still true authority. Though many people and fallen angels are in rebellion against the royal Headship of Christ, He is still Head over all. Though many men and women exercise authority with no thought of accountability to Christ, they are in fact accountable to Him. Their authority is from Christ and He can remove it when and if He chooses.

2. He is head over all things to (for) the church.

As head over all things, Jesus is Head of the church as the Good Shepherd who watches over His flock, the High Priest who prays over His flock, the Lord our Bread and our Provider, nourishing His flock. Just as the universe is held together in Christ (Col. 1:17), so is the church. The church is that gathering of people whom Christ our Redeemer has delivered from the kingdom of darkness, over whom Christ our King rules, whom Christ our Shepherd leads and blesses.

Christ’s headship of the church denotes not only leadership but also union. We have been brought into union with His death and resurrection. 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).

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).

The church is not an organization but a living organism, the body of Christ on earth in organic union with Jesus our Head. Since that is so, 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,” in the sense that Christ 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). Therefore, we share in Christ’s authority. Our authority is exercised as we pray, as we proclaim truth, as we do works of mercy, as we enthrone the living God in our praise and worship and as we live to the praise of His glory.

4. The church is, the fulness (pleroma) 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. John testified that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” and “of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn. 1:14,16). Paul said, “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete (full)” (Col. 2:9,10).

Jesus expresses, displays the fulness of His glory through His church, as He revealed as He prayed to the Father, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them” (John 17:22). 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 and purpose of Christ on earth. He fulfills the fullness of His purpose through His church. The church is to Christ as light is to the sun — He is the fulness, we shine forth His glory.

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 bridegroom cannot be fulfilled without a bride. A doctor can still be a doctor without patients, but how would he be fulfilled? A king can still be king without subjects, but he cannot 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 unfulfilled.  The church is that people whom Jesus our Deliverer delivers, over whom Jesus our King rules, whom Jesus our Head directs and in this, He expresses His fulness.  

6. In another sense, the church is the fulness of Christ in anticipation of all the universe gathered into Him. Paul has already spoken of “the summing up (or gathering) of all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). 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. Paul reminds us that spirit and flesh are often at war (Gal. 5:17) and 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 discipline, cleanse and sanctify His body on earth.  

Some thirty 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. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent,” (Rev. 3:17-19).

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 on earth (I Cor. 12:27), the “pillar and groundwork of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). As Christ in His incarnation clothed Himself with human flesh, so He continues to clothe His ministry on earth with His church.

Clement of Alexandria, 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,” (quoted by J.A. Robinson, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, quoted in The International Bible, vol. 10, p 638).

Study Questions

1. Paul wants the church to have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (of Christ). How do we gain that? (see v. 17)

2. In what ways is the church Christ’s body, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all”? (see v. 23)

Ephesians 2:1-7

Ephesians 2:1-7

Ephesians 2:1-7

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 in His likeness. Paul now expands on this truth in chapter two.

2:1 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”

1. Sin creates death by separating us from the Lord and Creator of life. Therefore sin works death in all who sin. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).  A branch separated from the vine is not in need of reformation.  It needs resurrection through reconnection. “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 who dwell earth.  

2. In what ways were we dead?  

a. Separated from God, we were dead relationally, alienated from God, dead in our capacity to know the Lord. 

b. We were dead in our spirit, unable to understand spiritual truth, as Paul reminds us, “In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  Again Paul says, “But a natural man (someone who is unredeemed) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (I Cor. 2:14).

c. Death was at work in our soul. When Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately felt shame, fear, guilt — emotions which they had never experienced before. These forces began the process of disintegration in their souls.

d. Death is also at work in our physical bodies and we will each someday succumb to that process. We are subject to the relationally, spiritually, emotionally and physically destructive influence and presence 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 designed a purposeful life for each of us.  When we are separated from God, we are separated from the life He designed for us, we miss the mark of God’s high calling which begins with knowing Him and having fellowship with Him.

4. The word which we translate trespass is paraptoma which can 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 “in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons (huios, children) of disobedience.”

Prior to our new life in Christ, 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.  The word worldkosmos — refers not merely to physical creation but more, to the values which define an age. 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 corrupt customs and values of an age 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 — ranks and governments of fallen angels, demons. The power source enabling the world to conform and control us is demonic. Behind, beneath and within the political, economic, cultural, artistic, moral structures and customs of this world is an evil, living, demonic reality which incarnates its values into human personalities who then establish and infuse those values into the governing fabric of human society.

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 so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” That god is Satan, manifesting 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 directly, usually. Certainly his rule is deadly and absolute through false religion but more subtly, 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.” Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) in the sense that 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, religious and political institutions which influence our lives. Though these institutions appear to be autonomous, sovereign and are often supremely powerful and authoritative, in fact their true power source is demonic.

4. Power of the air evokes a sense of dominion and closeness, immediacy. Paul is referring to the demonic hosts which inhabit the spiritual realm around us, “The world forces of this darkness … the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). As air envelopes us, so does the kingdom of evil. The power structures of this world breathe evil as the human body breathes air and in our fallen state, people are as intimately influenced by these powers as they are by air.

5. Satan’s presence is also referred to as, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (2:2). Though Satan can manifest through physical forms, he normally lives and works in a spiritual realm, acting upon and working in those who disobey God. Children of disobedience refers to those who do not believe in or obey God.  By virtue of their rebellion against God and resulting separation from Him, they have made themselves vulnerable to Satan’s power and influence. Satan responds by infecting and corrupting every aspect of human personality and endeavor. The root of evil is not in the institutions and structures of society and not merely in the individuals who build and shape the structures, institutions, laws and customs which define human society but in the demonic power that shapes the people who shape the world.

Notice that Satan is at workenergeo — in the children of disobedience. A related word, energeia, is used to describe the power of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus (Eph. 1:19,20). We derive the word energy from energeo. Satan energizes the disobedience of the disobedient; empowers the rebellion of the rebellious; motivates and strengthens the wickedness of the wicked. 

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, a fallen angel who has infected, corrupted and empowered other fallen angels — demonic powers, which in turn infect, corrupt and empower human beings who build the structural institutions of human society and the philosophical, political, economic and religious concepts which undergird society. Underneath the reality of evil is a living, personal fountain of demonic evil.

When people turn from God in rebellion and disobedience, they expose themselves to demonic manipulation and corruption. Demonic values are internalized and evil then works from the inside out. 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 being.” In reality, that person lives under the most terrible dictatorship and will never be free until liberated by a stronger One than the one who has bound him or her.

2:3 “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

We all formerly lived a life of sin. Because God is holy and God is love, whatever our sin, sin is an offense against 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 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 to an autonomous, rebellious way of being — life lived apart from God, as if God does not exist; life lived according to the inherited, fallen, unregenerated Adamic nature which continually sins against God. The word lusts does not refer to any particular sin but rather, a life ruled by appetite. Thew word desires refers to willful seeking. This is the self indulgent life — if it feels good, do it, have it your way, (as opposed to a sacrificial life, the self-giving life led by God’s Spirit working in and through a reawakened human spirit.) This is the life that sings, “I Did It My Way”, an early version of which Adam and Eve may have been singing as they exited the beautiful garden of Eden into a world of thorns and thistles, corruption and death.

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 our imagination are indulged, fed, satisfied.  Because there is no true God at the core of this self absorbed, self indulgent life; and because if there is no inner anchor, then that life is 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 exercising influence. 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 a sentence of judgment. (As opposed to children of God living under grace). We are children of wrath 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 — he sinned because it was his inherited 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 once lived and acted in conformity to our sin nature, grew into mature sinners, turning from God to go our own way, living as though we are autonomous beings. In that state of sinful separation from God, we were dead in trespass and sins, blind to spiritual truth (see 2 Cor. 4:4) and unwilling to even seek after God (see Rom. 3:11).

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 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,”

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 dying 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 self-fulfillment apart from God would result in our ultimate and everlasting loss of life.

Because of His great love with which He has loved us.  

Notice the adjectives: God’s mercy is rich (without measure). 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” (Rom. 5:8). “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction, reconciliation) for our sins” (I John 4:10).

Though God is love, He was under no obligation to express Himself to us in mercy. The God of all mercy is holy, righteous and offended by sin. It is we who sinned against God, we who separated ourselves from Him by our willful choices. Yet this holy God chose to extend mercy to the condemned, life to the dead. 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 “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),”

Made us alive together with Christ. 

1. We were dead in sin 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 resurrected. Salvation is to be made alive with Christ. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead raises us into new life in Christ and will sustain and energize our new life in Christ. His abundant love abolishes, cancels our love for sin and creates in us a new capacity to love. We who once were criminals against God’s grace and love are now raised by grace and love into everlasting grace and love.

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.

2. Notice again, “With (or in) Christ.”  All the blessings of salvation are located in, with and through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God offers life to those who were dead and under judgment.  

3. 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? 

Through repentance and faith in Christ, we are 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, took upon Himself divine judgment for our sin and died the death which our sin produced. 

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 sacrifice of Christ. We are forgiven of sin’s offense, redeemed from enslavement to sin and death. We are gifted with the peace of God and peace with God. We are given the promise of everlasting life with God.

2:6 “and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”

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 indicates that this has taken place, we are raised with Christ. Paul is referring to our identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, as he said to the church at Rome, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3,4). This is not a reference to water baptism but the work of the Holy Spirit whereby, at our new birth, we are immersed into intimate relationship with Christ, brought into union with His death, burial and resurrection. This union is so complete that Paul says we are raised with Christ.

We have also been seated with Jesus and again, the verb tense indicates that this has taken place — we are seated with Christ. This is not merely 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. We are no longer merely citizens of a fallen, dying world, dominated by its fallen, dying powers and values. We are citizens of heaven.

2. Seated also refers to our position under the Lordship of Jesus: “For He rescued us from the domain (jurisdiction) of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Whereas we once lived as slaves under the rule of the powers of darkness, we live now under the active, dynamic rule of Jesus.

3. Seated with Christ also refers to the union 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.

“Raised and seated with Jesus” is surely our future hope but also our present position and experience as we pray, as we worship and as we testify to the world of the transforming Gospel of God’s forgiving grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

4. “In the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” 

In the heavenlies refers again to our union with Christ — we are in Christ Jesus. It is only in a living, spiritual union with a living Savior that we can enjoy the blessings of the Christian life.

2:7 “so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

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 the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us, blessing us, gracing us in ways we have not imagined. 

3. The unfolding of God’s kindness, as with all other blessings and revelations, will be in Christ Jesus.  God created the universe through and with His Son, redeemed us through and with His Son and for all eternity will bless us through and with His Son. To be found in Jesus is to be found in the center of God’s creative, redeeming, loving activity.

Study Questions

1. What does Paul mean when he says, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins”? (see v. 1)

2. What is the motivation for God’s outpouring of grace into our lives?

Ephesians 2:8-10

Ephesians 2:8-10

Ephesians 2:8-10

God created human beings with the capacity to experience His love and love Him in return. He created us with the capacity to behold His glory and give Him glory. We were created with the capacity for intimate relationship with our Creator, drawing life and wisdom and resource and blessing from His inexhaustible supply. We were also created with a free moral will, the freedom to choose to love Him, to choose to worship Him, to choose to draw life from Him. 

This also implies the freedom to refuse to love and worship our Creator, to refuse to draw our life from Him.  The Lord in His perfect knowledge of all truth that could ever be true, knew that humanity would use our freedom to sin against Him, to separate from Him. Moved with compassion for His beloved creatures who would someday fall from grace, somewhere in eternity past the Lord our Creator determined also to be the Lord our Redeemer.

Paul revealed in chapter 1:4,5 that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and predestined to be adopted as God’s children. Before there was a universe, God chose to set His grace upon us, to pursue us and redeem us as an expression of His grace.

We read in our last lesson that as a result of our sins, death was at work in us (2:1). In what ways were we dead?  Separated from God by sin, we were dead relationally, alienated from God, dead in our capacity to know the Lord, dead spiritually, unable to understand spiritual truth, “But a natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14 ).  

Death is also at work in the human soul. When Adam and Eve sinned, they immediately experienced shame, fear, guilt, forces which began the process of disintegration in their souls. Death is also at work in our physical bodies and we will each someday succumb to that process.

Furthermore, in our separation from God, we were vulnerable to the powers of darkness which incarnate their wickedness in the minds and souls of men and women who then shape the institutions which shape the values of a society which impact our lives (2:2,3).

Paul then shared this amazing revelation: “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 up 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).

Notice the adjectives: God’s mercy is rich, His love is great.  It is God who initiates the work of salvation in our lives, motivated simply by a desire to lavish His goodness upon us. He meets us in our dying and awakens us to the possibilities of everlasting grace available in Christ.

Notice the eternal aspect of grace. God’s desire is that, In the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Even as God chose in the eternity before the foundation of the world to set His grace upon us, even as He meets us with grace and awakens us to the possibilities of grace in this life, so He has also chosen to lavish His grace upon us in the eternity that follows this life. 

2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Let’s talk about grace working through faith:

1. For by grace you have been saved.  

Grace is the undeserved, unearned, unmerited favor and blessing of God and the source of our salvation. We are saved through the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb of God, not by our own religious means. Paul reminds us in 1:7 that in Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace. The blood of Christ represents His atoning sacrifice which is the sole means of our salvation. We are not saved by any works or rituals. It is entirely through faith in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice.

God’s decision to pursue us with grace occurred long before we were born — we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Though God’s redeeming purpose was established before time began, God meets us in time and awakens us to His grace. It is entirely necessary that God takes the initiative in salvation because in our natural state we are dead to His presence and blind to His truth. 

The knowledge of salvation is communicated to us by God the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, not gained by our own intelligence or insight but through the preaching of the cross which is the power of God for salvation (I Cor. 1:22-24).  The experience of salvation — the realization of our sin and its deadly consequences, the rushing in of God’s forgiving grace, the breaking of sin's power in us, our progressive sanctification in Christ — these are worked in us by the power of God. At every step, salvation is a gift of God, a gracious expression of His grace and mercy. We cannot earn a gift. We can only receive it.

2. Through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.  

We receive this gift of salvation by grace through faith. Faith, the capacity to believe the good news of grace, is itself a gift from God, an expression of His grace as Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Philipians, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phlpns.1:29). Saving faith, the capacity to believe, is granted to us by God as an expression of His grace.

The Apostle Peter also reminds us of this in the opening words of His second epistle, “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ” ( 2 Peter 1:1). Faith is a gift of grace, to be received, not earned.

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 10:9,10,13). 

Faith to believe and confess Christ is an expression of grace. The phrase, that not of yourselves refers not only to the grace that brings us to faith, but also, faith itself. Salvation is an expression of grace, a gift of grace and saving faith — the capacity to receive the gift — is also a gift of grace. Only God can awaken spiritually dead sinners, convict us of sin, bring us to repentance, convince us of grace and plant saving faith in our heart. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). Only God can draw us to Himself.

Again Jesus said, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65). None of us can boast that we earned our salvation or deserved it. It is God who draws us to Himself and grants us faith to believe the goods news of salvation by grace.

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” (Isa. 64:6).  Our own righteousness based on our own religiousness not only does not impress God, He calls it a filthy garment. Our supposed good works earn nothing with God.  It is Christ who, expressing the grace of God, offered the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Faith to believe in Christ’s atoning sacrifice is God’s gift of 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). The word free gift is charisma from charis, which is the New Testament word for grace. 

We can never earn or purchase God’s gift of salvation. We can only refuse or receive it.  And none who receive it can boast, for not only is the gift of salvation an expression of grace, so is the faith to receive the gift. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Faith in Christ restores us to friendship with God.  Now God can work out His purposeful design in our lives. 

 

1. For we are His workmanship.  

Whereas in our separation from God we 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 and refers to a design created by an artisan.

God, the Master Artist, designed this universe as a stage on which He displays His creative glory. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and purposefully designed so that they could not only behold God’s glory but also reflect God’s glory and give Him glory. Through sin, they and we were separated from God, separated from His purposeful design and we forfeited the capacity to behold glory, reflect glory or give God glory. But now, redeemed by Christ from slavery to sin and death, we are new creations being crafted by the Lord so that we can fulfill the works, the purpose, that He ordained for us in our generation. We are God’s poem, God’s art, God’s masterpiece, a living expression of His truth, His grace, His very Being. 

To use another image, God the potter takes a life broken and ruined by sin and refashions the clay into a uniquely beautiful work of art according to His eternal design, to show forth His goodness, grace and glory. God’s restoring grace in your life and mine is an expression of His art.

2. Created in Christ Jesus.  

Notice again the phrase, in Christ Jesus. Everything that God is doing in our lives is rooted in our  union with Christ. 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.” In union with Christ, God is recreating us, crafting us. For what purpose?

3. For good works.  

We were each created for a purpose.  Your combination of talent, personality, experience, DNA, resource and opportunity has resulted in a person who is a unique, once in a universe event.  God purposed and designed our lives from eternity. However, as we said, 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 and being conformed to this world. But now reconciled to God in Christ, we are also reconciled to the plans and resources which He destined for us — particular, unique expressions of grace which will bring Him glory. 

There are works of grace God wants to release into this world through each of us. There are gifts God wants to give through each of 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 and bear the good fruit 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, as we allow the Lord to transform us, restore us, craft and conform us to Himself, we become 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 / Artisan, shaping us, conforming us, restoring and maturing us for good works.  

4. 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, designed 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 Your excellencies O Lord? What will you have me to do? These questions are answered in communion with the Lord who designed us, saves us and crafts us. God shows us what He is doing in the world as a way of inviting us to join Him. God’s revelation is God’s invitation. As we see what God is doing, our passions are aroused and passion is an invitation to good works. As we see what God is doing, our talents are discovered and the revelation of talent is an invitation to good works.

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 share His heart. We discover the purpose of God as we grow in relationship with the God who has the purpose.

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (with reverent humility) Paul said. 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” (Phlpns. 2:12,13).

Remember, the blessing that God pours out through us in this life has the potential to touch lives with eternal impact. There are ripples of blessing which can flow through us and wash against the shores of eternity.  And the reward for partnering with the Lord in these works is eternal. Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12). Inspired and encouraged by this promise, let us live the new creation that we are and fulfill the works which God prepared for us.

Study Questions

1. What does Paul mean when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”? (see v. 8)

2. What does Paul mean when he says that we are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them”? (see v. 10)

Ephesians 2:11-16

Ephesians 2:11-16

Ephesians 2:11-16

2:11,12   “Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘Uncircumcision’ by the so-called ‘Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands —remember that you were at that time 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.”

Therefore has reference to all that has been said previously. Having reviewed the marvelous outpouring of grace on our lives — though we were dead in sin the Lord raised us up by grace through faith in Christ — Paul now calls his Gentile readers to remember that at one time they were separate from Christ, as were all people because of sin. They were not only separated from Christ, they were excluded (alienated) from the commonwealth of Israel — the community of the faithful on earth — the only community on earth that had communion with God and received revelation from God. 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 the hope of a someday Deliverer from God. Even in their darkest days of rebellion against the word of God, Israel still had access to the Law and the prophets and the psalms. But most Gentiles had no access to divine revelation.

The Gentiles were also 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 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.

Further, they were without hope. Living outside the promises of God with no expectation of a Deliverer, what hope could 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. Even in their most grievous days of unfaithfulness and defeat, Israel still had the light of holy Scripture. But for those outside the revelation of Scripture, “History was a progress to nowhere,” an endless recycling of tragic, violent, chaotic events briefly interrupted by heroic acts of courage and kindness quickly consumed by the fire-storms of time, dispersing like smoke as the very memory of the hero and the lover settled into dust into ashes. 

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 the ultimate establishment of justice and peace among the nations.

They were without hope because they were without God in the world. Though they believed in a variety of gods, Gentiles had no saving knowledge of the one, true God, as the Jews did. They knew nothing of the holy history of God interacting with people. Though the knowledge of God’s existence was always available to Gentiles through the witness of conscience and through the grandness of creation (Rom. 1:19,20), Gentiles had for the most part rejected this general revelation, and so were unable to receive saving revelation, having “suppress(ed) the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18),

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21), leading to the invention of false gods and false religions which, in turn, led to complete moral corruption.

What terrible words, without God in the world.  People are alive in this violent, perverse, dangerous world, alive with all the fragile limitations of mortal human life, alive with the constant knowledge of death overtaking them at any moment, alive with their poisonous legends of false gods and the lethal entanglement of false philosophies and false religions, alive with the inevitable moral and social decay conceived by idolatrous worship — and 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 “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

1. But now in Christ Jesus.  

Reconciliation with God, as with every blessing of God’s grace, is found in Christ Jesus. Paul continually reminds us that when we surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, trusting in His atoning sacrifice for our sins and in His resurrection, we were united with His death, burial and resurrection. In union with Christ, God has raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places (2:6).

2. You who formerly were far off.

Far off refers to Gentiles who were, separate from Christ ... strangers to the covenants of promise ... having no hope and without God in the world. 

3. Have been brought near.  

The verb tense, have been brought, indicates an accomplished work. We who were aliens, strangers, separated from God, having no hope and without God in the world, have now been reconciled to our Creator through faith in Christ. In a larger sense, this refers to Jews as well as Gentiles, all who were separated from God by sin, are brought near. How?

4. By the blood of Christ.

How is this reconciliation possible?  The only instrument 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. Instead, 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). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (1:7). Now, all who place their faith in Christ, in His atonement, are brought near, reconciled to God.

This reconciling work is entirely the work of God. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10). 

2:14 “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,”

1. He Himself is our peace.  

Peace with God, peace within our own soul, peace between people — this is a gift from God which, as with all blessings and gifts from God, is found in Christ.  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. Who 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, as Paul said to the Galatian church, “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” (Gal. 3:28). This does not mean that when we come to Christ we lose our uniqueness — it is Christ who created us with such marvelous diversity of race and gift. But in union with Christ, we enter into union with one another, a new community is formed in which our distinctions no longer divide us. Someday all the universe will find its point of unity in Jesus, in whom is “the summing up of all things” (Eph. 1:10); “In whom all things consist” (Colossians 1:17).  The church is called to show the world a picture of that future union in our unity today.

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 which separated Jews and Gentiles and which separated Gentiles from the inner sanctuary wherein God had placed a representation of His presence. The verb tense for the words broke down indicates a completed action. It is done.

Although God had given to Israel distinctions of diet and custom and clothing and law and ritual, it was so that Israel could be a distinctly evangelistic people, calling the nations to righteousness. Even the Court of the Gentiles was for the purpose of evangelizing Gentiles, not excluding them. But over time, the Jews had developed a sense of superiority to Gentiles and Gentiles developed racist attitudes toward Jews. But in Jesus a new community was being formed in which the dividing walls of exclusion were broken down. How did Jesus do this?

2:15 “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity (hostility), which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace,”

The Law of commandments refers to the Law of Moses which is hostile in the sense that it reveals the truth that we are sinners, separated from God by our sin and unable to save ourselves. Our sin has established a wall of separation between sinful humanity and a holy God. However, when Jesus gave His life, His body, as a holy, atoning sacrifice for sin, He abolished the wall of hostility between redeemed humanity and God. 

1. Jesus abolished in His flesh, that is, on the cross, this hostility by offering a way of salvation apart from law and ritual. It is the way of faith in Himself, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus, in the offering of His body, abolished the Old Testament sacrificial system, the ceremonial rituals and dietary laws. They are unnecessary now. We cannot be reconciled to God by ritual or law-keeping but we can be saved through faith in Christ.

2. However, in context, Paul is not talking about the wall of separation between God and humanity. He is referring to the hostility, the separation between Jew and Gentile. Jesus abolished, by the sacrifice of His life, the wall separating Jews and Gentiles. Originally, as we have said, God purposefully separated the Jewish nation from the other people groups of the world so that He could consecrate Israel as His holy witness to the world. It was not God’s purpose to exclude the nations from His salvation but to invite them in through the witness of a holy, covenant people. And as we have said, the separation of the Gentile court from the inner court was God’s way of inviting Gentiles into the temple so that they could be introduced to the knowledge of God. But as the centuries passed, the rituals, laws and taboos of the Old Covenant fostered a sense of moral superiority among Jews and anti-Semitism among many non-Jews. The middle wall in the temple which separated Jews and Gentiles became a symbol, not of invitation, but of division.

But Jesus abolished the wall separating Jew from Gentile 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.  

There were two Greek words for new.  Neo means 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 (kainos) creature, the old things passed away; behold, new (kainos) things have come,” (2 Cor. 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,” (Rev. 21:1). Kainos is that which God creates, “Behold, I make all things new (Rev 21:5).

As we have said, we are not new in the sense that the distinctiveness of race and culture are blotted out.  It is not that Gentiles cease to be Gentiles or a Jew ceases to be a Jew.  It is not that all ethnic groups lose their God-created uniqueness.  But all believers in all nations become new creations in Christ and in Christ, new creations form a new community in which Christ has abolished the walls of bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred. This is not to say that these demonic poisons no longer exist. They surely do in this corrupt world but whoever brings them into Christ’s church is sinning against Christ, His cross and His holy church.

The church is a new, kainos community comprised of new, kainos 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). Again, it’s not that we lose our uniqueness as a Jew or Gentile, man or woman but rather, all inequality has been erased. 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” (Col. 3:10,11).

3. Thus establishing peace.

True peace between humanity and God, true peace in our own soul and among the people groups of the world is not established through religious ritual, military might or political process. But in this new community of faith where Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, men and women, all ethnicities meet as new creations in Christ — there, at peace with God and at peace with our own being, we find peace with one another.

2:16 “and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” 

Through the cross, that is, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, we have not only been reconciled to God as individuals but reconciled to God as one body. Our reconciliation with God is not only personal but also corporate. Jew and Gentile, and indeed, all racial groups, are reconciled to God as reconciled members of His church. We cannot separate personal reconciliation to God and reconciliation to one another. 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” (Rev. 7:9) 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 between God and humanity and also put to death the hostility, the bitter poisons of racial, national and cultural bigotry between all people and nations who come together through faith in Christ. 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 Jesus 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 —new creations comprising the body of Christ on earth. 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 Cor. 12:12,27).

Yet in spite of Jesus’ prayers and the Paul’s admonition, how often we see the fragmenting of the body of Christ. The boiling hatred and violence of the world seep into the church and create 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 desire to know Him and to make Him known, our common repentance of sin and submission in faith to His Lordship over our lives and over His holy church. 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.

The Law of the Old Covenant showed us the distance between sinful humanity 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, Jews have been brought near to Gentiles, humanity brought near to God, nations brought into a new community by the blood of Christ.

Only one Peacemaker could pull down these barriers and Christ Himself is our peace and the instrument for reconciliation is His cross.  Justice and mercy, Jew and Gentile, God and humanity embrace at the cross. The body of Jesus, offered as the holy Sacrifice for humanity, is the point of universal 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 (I Cor. 4:9). 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.

Study Questions

1. Who or what is our point of unity in the church? (see v. 14)

2. What is the means for our reconciliation?

Ephesians 2:17-22

Ephesians 2:17-22

Ephesians 2:17-22

In the previous verses, Paul shared how we Gentiles, “Who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13). Further, the Lord has broken down “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile (2:15), reconciling not only Jew and Gentile but all people groups in Christ.

2:17 “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near”

Christ came and preached peace to those who were far away — the Gentiles, who were living outside covenant relationship with God and without the revelation of Scripture — and to those who were near — the Jews, who were living in covenant relationship with God and who did have the light of holy Scripture but were, nevertheless, alienated from God through sin. 

The word preach has to do with the announcing of Good News. It is Good News that though we were once separated from God by our sin, dead in sin and are by nature children of judgment (2:1-3), we now are at peace with God through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. In Christ, we are forgiven, reborn and reconciled to God. We are at peace with God. 

We also experince the peace of God in our own being. The disintegrating power of sin has been broken and we are now experiencing the transforming process of holiness and wholeness as we allow the Holy Spirit to apply the dynamic word of God to our souls. We also have entered a new community wherein we are at peace with our brothers and sisters from every tribe and nation.

We have been reconciled to God through faith in the blood of Christ, faith which was produced in us as we listened to the preaching of the Gospel message. Sent out by Christ, the original proclaimer of this Good News, a thousand, thousand messengers have gone forth with the glad tidings. Truly, as Isaiah said, how beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News, proclaiming peace (Isaiah 52:7).

2:18 “for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”

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 from top to bottom, 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 reconciled 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, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near …” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

“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).

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. 

It is the sacrifice of Christ that opens the way and the Holy Spirit is like the court official who guides us through that way and into the presence of the king. Our access is through the blood of Christ but mediated by the Holy Spirit. 

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and convinces us of righteousness, as Jesus said, “And He (the Holy Spirit), when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:7-11). As we hear or read the Word of God, the Holy Spirit takes that Word and applies it to our hearts, shows us our sin, our resulting separation from God, the judgment that comes upon us because of our sin and the possibility of forgiveness, cleansing and righteous standing before God through faith in Christ’s atonement. 

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.

It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to turn from our sin and who gifts us with faith. The Spirit makes the atonement a reality, brings us to a true experience of the truth that, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Once we are redeemed, the Holy Spirit dwells in us, enabling continual fellowship with God. Paul reminds 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).  

Having mediated our reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and having come to live in us, the Holy Spirit continues to give us access to the mind and heart of the Father and of Jesus, “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 indwelling Holy Spirit continually gives us access to the purpose of God for our lives, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us access to a continued awareness of and confidence in the reality that we are 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” (Rom. 8:16,17). 

2:19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,”

The new status of Gentile believers is that we are no longer strangers and aliens (foreigners), separated from God, with no rights of citizenship in the kingdom of grace.

1. Now Jews and Gentiles are fellow citizens with all the saints, members in full standing. There are no second class citizens, aliens or strangers in the kingdom of God. Whether we once were far or near, all were outside the covenant of grace but now all who have confessed Christ are participating members of the “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (I Peter 2:9).  

2. We are members of the household of God, adopted into God’s family. A household is 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 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 corporately 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 said, “The one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (Luke 22:26). In Christ’s 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 “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,”

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). This is a sure foundation, established. But the foundation is not the mere flesh and blood lives of the apostles and prophets. Rather, it is the revealed, inspired Word of God which they preached and wrote, that word which proclaimed and glorified Jesus.

2. Jesus is the corner stone upon which the church is built. He said to Simon Peter, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). That rock is not Peter himself but the revelation given to him of Christ the Son of God and Christ the Messiah. This is the foundation stone upon which the church is built — Jesus Christ.

A recurring theme of Paul in this epistle is that Christ is the beginning and the end, the foundation and the completion, the origin and the point of fulfillment, the cornerstone and capstone for the church and all the universe and all of history: “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 have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16,17). Christ is the beginning and also the end, all things will someday be summed up in Him (Eph. 1:10).

2:21 “in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.”

1. The church is a building being fitted together it is still under construction, new members are being added each day. Peter reminds us, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). Jesus is building His church day by day, stone by stone but He is the unifying power in the church — in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing. 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, Col. 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 stone 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.

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 Cor. 12:27). We are living stones built upon a living cornerstone (I Peter 2:4,5). These are pictures of an organism, a living thing. Only God can fit such a complex organism together, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (I Cor. 12:18).  Jesus, as “head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18), is able to fit His church together.

2. 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.

This is why Paul exhorts us, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15,16). By the way, this is how we measure church growth — not by butts in the pews or bucks in the plate — it is by the growth of the individual parts leading to the growth of the body.

The most important task of church leadership is to hear from Jesus and speaking the truth in love, communicate His word and His direction to His church, in order that the whole structure may remain rightly fitted and growing together 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 ).

3. 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 together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

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, “I brought you to Myself” He said (Ex. 19:4).  

God 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 — the apostles and prophets who were built on the cornerstone of Christ. The foundation is complete, whereas in verse 22, we are being built. The building is unfinished, not yet perfected, ongoing. New living stones are being added day by day and each stone is being crafted for eternal fitness.

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); but rather, “We are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 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 joined to other living stones built onto the living 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 will be someday but are now only in part — the New Jerusalem.

Unredeemed humanity builds temples and towers, castles and kingdoms, mega empires of glass and steel.  Redeemed humanity can even build cathedrals and denominational organizations.  But only Jesus Christ can build His 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 the what the kingdom of God will look like someday.

In Christ the whole building 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 holy dwelling of God in the Spirit is not a habitation of concrete and steel, doctrines and denominational governments. It is a Spirit-birthed, Spirit-filled sanctuary comprised 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” (Matt. 16:16). To that confession of God’s revelation Jesus still responds, as He did to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

We are reminded of another building begun long ago on the plains of Babel, by which its builders aspired to reach to the heavens with their idolatrous, humanistic, God-denying dreams (Genesis 11:1-9).  The project was frustrated by the Lord Himself and the builders dispersed in confusion. But God is building a temple in the very lives of the sons and daughters of the fools of Babylon, lives now redeemed and consecrated in Christ, a temple which will stretch to the heavens and beyond, which though built in time will endure through eternity. 

It is a temple comprised of every tribe and tongue and people and nation redeemed through faith in the atoning blood of Christ. 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 and truth 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.

Study Questions

1. Who or what is our point of unity in the church?

2. What does it mean that the church is a dwelling place of God? (see v. 21, 22)

Ephesians 3:1-13

Ephesians Chapter 3:1-13

Ephesians 3:1-13

3:1 “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles —“

For this reason refers to the previous revelation that in Christ we who formerly were far off

(Gentiles) and those who were near (Jews) have been reconciled to God and to one another in Christ, that we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father and that we are both being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:13-22).

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. The Lord Jesus 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. Paul’s incarceration in Rome was actually a means for the Gospel to be advanced even among Caesar’s own guard (Phlpn. 1:13). 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” (Philpns. 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” (Matt. 20:28).  

We have been delivered from slavery to sin and death 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 is released to all who will receive it. He is able to transform any circumstance, any instrument or strategy of darkness, if our lives are surrendered to Him.  

Paul allowed Jesus to transform his prison into a continuation of God’s plan for his life. He said, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 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 allow 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 prisoner to the various powers that rule economies and societies. You are not a prisoner to your past, to whatever trauma or abuse you may have suffered. You are a prisoner of Christ and therefore, you are always free.

In his letter to the Roman church, Paul said, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3-5).


When we surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit baptized us / immersed us into union with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Our old Adamic nature was put away and we are now new creations, as Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). You are a new creation in Christ and therefore, you are always and everywhere free.

We might even say that what happens to us in life is not nearly so determinative as how we regard those events and circumstances. Perspective determines response. It is not that we always understand the Lord’s purposeful design but we believe by faith that there is a purpose. So, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7 ), believing that even when hard things happen, even when the wickedness and violence and depravity of the world touches our own lives, we still believe that somehow, our God is able to make “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

3:2 “if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;”

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 poured out upon 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 and share 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 do not even own our own lives or time or resources. We are stewards of that which God owns.

2. Paul says that the stewardship of God’s grace ... was given to me for you. Grace to believe and be saved was given to Paul by the Lord. Grace to preach the message of grace was given to Paul. So with each of us. We are gifted with grace for salvation, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Now 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, not grace warehouses. 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? In fact, we have been commissioned as gifted stewards of grace, as the Apostle Peter reminds us, “As each one has received a special gift (charisma), employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace (charis) of God” (I Peter 4:10).

3:3 “that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.”

God had granted Paul revelation of the mystery. So many grand mysteries had been revealed to Paul which he then shared in this epistle — that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4); that though we were dead in our sins, we have been made alive together with Christ (2:1-5); but especially that Gentiles have been brought near to God and with believing Jews are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:22).

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 trauma 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 “By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,”

It’s not that previous generations did not have access to the mystery of Christ — that Gentiles would be included in the covenant of salvation. But this revelation was not clearly understood until New Testament times. The verb made known, ginosko, means to perceive, understand, recognize. The truth was available but not understood.

For instance, the Lord had said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). But it is the Apostle Paul who interpreted this, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you’” (Gal. 3:8).

In the Messianic passage in Isaiah 49, God speaks to His servant (the Messiah), “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6). Again, this was not understood by previous generations; there was a deeply rooted bias in Israel that resisted the idea that salvation would be offered to Gentile nations. However, when Paul was rejected by some in the Jewish synagogue of Perga, he quoted this passage from Isaiah as justification for taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46,47).

That which was not understood and was rejected by previous generations was being revealed to apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit. As we have said, the mystery referred to by 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 and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  

Consider the mystery, that believing Gentiles are fellow heirs and stand to inherit with believing Jews the riches of inheritance in Christ. Gentiles who once were separate from Christ, excluded … strangers to the covenants … having no hope and without God are now fellow members of the body, the household of God, the church of the living God. Gentiles are also now fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. All the promises of God available through Christ are accessible to believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

This revealed mystery 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 Cor. 5:19).  It is Good News that, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt. 19:10).  It is Good News that, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 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” (Gal. 3:28).

3:7 “of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.”

1. Paul was made a minister (diakonos, servant) of this Good News. 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 and servant love, are entirely from God. But this is what God has done — all the redeemed are called and sent by God as servants, minsters of the Good News. Though we all have different giftings, we are all able in some way to share the gospel.

2. Paul was made a minister according to the gift (dorea) of God’s grace (charis). The ministry of grace is a gift of grace. The saving grace that was lavished upon Paul in Christ also included the calling and the capacity to proclaim grace. So for each of us.

3. This gift of ministry was given according to the working (energeia) of His power (dunamis). We are effective stewards or ministers of God’s grace only as God empowers us, energizes us. Remember Paul’s prayer in chapter one, 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, which is at work in 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. 

We must emphasize the linkage between servant calling and the power God gives to serve. When we no longer see ourselves as servant / ministers, when we become boastful of our giftings or our place or our position, God will withdraw His power. 

3:8 “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,”

Though Paul was an apostle, he considered himself to be the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God (I Cor. 15:8). But more than this, he considered himself the very least of all saints. Saint is one of the New Testament words for the followers of Jesus. It refers to those set apart by God for His purposes in salvation and holy service. Paul’s humility is such that he considered himself to be not only least among the apostles but least among all the followers of Christ.

But grace was given to Paul (as 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. This is what Paul was called to share with the Gentiles and what we also are called to share.

Notice that it is the riches of Christ that we are called to share. 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). For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete (or in Him you have been filled up) (Col. 2:9,10). Indeed, Moses 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 are ministers of grace, servants of the treasures and riches of grace which God has poured out upon us in Christ.

3:9 “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;”

It was given to Paul to bring to light  the administration (stewardship) of 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 be a good steward of the light, to preach in such a way as to enable all people 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 all 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 grace 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 “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”

In sharing the gospel of grace with the world, we are also revealing the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. Manifold wisdom suggests a design, a purpose of glorious beauty and variety. In fact, some commentators translate manifold as many colored — the many colored wisdom of God.  And how truly glorious is God’s wisdom, that humanity would be created with a capacity to know and worship Him. And though we were also created with the freedom to reject and grieve Him, how glorious is God’s wise 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 while we ran from Him, awaken us while we were indifferent to Him, 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 angels, 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 (Eph. 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 (Eph. 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 …made a public display of them … triumphed over them on the cross (Col. 2:15).

Because we have been raised with Christ and seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph. 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 established on the foundation of apostles and prophets, 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 and His grace.  

By the way, what’s playing at your church?  Is the glorious wisdom 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?

3:11 “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,”

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 grace through Jesus and through His redeemed church and all of history moves toward the fulfilling of this glorious purpose. 

God reveals His glorious wisdom in sending a Savior who died an atoning death for lost sinners, in raising Christ from the dead, in loving lost sinners and in raising us from spiritual death to everlasting life in reconciled fellowship with Himself. Now God reveals His glorious wisdom through the church as we proclaim the Good News with our words, our praise and our unity.   

3:12 “in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”

Every believer lives in union with Christ and through our faith-union in Jesus we are translated into the Kingdom of God and with bold confidence we enter into the very presence of God. In Christ 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 (Hebr. 4:16).

The New Covenant cancels the shame produced by 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 I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.”

Therefore — because of the great privilege extended to Paul as a steward of God’s grace, because of his insight into the mystery of Christ and Christ’s calling to proclaim the many colored, unfathomable riches of Christ — don't lose heart at my tribulation. Why Paul? Because his trials and sufferings are for their glory and for their good.

We might extend this to say, “Don’t lose heart at any tribulation.” Our trials for the sake of Christ display the glory of God.  How do your trials glorify God? Because in our suffering we call on God, look to God, trust in His promises and power and grace and this display of faith brings Him glory. In our weariness we rest in the Lord and our perseverance brings Him glory. In our weakness we rely on His strength and this brings Him glory.

Further, the holy angels see the perseverance of the saints and they give glory to God. Fallen angels see this and realize their doom is sure and this also brings glory to God.

Study Questions

1. What does it mean that we are stewards of grace? (see v. 2)

2. What does Paul mean when he says that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places? (see v. 10)

Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14--21

Ephesians 3:14-21

3:14 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,”

For this reason repeats the opening words of this chapter and refers to the wonderful truths revealed in chapter 2:

1. Sinners, born under judgment, have been raised from spiritual death into new life in Christ by grace through faith and are now His workmanship, being crafted for the good works which God has prepared for us (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 through the cross of Christ and are now one new man (2:14-17).

4. Through Christ, Jew and Gentile 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, a God whom he knows in intimate, family terms, a Father to whom we have been reconciled through the cross (2:16), a Father to whom we have access through Christ (2:18). And though we have been reconciled to this God, Paul does not presume to approach carelessly or irreverently. He 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 on earth derives its name,”

In Acts 17:26 Paul says that God, Made from one man 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 and on earth. He is referring to the redeemed family of God because there are no unbelievers in heaven. All humanity can refer to God as Father in the sense of God the Creator of all, but only the redeemed can refer to God as Father in a personal or relational sense.  

Jesus said to those who were rejecting Him, You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father (John 8:44). Obviously the devil has not personally brought about the creation of any people but he is the spiritual father of everyone who lives according to his values. Satan is their father relationally. He incarnates his principles into the philosophical / theological ideologies which shape human society, which in turn shape and conform the people who live in that society. John said, By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (I Jn. 3:10). Our values determine our lifestyle and our lifestyle reveals whether we are children of God or children of the devil.

Beginning with the first of our family, humanity fell from relationship with God through sin but through Jesus, those who believe are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God, brought into covenant relationship with Him and adopted into the family of God. In chapter one, Paul said that the redeemed are predestined, “To adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5).  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul 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” (Gal. 4:5-7).

In 2:19 Paul said that we are no longer strangers and aliens but are of God’s household. So every family refers to believers who are alive on earth today and those who have gone to be with the Lord, those in heaven and on earth. We do not have to wonder about our status as members of God’s family because the Spirit of God bears witness in our hearts that we are God’s children.

3:16 “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,”

Paul prays that the Lord would grant us a particular blessing 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.

Paul prays that God would grant us that we would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. Paul was writing from a prison cell, having endured much tribulation.  His readers also had suffered for their faith.  Though we are partnering with the Lord in ministry, still the journey is demanding.  We require strength for the journey, an impartation of power not from our own devices but from and through the Spirit of God.

When the apostles had been arrested for peaching the Gospel in Jerusalem and threatened with harm, they held a prayer meeting, And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). For each new crisis, for each new demand, there is a fresh outpouring of divine strength.

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 when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us when we are redeemed as new creations in Christ. Dunamis is activated as we open our hearts and minds to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the disciplined study of the Word of God. The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and applies it to the heart of the people of God and from this living Word flows the power of God into our lives, so that we can 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 Cor. 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 (Col. 3:10). The inner man is that part of our being which joyfully agrees with the Word of God (Rom. 7:22). It is that part of us that thirsts for God, seeks God, receives God.

Strengthened by what? Not what but whom — by the Spirit of God.  One of the Holy Spirit’s names is Comforter.  In earlier English usage, to comfort meant to strengthen. The Holy Spirit is God’s strengthener.

3:17 “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;

We are to be strengthened so that Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith. The word Paul uses for dwell is katoikein, which is a permanent residence as opposed to temporary. At the moment of salvation, Jesus comes to dwell within the redeemed through the agency of the Holy Spirit. When Peter finished peaching on the day of Pentecost, the people cried out, Brethren, what shall we do? Peter replied,  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 2:37,38). The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to those who believe, given immediately upon confession of faith in Christ.

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).

The indwelling Holy Spirit is a permanent possession of the believer, as we read in chapter one, Having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance (1:13,14). 

So Paul is not praying that Christ will come and dwell in our hearts. He already does. Paul is talking about the quality of that dwelling. If the Spirit of God would truly be at home in us, then He must not be grieved by sin, disobedience, rebellion or unbelief. He is at rest in a pure heart and when He is truly at rest in us, then He will strengthen us 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.  

3:17 “and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,”

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 holy, love-motivated 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 ... I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:4,5).  As Christ dwells more deeply in our hearts by faith, as we grow stronger in union with Him, the Source of all love, we are more truly rooted and grounded in love. We will then experience a greater fruitfulness to life.  The truer the roots, the truer the fruit.

How is it that the Spirit of God dwells in us? Paul says through 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 “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Paul prays that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. The word comprehend is catalambano, to seize. Paul wants us to seize the breadth and length and height and depth of a love which surpasses knowledge. This is a paradox, to comprehend something which surpasses knowledge, which is not measurable, to take hold of something which is beyond us.  We cannot contain or comprehend the love of Christ in its infinite, unbounded fulness. 

But the word know, ginosko, means to perceive, to understand. I think Paul is saying that he wants us to take hold of the love of Christ by perceiving it in an experiential way and surely we have experienced the love of Christ. Indeed, it is His love for us that initiates our love for Him. His love for us pre-exists the universe (Eph. 1:4). He loved us while we were His enemies, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). John reminds us, We love, because He first loved us (I Jn. 4:19). The very beginning of our Christian life is our experience of God’s unmerited love for us in Christ. In the giving of His life for our salvation from sin and hell, in the daily blessings of His presence and grace, in a thousand ways we experience the love of Christ. As we are rooted and grounded in our experience of Christ’s love for us day by day, we are taking hold of the breadth and length and height and depth of that love.

No experience or power in heaven or earth can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:38,39). The reality of God’s love for us is the beginning and end of our capacity to know and love God.

Notice also that we comprehend the love of Christ 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’s desire that we would know the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s immeasurable love refers to the vastness, the eternality, the perfection of Christ’s love.  This is the love with which Christ first loved us, before we ever knew Him, while we were yet His enemies, the love which God lavished upon us as an act of saving grace. This is the love that surpasses knowledge.  Paul prays that we would experience this love so that we may share this love.

Now Paul prays another paradox, that we would be filled up to all the fullness of God. It is impossible that the creature could contain the fullness of the Creator, that the finite would hold that which is infinite. But in Colossians 2:9,10, Paul said: 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 fullness of God but in His fullness we are made complete.  It is a fullness appropriate to this time and place of life though surely, in heavenly union with God, our completeness will be of a different magnitude. But even now, we may experience a fulness of fruitfulness, a fulness of discernment regarding the purpose which God designed for each of us and fulness of capacity to serve Him and bring Him glory.

To be made complete or full in Christ means that we are overflowing with the love of Christ, compelled and dominated by the love of Christ and by every other attribute of Christ which we are able to experience. Not that we can understand or comprehend or contain the vastness of God’s love for us, or God’s power or wisdom but we can be so immersed in the experience of our Lord that all of life is controlled by and devoted to the greatness of God.

In 4:13, Paul prays that we would attain to the fullness 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 filled with God, controlled and directed by God, overflowing with the life and love and power and wisdom and truth and mercy of God and thereby, we would experience a fullness of life and discipleship appropriate to this life.

3:20 “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,”

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 far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works 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 our experience of His resources for the accomplishing of His 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, the same power that rules triumphantly over every other power and authority and dominion and name in the universe.

3:21 “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

When God is strengthening us with power according to the riches of His glory and 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).

Study Questions

1. Beginning in verse 14 Paul asks the Lord to bless us in extraordinary ways. What are some of those blessings? (see v. 14-19)

2. Paul closes this prayer with a marvelous benediction in verses 20 and 21. What is his desire for the church?

Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians 4:1-6

4:1 “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,”

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 and our calling in Christ.

Again Paul mentions his imprisonment.  This may be a subtle way of reminding his readers that discipleship can be costly and he knows as well as anyone the cost of obedience to Christ. But it is more likely that Paul is referring to his position in Christ. Prisoner of the Lord could also be translated prisoner in the Lord. Paul is speaking, not merely of his imprisonment by Rome but of His union with Christ, a union which circumstances cannot alter in any way. Paul’s life is not defined primarily by Rome’s response to his ministry. The defining aspect of his life is his relationship with Christ. And so for us. We are not prisoners of our past nor of the opinions or responses of others to our life in Christ. It is Jesus Christ who defines who we are.

We are exhorted to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.  Walk refers to our manner of living.  Since it is Christ who redeemed us by the sacrifice of His life, we should walk in a manner worthy of His sacrifice. Since He is now risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of majesty, 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. 1:21), we should walk in a manner worthy of His majesty and authority. Since we have been raised up with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), we should live in a manner worthy of our position in Christ.

Worthy also means fitting — we are to live in a manner that is fitting for who we are in Christ and Whose we are. Since it is Christ who now indwells us, since His love controls us and His strength empowers us, we should continually bend our will to His Lordship.

Calling refers to God’s sovereign choice to set His grace upon us, awaken us from our sin, draw us to Himself, reveal His Gospel to us and save us.  Calling also refers to 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 to glorify Himself in the union of all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). 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 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,”

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 humbly 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).

Humility begins with a sincere sense of our unworthiness. God chose us before there was a universe, loved us while we were His enemies, gave Himself for those who rejected Him. We are not worthy of such unfathomable love. Yet God has lavished this love upon us and even as the Co-Creator of the universe humbled Himself by leaving the riches of heaven to give Himself as a sacrifice for sin, so are we to give ourselves to others in humble service. This is part of what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

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 (Matt. 5:5). Gentleness is not weakness. The word is praotes and it is used of a wild animal that has been tamed. The lion has not lost its power but its power is under control. Gentleness is strength under the control of the Holy Spirit and 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 with maturity in the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-23).

 

We are to exercise patience (or as in the King James, long suffering), which is more than mere endurance. It is endurance with 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, able 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 sinners and enemies of His goodness and grace.  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 deny us the right to stand against evil.  Jesus, possessing every holy virtue, confronted evil always and everywhere.  But He disarmed evil with the gift of His life. And we must remember that the greatest confrontation with evil is in our own hearts — the line between good and evil does not cross between nations, races, political parties 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 “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

If the ultimate goal of God is the summing up of all things in Christ (the unity of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10) then surely we must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The word translated preserve or maintain means to watch or keep or guard.  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, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are …That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us” (17:11,21, also v. 23).  Jesus 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, united in Him.

We must remember, though, that preserving unity does not mean tolerating heresy, unrepented 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 who refuse to repent of their heresy, those who practice worldly lifestyles and refuse to turn back to Christ, those who divide and refuse to cease being divisive, those who practice evil and refuse to turn from their 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 before they destroy the unity of the church.  

Paul often had to deal with false teachers, ungodliness and divisive attitudes in the young churches.  He prayed, pleaded and warned.  His goal was never banishment but reconciliation, restoration 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, building their prosperity by not offending anyone. 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.

We must not compromise truth or holiness for the sake of unity because there is no unity apart from Biblically defined truth and holiness. 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 and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”

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 hope of our calling — the hope of resurrection and eternal life with God; the hope that we will be transformed in His likeness and stand in the presence of His glory.

There is one Lord, Jesus Christ. There is one faith — the body of doctrinal truth revealed to us in the Old and New Testaments. 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, as Paul said: 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 Paul’s closing phrase in Ephesians 4:6, “Over all and 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 and His church yet distinct from it).  God is wholly other and God is wholly present.

Study Questions

1. What does it mean “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” and what does that look like? (see v. 1,2)

2. Why should we be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? (see v. 3)

Ephesians 4:7-16

Ephesians 4:7-16

Ephesians 4:7-16

4:7 “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Paul now moves from the unity of the body of Christ to the uniqueness of each member. As members of the body, the grace of salvation has been given to each of us. But grace is also given in the form of spiritual giftings — endowments for service. These gifts are given, “According to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We do not choose our gifts nor does a bishop or pastor assign our gifts. They are given by the Lord of the church so that we can serve in ministry.

In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul says, “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 through His church. In that same passage Paul says that there are, “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. 

Paul’s words to the Corinthian church were written in the context of an exhortation on unity.  The diversity of 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 member of the body of Christ is ungifted but no gift 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 an inflexible leadership, where there is a drab grey, monotonous, unchanging, colorless, toneless, inflexible, rigid, uniform sameness to the members and ministries, be it large or small, this is a church which will accomplish little of Christ’s work on earth.

We are a wonderfully diverse community of gifted priests through whom the Lord wants to release His grace. We are not gift warehouses — we are not to store up, hide or repress the gifts. Peter reminds us, As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (I Pet. 4:10). And as Paul reminds us, Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly (Rom. 12:6). We are stewards of gift and grace. The Lord will pour Himself out through us as we allow Him to mold us together in unity of the Body of Christ.

4:8 “Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men.’”

Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in which David celebrates victory through the blessing of the Lord. Paul now applies the Scripture to Jesus who, in humble submission to the Father, descended to earth, then 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 are now 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. Christ sets us free from the thief by taking from us our sin, guilt and condemnation. He takes from us the death which we created by our sin and then He gifts us with resurrection life and leads captive into everlasting life those whom He has set free.

The gifts referred to in verse 8 include all the treasure store of grace which has been lavished upon the redeemed in Christ: salvation from sin, reconciliation to God, everlasting life and countless other expressions of grace which Jesus pours into the lives of these captives set free to be bond servants of the Most High God. These gifts also include, as we have said, particular giftings for ministry so that the grace of God may be expressed and poured out through us into the lives of others.

4:9,10 “(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)”

Jesus ascended to heaven only after He descended. Christ’s descent is in two senses. First, he descended from heaven to earth to take human form in His incarnation. 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). We cannot understand the unfathomable depth of the incarnation — the eternal God fit Himself into time; the infinite God who encompasses all of creation descended to earth; Self-existent, uncreated Being entered into creaturehood, descended to the depths of the earth in a womb; the Lord of all life descended to the depths of a tomb.

Descended into the lower parts of the earth may also be a reference to Christ descending into death and hell following His atoning sacrifice on the cross, For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison (I Pet. 3:18,19). The word made proclamation, kerusso, means to herald, to proclaim. It is not the word which we translate evangelize (which means to announce Good News). Jesus did not evangelize the demonic spirits in prisons — He announced the triumph of His atonement and resurrection.

Having descended, Jesus then ascended. Jesus’ ascension is not merely into heaven but far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.  This refers to the transcendence of Christ over all things, His omnipresence among all things and 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; having established that we should protect the unity of this organic union of believers, the body of Christ; having established that Jesus has led us out of captivity and gifted all whom He redeemed; having established that Jesus is Lord of His 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 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,”

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 (Eph. 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 12 and Paul. 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). And there are also those today whose ministry is apostolic in the sense that they are gifted to raise up new expressions of ministry, establishing new churches and new paradigms.

Next Paul mentions prophets. This refers to the office of prophet, believers who were confirmed and commissioned to function within the local church.  They exhort the church, sometimes with special revelation from God (see Acts 11:27,28). More commonly, they expound the revelation already given (see Acts 13:1, 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 in drawing people to the saving knowledge of Christ. We should all be witnesses but some are especially called and gifted for this task of evangelism.

Pastors and teachers, or more accurately, pastor-teachers or teaching pastors, minister in the local church. The word pastor is derived from the word shepherd. Pastor-teachers guide and shepherd the church, primarily through doctrinal, Bible based teaching.

4:12 “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service (ministry), to the building up of the body of Christ;”

Apostles, prophets, evangelists and teaching pastors 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 speak revelatory direction and exhortation to the church.  Evangelists proclaim the Gospel, calling people to Christ and to 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 Thess. 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 saints are 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, and pastoral / 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 build one another 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, and pastoral / 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 “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

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 a mature man which is defined as the measure of the stature which belongs to 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 has 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. He 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.  When this truth is taught clearly, the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts and generates a dynamic of unity — the unity of the faith.

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. Therefore, truth must be guarded by the church.  We guard it by teaching it with clarity and power and by living it.  As we guard the truth, we are guarding the unity of 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 incarnation of God in human flesh, Christ’s atoning death on the cross and His 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 leads to 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 the unity of the faith — faith being the body of doctrinal truth revealed in Scripture — 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. We know Christ as we hear His Word taught in His church, as we worship Him and pray, as we meet Him in the gifts and ministries and life of His church and as we exercise our gifts and ministries.

Third, we are growing to maturity which is 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 of Christ grows. We experience the life and truth and presence of Christ as He is revealed in His Word, as He is exalted in worship, as He is celebrated in the sacraments and in the gifted ministries of His church. As Christ's church grows in His likeness, so do the individual members who comprise that church, in the same way that individual branches grow as the tree grows.

Our growth is defined as growing into the fulness of Christ.  It is in Christ that we live and grow and toward His fulness that we grow.  Christ is our beginning and our goal. Although we will not contain the fulness of Christ’s life in this life, there is a measure of maturity in Christ that is appropriate to each stage of our Christian life. There is a measure of fulness that is appropriate to a 14 year old who is just beginning to walk with the Lord and there is a measure of fulness or completion that is appropriate to a 50 year old who has known the Lord for many years. There is a present fulness that is appropriate to our life in the Lord but this is also our goal — that we attain to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

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 (or accomplish, perform) it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).  Perfect, perform, accomplish, 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 will someday, 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). This will be fulfilled when we see Him as He is.

4:14,15 “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,”

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, nourishing, 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, Speaking 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. To love people while denying them the truth is not love at all and accomplishes nothing more than to comfort the lost on their journey to hell.

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 unfulfilled.  The church is that people whom Christ our Deliverer delivers, over whom Christ our King rules, whom Christ our Head directs.  

Jesus’ 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 “from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

We are being built up into Christ from whom the whole body is joined. 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 member becomes an instrument or minister in sharing 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 assaulted by temptation, corruption and persecution, 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 supernatural, spiritual rebirth through faith in the risen Christ is required.

 A life of repentance is required. We are continually confessing our sins to God and dying to our self centered ways, choosing instead to follow our risen Lord in all things.  

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 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.

Study Questions

1. Paul says in verses 7 and 8 that we have each been gifted. Are you familiar with your giftings? Are they being activated? 

2. Why were pastor-teachers given to the church and what is the goal of their ministry? (see v. 11,12)

Ephesians 4:17-32

Ephesians 4:17-32

Ephesians 4:17-32

4:17-19 “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”

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 on his own authority.  This is God’s Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoken through God’s holy apostle.

But this phrase, Together with the Lord, also reminds us that we can only live this new life together with the Lord as members of Christ’s church. Christ dwells in us personally and among us corporately as a church 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, values and mindset of the pagan 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 Christ’s holy 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 convicts us of sin and leads us through repentance to take hold of the forgiving, restoring grace of God. Specifically, believers are to avoid copying the following characteristics of unbelievers:

1.  They live in the futility (vanity, emptiness) of their mind (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 ultimate 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. The are darkened in their understanding (4:18):

The Psalmist said, The unfolding of thy words gives light (Psalm 119:130) but 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 lack the true moral insight that enables a person to navigate this world. Darkened in their understanding, they are only groping in shadows, gaining information but lacking wisdom, Always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:6).

Darkness is a choice. There is no blindness so great as willful blindness. So it is that in the Gospel of John we read, “And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil” ( John 3:19).

Light is also a choice. 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). But if people cannot or will not hear that light-bearing Word, if they choose to live separated from Christ, what is there but darkness?  Paul exhorts us to walk not as those whose understanding is darkened. This is a choice.

3. Excluded (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 their sin has excluded or separated them 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 behold His glory and give Him glory, to walk in His light, to bask in His grace, to enjoy His love and 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 lost humanity, 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 absolute 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, unresponsive to 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 thoughts and 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 (Hebr. 4:12,13). Though we were dead in trespasses and sins, God made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with Him (Eph. 2:5,6). There is no heart too hard for God to pierce except the heart that will not acknowledge the merciful sword thrust of redeeming grace and truth.

5.  Given over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with 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 with greediness.  In fact, the same God who calls to the lost and died an atoning death for the sins of the lost, also gives unrepentant sinners over to their sin.  God gives hardened sinners 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).

The word for sensuality, aselgeia, refers to a complete lack of moral restraint. 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, affections and appetites to the exclusion of God. It is the self centered, self indulgent life, disconnected from the cry of the poor, the oppressed and even from one’s own personal woundedness. This person may occasionally toss a few 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 social 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 unrestrained senses and appetites 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 Cor. 6:11).  

4:20,21 “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,”

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 learn Christ in this way. Having come to know Christ and having been incorporated into His church, the result is the transformed life. To learn Christ does not merely refer to our personal experience of and relationship with Jesus Christ.  It also refers to the life lived in union with Him and in connection with His body on earth, the church.

4:22 “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,”

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 the verb tense indicates something that has been done. At salvation we put aside the old sin nature and we are called now to a lifestyle of repentance and grace, continually turning from the habits and patterns of the past, resisting, setting aside that which is corrupt and dead while embracing the restoring grace of God in Christ Jesus.

We are reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 6:3-5 that we who have been baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus have been baptized (immersed) into His death … (and) buried with him so that we may walk in resurrection life with Him. We are new creations immersed into union with Christ and we are able to live as new creations by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and by the transforming power of the word of Christ. Though there are still temptations which incite our old sin nature, neither the temptation nor the sin nature exercises lordship over us. We are able to resist and overcome as new creations by the grace of the Lord.

4:23,24 “and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

We are not only to let go of or put off our old nature, we are also called to put on the new self, to cooperate with God in the renewal, the restoring of our inner being. Renewal is both an event and a process. When we surrendered to 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.

The word new which Paul uses here is kainos which is not something that is new in time like a new pair of shoes nor does it refer to an old pair of shoes that has been repaired and made “like new.” Kainos is something that did not exist before. We are new creations in Christ, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

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 creation.  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 what Paul means is 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.  We put on the new self as we live the truth and reality of the new creation that we are. 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, it is living who we are in Christ — new creations. 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 “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

Therefore, since we are new creations which in the likeness of God (have) been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth, we are to live and relate to others as the new creations that we are. New life is reflected in our relationships: falsehood is put away and truth is spoken and practiced in a context of community. Falsehood is evil but there is also the evil of being silent when we should have spoken the truth. We put aside falsehood. Members of one another refers to the life in Christ which we share with our 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 “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your 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 and refuse to turn from it, who oppress the poor, the widow, the fatherless. England would have been a poorer country if William Wilberforce had withheld his anger against the slave trade.

Unselfish, righteous anger that expresses love for God and for God’s truth and justice, is not wrong. But we are to avoid expressing anger in sinful ways. Jesus warned 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 motivated by love for God and people, or is it self-serving anger rising out of my sinfulness?  If it is unrighteous anger, I need to repent and ask God to cleanse me. If it is righteous anger, I need to ask the Lord to enable me to express it in a righteous manner.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger means that even if this is righteous anger, we need to seek resolution in a timely manner. If my anger is motivated by unrighteous, we should seek to resolve the situation quickly through repentance.

4:27 “and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

When we fail to deal with the situation that evokes unrighteous 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 “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”

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 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

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, so 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 Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

The Spirit of God indwelling God’s people is one of the fulfilled promises of the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36:25-27, Acts 2:4,36) and a pledge of our future inheritance Eph 1:13,14). 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 remember 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 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

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 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

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). 

True 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 toward 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 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.


Study Questions

1. What does it mean to lay aside the old self and put on the new self? (see v. 22-24)

2. Paul calls us to be forgiving. Who is our example in this? (see v. 32)

Ephesians 5:1-10

Ephesians 5:1-10

Ephesians 5:1-10

5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

Therefore continues the thought from the last verse of chapter four in which we are exhorted to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also 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 in Christ.

While it’s true that there are many attributes of God which we cannot even fathom, much less imitate, we can imitate the forgiving grace and kindness which we have experienced in Christ. God Himself enables and empowers 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, convinces us of grace, 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, empowers us to live sacrificially, to give ourselves to God and to others. In all of this, we are gradually, progressively being transformed in God’s image, thereby enabling us to be imitators of God. 

Paul reminds us, But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). We are able to imitate, to practice what the Holy Spirit shows us about the character of God, because the fruit of His character is being cultivated in us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control (Gal. 5:22,23).

5:2 “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”

Continuing the thought of imitating God, we are to walk in love. The word is agape and this agape love is sacrificial, unconditional, selfless love that gives itself up for the beloved. The Bible says that this love is part of the essential nature of God, The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love (I Jn. 4:8). God manifests His love in many ways but especially through the incarnation of His Son, In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him (I Jn. 4:9).

As we experience the agape of God in Christ, we are able to manifest this love and the world knows that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:35). True agape is called out of our heart by the preciousness of the beloved. It seeks the benefit of the beloved. It is self giving, sacrificial. It is centered around the welfare of the beloved and will pay whatever personal price is necessary to meet the needs and foster the well-being of the beloved.

Paul defines agape in I Corinthians 13:4-8a: Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

In 5:2 of this epistle Paul further defines this kind of love: As Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. The word loved is agapao, a verb, something that is expressed — it is love in action: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). This active expression of love, this agapao, is a deliberate attitude of mind and is awakened by a sense of value in the object of our love.The goal of agapao is not what I get but what I can give. 

This kind of love is commanded of Christians, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34). It is commanded of husbands for their wives, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25).

Christly love is sacrificial, unconditional, selfless love that gives itself up for the beloved and this is how we are to love. 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). As we have experienced the love of God in a Savior who was born in human form for us, who lived and died as a servant for us, who rose from the dead and lives to make intercession for us, so we now share that love with each other and with this broken world.

Love, of course, is only one of the qualities of Christ that we are to imitate. In Philippians 2:5, Paul exhorts us, 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 so that He may express His life through us. The Self-giving God wants to give His life to the world through the giving of our lives. 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 manifests 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 “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints,”

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 believers, these 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 those whom God has redeemed, consecrated, separated and set apart for Himself.  We cannot be separated from the world unto God and practice the lifestyle of the world.  

5:4 “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

Thanksgiving, not filthiness or silliness, should characterize our conversation.  James reminds us in his letter that blessing 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. 

And by the way, in I Corinthians chapter 10, as Paul lists the sins which caused a generation of Israelites to perish in the wilderness, he mentions grumbling alongside the more famous sins (10:10). Complaining is an anti-faith statement and would be categorized as filthy, silly talk.

5:5 “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Notice that Paul equates covetousness (greed) with idolatry (as in Col. 3:5, Greed, which amounts to idolatry). Covetousness is a subtle way of saying that God cannot provide for me, His provision is insufficient. The object of our desire then replaces our focus on the Lord our Provider and becomes an idol. In fact, all sin is a submitting to the lordship of unholy desires. All sin is a focusing on self to the exclusion of God and is therefore, idolatry. How sad that we have often forgotten the God who gifts us and instead worshipped the gift, coveting the gift we have not, the gift that others have, and in doing, have become worshippers of idols.

Repeated practice of these or any sins — immorality, impurity, covetousness, 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 of self and the lordship of false gods. God desires 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 continually practice sin.  We repent of sin and practice the disciplines of holiness and faith.

Again, those who habitually practice sin, who live in sin without repentance, 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 blessings of the kingdom because they have not been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13,14). John reminds us, If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (I Jn. 1:6).

5:6 “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”

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. In fact, we all once were children of wrath — under the judgment of God (Eph. 2:3). But God delivered us from judgment by grace through faith — 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.  When 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 without repentance shows by his fruit that he was never saved. The man who continually repents of sin and practices a righteous life shows by his fruit that he is saved. 

5:7,8 “Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.”

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 (Col. 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 we were formerly of the darkness but we were darkness.  Darkness was not merely our dwelling place but our nature; not merely where we lived but that which lived in us.  Darkness refers to the moral / spiritual void that exists in the unredeemed person.  When we were members of the kingdom of darkness, the life of that kingdom conformed us 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, Paul does not say that we are merely 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. You are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14) Jesus said to those who are submitted to His light and are being transformed in His light. 

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.  In Romans 12 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 (Rom. 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 (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth).”

Walking or living as light means that we are being discipled by the Lord Jesus and there will be visible fruit: goodness, righteousness and truth. The word for goodness, agathosune, refers to that which is morally excellent. Righteousness refers to our relationship with God — we are declared to be righteous through faith in Christ but it is also the way we live that relationship. Truth, aletheia, refers to that which corresponds to reality. It is truth that is not only known but more, truth that is lived and is the same word Jesus used of Himself in John 14:6, I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Jesus said, The tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 12:33) and if we are truly children of the light then there will be a manifest quality of goodness and righteousness and truth visible in us.

Fruit manifests in various ways. There is the fruit of Godly deeds: leading people to Christ, giving sacrificially, sharing mercy. 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). If we are walking in the light of Christ, there will be the fruit of light.

5:10 “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

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 of sacrifice, as God progressively transforms us in His image, we, Prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2). We prove what is pleasing to the Lord as we yield our lives to Him.

Study Questions

1. Paul exhorts us to be imitators of God. How do we do that? (see v. 1,2)

2. What does Paul mean when he says now you are Light in the Lord ? (see v. 8)

Ephesians 5:11-20

Ephesians 5:11-20

Ephesians 5:11-20

Paul previously exhorted us, Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (5:7,8). Now he again reminds us to live in a manner consistent with who we are in Christ.

5:11 “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;”

Do not participate can be translated, have no fellowship or do not be a partaker. We refuse to practice, fellowship with, participate with darkness. We cannot avoid doing business in a world dominated by evil but we can choose where we fellowship, what we partake of and what we practice. Paul asks, 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 but will have the Light of life (John 8:12). To know Jesus, to follow Him and love Him, serve Him and obey Him, is to walk in the light. 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. 

Paul defined the works of darkness in the previous chapters — hardness, sensuality, impurity, greed, lying, unrighteous anger, stealing, unwholesome speech, bitterness, wrath, slander, immorality, covetousness, idolatry. These works of darkness are unfruitful because they disconnect us from the Lord who pours 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 tragically, 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. Just as light exposes whatever is hidden in darkness, so the Christian living a Godly life will by our manner of life reveal and confront the deceptions that bind people in darkness. This does not mean we walk around accusing and judging people. It is in living as children of light that the light of Christ shines through us to reveal that which is darkness. It is not that we are seeking to shame or harm anyone. Rather, the light of Christ reveals that which is already bringing shame and harm. 

The word expose may also be translated correct. The light of Christ provides 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).

Again, this does not mean that we walk around springing puritanical expose’s on lost, hurting people. Rather, truth spoken in love (Eph. 4:15) and truth lived through servant love shines an honest, liberating light into the lives of those bound in the darkness of destructive habits and memories and oppression. 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. Our simple acts of love and truth release liberating light into the souls of men and women. Shine the light and if necessary, use words.

5:12 “for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”

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 some sins are too disgraceful to even speak of. Such conversation can be corrupting.

5:13 “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.”

Paul shares an arresting thought here. When light shines into darkness, not only do the hidden things become visible, they become 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 comprehend / 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 and the light transforms the darkness. Are we that church today? A world perishing in darkness is waiting for a church of light-bearers.

5:14 “For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

Paul appeals to those who are asleep in the darkness of spiritual death. So were we all, once.  When we awakened from sleep, it was God who awakened us. Repentance, turning to God, awakening to God, is a gift from God. Faith to believe, trust and surrender to saving grace was also 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 be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,”

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 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). He also said, Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46).

Conversely, the Biblical definition of a fool is someone who believes that God does not exist, or who 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 intellect but to unbelief, sin and the unwillingness to comprehend saving truth (I Corinthians 2:14).

We were all fools once, born with the mindset of a fool, separated from God by sin, dead in trespass and sin, living under the lordship of this world and the powers of darkness that rule this age and were by nature children of wrath (2:1-3). Paul reminded Titus, For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another (Titus 3:3).

Speaking of the entire human race, Paul said, For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools (Rom. 1:21,22). 

But the light of the glory of Jesus shined into our hearts and we were translated out of the lordship of darkness and into the kingdom of Christ. No longer fools, we are children of light.

We are able to walk wisely now and we demonstrate wisdom as we reverence God, as we obey His word. This wise life is marked by holiness, Scripturally defined morality, loving kindness, truthfulness. The unwise person does not reverence God and their lifestyle reveals their irreverence in habit patterns and attitudes of selfishness, immorality, dishonesty, greed, 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, in fact reveals 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 “making the most of your time (redeeming the time) because the days are evil.”

The word time, kainos, 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 light of day 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, revealing light to children of light, strengthening and establishing the disciple for the living of these days.  

 

5:17 “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

The fool does not redeem the time, rather, 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 they do know. Many are seeking to know God’s will through false religions, false philosophies and false teaching of the Bible.

We make the most of our time when we understand God’s will. There is a general revelation of God’s will applicable to all people which we find in holy Scripture. There is also a particular will of God for each of us based on His unique, purposeful design of our life. We locate this particular will as we yield our lives day by day to the Lord. Paul said, 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, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:1,2).

As we present our lives to the Lord day by day on the altar of worship, prayer and service, as we refuse to be conformed by the values of this age, as we are renewed in our minds by the word of God, we will enter in and live and prove the will of God.

5:18 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,”

We are spiritual creatures living in a physical body. We are spiritual creatures living in a disintegrating world separated from its Creator. The result is a spiritual void, a vast emptiness in the soul. People instinctively try to fill that empty space in many and various ways. One of these ways is through excessive alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse leads to further disintegration, the destruction of possibilities, the loss of opportunity, a numbed, self-absorbed wasting of the time, talent and purpose which God gave us. There are many other wrong ways to fill the empty space — the incessant pursuit of wealth, power, pleasure and fame; false religions which draw people away from the light of Christ. There are many ways to become drunk in this world.

To the contrary, Paul exhorts us be filled with the Spirit (or be being kept filled). The word filled is pleroo which means complete, fulfilled. The verb tense indicates a continuous or repeated experience. Be continually filled full. 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. 

When we surrendered our life to Christ and were spiritually regenerated / born again, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us as a seal and a pledge of our inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13,14). The Holy Spirit baptized us / immersed us into a living relationship with Christ, immersed us into union with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-6). We have been regenerated, born again as new creations in Christ, filled with the Spirit of the living God. 

However, the infilling of the Holy Spirit is a repeated event. This is necessary due to the continual demands of ministry, the constant temptations of the world and its unceasing pull against our old, sin nature seeking to exert dominance over the Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on the church and every believer was baptized, immersed in and with the Holy Spirit, the crowd that gathered thought the Christians were drunk (Acts 2:1-21). No, but they were filled with the Spirit and soon to be poured out in utter fulfillment. However, because of the challenge of living in a fallen world, the disciples needed and we need to continually receive fresh expressions, fresh infillings of the resources and empowerment of the Spirit.

In Acts 4 Peter and John were arrested for preaching the Gospel. When they were brought before the authorities, we read, Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them (Acts 4:8). This could refer to the fact that Peter was already filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore was able to witness powerfully. However, the verb tense indicates a fresh infilling and could be translated, Then Peter, having just been filled with the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit had left Peter or had been diminished in him, but for the purpose of speaking to the governing body with wisdom and with boldness, a fresh measure of the gift and grace necessary to proclaim Christ was given to the apostle.

After Peter and John were released, they returned to their companions and lifted up their prayers to God, asking that the Lord would continue to grant them confidence to proclaim Christ and grant signs and wonders to confirm their preaching. Here’s what happened: And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). Once again, the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and the verb tense indicates a fresh infilling for the purpose of speaking the word with boldness. 

Later, Paul was confronted by a false prophet, a cultist, who sought to turn people away from the faith. But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him (Acts 13:9). Again, the phrase could be translated, having just been filled with the Holy Spirit and indicates a fresh empowerment by the Spirit for the purpose of discernment and pronouncing divine judgment. Fresh infillings of resource, power, wisdom and discernment are necessary due to the continual demands of ministry and our life in this fallen world.

Being filled with the Spirit is also about control. A person who is drunk is being controlled by whatever he has consumed. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is being controlled by the Spirit. As we said, baptism in the Spirit is a one time event — when we are spiritually regenerated / born again, the Holy Spirit came to live in us and baptized us / immersed us into a living relationship with our living Savior. But we can be continually filled, resourced, energized and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

It’s interesting that the word filled, pleroo, is a word that was used to describe the wind that filled the sails of a ship. It was the wind that moved the ship. The Spirit-filled life is the life that is moved, empowered and energized by the Spirit of God. The Spirit-filled life is a life that is lived under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we continually submit to the leadership of the Spirit, He continually fills and blesses us with all things needful to fulfill the ministry to which we have been called. 

The word of God is essential to the Spirit-filled life. 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 applied by the life-sustaining Spirit of God. 

The Spirit-filled life is a life marked by the disciplined study of God’s Word as 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 and restoration, as the Holy Spirit shows us our sin, leads us to repent and draws us into forgiving, restoring grace. It is a life marked by obedience to what we know to be true, as truth is revealed by God through His Word. It is a life of passionate praise and intimate fellowship with a living Savior. It is a life in which the love of God fills and transforms us and is poured out through us.

As we continually submit to the leadership of the Spirit, He continually fills us with the resources and empowerment necessary to fulfill the ministry to which we have been called. The Spirit-filled life is the Spirit-led life, as Paul reminds us, For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Rm. 8:14. This will always result in life outpoured in the worship of God and service to others.

5:19 “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;”

The Spirit-filled life is characterized by gratitude and thanksgiving, Speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

The word psalms has to do with the early church practice of singing the psalms, though the word also refers to vocal music in general. Hymns are musical praise directed toward God. Songs may be sacred or secular so Paul says spiritual songs. Making melody is a word that 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.

In Colossians 3:16, Paul said, Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Paul insists that there must be an element of instruction undergirding our praise and worship, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. When we teach with clarity the attributes and works 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 “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

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 as Paul exhorts us, “Do all things for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

Lack of gratitude to God is a symptom of a potentially fatal spiritual disease. The Lord said through the prophet Ezekiel that in Sodom there was abundant food and careless ease but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me (Ezekiel 16:49,50). Many of the people of Sodom were prosperous but prosperity did not produce thanksgiving to God, rather, prosperity produced 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 is not our wisdom or talent that produces blessing. It is the mercy of God, a mercy lavished upon us without any requirement of repayment except that we give Him thanks. The heart focused on God overflows with thanksgiving. The Spirit-filled life is a grateful life.

The Spirit-filled life is a melody that rises in our hearts, directed unto the Lord and 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. Elsewhere, Paul exhorts the church, In everything give thanks (I Thess. 5:18 ).Even in the midst of tragedy, we may thank God that He is with us, understands us, loves us and will someday turn our mourning into dancing. In the midst of crises, we give thanks to the God who meets us, abides with us and promises to walk with us through 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 infinitely loving. This is the Spirit-filled life.

Study Questions

1. What does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?

2. Always giving thanks for all things — how do we do that in the midst of crises and trials? (see v. 20)

Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33

Ephesians 5:21-33

5:21 “And be subject to one another in the fear (reverence) of Christ.”

Be subject to one another is a transitional verse, as Paul moves from his exhortation to be filled with the Spirit 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 and submission to Him. This flies in the face of the modern mind which shouts, “Have it your way. Assert yourself. Stand up for your rights.”

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). Our unity in Christ does not nullify our God-given uniqueness but it does nullify all illusions of superiority. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian church to, Always seek after that which is good for one another (I Thess. 5:15). He said to the church at Rome, Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in love (Rom. 12:10).

The command to be mutually submitted to one another as followers of Christ includes our submission to civil and church governments, to the rule of law, to the just exercise of authority. We are commanded to submit to governments since they are established by God (Rom. 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 (I Tim. 2:1,2), respect them, obey their laws and pay our taxes (Rom. 13:6,7).

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 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19,20). Peter, for the Lord’s sake, disobeyed the orders of the Jewish governing body and continued to preach.

Later, the apostles were thrown into 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 humanist 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. And surely the Lord is aware of the demonic assault on families, on male and female identity and on male leadership in the home, so prevalent in Western societies today.

We want to hear clearly what the Lord says to us about the structure of the family and we must base this study in our experience of God’s love for all men and women. The living God loves us unconditionally and knows us perfectly. Therefore we can lay aside our defenses, our costumes, our broken places. 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 exhortation to be filled with the Holy Spirit. 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 and submit to the presence of Christ in our midst, we learn to submit to one another, in the church and in the family.

Submission is not an invitation to domination, control or abuse.  Submission is not a passive virtue. Submission is the righteous, vigorous act of patience and forgiveness out of respect for God’s governmental structure in the church, in the home and in society. Those who exercise authority must do so with reverential respect for the dignity of each person and every gift.

5:22 “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

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 are Christians mutually submitted to Christ and to each another as fellow believers. (This is contrasted with Peter’s admonition in I Peter 3:1,2, to wives whose husbands are disobedient to God’s word, which is probably a reference to non-believers and we’ll look at that). 

Submission does not imply inferiority in creation or salvation. Husband and wife stand equal before God as created beings bearing the image of God and as forgiven, redeemed sinners. This is not about superiority or inferiority. It is about government, leadership and accountability. 

Remember, Paul is writing to members of the church at Ephesus, 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.

Submission to the husband, as to the Lord, does not demand the same unconditional reverence, awe or unflinching obedience with which she submits to Jesus whose love, wisdom and mercy are perfect and without measure. Submission to a mere man, believer though he may be, means submission to a mortal, finite, sinful creature, limited in all his ways and therefore, 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 abused or 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.

Submission to him as to the Lord requires that he represents Christ to her and her submission is to the Lordship of Christ expressed 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 and should be proactive 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, godly conduct 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 of God is taught and practiced, where the husband can see Godly examples of men in leadership. 

5:23,24 “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

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 also union. Jesus not only governs His church but also is intimately joined to His church as a Head is joined to a body. So the husband must live in true union with his wife. She is a physical / spiritual being. He must lead from a context of spiritual and physical union, demonstrating care for her well being and growth.

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 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,”

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. Modeled on that portrait of love, the Godly husband’s leadership is sacrificial, selfless, pouring out of himself for the good of his wife.

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. In Psalm 139:1-4 we read, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, You know it all.” Jesus knows each of us perfectly and though the Godly husband is nowhere close to omniscient, he knows his wife as deeply and intimately as possible, given the limitations of his humanity.

 

Paul says that within the home, God’s plan is that husbands would lead and wives would submit to that leading. Let’s summarize this leading and submitting.

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 His 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 “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

Jesus’ Lordship over the church is expressed in His saving death and resurrection and as He brings about the consecration and maturing of His 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 fulfill the unique plan for which God designed her. As she submits to this process, responding and relating to her husband as one maturing believer to another, she is enabling his maturity in holiness.

5:28,29 “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,”

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. Because they are intertwined in spirit, soul and body, his love for her will pour back into his life from her life and his life will pour back into her life.

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 “because we are members of His body.”

Jesus nourishes and cherishes His church because He is intimately joined to His church in holy union. The church is the body of Christ on earth, the body Jesus is living through now on earth and He 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 members of the church 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. 

Remember that in chapter 4 Paul said that the reason apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor / teachers are given to the church is for the equipping of the saints for the work of service (ministry), to the building up of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). The goal of that upbuilding and equipping is that we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (4:13). Paul adds further, We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (4:15,16).

As the members of the church submit to leadership and to one another, we learn to exercise our gifts and we all grow together into the fulness of Christ. And Paul expresses this same principle regarding the family — as husbands and wives mutually submit to one another in Christ, as wives submit to the leadership of their husbands and as husbands love their wives with Christly love, both grow into the fulness of Christ’s design for their lives.

5:31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” 

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. This also refers to union. The love of a husband and wife is such that two beings become intertwined with each other on every level of their being.

5:32 “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”

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. This marriage was acted out in Hosea, as Gomer, the unholy bride, was redeemed by her prophet-husband. This was a representation of the Bridegroom God pursuing and seeking to redeem His faithless bride, Israel. In Isaiah 62:5b, the Lord said to Israel, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.

But the fulness of the mystery is finally and fully revealed in the life of Jesus. He came to earth seeking His Bride. He died on the cross to redeem His Bride from slavery to sin and death. 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 “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”

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 bride, the covenant people.

Study Questions

1. Is there a connection between Paul’s exhortation in verse 21, Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ, and his exhortation in verse 22, Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

2. How does Paul define a husband’s leadership? (see v. 25)

Ephesians 6:1-4

Ephesians 6:1-4

Ephesians 6:1-4

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

The Psalmist reminds us, Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward (Ps. 127:3). The Lord is intentional in the giving of gifts and is equally purposeful in the way we steward His gifts. There is no gift of God more precious than a child and therefore, no stewardship more important than the raising of children.

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 its fall from grace and the resulting separation from God; the loss of unity between Adam and Eve and the disintegration of human personality under the weight of shame, fear and guilt. The first family then experienced the first murder as Eve grieved the death of her second son at the hands of her first born. The fall of the first man and first woman was quickly compounded by the fall of the first son and the death of the second. 

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 parents to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

The word obey, hupakouo, has to do with listening and submission. It’s an interesting connection. If we are not listening to someone, we have already refused submission and have determined not to obey. 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). He shares His wisdom, strength, humility, love. He imparts to us the grace needed to live obedient lives. Whether a child or an adult, if we have surrendered our life to Jesus, He dwells in us, His life rises within us and He lives His life through us, enabling our obedience.

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. When Jesus was 12 years old, His parents temporarily lost Him in the crowded city of Jerusalem. After they found Him in the temple, He said, Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house? (Luke 2:49). But then we also read, He continued in subjection to them (2:51). His submission to His heavenly Father resulted in obedience to His earthly parents. This is reflective of the governmental system which God has established throughout the universe, expressed in the hierarchy of angels, secular governments, in the church and in the home.  

Paul lists only one reason 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. Children are not commanded to obey any direction or request that would violate their humanity. But within the parameters of God’s truth revealed in His word, obedience is pleasing to God.

When Paul says this is right, he is communicating 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, rightness and righteousness which transcends our culture, our generation, our government, our Supreme Court and our universities. There is a standard of truth revealed in God’s word that transcends heretical churches and apostate philosophers. We can know this truth and 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 “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.”

Verse 1 dealt with the outward action of obedience. Verse 2 deals with the inner attitude and motive that leads to the action of obedience: honor your father and mother. There are many motivations for obedience to any authority: fear of punishment, desire for reward or promotion. We are capable of obedience while despising the 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: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you (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 more 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 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

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 in that home? Therefore parents must raise their children in the discipline and instruction (nurture and admonition) of the Lord, praying for and with their children, teaching Godly truth, Bible-based 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. Conduct that produces rage 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 and emotional nurture.

4. Laxness, over indulgence, failure to set boundaries, allowing the child to satisfy or express any and all desires without restraint.

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 a parent’s unstable emotions.

These damaging responses from a parent can create deep rooted rage and rebellion in a child which will echo into adulthood, until or unless these emotions are resolved. Let’s quickly recognize that as new creations in Christ, we can experience complete healing and liberation from all childhood trauma and are being transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

In Paul’s day, many Jewish households 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. Notice that this discipline and instruction is of the Lord. The wisdom of the Lord, the grace of the Lord, the truth of the Lord, indeed, the presence of the Lord in the home, is the center and context for child raising.

The word discipline, paiedia, has to do with correction and can be translated chastening, disciplinary correction. But paiedia also has to do with nurture, hence, the King James rendering, nurture. The raising of a child includes not only correcting his or her mistakes but also cultivating and nourishing the life of the child and the gifts which God has planted within the child. As a former teacher of special need students, I was taught that each corrective remark must be counter-balanced by 7-10 affirmations. Such is the way of nurture.

Parents are also commanded to instruct, to teach their children. Since the beginning of wisdom is the reverence of God, (Ps. 11:10), parents are to systematically establish 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 and 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 cultural conformity while neglecting to give them the bread of life.

Jesus also said, Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? (Luke 11:11,12). When parents allow their children to be formed by the values of this fallen, violent, depraved age, and offer no Bible-based, Christly alternative, they are feeding their children the lethal bread of serpents and scorpions. Child and parent will surely suffer the venomous sting.

As priests, parents are also to pray for their children and teach them to pray. They are also to teach their children how to worship. Old Testament priests served at the altar of the temple, brought sacrifices to the altar. The sacrifice we are to bring is the offering of our life, day by day, to the Lord. Parents are to teach their children how to come to the altar of God and bring the sacrifice of their life, prayerfully and worshipfully.

What better gift than to introduce a child at a young age to Jesus our Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Provider, Defender, Deliverer. 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, afflicted by the bite of the serpent and the sting of the scorpion and yearning for the bread of life.

We need to remember that every child is uniquely designed and purposed by God for His glory. Parents honor and cultivate that design as they nurture and teach their children in the Lord.

There is much discussion today about children’s rights, and surely we should be concerned about the terrible plague of sexual and physical violence visited upon children and the equally lethal abuse of child neglect. But if by children’s rights we mean backing off of the necessity of intentional nurture and discipline, the result will be a maladjusted, rebellious, antisocial adult. 

It is the same with my fruit trees. If I leave the soil to its own ways, my garden will produce weeds and the trees will produce little of value. If a peach tree will bear peaches, it must be cultivated.

Study Questions

1. Paul says that parents are not to provoke their children to rage. What are some attitudes or actions that can produce rage?

2. A child’s obedience is related to a parent’s nurture and teaching. What does it mean to nurture and teach a child?

Ephesians 6:5-9

Ephesians 6:5-9

Ephesians 6:5-9

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 Slaves and Masters  (6:5-9)

Paul’s advice to slaves and masters in no way constitutes Biblical approval of the institution of slavery. An economy based on slave labor was an abomination to God. The enslavement of a human being is a crime against God, who created each person in His image and for divine purpose. Slavery is obviously a crime against the people enslaved, because it restricts their ability to live out God’s unique design for their life. 

In Old Testament times, all cultures practiced slavery but the Law of Moses imposed merciful regulations on the practice and required that Israelite slave owners liberate Israelite slaves after six years of service and not send them away empty handed (Deut 15:12-15). Every fiftieth year, all slaves, no matter what their nationality, were to be released (Lev. 25:10).

 

Recognition of the existence of slavery is not the same as approving of its existence. Slavery was a primary component of the Roman economy and Paul neither endorsed nor attempted to overthrow the institution. Any attempt by Paul to oppose or overthrow slavery as it existed at that time would have been violently crushed. And, remember the primary problem in any society is not rooted in economic or political systems. The primary problem is the corrupt human soul.

The church did not have the power to change the foundation of the Roman economy in one generation. It did have the power to transform human souls and open eyes blinded by cruel custom. In doing this, the church did eventually have a transforming impact on Roman society and on all societies where the Gospel has been preached.  

In the Roman world, slaves were not seen as persons but as possessions. Paul preached a Gospel in which all persons are equally lost and equally redeemable. Free persons and slave alike are dead in sin but in Christ, both can be made alive. The result of salvation is, A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew ... slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). Those were revolutionary words in first century Rome.

Earlier in this epistle, Paul said to the church, and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (5:21). A fellowship of mutual submission — what a revolutionary paradigm in a rigidly hierarchical society characterized by master / slave relationships.

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, even exercised leadership in the church side by side, shared their spiritual gifts together as brothers and sisters in Christ. This surely changed the way they perceived one another, creating a revolutionary society which eventually had a revolutionary impact on the Roman world and on all human community since.

In speaking of our equality in Christ, that we are no longer Jew nor Greek … slave nor free … male nor female, Paul does not mean that our God-ordained uniqueness has been obliterated.  Rather, our distinctions of superiority / inferiority have been abolished. 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 and before one another 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 Cor. 12:12-27). 

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 continents of Europe and North and South America liberated from slavery.

Don’t let anyone deceive you with their denial of the salt and light impact of the church on human society. The Evangelical Revival in 18th century England fed directly into the movement to abolish slavery. The Holiness Revival in America during the 1820s fed directly into the abolitionist movement. For twenty centuries the truly redeemed church has impacted this world with mercy and justice. The Apostle Paul, preaching and ministering within an unjust society, helped to build a community of faith that revolutionized his world.

6:5 “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear (reverence, respect) and trembling in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ;”

Paul offered inspired counsel to slave and master (and by analogy, to employee and employer).  Slaves, employees, are to serve their masters according to the flesh — that refers to human masters, employers. They are to serve with reverence and trembling — with respect. 

They are to serve sincerely as to Christ. Here is the revolutionary aspect of this new community, the church. The slave or employee, now a new creation in Christ, is to see his relationship with his master or employer and his work as a way of serving Christ. The slave’s work or employee’s work is to be done as if it is Christ Himself whom they are serving. 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. We are reminded that we, and all people, have worth and value in Christ.

6:6 “not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”

In the previous verse Paul says that slaves / employees are to serve in the sincerity of your heart. He means respectfully. Not by way of eyeservice, as men pleasers means not just when someone is watching. If our work is unto the Lord then it is done with integrity. Would our life and work be different if we saw ourselves as servants 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 doing 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 “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

Again Paul states his theme, With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.  He states three principles of service which should govern and motivate our work:

1. We labor with good will — not under compulsion but because we choose to. We strive for excellence because we will to be excellent.

2. We render service as to the Lord and not to men. To the church at Colossae, Paul said, Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people (Col. 3:23 NLT). Every act of living, can be 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 giving all that we are and all that we do in response to all that God is and all that God does. 

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.

3. Whatever good we do, we will receive back from the Lord. How often we think, “No one sees the good I do.” Someone does see — the living God.  We think, “No one rewards the good that I do.” Someone does and will 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 and custom but there was a higher law at work — the law of sowing and reaping. This law is based on a higher economy — the economy of the kingdom of God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phlp. 4:19). God’s provision and reward is not based in our economy but is according to His riches in glory.

To the church at Corinth, Paul said, And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality (generosity), which through us is producing thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:8,10,11).

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). Even something as small as a cup of water has its reward. Much of our reward is in the next life but the Lord is also faithful to meet us now and provide so that we can fulfill His design for our life.

6:9 “And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.”

Now, in a truly revolutionary statement, Paul reminds the masters / employers that they are to act toward their slaves / employees in the same manner as the slaves / employees act toward their master / employer. 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 to one another 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 (Eph. 6:9). We share a common identity, Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17). Truly, There is no distinction between Greek and Jew ... slave and freeman, but Christ is all and in all (Col. 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 (reverence) of Christ (Eph. 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 reverence for the authority of Christ Himself.

The reference point for this new relationship of master and slave, employer and employee is in heaven, not on earth. The true Master of all is in heaven, not in Rome or any other earthly throne of power. Our true Master created the universe and is our Redeemer and Lord. 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 together 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 with one another is now.

As these truths have penetrated and transformed the hearts of men and women in every century, societies have been transformed. Unjust and oppressive economic structures have been replaced by new paradigms of justice and equity. Transformed men and women build transformed societies.

Study Questions

1. Transposing this discussion into our day, how should employees evaluate their jobs and how should employers treat their employees?

2. Are you confident that transformed men and women have had and will continue to have a transforming impact on unjust and oppressive institutions?

Ephesians 6:10-15

Ephesians 6:10-15

Believers and Spiritual Powers (6:10-15)

6:10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”

Shifting his thought now to the spiritual warfare that must be waged if souls are to be won for Christ and if we hope to fulfill the Lord’s purpose for our lives, Paul exhorts the church to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Our reference point in life and minstry is God’s strength, not ours. We measure a task by God's resources and ability, not our own. All of life is found in Christ for He is the Vine, we are the branches (Jn. 15:1-5). Without Christ we can do nothing but, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Phlpn. 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, 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).

We walk in the flesh is a reference to our humanness — we are spiritual beings but we live in physical bodies. We live in a physical world but our primary conflict is on a spiritual level. The conflict requires spiritual tools as opposed to military weapons, worldly wisdom or wealth,political power-brokering. These will not overcome temptation, persecution nor the manifold assaults of darkness against our faith. 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 tools.  

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 nearby. 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 around us and in the minds and imaginations of people.

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).

The fortresses we are warring against are speculations — thoughts, ideas, secular philosophies, religious concepts which are opposed to and exalted against God and His truth. Beneath all opposition to God is a false idea — a philosophical / spiritual undergirding of apostasy, heresy, deception, wrong thinking, illusion. Behind every false religious system, infusing every idolatrous concept is demonic inspiration and empowerment. Paul said to the Corinthian Church, The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers (partakers) in demons (I Cor. 10:20).

Paul says that we are to destroy these strongholds by taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Satan incarnates His malicious values and purposes in the minds and imaginations of people. What weapons can destroy strongholds located in the mind, in the emotions and imagination?

In verses 6:14-19 of this letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul lists the instruments of our warfare including the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and prayer. We assault strongholds of deception and false philosophies with the truth revealed in God’s Word and we do so in the strength of God’s might through the mighty instruments of proclamation and prayer. This is a Spirit-led, Spirit-filled life, a life lived in obedience to the transforming power of the Word of God and reliant on the resources of God.

6:11 “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”

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 the resources which God provides.

2. We are told that it is the full 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, not worldly armor.

3. We put on the full armor of God so we can stand firm. The word which we translate stand firm is a military term referring to soldiers who refuse to abandon their position.

4. We put on the armor of God so we may stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  The word schemes or wiles is methodeia and can also be translated method or trickery. This 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.

5. They are the schemes of the devil.  He is variously referred to as the ruler of the demons (Luke 11:15), 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 Thess. 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 in our own strength but when God equips us, we are mighty.  

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, physically or emotionally but far more destructively — they are spiritually bound. So-called wars of liberation which employ nothing more than political / military instruments and weapons, never ultimately liberate anyone; they only perpetuate and multiply the cycles of violence and slavery. Why is this?  Because the root cause of humanity's suffering is located in a spiritual dimension where political / military campaigns and physical weapons have no influence.

New Testament teaching on spiritual warfare can be summarized by the following principles:

1. God is sovereign, Almighty, and there is no other god.

2. There is a devil, Satan, a fallen angel who, through Adam’s fall, became the god of this world ((2 Cor. 4:4). The word world refers not to geography but to the ideas, philosophies, religions, customs and values which comprise human 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 and express 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 instruments and tools.

Satan is not all powerful nor omniscient. But through his vast army of fallen angels, he is able to tempt and seduce, not only into sin, but also into the more subtle dangers of compromise, pride, prejudice and deception. 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 individuals, mobs and governments to perform and express his evil purpose.  

6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a struggle, a wrestling. The word struggle 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. It’s true that Satan incarnates his values through people, through political and economic philosophies, false religions and so on. But our enemy is not the people who are caught up in these worldly systems. Our enemy is the demonic power behind it.

Paul provides four designations of our opponents: rulers, powers, world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies. These refer to Satan and the levels of demonic governments through which he oppresses this world. They are a real though invisible force, existing in a spiritual dimension in clearly defined, organized levels of authority and activity.

Paul provides a location for these powers — they are in heavenly places. The church, though located on earth, is also active in heavenly places. In Ephesians1:3, Paul reminds us that the Lord has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. These blessings include the resources needed to overcome powers of darkness.

In Ephesians 1:20,21 we are reminded that the risen Christ has been seated 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. This speaks of Christ’s authority over the powers of darkness.

In Ephesians 2:6 we are told that the God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms (BSB). In union with Christ, we share in His authority, as Jesus said in Luke 10:19, Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. We are reminded in 3:10 that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

Although Satan and his demons are spirit beings, we read in 2 Corinthians 10:5 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 tyrant dictator seems so powerful as he persecutes the true church and hangs truth from his gallows but in fact he has been bought and bound by Satan. It is the same for the midnight mob with a lynching rope or the mob in Congress or Parliament with legislative lynchings of truth; 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 corporations which rape the land and rob their workers in the name of profit; the sweet sounding false religions which blind and enslave the worshipper. They all boast of their enlightened freedom but are only slaves to darkness.

Our enemy is not that dictator or legislative mob or artist or society or corporation or blind judge or false priest. The enemy is the demonic power which seduces, poisons and captivates imaginations, talents and personalities.

6:13 “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

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 justice and mercy, 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, taking small pieces of truth rather than the whole. This is always costly but especially when we are engaged in spiritual warfare. We must take all the armor, all the tools, all the truth 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 the full armor of God, God’s armor. 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 by itself. We must go to the Lord Himself for the full armor that enables us to fight the battles of our day. Again, our armor is found in the Word of God as it is taught with clarity and applied to our lives by the Holy Spirit.

Take the full armor of God that we might:

a. Withstand or resist (do 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.

b. 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, the Lord commanded them to stand. 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)

5. Stand confident in the strength of our Lord. Paul prayed that we would know the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are 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 (Eph. 1:19,20). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him in the heavens is at work in us.

Therefore James exhorts us, Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7). And Peter exhorts us, Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith (I Peter 5:8,9).

6:14 “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,”

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; depression or discouragement; division within the church or persecution against the church — we stand firm in 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 truth which must enwrap our life, hold our life in place, anchoring us. How do we put on the belt of truth? By bringing the Word of God into our heart and mind as we study it, meditate on it, listen to it skillfully taught and commit to live its principles.  

This requires that we allow God to speak honestly to us in His Word, letting that Word confront and 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 (Hebrews 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 (Colossians 3:16).

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), who said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 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 and sustained. 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 truthful, objective, infallible, unfailing 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 imputed to believers through grace by faith when we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior and is progressively imparted to us as we walk with Christ day by day. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus took our sin upon Himself and gave us His righteousness. In Christ, when His atoning blood is applied to our lives, we stand before God justified and righteous with the righteousness of Christ.  

In exhorting us to put on the breastplate of righteousness, Paul is saying, “You have been made righteous with the righteousness of Christ — live as the new creation that you are.” We don’t put on that which we already have been given. We live who we are, we live the righteous life through daily obedience to Christ. We are new creations in Christ but we must choose each day to live as new creations. As we do, the Holy Spirit progressively matures us. Righteousness has been imputed to us in Christ and is imparted to us day by day as we live the righteous life.

However, we need to check our armor. Am I living in right relationship with God in obedience, humility, love and purity? 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? Am I appropriating the means of grace whereby I may be progressively transformed in grace?

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 as the new creations that we are.

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 pray and trust daily for God’s protection 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 forgiving, restoring grace

meets us in our brokenness with His healing blessing

meets us in our storms and warfare with His peace

meets us in our need with His resources and wisdom.

The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that God is able to accomplish what God intends, as the Psalmist said, The Lord will accomplish that which concerns me (Psalm 138:8). We do not give in to anxiety, fear or discouragement because we are depending on God’s ability, because we have covered the inner person of the heart with confidence in God’s power and faithfulness.  

6:15 “and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;”

A solider needs proper shoes so he can move through the battlefield. An athlete needs the specially designed shoe that enables excellence. For the Christian, 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 (Phlp. 4:6,7). This is a choice — we choose to pray with thanksgiving and we choose to receive peace rather than giving place to anxiety, fear or discouragement.

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, hatred 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 living in peace. We must protect our own hearts from that which would rob us of peace, being quick to release forgiveness to anyone who through sin has disrupted our peace; being quick to surrender every circumstance to the presence, power and promise of our Lord, the Prince of Peace. Being peacemakers begins in our own souls. 

King David said, Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Ps. 144:1). We are in a war but our adversary is a spirit-being who can only be defeated using spiritual weapons. So many followers of Christ are fighting the wrong enemy and using the wrong weapons. It is the Lord’s desire to train us in the use of appropriate instruments enabling us to fight the appropriate war.

Study Questions

1. What does Paul mean when he says that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places? (see v. 12)

2. What does it mean to gird ourselves with truth?