Ephesians: The Glory of God in the Church

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1. The Uniqueness of Ephesians Among the Epistles

Introduction

While I was a student in college, I took a class in economics. The professor was a gracious and dignified scholar. He seldom laughed, but on one occasion, I managed to evoke a genuine laugh. He was lecturing on the desert, and at one point he referred to the horse as the “Rolls Royce of the desert.” This was my chance. I raised my hand, and said to him, “Sir, I believe that the camel is the ‘Rolls Royce of the desert.’” I then went on to explain that the camel should be given the higher status because it, and not the horse, had ‘bucket seats.’

Apart from the Epistle to the Romans, few who have studied Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians would challenge the statement that it is the “Rolls Royce of the epistles.” F. F. Bruce, noted New Testament scholar, calls Ephesians “the quintessence of Paulinism.”1 C. H. Dodd called Ephesians “the crown of Paulinism.”2 According to William Hendriksen, Ephesians has been called “the divinest composition of man,” “the distilled essence of the Christian religion,” “the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of the Christian faith,” “full to the brim with thoughts and doctrines sublime and momentous.”3

I was tempted to sub-title this lesson, “Kicking the Tires of Ephesians.” If you’ve ever looked at cars, especially used cars, this is one of the first things you do—kick the tires. In this lesson, we will commence our study of the Book of Ephesians. We will begin by briefly noting the author and recipients of the epistle. We will then turn to the characteristics of Ephesians, focusing our attention on the distinctive contribution of the epistle. It is hoped that this will set the tone for our entire study, and will motivate you to take the message of this epistle very seriously.

Author and Destination of Ephesians

Unless you read the commentaries, you probably would not even expect the authorship and destination to be mentioned, other than as a part of the exposition of the very first verse of the Book of Ephesians:

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 (Ephesians 1:1).

Who would have thought that there was a need to debate the veracity of this statement? You will discover, if you have not already, that the critics want to discuss everything. And so, while time is largely wasted in debating the obvious, our attention is diverted from the weightier matters. As Jesus put it long ago, men who like to think of themselves as students of the word are often guilty of “straining gnats and swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24).

One must deny the undisputed text of Ephesians to question the authorship of this epistle. The recipients of the letter is not, in my opinion, a matter of great importance, but at least it is an issue which arises out of the text itself. In verse one, there is a marginal note in some versions like the NASB, which indicates to us that some manuscripts omit “at Ephesus.” There are a very few (three to my knowledge) which omit it, and hundreds which do not. The problem is that these few manuscripts also happen to be the oldest. Some conclude that because they are the oldest, they are also the most reliable texts. There are those who would dispute this fact (and, to some degree, I agree with them).

In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter that much, because the epistle is a very general one. Its message and its application apply as directly to us as it did to its first recipients. It is my personal opinion that the epistle was probably sent first to Ephesus, and from there sent to all the churches of Asia, certainly including the 7 churches addressed in Revelation 1:20–3:22.

Ephesians does seem to be written to a broader group of individuals than just a few individuals or a particular church. As you can see in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, in the 7 letters to the churches of Asia (one of which is the Ephesian church), and as is evident in certain of Paul’s epistles (e.g. Corinthian epistles, or Philippians), some epistles are addressed to a specific church. This letter has a broader, more universal, feel. Just as the gospel was preached in Ephesus, and from there resounded to all Asia (Acts 19:10, 26). so Paul’s epistle was first sent to Ephesus, and from there it was likely circulated among the other churches in Asia (for this practice, see Colossians 4:16).

We should also note that Ephesians is not the first epistle written to the Ephesians (or, if you would, to this group of believers). Paul refers to a previous, shorter, epistle, which was written some time before this epistle:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief (Ephesians 3:1-3).

Historical Setting

In the Book of Acts, the history of church at Ephesus begins with the ministry of Paul on his second missionary journey, as recorded in Acts 18:18-28. Paul, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, arrived in Ephesus. Paul went to the synagogue in Ephesus and proclaimed Christ, and was asked to stay on and teach further. Paul declined, promising to return later in the will of the Lord, leaving behind Priscilla and Aquila. During Paul’s absence, Apollos arrived, and began to preach those things which pertained to Jesus, based on the Old Testament and on the preaching of John the Baptist. Apollos seems to have been an Old Testament saint, but does not seem to have known about or trusted in Jesus Christ personally. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and filled him in on that which was lacking in his preaching. In time, he was sent to Achaia, where he powerfully and publicly refuted the Jews, showing that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

After strengthening the believers in “the Galatian region and Phrygia” (18:23), Paul returned to Ephesus, where he spends nearly three years, preaching and teaching. For three months, Paul taught in the synagogue, but then opposition caused him to change his meeting place to the school of Tyrannus, where he reasoned daily for two years (Acts 19:8-10). During this time, God gave supernatural witness to the ministry of Paul by empowering him to perform many miracles (19:11-12). As a result of the chastening of the seven sons of Sceva, many in Ephesus renounced their magical practices, which was demonstrated when they publicly burned their magical books, worth a considerable amount of money. This, in turn, had a great impact on the city (Acts 19:13-20).

Paul planned to leave Asia, planning to visit Macedonia and Achaia, where he would gather a collection for the poor in Jerusalem and Judea, and then deliver the gift to the church in Jerusalem, and then press on to Rome. He sent Timothy and Erastus ahead, staying behind in Asia for a while (19:21-22).

It was during this brief stay that a serious crisis arose in Ephesus, as a direct result of the preaching of the gospel. The gospel had not only caused many to turn from their magical practices, it also turned many from the worship of Artemis, the goddess whose elaborate temple was constructed in Ephesus, over a period of more than 200 years. This specifically impacted the idol-making industry which had developed in the city. A near riot was instigated by Demetrius, which was finally dissipated by an appeal from the town clerk. This incident caused Paul to move on to Macedonia (Acts 19:23–20:1).

On his way to Jerusalem, Paul’s travels took him to Macedonia, and then Greece, where he spent three months (Acts 20:2-3). His eagerness to reach Jerusalem by Pentecost caused him to sail past Ephesus and to make port at Miletus, not far from Ephesus. And so he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus, giving them a final word of encouragement and admonition. After a tearful farewell, Paul sailed on toward Jerusalem (Acts 20:17-38).

As Paul had purposed, he did reach Jerusalem, and then Rome, but not in a way that we would have anticipated.4 When Paul reached Jerusalem, he took the advice of the (Jewish) leaders of the church there, and as a result was arrested on false charges. Through a sequence of events, Paul felt compelled to appeal to Caesar, and thus he was taken to Rome for trial. There in Rome, he was granted considerable freedom of access, and thus he continued to minister. It is here, in Rome, that the history of the Apostle Paul (and the church) ends in the Book of Acts (see chapter 28).

While in prison,5 Paul penned several epistles, which came to be known as the “prison epistles:” Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Philippians was delivered by Epaphroditus, who was sent home by Paul after his recovery from a serious illness (Philippians 2:25-30). Tychicus (see Acts 20:4), accompanied by the returning slave, Onesimus, would deliver the Epistle of Colossians and the letter to Philemon (Colossians 4:7-9), and also the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21-22).

Characteristics of Ephesians
(What Makes Ephesians So Special?)

A few years ago, I was given an “automobile” that most of you would not even recognize as a car, either by name or appearance. The car was a Messerschmidt (I am not even sure any more how to spell it). If all you can think of is a German war plane, you’re not that far from the truth. This “car” was made from the surplus of parts for the Messerschmidt aircraft. The car had three wheels, two in front and one in back. It was powered by a one cylinder motorcycle engine. It was the predecessor, as I recall, of the Isetta, another three-wheeler. To enter the car, you tilted up the cockpit cover, which was from the fighter plane.

I mention all this because the Messerschmidt was a very distinctive motor vehicle, different from any other automobile. While Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is but one of 66 books of the Bible, its contribution is directly related to its distinctives, those characteristics which set it apart from every other book of the Bible.

The Bible teaches that every Christian is unique, and has a particular contribution to make to the body of Christ. I believe that the same is true of each book of the Bible. Each book has its own setting, audience, and message. If we are to appreciate a particular book of the Bible, we must first come to recognize its unique contribution. As we begin our study of the Book of Ephesians, I would like to draw attention to some of its characteristics, and then to attempt to identify its unique identity and contribution to the revelation of the Scriptures. Let us consider, then, the characteristics of the Book of Ephesians.

(1) Ephesians is a “prison epistle.” Ephesians was written by Paul when imprisoned in Rome. His ministry may have appeared to have been hindered. His character and perhaps even his teaching seem to have been questioned by some, as a result of his imprisonment (Philippians 1:15-17). While he had been given considerable freedom, the possibility of his execution was very real (Philippians 1:19-26). Apart from a couple very general references to his imprisonment (3:1; 4:1; 6:20), no one would have ever guessed that this epistle was penned by a man in chains. Even if Paul’s body was in the dungeon (unlike as this is, see Acts 28:30-31), his heart, mind, and spirit were in the heavenlies.

As I read the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, recalling the circumstances of the apostle when he wrote, and then considering the elevated tone of the epistle itself, I am rebuked. I am also informed that it is possible for one whose circumstances are less than desirable to dwell on a much higher plane. The content of Ephesians not only tells us that Paul was a man filled with praise, and with the knowledge of God, but what it was that gave Paul such confidence and optimism.

As we look about, it is indeed difficult to find much cause for optimism in this world in which we live. Our environment is slowly being polluted, the ozone layer is disappearing, diseases like aids are on the verge of decimating the population of some nations, our economy is faltering, politicians are corrupt, and government is not able to solve the problems facing it. There is room for hope, for confidence, for joy, but it is not in the world around us, it is in the God whom Paul served, the God of whom he writes, whom he worships, and to whom he prays in Ephesians. The truths of this great epistle can transform your life, and the God of this epistle can give you faith, hope, and love.

(2) Ephesians is not a personal epistle. The message of Ephesians is much more general, and much less personal than some of his other epistles. First and Second Timothy and Titus were written personally to Timothy and Titus. Philemon was written to Philemon, concerning the return of his slave, Onesimus. Philippians deals with the personal affairs of Paul (chapter 1), Timothy, and Epaphroditus (chapter 2), and Euodia and Syntyche (chapter 4). In the 15th chapter of Romans, Paul spells out his personal plans for his ministry. Ephesians does not deal with personal matters.

(3) Ephesians is not a “problem-solving epistle.” Some epistles were occasioned by problems, which the letter seeks to correct. Galatians is a “hot letter” shot off to rebuke the Galatians for giving in to the legalism of the Judaisers. Philippians deals with the problems occasioned by Paul’s imprisonment, along with the scrap which was going on between Euodia and Syntyche. The Corinthian epistles are oozing with problems which required correction by letter, including divisions, conflict, lawsuits, immorality (chapters 1-7), and abuses in worship (chapters 11-13), not to mention an attack on the doctrine of the resurrection (chapter 15). Ephesians, on the other hand, is not a problem-centered epistle.

(4) Ephesians is not a didactic (teaching) epistle. The Epistle to the Ephesians is written to one of the most well-taught churches that ever existed. Paul spent nearly 3 years teaching in Ephesus. Apollos had ministered there as well. And in Paul’s absence he wrote two epistles to this group of believers. He also sent Timothy to minister at Ephesus as his representative (some would call Timothy an ‘apostolic legate’). While He was at Ephesus, Paul wrote two personal letters to Timothy, which contained instructions that applied to this church (1 & 2 Timothy).

One would hardly think that another epistle was needed to further teach the Ephesian saints. As you read and study the Epistle to the Ephesians it becomes increasingly evident that it is not a teaching document. Paul writes to those who have been well taught. He uses terms with very precise theological meanings, terms like “chose” (1:4), “predestined” (1:5), “redemption” (1:7), and “sealed” (1:13). Yet Paul neither defines, develops, or defends these theological concepts, he simply declares them. He calls these truths to the attention of his readers, knowing that they understand what he means by them.

In contrast to the simple declarations of Ephesians, Paul’s epistle to the Romans very carefully defines his terms and develops his arguments. He even raises objections which could be made, and answers them

(5) Ephesians is not a “need-meeting” epistle, nor is it a book which tells us how to be successful or effective. In writing Ephesians, Paul breaks the rules of homiletics,6 as often taught today. Generally, sermon introductions try to address a “felt need” in the listener, which the preacher tries to convince his audience his message will address and meet.

I believe that it is accurate to say that no book of the Bible is written primarily to “meet our needs.” It is the false teachers who appeal to the flesh, perverting and distorting the truth so as to cater to our fleshly desires. And they succeed at it because this is what we want to hear. All of us, to some extent, have “itching ears,” and are therefore more drawn to those teachers who tell us what we want to hear.

A few years ago, I read a book entitled The Total Man. It was a book addressed to husbands, about the marriage relationship. It was not until chapter 5 that the author addressed the sexual relationship of the husband and the wife. I’ll never forget how that chapter began. It went something like this: “I have the sneaking suspicion that some of you have turned to this chapter first.” Now there’s a man who knows his reading audience. He knew that men would be more interested in what he had to say about sex than about most anything else. I think he was right.

You and I read the Bible in the same way that author knew his readers would approach his book—looking for what they wanted to hear and ignoring the rest. The Bible may be abused by those who read it selectively, but it was not written to cater to our wants or our perceived “needs.” It was written to challenge us to evaluate, and in many cases, to renounce our fleshly “needs.” It calls us to “take up our cross” and to crucify the flesh. It declares a whole new system of needs, needs which are primarily spiritual, and which can only be met in God. We are assured that these needs will always be met because of the sufficiency and faithfulness of our God, who has promised to provide for them.

(6) Paul is not preaching or teaching in Ephesians as much as he is praising, praising God for who He is and what He has done, as evidenced in the person and work of Jesus Christ and in the gospel. After a brief greeting in verses 1 and 2, Paul’s first words in Ephesians begin, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …” The tone of Ephesians, and especially the first three chapters, is one of praise toward God. The first three chapters are addressed to God as much as to men, with the reader being given the privilege of overhearing Paul’s response to God in both praise and petition, and then having the opportunity to join with him. In the midst of chapters 1 and 3, Paul turns to prayer.

(7) Ephesians is the “Waterloo of biblical commentators.” This characterization of Ephesians by E. J. Goodspeed7 suggests to us that this book has proven to be greater than the minds of those who have studied it. Ephesians is one of those books which, like the God of whom it speaks, is beyond the grasp of the finite minds of men.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

It is not that Ephesians is unclear, but that the truths of which it speaks are beyond our grasp. We should not be frustrated by the fact that we cannot “master” this epistle (or any other book of the Bible), but we should be humbled by the vastness of God’s being, and of the finiteness of our own existence and intelligence.

(8) Ephesians is the “high road” of New Testament revelation, changing our perspective from that of a citizen of this world to that of a citizen of heaven. Faith in Jesus Christ, often spoken of as being “born again” (see John 3:3ff.), brings about a radical change. If salvation brings one from “death” to “life,” from the “kingdom of darkness” to the “kingdom of light,” then one would expect that conversion would likewise bring about a vastly different way of viewing life.

And so it does. In brief, becoming a Christian requires us to think not so much in physical terms, but in spiritual terms, not so much in earthly terms as heavenly terms, not only in terms of time, but also in terms of eternity. No epistle penned by the Apostle Paul is so extensive in the change of perspective which it challenges us to adopt.

Some years ago, the drug culture was born. As I remember those early days of this devastating phenomenon, hallucinatory drugs were advocated by the radical fringe for their “mind expanding” effects. The Book of Ephesians is mind-expanding, yet without any harmful effects. (It may become habit-forming, however.) It seeks to expand our thinking in virtually every dimension. Listen to what Paul himself says about this matter:

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; 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. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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 (Ephesians 1:15-19).

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 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 fulness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Our spiritual “center of gravity” is too low, too human, too temporal, too material, too earthly, too self-centered. Ephesians is written to challenge and to change our “center of gravity.” In this epistle, Paul writes to change our perspective, to see earthly appearances in the light of heavenly realities, time in the light of eternity, the spiritual life as a struggle a spiritual warfare, not merely with human opponents, but with a host of heavenly forces.

(9) Ephesians seeks to change our orientation from one which is man-centered to one which is God-centered. We smile to ourselves when we think of the ancient view that the world is flat, or that the earth is the center of the universe. And yet, we see man as the central focus, rather than God. Ephesians unapologetically challenges this view, and calls us to a God-centered focus.

I have recently been reading a very excellent book by John Piper, entitled, The Pleasures of God. In this book, he speaks of this need to change our perspective from one which is man-centered to one which is God-centered:

We begin with the most fundamental truth, namely, that from all eternity God has been supremely happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. From this inexhaustible fountain of self-replenishing joy flows the freedom of God in all his sovereign work, creating the universe, spreading his fame, choosing a people, and bruising his Son.

… We need to see first and foremost that God is God—that he is perfect and complete in himself, that he is overflowingly happy in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, and that he does not need us to complete his fulness and is not deficient without us. Rather we are deficient without him; the all-sufficient glory of God, freely given in fellowship through his sacrificed Son, is the stream of living water that we have thirsted for all our lives.

Unless we begin with God in this way, when the gospel comes to us, we will inevitably put ourselves at the center of it. We will feel that our value rather than God’s value is the driving force in the gospel. We will trace the gospel back to God’s need for us instead of tracing it back to the sovereign grace that rescues sinners who need God.

But the gospel is the good news that God is the all-satisfying end of all our longings, and that even though he does not need us, and is in fact estranged from us because of our God-belittling sins, he has, in the great love with which he loved us, made a way for sinners to drink at the river of his delights through Jesus Christ. And we will not be enthralled by this good news unless we feel that he was not obliged to do this. He was not coerced or constrained by our value. He is the center of the gospel. The exaltation of his glory is the driving force of the gospel. The gospel is a gospel of grace! And grace is the pleasure of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right and power to delight in God without obscuring the glory of God.8

(10) To sum up the essence of the contribution of Ephesians, this epistle draws our attention to the glory of God. The glory of God is not only the motivation, but the goal of God’s sovereign work among men. There is no more majestic theme, no more noble pursuit than the glory of God. Moses’ highest ambition and most noble request was to see the glory of God (Exodus 33:17–18:8). The first coming of Christ was a display of the glory of God (John 1:14; see also Matthew 16:27–17:8). The Apostle Paul was encouraged and sustained by his awareness of God’s glory (see 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 4:3-6, 16-18). The apostle Peter found the revelation of the “Majestic Glory” of our Lord a witness to the truthfulness of the prophetic word revealed through the apostles (2 Peter 1:16-19). Our Lord’s second coming will be a revelation of His glory, and the cause for the saints’ rejoicing (1 Peter 4:12-13). Every supreme goal of our every action is the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The Epistle to the Ephesians is all about the glory of God.

Overview of Ephesians

I was fascinated to read in Piper’s introduction how he had organized the material in his book. The first six chapters speak of the pleasure of God in His own person, and in the outworking of His plans and purposes, especially in the sending of the Son to provide salvation for lost sinners. The final chapters focus on the pleasure of God in the responses of His people.9

The parallel of Piper’s structure and that found in Ephesians is strikingly similar. Ephesians 1-3 concentrate on the glory of God as brought about by the gospel—the glory of God in His church. Ephesians 4-6 focus on the glory of God in man’s obedience to the gospel—the glory of God through His church. Consider, then, this very simplistic outline of the content of Ephesians, remembering that this epistle is the “Waterloo of commentators”:

 

Chapters 1-3

The Glory of God in the Church

Chapter 1

The glory of God of God in Redemption

Chapter 2

The glory of God in reconciliation

Chapter 3

The glory of God in the revelation of the mystery of the church

Chapters 4-6

The Glory and Pleasure of God through the Church

Chapter 4

The glory of God in the unity and growth of the church

Chapter 5

The glory of God in the imitation of Christ by the saints

Chapter 6

The glory of God in victory of Christ

Chapters 1-3 of the Epistle to the Ephesians urge us to be more heavenly minded so that, in obedience to the instruction laid down in chapters 4-6, we may be of more earthly good, to the glory of God.

May God grant us an appetite for the “meat” of this great epistle, and may He also grant us the ability to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s glory, as seen in Christ and in His church.


1 As cited by F. F. Bruce in The Epistles To The Colossians, To Philemon, and To the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), p. 229.

2 Ibid.

3 William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 32.

4 This is not to say that we should find the means by which Paul reached Rome altogether surprising. At his conversion, Paul was informed that he would bear the name of Christ “before the Gentiles and kings …” (Acts 9:15). And on his way toward Jerusalem, Paul was informed of his coming arrest (Acts 20:22-23; 21:10-14).

5 There is considerable discussion as to where this prison was located. Some believe it was in Rome, others, Caesarea, and some elsewhere. From the information which the New Testament provides, I have no difficulty in accepting Rome as the place of his imprisonment. The place of his incarceration is of little importance to our understanding of his epistles.

6 Homiletics of the study of the development and delivery of sermons.

7 As cited by Bruce, p. 229.

8 John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1991), pp. 18-19.

9 Piper, p. 18.

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2. The Glory of God in Divine Election (Ephesians 1:3-6a)

Introduction

This was the first week of the competition of the 1992 Winter Olympics. The most popular event in our household is the figure skating competition, followed closely by downhill skiing and ski jumping. As I watched the men and women during their final competition, I could not help but agonize whenever an athlete fell in the course of their program. In many cases, a single fall almost certainly meant the failure of the entire program being performed. While one might be able to remain in the competition, hopes for a gold medal are usually dashed by a single fall. Think of the years of sacrifice, of disciplined living and grueling practice all swept away by a single failure. It is no wonder that we all groan along with the contestant when a fall spells the end of ones hopes.

If a single failure in a 4 1/2 minute program can overturn years of hoping, planning, and work for an olympic skater, think of the possibilities for failure in a program which covers a time span from eternity past to eternity future, which includes fallen and unfallen celestial beings as well as fallible men. How can the Christian be certain that God’s program will not be overthrown by human failure, and that the promises of God concerning the future are certain? There is but one answer: A plan which is certain must cover every contingency and every detail of which is under the control of a sovereignty of God.

There is just such a plan, Which is certain to be fulfilled because it has been decreed by a sovereign God, who is both all-wise and all-powerful.

“This is the plan devised against the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out against all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:26-27).

Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:3-11).

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24).

This is the plan which God determined before the foundation of the world.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).

Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:18-20).

And it was given to him [the beast] to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:7-8).

A concise definition of God’s eternal plan is found in the Westminister Confession of Faith, which reads:

“God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”

Two of Paul’s epistles give considerable attention to the eternal plan of God as it pertains to the salvation of sinners. Each epistle approaches the subject of God’s plan of salvation from a very different perspective. Romans 9-11 explains God’s plan historically, from a temporal perspective. The failure of the Jews to believe in Jesus as their Messiah opened the door to Gentile evangelism. When sufficient Gentiles have been converted, the times of the Gentiles will terminate, and at this time God will turn once again to the nation Israel, to turn all Israel to faith and obedience, and thus to enter into His blessings. In Romans it would appear that at any point in time God blesses either the Jews, or the Gentiles, but not both simultaneously.

Ephesians approaches the plan of God for saving sinful men from a very different perspective. If, in Romans, Paul defends the salvation of the Gentiles prophetically10 and historically, in Ephesians Paul defines the plan of salvation as a mystery, something unknown and unknowable in times past, but now revealed to men through the apostles and prophets, and in particular through Paul. In Ephesians Paul claims to unveil truth concerning God’s plan of salvation which no man had ever grasped before. In Ephesians we venture into uncharted waters, which take us beyond any previous explanation of the plan of God for saving sinners.

Ephesians tends to focus on the plan of God (chapters 1-3) and its implications (chapters 4-6) in terms of what men did not and could not understand. Here, Paul deals with those elements in God’s plan which were a mystery to men. In particular, this mystery has to do with God’s plan to save both Jews and Greeks through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, in such a way as to mold them together into a new organism, the church.

Paul begins His epistle to the Ephesians by summarizing the key elements in the plan of God in verses 3-14, and then he will proceed to further expound on certain details of this plan as the epistle develops.

We will study God’s plan of salvation in verses 3-14 in three segments. The first of these three lessons will concentrate on the sovereignty of God and the plan of salvation. The second on the sacrifice of Christ and the plan of salvation. The third on the sealing of the Holy Spirit and the plan of salvation.

The Context

Ephesians 1:3-6 is but a part of a larger piece. In order to grasp God’s plan of salvation as outlined in verses 3-14 we need to zoom in on it from its broader context, so that we understand our text in the light of the message and content of Ephesians as a whole. Ephesians is about the glory of God, as demonstrated in the creation (chapters 4-6) and in the conduct (chapters 4-6) of the church, by means of the working of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In chapters 1-3, Paul informs the reader that the church plays a prominent and climactic role in God’s eternal plan, rather being an afterthought or serving as some kind of historical parenthesis, by means of which God marks time until that time when all Israel will be saved.

The church was not only brought into existence by Jesus Christ, it is His body, by means of which Christ is present, active and visible in this present world. Chapters 4-6 define for the church that conduct which not only pleases God, but which edifies the church, so as to display His wisdom, power and glory to men and celestial beings.

In chapter 1, Paul lays out God’s plan of salvation, beginning with His choice of those He would bless in eternity past, and concluding with the summing up of all things in Christ in the future (1:3-14). This is the Christian’s source of faith, hope, and love, and the basis for His worship and adoration of God. If chapter 1 describes salvation from God’s eternal and celestial perspective, chapter 2 describes salvation from man’s perspective, describing his hopeless condition as a Gentile sinner who hates God and who is under the control of Satan (verses 1-3), but who is brought into communion with God (verses 4-10) and with Jewish believers through the reconciliation which God accomplished in Jesus Christ. In chapter 3, Paul speaks of his own ministry as the privilege of explaining how this consummation of all things in Christ, which remained a mystery in past ages was now his privilege to reveal to the church, to the glory of God.

After the initial greeting in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 1, verses 3-14 serve as Paul’s preliminary statement. Here, Paul lays the foundation for the entire epistle by summing up, in one long sentence,11 one which would probably have been rejected by Paul’s grammar teacher, but which serves to spell out in one breath the eternal plan of God by which He would save men and bring glory to Himself. In this study, we will consider only verses 3-6a. In our next lesson, we will focus on verses 6b-9. The following lesson will deal with verses 10-14. Let us begin our study by making a few general observations concerning this eternal plan as summarized in verses 3-14.

General Observations Concerning Verses 3-14

(1) Verses 3-14 are one sentence, one literary unit. Can you imagine what a grammar teacher would have done with this sentence? But there is a purpose, and that is to illustrate the way in which God’s plan is complete, with no weak or missing links in it.

(2) Verses 3-14 are a summation of the spiritual blessings which are the possession of every true believer.

(3) Verses 3-14 are introduced and presented as the basis for our worship and praise of God.

(4) Verses 3-14 are God-centered, describing the blessings of salvation from the standpoint of God’s pleasure, His purposes, His provisions, and His glorification. There is little emphasis in these verses on human responsibility.12 These verses set down the basis, the motivation, the divine provisions, and the necessity for godly living on the part of the saints. Salvation from man’s perspective will be described in chapter 2.

(5) Verses 3-14 describe the plans and purposes of a sovereign God, established in eternity past, and being worked out to the minutest detail in the present age, and in the future.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:10c-11).

In general, verses 3-6a focus on God’s eternal decree, determined before the foundation of the world. Verses 6b-9 describe the blessings God has accomplished in Christ to this point in time. Verses 10-14 focus on those yet-future aspects of God’s plan, which are yet to be fulfilled.

(6) Verses 3-14 describe the blessings of God as the work of the trinity. God’s plans and purposes encompass the work of the Father (3-6a), the Son (6b-13a), and the Holy Spirit (13b-14).

(7) Verses 3-14 describe the eternal plan of God in such a way as to portray that plan as reaching its culmination in the person and work of Christ.

(8) Verses 3-14 speak of God’s plan not only as the outworking of His good pleasure by achieving the demonstration of His glory, but also as the outworking of God’s kind intentions toward unworthy sinners in saving them by grace. God’s purposes and God’s glory are not at cross purposes with the good which He has determined to do for those whom He has chosen. God glorifies Himself as He brings about the good of His chosen ones.13

(9) Verses 3-14 direct our attention to the ultimate cause and the ultimate goal of our salvation. We should be very careful to avoid the conclusion that since God first chose us, we have no choice pertaining to salvation. Likewise, we must not conclude that because God’s ultimate goal is the demonstration of His glory, His plan is not also for our good. If we are careful to distinguish between ultimate causes and goals and those which are more immediate, we will avoid many harmful extremes.

(10) Verses 3-14 describe God as the source, the sustainer, and the recipient of all things.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory, forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).

God, the Source of Every Blessing
(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.

In the Book of James, we are warned not to accuse God of being the source of our temptations and sin (James 1:13-15). God is, however, the source of every blessing:

Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures (James 1:17-18).

In churches across our land and around the world, Christians sing:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

We also sing (as I remember the words):

Come Thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy praise
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of highest praise.

The theology of these songs of praise certainly agrees with Paul’s teaching, and that of the rest of the apostles. In Ephesians 1:3 Paul not only praises God for His bountiful blessings, but he calls for us to join with him. In the broadest sense, every blessing comes from God, including our material blessings (see Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:24-28). But in our text, Paul draws attention only to the “spiritual” blessings, every one of which originates with God and many of which await us in the “heavenly places.” Our blessings are “in the heavenlies” because our Lord, the source of all blessings, dwells there, and this is where we will experience them to the full (see Ephesians 2:6; Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:4).

In verses 4-6 Paul identifies the first two of the many blessings which God has poured out upon His children.14 These are the blessings which theologians refer to as “election” (chose, verse 4) and “predestination” (verses 5, 11). To some Christians, these doctrines are a cause for protest, rather than praise. For Paul, they are blessings for which God should be praised. At the conclusion of this study we will seek to show why praise, and not protest, is the appropriate response. For now, let us set out to define these two terms, and then to demonstrate and illustrate them in the Bible.

The Blessings of Election and Predestination
(6:4-6)

… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved … also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11, emphasis mine).

Election15 and predestination are very similar concepts, so much so that the terms can be used almost interchangeably. There is a difference in the emphasis of the two terms, however. Divine election refers to God’s selection in eternity past of those whom He will in time save by His grace through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. This choice, made long before we were even born, is independent of any works or merit on our part. Predestination, as the term itself suggests, is the divine decision as to the form which those blessings will take. Predestination tends to focus more on God’s plan and on the outcome which He has predetermined.

Let me try to illustrate the difference between election and predestination. I want to enrich the lives of some of the young people in my city, and so I decide to provide scholarships for 5 young men and 5 young women. When I choose the ten recipients of the scholarships, this is election. When I set up scholarships at 10 different universities, I plan each program for the particular person I have chosen. This is predestination. In election God chooses the person; in predestination God establishes the program for the person.

In our text, Paul makes no effort to define election and predestination, nor does he seek to defend these doctrines. He assumes that his readers are not only aware of these truths, but are convinced of them. All he needs to do is to remind his readers of them.

Let us be absolutely clear in our minds that the Bible does indeed teach which Paul assumes here. Consider these texts concerning the sovereignty of God, election, and predestination. As you do, ask yourself this question: Who is the ultimate initiator of salvation, God or man?

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:11-13).

“But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:36-40)

“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).

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.” As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore. Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. “And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:65-69).

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).

And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. “For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:46-48).

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).

While certain points of theology may be discussed and disputed, it is virtually impossible to ignore clear and consistent testimony of Scripture. God is the author and the finisher of our faith:

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

Election, Predestination, and Foreknowledge

The debate among Christians is not over the fact that we were chosen, but when and why we were chosen. The Scriptures teach that God chose us in eternity past, apart from any merit of our own, and that in time He calls, justifies and glorifies all whom He has chosen. Some Christians readily acknowledge that we were chosen, but that this choice was not specific, and that such a choice was based upon God’s foreknowledge that we would, in time, choose to trust in the Lord Jesus. They would turn our attention to this text in Romans:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

They maintain from this text that in eternity past God chose the elect on the basis of His foreknowledge of those who would, in time, believe in Christ. This is a position that cannot be supported from Scripture. Let me suggest some of the major flaws in this position.

(1) The term “foreknow” does not mean just to “know in advance,” but can also mean “to choose beforehand.” Only the context of the passage can determine which sense the term is meant to convey. Consider, however, that in the Scriptures the expression “to know” is used with the meaning, “to choose.”

And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? “For I have chosen [literally “known”] him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” (Genesis 18:17-19).

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-5, emphasis mine).

In Romans 8:29 Paul tells us that those whom God “foreknew” He also predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ. In what sense did Paul want us to understand the term “foreknew”? The same expression is used again in Romans 11:

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew … (Romans 11:1-2a, emphasis mine).

The question that has been raised concerning the certainty and security of Israel’s future blessings. In part, Paul’s response to the question is that God would not and will not forsake His people, whom He foreknew. If God only knew about the nation Israel, there would be nothing here which would make this people distinct from all other nations (God knows about them, too). Paul’s answer is that Israel’s future blessings are secure because God chose her, not because Israel chose God.

Peter uses the term “foreknow” in precisely the same way, in speaking of the Father’s choice of the Son to die for the sins of lost men:

And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:17-21, emphasis mine).

(2) The Scriptures teach that men can do nothing to merit God’s favor, and thus God’s choice was made in eternity past, apart from any consideration of our works.

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER” (Romans 9:10-12).

(3) If God were to have looked down the corridors of time, to see all those who were to choose Him, He would see no one.

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD (Romans 3:9-11).

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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 of disobedience. 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 (Ephesians 2:1-3).

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-24).

We Must Choose

The ultimate choice of those who will be blessed with eternal salvation is God’s choice. This does not mean that men have no choice. The Scriptures call upon all men to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. All who believe are promised eternal life.

18 “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. 19 “If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land; 20 “But if you refuse and rebel, You will be devoured by the sword.” Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 1:18-20).

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16-18).

37 “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out (John 6:37).

11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; 13 for “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13 ).

When the Scriptures speak of those who are lost and who will spend eternity in torment, away from God’s presence, they speak of hell as the consequence of man’s choice:

21 Therefore the LORD heard and was full of wrath, And a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also mounted against Israel; 22 Because they did not believe in God, And did not trust in His salvation (Psalm 78:21-22).

11 And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).

Hell is not only the place of torment which sinners deserve, it is also the place which sinners choose by their rejection of God’s Word and especially of His Son.

28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:28-32).

5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Romans 2:5-8).

The Goal of Divine Election and Predestination

In Romans chapter 8, the goal of election and predestination is that we might “become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Romans 8:29b). In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul writes that God chose us “that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4).

In eternity past, God chose those whom He would make “holy” and “blameless.” This goal is God’s will pertaining to the Christian’s character. It assumes that even before the creation of the world, men would become sinful, and thus unholy and condemned. God purposed, in eternity past, to reverse the effects of the fall of man, even before that fall had occurred.

The fact that those whom He chose would become holy and blameless before Him is significant. In Old Testament times, unholy men could not approach God, but only stand at a distance. There was always a physical separation between sinful men and a holy God. Being made holy and blameless makes it possible for us to dwell in His presence, because our sins and uncleanness have been removed.

It should also be noted that while believers in Christ have been declared righteous through the saving work of Jesus Christ, their full and final perfection comes when we are transformed and taken into His presence (see Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10; 1 John 3:1-3).

In verse 5, Paul tells us that we have been predestined “to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” Paul is not speaking of the forgiveness of our sins, for that is what being made holy and blameless (verse 4) is all about. It would be wrong to think of sonship as belonging to Israelites and adoption as sons being the means by which Gentiles become sons of God. Believing Israelites, too, were adopted as sons, just as are the Gentile believers:

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises (Romans 9:3-4).

The “adoption as sons” of which Paul speaks refers to the transformation of our earthly bodies, and our reigning with Christ over all creation:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).

Sonship is a position of power and authority, whereby one reigns and rules on God’s behalf:

7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 ‘Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’” (Psalm 2:7-9)

10 “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, 11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’” (2 Samuel 7:10-16).

Satan failed his sonship (compare Job 1:6), and through His devious efforts, Adam and Eve failed, followed by Israel as a nation, and Israel’s kings. Jesus came as the “Son of God” to reign over God’s creation (see Matthew 2:15; 3:17; 4:3ff.). In Christ, we all become the “sons of God” and thus have a share in this reign.

The immediate goal of divine election and predestination is the salvation and sanctification of lost sinners. The ultimate goal of election and predestination is the public demonstration of God’s glory and grace, resulting in praise to Him. Paul begins in verse 3 with an expression of praise to God. Three times in verses 3-14 Paul speaks of the “praise of His glory” (verses 5, 12, 14).

Conclusion

Here, then, is the ultimate goal of God in choosing us for salvation—the praise of the glory of His grace.16 Why, then, is the subject of divine election a cause of consternation? Why do some individuals want to protest, rather than to praise God for divine election?

This week, we have observed Valentine’s Day, a time when sweethearts savor and celebrate their love for each other. Probably the most romantic valentine story I ever heard was one which was published a number of years ago in Reader’s Digest.17

A happily married young woman was driving home when she became involved in a terrible collision. Her body sustained multiple injuries, but the greatest damage was to her head and face. She survived the crash, but the sight of her disfigured body was so horrifying, her husband never returned to the hospital after his first visit. Instead, he divorced her and remarried.

The injured woman came under the care of a devoted and talented plastic surgeon. In spite of the fact that she had no money, seemed hopeless doomed to live out her life hideously disfigured, the doctor would not give up. Using bone and flesh from other parts of her body, he literally fashioned a new face, creating, among other things, a nose and lips. She was emotionally and spiritually impacted by this tragedy, and so the doctor saw her frequently, encouraging her about the progress she had already made, and assuring her that yet more improvement might come, though over much time and many surgeries. The doctor married this patient, and persisted to refashion her face until she was able to resume a normal life, her ugly, distorted face replaced by one which was truly attractive.

The story of this doctor’s love is one which ranks high in the annals of human love. It is a wonderfully romantic story. Does anyone protest because this doctor chose to love this unattractive woman? Does anyone object to the fact that the husband first chooses the woman he wishes to be his wife, and later the woman chooses whether or not she will marry him? Why is the doctor’s “(s)election” of this woman to be his bride different from God’s choice of those whom He will bless with salvation?

The difference between this doctor and God, and between praise and protest can be summed up in one word—grace. The doctor was not put off by this woman’s outward appearance. He chose her because of something inside her, so deeper quality of character. When God chose us, it was not because of anything which He saw in us, that drew Him to us. God does not find the basis or motivation for election deep within us; He finds it within Himself. It is because of His mercy, compassion and grace that God has chosen us. In the choice of those whom He will save, God brings about the good of His elect and the demonstration of His own glory at the same time.

Being chosen of God is no reason for pride or boasting. It is only the occasion for humility and gratitude. Because divine election gives us no ground for boasting, fallen men find it distasteful. This text in Ephesians tells us that divine election should be the basis for our praise. Let me conclude by suggesting some of the ways that divine election is a blessing indeed, and a cause for praising God.

(1) God is sovereign, in control of all history. God not only established His plan for creation before the world came into existence, He revealed His plan in the Bible. As we look back, we can see that God has fulfilled His plan and His promises, just as He planned it. History testifies to the sovereignty of God. If God is in control of history, He is also in control of my life. If the God who is all-knowing and all-powerful is also the God who chose to love me, and to prepare me for an eternity in His presence, then there is nothing which can separate me from His love.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor 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 8:31-39).

(2) If God is the initiator, the author of my faith, then He can be trusted to finish what He has started.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

(3) If God’s plan and purpose is to demonstrate His glory, then we can be assured of His faithfulness to fulfill His plan and promises. This was the only appeal which Moses could make to God in Exodus chapter 32. Moses had gone up on the holy mountain, to receive the Lord’s commandments. The people sinned by making and worshiping a golden idol. There was no excuse for Israel’s sin. Moses had no basis for appealing to God, other than that God’s glory was at stake. God had promised to bring this people into the land of Canaan. God had brought them out of Egypt. For the sake of His glory, He must finish what He started:

9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. 10 “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 11 Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why doth Thine anger burn against Thy people whom Thou hast brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people. 13 “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:9-13).

(4) Divine election is the only means by which God could manifest His grace and bestow His blessings on sinful men.

6 The LORD performs righteous deeds, And judgments for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us; Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:6-14).

If we would have God deal with us according to our deeds, we would all be damned, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The only way that God can bless us is by grace, and this grace cannot be based on any human merit. How, then, would we have God to choose those whom He would save if it were not by His sovereign election? This is precisely the point Paul makes in Romans 9:10-12. God chose Jacob over Esau, not because of any merit on Jacob’s part, but because His choice was not to be determined by any human influence. Did Israel’s tradition pass the blessing on to the first-born, God was not thus bound. Do we think that God saves only the worthy? God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world, in order to bring glory to Himself.

Jonah, the prophet of old, was hopping mad at God for purposing to save those he considered unworthy. In the final analysis, as Jonah chapter 4 reveals, Jonah protested against God because of His grace. Who is it that despises grace? Only the self-righteous do. Jonah believed that Israel’s blessings were do to Israel’s merits. He despised grace as “divine charity,” charity which he believed he did not need. If the Book of Jonah teaches us anything it is that God was indeed gracious to Jonah.

Grace is unmerited favor, for which the humble and needy rejoice. Grace is “divine charity” which the self-righteous abhor. I ask you as we come to the conclusion of this message, my friend, does the grace of God turn your heart to praise or to protest? The difference is that of being joyful for having received grace, or the bitter rationale for having rejected it.

The grace of God has been poured out freely in Jesus Christ, for all who will receive it. I trust that you will receive it today.

5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:5-7).

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved, 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).


10 That is to say that in Romans 9-11 Paul uses copious references to the Old Testament prophecies to show that the salvation of the Gentiles fulfills prophecy. The salvation of the Gentiles was to be expected, because the Old Testament Scriptures foretold it.

11 The commentators point out that in the original text Ephesians 1:3-14 is but one continuous sentence.

12 In verse 13 Paul does speak of the Ephesian saints as having listened to the gospel and having believed it, hinting at the responsibility which will elsewhere be emphasized.

13 In all honesty, we must also say that God glorifies Himself in the judgment of the wicked as well. See Romans 9:21-24; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Peter 2:12; Revelation 16:4-7.

14 I understand the “just as” at the beginning of verse 4 in the NASB to be something like a colon at the end of verse 3. The blessings which Paul speaks of generally in verse 3, he begins to enumerate in verse 4.

15 Several terms are used interchangeably to refer to divine election . Election is the term often used by theologians. Paul uses the term “chose” in our text (Ephesians 1:4) and “foreknow” in Romans 8:29.

16 Let me simply remind you that God will also be glorified by the wicked, both in their confession and in their condemnation. See Romans 9:19-22; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Peter 2:11-12.

17 This is to the best of my recollection. The details, as I portray them, may differ from the actual account, which I have no way of documenting.

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3. The Glory of God and the Cross of Christ (Ephesians 1:6b-10)

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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 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 upon the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 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, 14 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.

Introduction

As I begin this lesson, I am reminded of the words spoken by our Lord concerning marriage: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Of course, Jesus was speaking of marriage, not biblical exposition here. Nevertheless, I take His words seriously. The fact is that God has “joined together” verses 3-14 of Ephesians chapter 1 into but one sentence in the original text. It is with some reservation that I teach these verses in parts, rather than as a whole. Perhaps the problem is not entirely mine, however, for I doubt that many Christians are willing to sit through a sermon which is several hours in length.

The entire sentence/paragraph lays the foundation for Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. It sums up the blessings of God to the saints, in a span of time which begins before the creation (eternity past), includes all of human history, and eternity future. It is a very brief summary of the blessings of God which are the basis for our worship, praise, and obedience. These blessings are spiritual blessings, brought about in Christ, but involving the activity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Son is the emphasis of verses 6b-10, although the entire text deals with God’s blessings “in Christ.” In these verses Paul concentrates on two major dimensions of the work of Christ. The first is the work of Christ in relation to the salvation of lost sinners—the redemption which He accomplished through the shedding of His blood at Calvary. The second is the work of Christ in relation to the eternal purpose of God, that is the “summing up of all things in Christ.”

The second of these two themes is the most prominent. This is because God’s glory is the dominant theme of Ephesians. It is also because the “summing up of all things in Christ” is the main topic in chapters 2 and 3, which is first introduced in our text. While the work of Christ in saving lost sinners has been thoroughly expounded by Paul and the other apostles in other epistles, the theme of God’s summing up all things in Christ is expounded more fully here (and in Colossians) than anywhere else in the Bible.

The work of Christ, then, is described in verses 6b-10 as having two major roles: (1) accomplishing the redemption of lost sinners, and (2) accomplishing the purpose of God in “summing up all things in Christ.” In this lesson we will consider Christ’s word of redeeming lost sinners, and in the next we will pursue this great mystery of the “summing up of all things in Christ.”

Since we will be separating these two dimensions of Christ’s work, let us begin by taking note of the fact that God joined them together. All too often, we think of the work of our Lord at Calvary as only for us, for our salvation. It is more than this, much more. Christ’s death at Calvary encompasses far more than just our salvation, as important as our salvation is too us. The danger is that we will look upon Calvary in a self-centered way. In this text, Paul informs us that Christ’s work at Calvary accomplished our salvation, and that it achieved a purpose much greater in scope.

Let us not let the eternal purposes of God revolve around the “earth” of our salvation. Rather, let our salvation revolve around the “solar system” of God’s eternal, cosmic plan, which includes our salvation as just one small part of a much greater plan.

Redemption in the Old Testament

In our text, Paul speaks of the blessing of redemption, which God has bestowed on us through the death of Christ on the cross of Calvary: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.” Redemption is a kind of “stained glass term” for most people. It seems like a word that you find in church, but not elsewhere. It is not a new term in the New Testament. The Old Testament has laid an excellent foundation for us, so that when redemption is spoken of in the New Testament, we may quickly grasp what is meant. Consider the meaning of redemption as defined by its use in the Old Testament.

The first great act of redemption in the Old Testament is the exodus, the deliverance of the nation Israel from her bondage in Egypt. From the time of the exodus on this event epitomized redemption:

“Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (Exodus 6:6).

“And what one nation on the earth is like Thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for Thee and awesome things for Thy land, before Thy people whom Thou hast redeemed for Thyself from Egypt, from nations and their gods?” (2 Samuel 7:23).

“And they are Thy servants and Thy people whom Thou didst redeem by Thy great power and by Thy strong hand” (Nehemiah 1:10).

Was it not Thou who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; Who made the depths of the sea a pathway For the redeemed to cross over? (Isaiah 51:10).

The exodus was accomplished by God through a series of plagues, all of which answered the Pharaoh’s question and challenge, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? (Exodus 5:2). The final plague was so devastating that Pharaoh could no longer stand the sight of the Israelites. It was the divinely dealt death blow to the first born males in the land of Egypt, both men and animals (see Exodus 11:1-8; 12:29-36).

God made one provision for escaping this death plague. A lamb was to be sacrificed, and eaten by those who gathered in one house. The blood of that lamb was to be applied to the two doorposts and on the lintel of the house in which the lamb was eaten. All the first-born of that household would thus be spared from death (see Exodus 12:1-14). This was the first of the Passover celebrations which Israel was commanded to observe in remembrance of the redemption of God at the exodus.

The exodus was a two-fold redemption, and also the basis for a whole series of “redemptions” that followed. The first-born were redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb, and the nation Israel was redeemed by the blood of the first-born who were slaughtered on that first Passover night. Because God spared the first-born of the believing Israelites (and any Egyptians who may also have believed and obeyed), He claimed the first-born as His own. From this point on the first-born males of the Israelites and their flocks had to be redeemed:

“Now it shall come about when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you, that you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD. But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem” (Exodus 13:11-13).

When God gave the Law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, He provided for the redemption of people and property. It was anticipated that some Hebrews would become so poor that they would have to sell their inheritance and perhaps even their own selves as slaves to another. God set down clear commands which provided for the redemption of such property and people:

“‘Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land. If a fellow-countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold. Or in case a man has no kinsman, but so recovers his means as to find sufficient for its redemption, then he shall calculate the years since its sale and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and so return to his property. But if he has not found sufficient means to get it back for himself, then what he has sold shall remain in the hands of its purchaser until the year of jubilee; but at the jubilee it shall revert, that he may return to his property’” (Leviticus 25:24-28).18

The most dramatic illustration of the redemption of the land is found in the Book of Ruth, when Boaz served as the “kinsman redeemer” for Naomi and thus bought back her property and then took Ruth as his wife, to raise up descendants for Naomi’s oldest son, who had died.

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15).

Throughout the Old Testament, individuals expressed faith in God as their redeemer. Jacob confessed God as his redeemer: “The angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; And may my name live on in them, And the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Genesis 48:16).

Job, too, knew God as his Redeemer: “And as for me, I know that my redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth” (Job 19:25).

Even Job’s “friend” knew God was the One who redeemed men from death: “‘He has redeemed my soul from going to the pit, And my life shall see the light’” (Job 33:28).

David was a man who trusted in God as his Redeemer: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

And so it was that David called upon God in times of distress, that He would redeem him: “Redeem me from the oppression of man, That I may keep Thy precepts” (Psalm 119:134). “Plead my cause and redeem me; Revive me according to Thy word” (Psalm 119:154).

The exodus of the nation Israel from Egypt was not to be the greatest redemption of all time. In time, the prophecies of Deuteronomy 28-31 and of later prophets were fulfilled when the nation Israel was sent into captivity because of their rebellion and disobedience to God’s law. The northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and dispersed by the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom of Judah was later taken hostage by the Babylonians.

The Old Testament prophets foretold of a redemption even greater than the exodus. The first redemption concerned the release of the nation Israel from its foreign captivity, and its return to Israel, and particularly to Jerusalem. The second phase of her redemption was in the first coming of Messiah. The final phase of Israel’s redemption was the final redemption when God’s enemies are subdued once and for all, and when His eternal kingdom is established on the earth. It is not always easy to determine which of these aspects of Israel’s redemption was in view in every prophecy, as you can see for yourself:

The deliverance of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity was another act of redemption: “Writhe and labor to give birth, Daughter of Zion, Like a woman in childbirth, For now you will go out of the city, Dwell in the field, And go to Babylon. There you will be rescued; There the Lord will redeem you From the hand of your enemies” (Micah 4:10, see also Isaiah 44:24-28; 28:20, Jeremiah 50).

Thus says the Lord, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’ To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ Along the roads they will feed, And their pasture will be on all bare heights. They will not hunger or thirst, Neither will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; For He who has compassion on them will lead them, And will guide them to springs of water. And I will make all My mountains a road, And My highways will be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar; And lo, these will come from the north and from the west, And these from the land of Sinim.” Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, And will have compassion on His afflicted” (Isaiah 49:8-13).

“For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the Lord your Redeemer. For this is like the days of Noah to Me; When I swore that the waters of Noah Should not flood the earth again, So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, Nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” Says the Lord who has compassion on you. O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, And your foundations I will lay in sapphires. Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, And your gates of crystal, And your entire wall of precious stones (Isaiah 54:7-12; compare Revelation 21:10-21).

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising … . Whereas you have been forsaken and hated With no one passing through, I will make you an everlasting pride, A joy from generation to generation. You will also suck the milk of nations, And will suck the breast of kings; Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of bronze I will bring gold, And instead of iron I will bring silver, And instead of wood, bronze, And instead of stones, iron. And I will make peace your administrators, And righteousness your overseers. Violence will not be heard again in your land, Nor devastation or destruction within your borders; But you will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise. No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, Neither will your moon wane; For you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be finished. Then all your people will be righteous; They will possess the land forever, The branch of My planting, The work of My hands, That I may be glorified” (Isaiah 60:15-21; compare Revelation 21:22-26).

Thus, the nation Israel not only looked back in time, to see God’s redemption, but also to the future. They called upon God to redeem them:

Redeem Israel, O God, Out of all his troubles (Psalm 25:22).

O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness, And with Him is abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel From all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8).

The Old Testament Scriptures speak often of redemption. A primary element in our understanding of redemption is that of deliverance. Redemption is the deliverance from bondage or distress or opposition, from which one cannot otherwise escape. In the Old Testament, men were delivered from:

  • Slavery, bondage, or captivity (Isaiah 48:20; Micah 4:10)
  • Adversity or distress (Job 6:23; 2 Samuel 4:9; 1 Kings 1:29; Psalm 107:2)
  • Trouble (Psalm 25:22)
  • Death, or one’s soul going to the pit (Job 5:20; 33:28; Psalm 49:15; 103:4)
  • Tyrants, oppressors, or one’s enemy (Job 6:23; Psalm 106:10; 119:34)
  • Sin (Isaiah 44:22)

Very often, redemption was accomplished through the shedding of blood. Thus it is that the writer to the Hebrews can say, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

Redemption in the New Testament

From the time of the announcement of our Lord’s birth in the Gospels, men and women of God recognized that He was coming to redeem His people, as it was prophesied in the Old Testament:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1:68).

And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).

“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:31).

The redemption which our Lord was to accomplish was to be through the shedding of His blood on the cross of Calvary. John the Baptist introduced the Lord Jesus as a sacrificial lamb: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b).

In what appears to be one of our Lord’s first confrontations with the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem, Jesus spoke figuratively of His death and resurrection:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken (John 2:19-22).

Jesus spoke of Himself as the brazen serpent of Numbers chapter 21, who, by being lifted up would save men: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Later, after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus told the crowd that they must partake of His body and blood, and this was the cause for many leaving Him, never again to follow (John 6:22-71). While these words of our Lord were not to be taken in a strictly literal sense, they were to be taken seriously. It was, from the beginning, God’s purpose that Jesus Christ would die on the cross of Calvary to redeem sinful men:

Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:18-21).

Even the disciples were slow to understand that the Lord Jesus must shed His blood for the redemption of lost sinners, and when they did they opposed it. The could not reconcile how a King could be crucified and fulfill the hopes of Israelites. Jesus not only rebuked Peter for resisting His suffering and death, but went further to inform them that discipleship meant a “cross” for every believer:

20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it (Matthew 16:20-25).

After our Lord’s death, resurrection, and return to the Father, the gospel which the apostles preached was one of the redemption, of the forgiveness of sins by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ:

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:11-15).

4 And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” 6 And I saw between the throne with the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” 11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:4-12).19

The redemption of lost sinners is, in this age, being offered to all mankind through the preaching of the gospel. As we saw from the Old Testament prophecies, there is a future dimension to the redemption which Christ will accomplish:

13 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, 14 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 (Ephesians 1:13-14).

30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:22-25).

This final redemption also involves the shedding of blood, but it is not the blood of the Savior, it is the blood of those who oppose Him:

1 Who is this who comes from Edom, With garments of glowing colors from Bozrah, This One who is majestic in His apparel, Marching in the greatness of His strength? “It is I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.” 2 Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like the one who treads in the wine press? 3 “I have trodden the wine trough alone, And from the peoples there was no man with Me. I also trod them in My anger, And trampled them in My wrath; And their lifeblood is sprinkled on My garments, And I stained all My raiment. 4 “For the day of vengeance was in My heart, And My year of redemption has come. 5 “And I looked, and there was no one to help, And I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; So My own arm brought salvation to Me; And My wrath upheld Me. 6 “And I trod down the peoples in My anger, And made them drunk in My wrath, And I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Isaiah 63:1-6).

The conclusion of human history is a very bloody one for those who oppose God, as the Book of Revelation makes abundantly clear:

17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, and he also had a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel, the one who has power over fire, came out from the altar; and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying,” Put in your sharp sickle, and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, because her grapes are ripe. “ 19 And the angel swung his sickle to the earth, and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God. 20 And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles (Revelation 14:17-20).

4 And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it. “ 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments” (Revelation 16:4-7).

The divine redemption of all things requires two bloody events for the Messiah. Likewise, there are two banquets or feasts which our Lord, the Messiah, prepares. The first is the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is a banquet which has been expected for many centuries:

5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).

16 But He said to him, “A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many … (Luke 14:16).

28 “And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (NASB) Revelation 19:9 9 And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God” (Luke 22:28-30).

There is another banquet, one which is not for those who love the Lord Jesus, but a banquet of those who hate Him. I call it the “buzzard banquet.” It is not a pretty scene:

11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God; 18 in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great. “

19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. 20 And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh (Revelation 19:11-21).

God’s redemption is a marvelous gift, a gift which brings about the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life in the presence of God. To receive this gift is the greatest blessing one can ever experience. To reject this gift is to turn from God’s only way of salvation. It is to choose the way of destruction, which God has prepared for the enemies of His Messiah. I challenge you to consider these two paths, the path of eternal blessing, and the path of eternal destruction. Which will you choose. As the Apostle Paul put it, “Behold then the kindness and the severity of God…” (Romans 11:22).

Which path will it be for you? Which destiny do you choose? Those who reject God’s goodness condemn themselves to God’s severity.

Conclusion

As we conclude, allow me to highlight several lines of thought for you to contemplate in relation to this passage of Scripture.

First, consider the fact that while God’s election and predestination plays a significant part in the eternal bliss or torment of men, it also purposed the eternal torment of our Lord and His beloved Son on the cross of Calvary. Many people agonize over the sovereignty of God in election. How could God allow anyone to suffer an eternity in hell? The gospel informs us that God purposed for His Son to suffer the agony of His eternal wrath. Not only was God’s choice of whom He would save made in eternity past, but also His plan as to how He would save. His plan of salvation, determined in eternity past, included the creation of men and angels, the fall of Satan and of man, the need for redemption, and the provision of a Redeemer in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

God planned for the suffering of His own son, His “beloved” Son. This is surely the meaning of Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:6, when he informs us that God poured out His grace freely in the Beloved. Jesus is the beloved Son of God (Matthew 3:17), and yet the Father purposed His agony, His death, on the cross. The question of how God can purpose for guilty sinners to suffer eternally is not nearly so difficult to fathom as the question of how God could purpose for His beloved, sinless, Son to die on the cross of Calvary.

Think of this. Both the Father and the Son, in their omniscience (knowledge of all things), knew the full measure of the suffering of the Savior. They knew it in eternity past, before the plan of salvation was ever decreed. And yet the Father made it His plan, and the Son was obedient to it.

Second, consider the fact that the cross of Calvary is the measure of God’s love and grace to all who believe. Notice how many times the love of God is either specifically mentioned or implied in Ephesians 1:3-14. The cross of Calvary is the measure of God’s love for man. The grace of God was not sparingly meted out to us, it was “lavished” on us (verse 8), freely bestowed by the Father through the sacrifice of His Son. The song writer put it this way: “Amazing love, how can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me”?

Third, consider the fact that if God’s provision for man’s redemption was through the agony of His beloved Son, God will not be impressed by any other means of salvation which men may devise, or in which men may put their trust. If Jesus Christ was God’s only means of salvation, a way which cost the Father His “Beloved Son” and the Son His life, what do you think God’s response will be to us for having some other basis for salvation? When men stand before the judgment seat of God, He will be interested in but one thing: What we have done with His Son. God’s Word is crystal clear, Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary is God’s only means of salvation. To trust in anyone or anything else is to reject Him and to seal our doom.

The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:10-12).

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day, For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him … It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:53-56, 63).

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:30-31).

Fourth, consider the possibility that suffering is not the opposite of glory, and not just the means to glory, but glory itself. As the hour of our Lord’s death drew near, Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify Him:

These things Jesus spoke; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do. And now, glorify Thou Me together with Thyself, Father, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:1-5).

The cross of Calvary was that in which Paul boasted: “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Does Paul not boast in the cross because it is glorious? And does not the Book of Revelation record all creation’s praise of the Lord as the One who shed His blood for the salvation of men inform us that His suffering was glorious?

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 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.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:6-14).

John Piper, in his excellent book, Desiring God, develops and defends the thesis that it is not wrong for Christians to have pleasure. It is only wrong for us to have pleasure in the wrong things. God’s eternal purpose is for us to have pleasure in Him. I think Piper makes an excellent point, and one which is much needed.

I would like to suggest that we think in a similar way about suffering. The unbelieving world thinks of suffering as evil. Some Christians think of suffering only as a punishment for evil. The scribes and Pharisees seem to have thought this way. Other Christians come closer to the truth by acknowledging that suffering can be a means to glory. But I would like to suggest that some suffering is glory.

To use Piper’s analogy, it is not wrong to suffer; it is only wrong to suffer for the wrong reasons. Conversely, it is “glory” for the Christian to suffer for the right reasons. Consider these texts:

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory (Ephesians 3:13).

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this {finds} favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer {for it} you patiently endure it, this {finds} favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting {Himself} to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, {the} just for {the} unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:17-18).

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient {for you} to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries (1 Peter 4:1-3).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if {anyone suffers} as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God (1 Peter 4:12-15).

Just as God purposed for His Son to suffer and to die, to the praise of the glory of His grace, so He has also purposed our suffering, not only for His glory, but for our good and for our glory. It is the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ which enables every Christian to look at suffering in an entirely different light.

Finally, it is the glory of the cross of our Lord which is the basis for the frequent, continual remembrance of His suffering and death in communion. Those who cannot see the glory in the cross will surely wish to put the cross out of their minds. Those who glory in the cross will gratefully and eagerly look forward to the communion service. This is one of the reasons for our weekly observance of communion at “prime time.”

May God enable you to glory in the cross of Christ, because of the redemption which our Lord accomplished on your behalf. And may we bless God for what Paul has spoken of, this blessing of eternal redemption in Christ.


18 See also Leviticus 25:29-55

19 See also Acts 3:17-21; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Colossians 1:18-20; 1 Peter 1:18-20.

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4. The Goal of History: Summing Up All Things in Christ (Ephesians 1:8b-10)

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 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 upon the earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10).

Introduction

We had invited some friends from church over for dinner after church one Sunday afternoon. It was one of those days when several pesky flies had somehow maneuvered around the screens on our windows and doors. We were all sitting at the table, about to offer thanks for the food. One fly was persistently landing on the empty plate of one of our guests. I had had enough. I stood up and swatted the fly. It was one of my best efforts. I hit the fly squarely and dealt him a fatal blow. There was only one problem—his badly maimed body landed in the middle of a very large salad, one that my wife had worked very hard to prepare.

Jeannette tried to salvage the situation. She hastily snatched up the salad bowl and took it to the kitchen counter. There, before the eyes of all, she removed not only the fly, but a large portion of the salad with him. It didn’t work. No one ate any of that salad.

There is a song (some might call it ancient), which goes something like this: “Little things mean a lot.” In biblical terms, it is the “little foxes which spoil the grapes” (Song of Solomon 2:15). In practical terms, it often takes but a very little thing to do a great deal of damage.

This week, there were a lot of folks who had no interest in art, who gave much thought to Michelangelo. “Michelangelo” is not a painting, it is a computer virus, a very subtle computer program which attaches itself to computer programs and lays dormant and undetected in your computer—until the date it is set to activate. At this point in time, your hard disk begins to erase all the data that you have taken months or years to store there. Something unseen and unexpected suddenly takes control of your computer and causes serious trouble.

Something devastating has happened on a much broader scale, which has resulted in suffering and distress, not only for mankind, but for the entire creation. The disaster happened in several stages. The first incident seems to have happened before the creation of man. It was the “fall” of Satan, which many understand to be described in Isaiah chapter 14 and Ezekiel chapter 28. Satan was created as a “son” of God,20 but he wanted the status of God rather to serve God, and so he fell, the first of a number of fallen angels, which are often referred to as demons.

After the creation of Adam and Eve, Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, resulting in their rebellion against God, for reasons strikingly similar to those of Satan (see Genesis chapter 3). The consequences of this fall can hardly be overestimated. All mankind became contaminated with sin, in every aspect of their being—intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally, and volitionally. While all men are not totally corrupt, they are corrupted in every part of their being. No part of our humanity is free from the presence and power of sin. Theologically, this fact is known as the doctrine of total depravity.

The devastating consequences of sin go far beyond that of total depravity. I call this the doctrine of total cosmic chaos. All of creation has been corrupted by the fall and shares in the curse resulting from man’s sin. This can be seen from Paul’s words in the 8th chapter of the Book of Romans:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now (Romans 8:18-22).

Thank God, the fall of man and the curse which has fallen upon all creation is reversible. It will be reversed by the coming of the King, and the establishment of His kingdom. This reversal and restoration of creation was to come about in a way that many would not recognize. It, like the fall and curse of creation, would have seemingly insignificant beginnings, but awesome consequences. Jesus summed it up this way:

He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32).

The Lord’s coming in the form of a baby, born in a cattle trough, to parents of meager means in an insignificant village was far from spectacular. It was hardly indicative of the way in which the Messiah would come, a second time, to overcome His enemies and to establish His kingdom. While this kingdom had seemingly insignificant beginnings, it will eventually result in the reign of our Lord over the entire creation.

It is about this climactic conclusion of history and the coming of the kingdom of God of which Paul speaks in the first chapter of Ephesians. As unflattering as it may be to the human ego, the coming of Christ was not only to save men from their sins. According to Ephesians, man’s salvation is not the ultimate purpose of the coming of Christ. God’s eternal purpose is the “summing up of all things in Christ.”

If the corruption and chaos of all creation commenced with the fall of one man—Adam, the cure was also to come about through one man—Jesus Christ. Our text in Ephesians chapter 1 focuses on this climactic reversal of the fall of Adam and of the chaos and corruption it has brought about. In Ephesians 1:8-10 Paul speaks of the great reversal as the “summing up of all things in Christ.” Barclay has paraphrased them this way:

This happened because he made known to us the once hidden but now revealed secret of his will, for so it was his good pleasure to do. The secret was a purpose which he formed in his own mind before time began, so that the periods of time should be controlled and administered until they reached their full development, a development in which all things, in heaven and upon earth, are gathered into one in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:8-10, Barclay’s paraphrase).21

The subject of our text is of vital importance. In the first place, this text describes God’s purpose for human history.22 Perhaps nowhere else is God’s purpose for human history so concisely summarized. Second, the passage we are considering in this lesson introduces the central theme of the Book of Ephesians. By understanding our text that we obtain the key to the message of the entire epistle.

In this lesson we will endeavor to explain how it is that God has purposed to sum up all things in Christ, and how this relates to the Christian and his conduct in the church and in the world. We will begin with the principle as it is introduced in chapter 1, and then move to its final clarification in chapters 2 and 3. After this we will look for parallel passages in other Scriptures. We will then seek to discover biblical illustrations of how God’s purpose in this principle is being carried out in specific areas of life. Finally, we will seek to explore some of the implications of the principle for our daily lives.

Few themes are of greater importance than that which we are about to study. Beyond this, few themes are more difficult to grasp. Repeatedly in Ephesians and elsewhere Paul refers to the principle as a mystery, one which has only recently been unveiled, and the primary task which Paul has been given as an apostle. Twice in this epistle to the Ephesians Paul prays that his readers will be granted the divine enablement to understand all that is involved.

Let us prayerfully and carefully enter into this mystery, knowing that it is a truth vastly bigger than us, but one which can and should shape our lives. Let us listen well, and make these matters the subject of a life-long study, to the glory of God as well as for our own blessing.

Summing Up All Things In Christ

The exact term which is translated “summing up” is found only twice in the New Testament. Both times the term is used by Paul. The other use of the term is found in Romans, where Paul writes,

For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Romans 13:9, emphasis mine).

The term used here means, “to gather up into one.”23 It is a compound term, with the principle root being the word for “head.” I believe that the New International Version precisely conveys Paul’s meaning when it renders the text in this way:

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10, NIV, emphasis mine).

The teaching of the headship of Christ is referred to often in the New Testament, and it refers to His authority and rule. The purpose of God in history is to bring glory to Himself by bringing all of creation under the headship (the authority and rule) of Christ. This truth is taught in a number of other New Testament passages.

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; 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. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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, 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 fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:15-23).

15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. 16 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 by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile 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 (Colossians 1:15-20).

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, “What is man, that Thou rememberest him? Or the son of man, that Thou art concerned about him? “Thou hast made him for a little while lower than the angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, And hast appointed him over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. “For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him (Hebrews 2:5-8).

And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 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.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped (Revelation 5:6-14).

Several truths and inferences emerge from our text in Ephesians and these other texts, concerning the summing up of all things in Christ:

(1) God has, from eternity past, planned to sum up all things in Christ.

(2) The summing up of all things in Christ is God’s plan for human history. It is also the climax, the culmination of human history. It is the conclusion of God’s plan for time, and the commencement of God’s plan for men in eternity.

(3) God is sovereign, in control of all history, so that His plan to sum up all things in Christ is certain.

(4) The plan to sum up all things in Christ is the result and the reflection of God’s infinite wisdom and sight (Ephesians 1:8; see also Romans 11:33-36).

(5) The summing up of all things in Christ centers in the person of Christ, in His first and second comings.

(6) The summing up of all things in Christ provides for the reversal of the fall of Adam, and the restoration of all creation from its devastating effects (see Romans 5:12-21 and 8:19-25).

(7) God’s plan to sum up all things in Christ was a mystery until after the coming of Christ. The plan to sum up all things in Christ is one made in eternity past. It is a plan that God partially revealed in time. This plan was a mystery in that it was not revealed in full and in that it was not understood.

I believe that it would be mistaken to think that the plan of God to sum up all things in Christ was not revealed in the past, but only revealed by Paul and the other apostles. When Paul speaks of the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles in Romans 9-11, he frequently cites Old Testament prophecies as having been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The mystery was that God revealed His plan in part and in pieces, and no one could put them together until after they were fulfilled in Christ. Even then, men could not understand it unless God explained it through His apostles and men were enabled to grasp it through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 3 and 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6).

Let me try to illustrate it in this way. If you have ever watched any of the “Columbo” mysteries on television, you will remember that this seemingly inept detective first uncovers a number of “mysterious” pieces of evidence, which do not square with the explanations offered for the crime. Finally, Columbo puts the facts together and solves the crime. This is the way I understand the “mystery” of God’s purpose to sum up all things in Christ. The prophets spoke of the sufferings and the glory of Messiah, and how both could be true was a great mystery to them (1 Peter 1:10-12). Only after Christ’s first coming do we see how suffering and glory fit beautifully together, to the glory of God. So it is with every puzzling piece of those prophecies which spoke of God’s purposes in Christ, which did not seem to fit together to form one clear picture. In Christ, all the pieces fit, the mystery is solved, and all things are summed up in Him.

(8) The proclamation and explanation of God’s plan to sum up all things in Christ was a part of Paul’s special calling and a commission given him by God (see Ephesians 3:1-13).

Some Specific Examples of Summing Up

We have spoken in general terms of the summing up of all things in Christ. Now let us pause to consider some of the specific ways in which all things are summed up in Christ. These are only samples, suggestive of the many other ways in which God has brought all things together under the headship of His Son.

(1) God summed up our salvation in Christ.

“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 delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

“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) The sin of Adam, which brought sin, death, and condemnation upon the human race, God has summed up and reversed in Christ:

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:17-19).

So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).

(3) The blessings of the Abrahamic covenant were summed up in Christ, through whom God’s purpose and promise of blessing has been fulfilled.

Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ (Galatians 3:15-16).

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29).

(4) The Old Testament Law of Moses is summed up in Christ, who alone has both fulfilled its requirements and born its penalty for sin.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor Galatians 3:24-25).

For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And upon their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:14-17).

(5) The Old Testament prophecies are summed up in Christ, who fulfills them.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which were written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

(6) The rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament Law were also fulfilled in Christ.

Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:17).

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says,” that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:3-5).

In many other unexpected ways, Christ fulfilled the Old Testament anticipations of Him.

“OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15).

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

(7) God’s rule over angelic and celestial powers is summed up in Christ: the fallen celestial powers are defeated by Christ and the unfallen are instructed by Him.

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:15)

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31).

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:8-11).

Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (Ephesians 6:11-18).24

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night (Revelation 12:10).25

(8) All of divine revelation is summed up in Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 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 it … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:1-4).

(9) The cleansing of the heavens has been summed up in Christ.

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:11-28).

(10) The future of the earth and all creation, which groans under the corruption of sin, is summed up in Christ.

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, And the leopard will lie down with the kid, And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze; Their young will lie down together; And the lion will eat straw like the ox. And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:1-9).

Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy (Isaiah 35:4-6a).

“It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the Lord (Isaiah 65:24-25).

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now (Romans 8:19-22).

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true” (Revelation 21:1-5).

(11) The judgment of the enemies of God is summed up in Christ, the One who will judge the living and the dead.

On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments” (Revelation 16:4-7).

(12) The blessings of God are summed up in Christ.

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 (Ephesians 1:3).

(13) The glory of God is summed up in Christ.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they (Hebrews 1:1-4).

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:11).

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 25).

One Final Note of the Summing Up of All Things in Christ

The emphasis of this lesson has been to show how, in the eternal plan and purpose of God, the Father has determined to sum up all things in Christ. We should not forget, however, that when all things are summed up in Christ, the Son of God will, in submission to His Father, give up the position of preeminence, giving it back to the Father:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).

Conclusion

As we conclude our study of this text in Ephesians, let me point out several ways in which this passage affects our lives.

First, our text introduces the central theme of Ephesians. The summing up of all things in Christ is not only God’s purpose in history, it is the primary subject of the entire epistle. In Ephesians 1:9-10 Paul introduces the subject. In the closing verses of chapter 1, Paul prays that his readers might come to grasp this majestic truth:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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, 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 fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:18-23).

In chapter 2 Paul shows how God has reconciled rebellious sinners to Himself, in Christ (verses 1-10), and how through the church, the body of Christ, God has reconciled Jews and Gentiles, although they were formerly enemies (verses 11-22). The church is presented, not as a parenthesis or as some kind of temporary institution, but as the culmination of God’s plan for human history, because the church is the body of Christ. If the fulness of the Father is in Christ, the fulness of Christ is in His church (see 1:22-23).

In chapter 3, Paul identifies the summing up of all things in Christ as a great mystery, but one which now is being proclaimed to all men. The proclamation of this mystery is one of Paul’s primary missions, a stewardship committed to Him by God. Many of his tribulations are a direct result of his faithfulness in carrying out this task (3:8-13).

God has purposed that until the Lord Jesus Christ returns, to subdue His enemies and to reign over all creation, the church is to be the visible manifestation of Christ to the world. The God who filled the Lord Jesus with all His fullness, now fills the church with His fulness. What a glorious privilege and responsibility God has given His church! God has created the church not only to manifest Christ, but to manifest His glory. Therefore, the conduct of the church and of each of its members is a matter of the highest priority. Chapters 1-3 describe the creation of the church, to the glory of God. Chapters 4-6 prescribe the conduct of the church, to the glory of God.

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 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 fulness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Second, our text teaches the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. In our culture, we are told, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” In many ways, this is a good word of advice. But it is not true in terms of Christian faith. We are to put all our eggs into one basket, and that “basket” is Christ.

We are to cast ourselves totally and exclusively on Christ and Christ alone. We are to place our trust in none other for salvation, for sanctification, for our eternal hope, for spiritual blessings. It is in Christ and Christ alone that God has pours out every spiritual blessing upon men (Ephesians 1:3). It is in Christ, and Christ alone, that God sums up all things (1:9-10). There is nothing else and no one else in whom we can place our trust for spiritual blessing.

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).

For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 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 (1 Corinthians 8:5-6).

There are those who do not know or trust God who trust, “Not Christ but …” They will trust in science, or in philosophy, or in their own good works, but not in Christ. There are others who seem more broad-minded. These trust in, “Christ, or …” They believe that there are many ways to heaven, many different (but equal) faiths. One may choose to get to heaven through Christ, or through some other means. Many are willing to add Christ to the list of their “gods” in whom they trust, but this is not good enough.

Then there are those who profess to be Christians, and yet they trust in “Christ and …” They trust in Christ and medicine, Christ and psychology, Christ and good works. Often, this kind of person speaks of “integration.” Most often I hear the expression, “the integration of psychology and theology.” I must say it emphatically, my friend, there is no place for integration here, but only a place for subordination.

Paul will have nothing to do with anything less than this: “Christ only!” I must place my trust in Christ, period! He alone can save me. He alone can sanctify me. He alone can assure my entrance into His heavenly kingdom. He alone can keep me. He alone is my hope, my joy, my comfort, my motivation. Every spiritual blessing comes only from Christ.

But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:1-15).

Third, our text informs us of the supreme importance of the church and of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) in the plan and purpose of God. I have already mentioned the importance of our conduct in the church above. But here I wish to stress the importance of the teachings of Scripture concerning the structure, function, and ministry of the church.26

The church is supremely important in the economy of God. It is the “body of Christ” (Colossians 1:24) of which Christ is the head (Colossians 1:18). It is the “bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7; 21:9). It is the “fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). It is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). It is “God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19) and the “dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). No wonder God has given such specific instructions on the form and function of His church. The church is the manifestation of Jesus Christ, in whom God has purposed to sum up all things.

Imagine, for example, that you were the chauffeur of a man who sold all of his cars in order to buy one very rare and expensive automobile. The car you are now driving is your employer’s only car, a car which he prizes above all else. How would you feel as you drove such a car? This is how we should feel about our conduct in the church.

How is it, then, that Christians take Paul’s instructions to the church so lightly? Why is it that men feel that Paul’s instructions can be quickly changed or even set aside? Why is it that Paul’s practice and teaching in the New Testament are viewed as unique to a particular church, when Paul says otherwise?

I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).27

Why is it that we not only permit women to speak publicly in church and to lead, but now we even take pride in the fact that they can preach, when Paul specifically forbade this, and based upon the principle of the headship of Christ over the church, the very principle which Paul teaches in Ephesians (see 1 Corinthians 11:1-16; 14:33-36; 1 Timothy 2:11-15)? The subordination of the woman to her husband by her silence in the church is a picture of the subordination of the church to her “head,” Jesus Christ. Why have we concluded that Paul’s teaching was a culturally relative matter, when he clearly teaches it to be linked to a principle which spans time and cultures?

Why is it that God struck a man and his wife dead for lying to the church and caused the sickness or death of those who failed to properly esteem the body of Christ in the observance of communion? Why is it that the focus of much of what we do in church is not Christ and His cross? May God cause us to revisit those doctrines and instructions concerning His church which we have taken lightly or even set aside.

May God grant to His church a fresh vision of the glory of the church and of the supreme importance of our conduct in the church.


20 Angels are called the “sons of God” in Job 1:6 and 2:1, and perhaps also in Genesis 6:2, though this text is more debatable.

21 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 83.

22 Barclay (page 83) titles this text, “The goal of history.”

23 T. K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1974 [reprint]), p. 18.

24 This text must be understood in the light of the context of the texts in Isaiah to which Paul is alluding, describing the armor which Messiah will put on the accomplish His victory over the enemies of God.

25 See also Revelation 20.

26 A word of warning must be sounded here. Let us not fall into the same trap as the Jewish religious leaders—thinking that right forms guarantees right function. Right forms don’t assure right function; they can only facilitate it. But often it is the churches who boast most about the right forms which have the wrong functions. Let us not forget the warning of Isaiah 10:1-17; Amos 5:21-27; Hebrews 10:8-9.

27 See also 1 Corinthians 14:33-36.

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5. The Hope of Glory (Ephesians 1:11-14)

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, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, 8 which He lavished upon us.

In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 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 upon the earth.

In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. 13 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, 14 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.

Introduction

At the conclusion of World War I, a period of optimism swept the country. It was a war, they said, which would end all wars. The future looked bright. Even the Christian community was caught up in the spirit of expectation. It became popular among some Christians to hold that the kingdom of God would be ushered in by the church, which would transform society to the point where the Lord would come to establish His reign upon the earth. Needless to say, this optimism did not last long. It certainly ended with onset of World War II.

Ours is not an age of optimism, but rather one of pessimism and despair. The somber mood of our culture is perhaps most evident in the youth culture. The specter of disaster looms large in the minds of all men, but especially among the young. There is the death and destruction of war, which poses danger for civilians as well as combatants. I am told that during the civil war, 90% of the casualties were combatants. Now, 90% of the casualties are civilians.

Our environment seems to be unstoppably and irreversibly changing, and not for the better. The atomic bomb, biological weapons and other instruments of mass destruction are not only being produced at an alarming rate, but are being acquired in large quantities by mad men. Now, the size of a country has little to do with its threat to others. All a nation needs is a large enough store of nuclear and chemical weapons to destroy the civilized world.

There were always some things we thought we could count on, like a steady job, a comfortable retirement, and a sound economy. Not any longer. Those who have invested the better part of their productive lives working for one company now cannot count on long-term employment. Technology is changing so fast that many jobs cease to exist. More companies are failing, and so jobs die with the company. Retirement accounts run dry and the banking system seems to teeter on the brink of disaster. Overseas competition nibbles away at our competitive edge. World-wide recession is not an infrequent topic of conversation.

And then there are the diseases, like aids, which no longer pose a threat for a small minority, or for those whose lifestyle is immoral. Now, aids is a threat to our entire society. In a small country that I visited in East Africa a few years ago, aids was hardly known. Now, in that same country, they cannot bury those who have died of aids fast enough. Funeral homes are multiplying, in order to handle a business that is bigger than existing facilities can handle. A number of funeral ceremonies now are conducted for groups, not for one individual. Babies born to mothers addicted to crack are now at school age, and educational system is struggling with the massive problems they pose to school systems.

Our youth culture is well aware of the dangers which lie before us. There is no longer the idealism among our youth which was evident in the 60’s. Teens cling together in gangs for protection. Premarital sex is now becoming the norm, and those who remain pure feel the same kind of social stigma that the immoral once felt. Part of the reason for premarital sex is that there is no sense of certainty that there is a future. And so this generation wants to have what we waited for because they are skeptical about the future.

While a large percentage of our youth are trying to enjoy whatever pleasures life offers now, they are finding no joy in life. More and more teens are convinced that life has nothing to offer them, and are trying to escape the trials of the present by committing suicide. Never before have so many found so little to live for.

Apart from the Word of God and its offer of a bright future, men have no basis for hope at all. It is my opinion that in the end times, when things become exceedingly difficult, unbelieving men and women will turn to the antichrist to save them, placing their faith and hope in him, to their own destruction. In the present, there are various forms of “false hope” being peddled, most of which should be spelled HYPE, not HOPE.

The text which we are studying today is one of many passages which focuses on the hope which the gospel offers to all who trust in Christ for salvation. The Christian’s hope is the “hope of glory,” a hope which enables us to endure the sufferings and groanings of this life with confidence and genuine optimism.

The Context of our Text

In our text, verses 3-14 constitute a single paragraph. In the original text it would appear that these verses actually constitute one sentence. The entire paragraph is Paul’s summary of the blessings which God has graciously bestowed on the believer, in order to manifest His glory. Just as our blessings are summed up “in Christ,” the purposes of God are summed up in Him. The purpose of history is to bring all things under the headship of Jesus Christ, and thereby glorify the Father.

The blessings of the believer are described in the most summary fashion. Paul assumes that his readers will understand the terms and concepts he refers to, both from his own teaching in the past28 and that of others. Paul’s summary includes the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It considers eternity past, history, and eternity future. The Christian’s future hope is not limited to verses 11-14. All through verses 3-14 Paul has pointed us to the future. Our blessings are “in the heavenlies in Christ” (1:3). His purpose, determined in eternity past, is that we should be “holy and blameless before Him” (1:4), and that we should be “adopted as sons” (1:5). These are all to be fully realized in the future.

The faith and hope of the Christian has always looked forward, to the blessings which are not presently seen, but which God has promised:

24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:24-25).

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old gained approval. … 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. … 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:1-2, 13, 39).

The Structure of our Text

It is not always the case, but there are times when an analysis of the structure of a text can greatly enhance our understanding of its meaning and message. Such is the case with our passage. Notice its structure, with very little rearranging:

      IN HIM ALSO WE HAVE OBTAINED AN INHERITANCE,

        having been predestined according to His purpose

          Who works all things after the counsel of His will

            to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be

        TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY

      IN HIM, YOU ALSO WERE SEALED IN HIM WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE

        who is given as a pledge of our inheritance

          after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation having also believed,

            with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession

        TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY

A number of observations should be noted from the structure of our text:

(1) The text falls into two major divisions, verses 11 and 12, and verses 13 and 14.

(2) Verses 11-14 describe one inheritance (verses 11 and 14) in Christ, shared by both Jews and Gentiles, which is the basis of the believer’s hope.

(3) Verses 11 and 12 focus on the inheritance of the Jews, the “first to hope in Christ.”

(4) Verses 13 and 14 focus on the inheritance of the Gentiles, who have listened to the gospel and believed in Christ.

(5) Both the Jewish saints and the Gentile believers share the same hope and the same inheritance.

(6) The salvation of both groups is “to the praise of His glory” (verses 12 and 14).

(7) The text emphasizes both divine sovereignty (verse 11) and human responsibility (verse 13). God predestined those who would be saved (verse 11), and then sealed them with His spirit (verse 13). Those who were saved believed, both Jews (verse 12) and Gentiles (verse 13).

A Survey of the Inheritance of the Saints in the Bible

The concept of an inheritance is not a new one in the Book of Ephesians. It is a concept which is introduced early in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), and which is consummated in the last (Revelation). The concept is progressively revealed in the Bible, so that we can now look back on its development and see it in its full dimensions.

The concept of an inheritance began with the expectation of the inheritance of a land. Stephen spoke of Abraham’s hope of an inheritance: “And He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground; and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that He would give it to him as a possession, and to his offspring after him” (Acts 7:5).

When the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt, they anticipated entering into the promised land, which would be their inheritance:

“Thou wilt bring them and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, The place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established” (Exodus 15:17).

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants to whom Thou didst swear by Thyself, and didst say to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’” (Exodus 32:13).

Driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today (Deuteronomy 4:38).

When Israel sinned, God drove them from the land of their inheritance. They would return to this land, but even after this, the prophets spoke of an eternal inheritance in the land:

“And I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, And an heir of My mountains from Judah; Even My chosen ones shall inherit it, And My servants shall dwell there” (Isaiah 65:9).

“‘For there will be peace for the seed: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce, and the heavens will give their dew; and I will cause the remnant of this people to inherit all these things’” (Zechariah 8:12).

Israel’s inheritance was more than just a piece of land. When Jacob had deceived his father and sinfully obtained his blessing, he fled from his brother Esau, leaving the land of his inheritance. I believe that he never intended to return, at least while his brother remained alive. But Jacob had a most unusual dream just before he left the land of promise:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 “Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 “And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:10-17).

Jacob’s dream caused him to view this land differently. It was the land on which the ladder of his dream was set. Somehow, this land was special, it was the place where God met with men. It would not be until much later that the significance of this dream would be spelled out in relationship to Jesus Christ.

43 The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him,” Come and see. “ 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” 48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:43-51).

If Jacob’s ladder was placed on the land of Israel, his inheritance and later that of his descendants the Israelites, the ladder itself was the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was to become the mediator between men and God, the one means of access between earth and heaven.

Up until the time of the coming of Jesus, the Christ, the place of worship was critical, because God had appointed one place where His presence would abide, and where men could worship Him. Now, after the coming of Christ, the place is not critical, but the person of our Lord is:

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming He who is called Christ; when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:19-26).

The place of worship was important in Israel’s past, and will be in her future, only because that is the place where God’s presence will abide, and thus it is the place where men can worship God. But in eternity future, the place is not the location to which Jesus will come, it is the “place” which our Lord is presently preparing, and which He will bring with Him:

2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:2-3).

1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them (Revelation 21:1-3).

Even the Old Testament saint came to realize that their inheritance, their “land” was not the physical land of their day and time, but rather a heavenly place:

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

Israel’s inheritance was a spiritual one. And so it can be seen in the Old Testament that Israel’s real inheritance was God Himself, not just a piece of land where He would manifest His presence. So it was for the Levites, and so it was for David:

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel” (Numbers 18:20).

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; Thou dost support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me (Psalm 16:5-6).

My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26).

I cried out to Thee, O Lord; I said, “Thou art my refuge, My portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:5).

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).

From the Old Testament to the New, God made it plain to us that those who would find Him to be their inheritance would not be just Israelites, but those who trusted in Him from among the Gentiles as well:

“And it will come about that you shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst. And they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it will come about that in the tribe with which the alien stays, there you shall give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 47:22-23).

“And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32, note all of verses 22-32).29

“‘To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me’” (Acts 26:18).3031

Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12).

Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

This inheritance, shared by believing Jews and Gentiles, is the inheritance of the promised blessings of God, culminating (coming to a head) in the salvation which was accomplished by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

And for this reason He [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).

What may be even more amazing is this: that God has chosen to make His people His inheritance. If God is our inheritance, we also are His:

“And I prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy Thy people, even Thine inheritance, whom Thou hast redeemed through Thy greatness, whom Thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deuteronomy 9:26).

Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever (Psalm 28:9).

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalm 33:12).

Remember Thy congregation, which Thou hast purchased of old, Which Thou hast redeemed to be the tribe of Thine inheritance; And this Mount Zion, where Thou hast dwelt (Psalm 74:2).

For the Lord will not abandon His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance (Psalm 94:14).

The people of God’s inheritance are also the people of Christ’s inheritance:

“‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession’” (Psalm 2:8).

For Thou hast heard my vows, O God; Thou hast given me the inheritance of those who fear Thy name (Psalm 61:5).

In the final analysis, the church is God’s inheritance, those redeemed people made up of saints from among the Jews and the Gentiles:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18).

Characteristics Of Our Inheritance

Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:11-14 speak of the inheritance of the saints. This inheritance, as we have seen, is not a new one, but that for which the saints of old looked forward. Let us seek to sum up what Paul is saying about the characteristics of our inheritance in the text before us, and as described elsewhere in the New Testament.

(1) All those who trust in Christ for salvation have an inheritance. The blessings of this inheritance are for those who are “in Christ” because they have believed in Him.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, … 14 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 (Ephesians 1:11-14).

(2) The Christian’s inheritance is the believer’s unseen hope, looked for by faith.

For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:24-25).

For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness (Galatians 5:5).

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

(3) This inheritance was purposed by God the Father in eternity past, to display His glory through the salvation of men by the death of His Son.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:10c, 11).

Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2).

To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Titus 2:13).

(4) Our inheritance is a future blessing, one which is to be fully realized at the second coming of Christ when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Our blessings are “in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), the culmination of which comes at the second coming of Christ, when all things are “summed up in Him” (1:10). God’s purpose is that we shall someday stand “holy and blameless before Him” (1:4).

Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel (Colossians 1:5).

24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:24-25).

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).

(5) Our inheritance is a sure and certain hope. The full future possession of our inheritance is as sure as God’s Word is true, His purposes are certain, and His sovereignty is complete. Our inheritance is provided by God, promised by His Word, testified to by His Spirit, and believed in by faith.

And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

In the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago (Titus 1:2).

In order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil (Hebrews 6:18-19).

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

Who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21).

(6) Our inheritance is one which believing Gentiles share with believing Jews.

“And in His name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:21).32

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling (Ephesians 4:4).

12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12).33

(7) The inheritance is one which is beyond the grave. The best that the world can say is, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” The Bible assures us that we have hope, even in the face of death.

Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us (2 Corinthians 1:9-10).

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Acts 24:15)

(8) It is possible to turn from our hope in Christ, and to put our trust in other things, usually things which are seen.

If indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister (Colossians 1:23).

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17).

And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Hebrews 6:11).

Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

The Implications of our Inheritance

While some of the benefits and implications of our inheritance may have been stated or alluded to previously, let me briefly summarize some of the ways that our hope should affect our daily lives.

Our inheritance, our hope of glory, gives us joy, confidence and boldness, even in the face of opposition and affliction.

1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5)

Rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer (Romans 12:12).

Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech (2 Corinthians 3:12).

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10).

The confidence and joy we have as a result of our inheritance sets us apart from all others. It sets us apart from unbelievers, who have no hope:

11 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—12 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 (Ephesians 2:11-12).

As those without hope observer the hope which we have in Christ, it presents us with opportunities to share with them the hope of the gospel:

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:14-15)

The hope which we have in Christ also sets the true believer apart from those who are false teachers and religious hucksters.

In the epistles of 2 Timothy (chapter 3 and 4), Jude, and 2 Peter there is much said of false teachers. In general, we can say that false teachers promise prosperity, happiness, and freedom from adversity in the present, while those who adhere to the gospel and to the Word of God promise present trials and adversity, with the assurance of perfect peace and tranquility in eternity. The hope of the gospel sets genuine Christians apart from the rest.

Finally, the Christian hope promotes holiness and purity in this life.

And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:3).

Conclusion

Do you possess this kind of hope? Do you feel that you have to cram all of your expectations and aspirations into the present, or that you have an eternal hope, in Christ? Does your hope end at the grave, or does it extend beyond it into eternity? Is your hope in God, and especially in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or is it in material things, or in your own efforts?

In this age of despair, there is but one solution: Jesus Christ. He is the One who has provided the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life. He is the One who will return to this earth, to judge the wicked and to eternally bless His own. His is the only hope which God offers to a sinful, fallen world, a world without hope.

Have you trusted in Him? Is He your hope? That is the message of the gospel. And this is the believers confidence and joy. May God give you an assurance of this hope, as you trust in Jesus Christ alone.


28 Including what he has written to them previously. See Ephesians 3:3.

29 These are Paul’s last spoken words to the Ephesian elders, before his arrival at Jerusalem, his arrest, and his imprisonment in Rome, from which he penned Ephesians.

30 See also 1 Kings 8:46-53.

31 See also Acts 26:15-17.

32 See also Romans 15:12.

33 See also Acts 28:20.

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6. Paul’s Prayer For the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-19a)

Introduction

I wonder how we would feel if the content of our prayers was published for all to read about. Do you think we would qualify, like Paul, to make the pages of the Scriptures, or would our prayers be better printed in the National Inquirer?

Paul does not hesitate to tell his readers that he is praying for them, nor is he reluctant to tell them what he is praying for. The prayer of Paul in Ephesians chapter 1 is but the first of two of his recorded prayers in the epistle.34 It establishes a standard for prayer which few of our prayers meet. If taken seriously as a model for our prayers, our prayer life would have to be radically transformed. This lesson will be a study of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian church, and its implications for the church today.

Our text has a great deal to offer to us. It also instructs us concerning the vital link between the Word of God and prayer. In the early days of the New Testament church, the apostles determined that their priority was the “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Our text helps to clarify the relationship between the two.

Finally, our text identifies three vital elements of the Christian faith and doctrine. These are truths which are taught only in the Word of God, which are foundational to our daily Christian walk.

As we come to our text, let us do so with the same prayer which the apostle prayed. Let us look to the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” that He might give to us “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him,” so that “the eyes of our heart may be opened, and we might know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

The Context of our Text

Paul has just summarized the purpose of God for history and the blessings which God has provided for the believer in Christ (verses 3-14). He has spoken of the activity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He has spoken of God’s purpose in eternity past, in history, and in eternity future. If verses 3-14 focus on the eternal purposes of God as they relate to Christ, the church, and His glory, verses 19-23 will concentrate on the power of God in Christ, toward His church.

In the middle of these two texts, Paul records the content of his prayers for the church at Ephesus. Viewed as a whole, chapter one contains three summaries:

(1) Paul’s summary of the purpose of God for His church.

(2) Paul’s summary of His prayers for the Ephesian church.

(3) Paul’s summary of the power of God directed toward the church.

I believe that it would be safe to say that Paul’s prayers for the church at Ephesus were based upon his understanding of God’s purposes for the church and His power directed to the church.

While there would be considerable merit in seeking to interpret verses 15-23 as a whole, time will simply not permit it. In this lesson we must focus on the prayer of Paul, and in the next we will give attention to the power of God. Let us not forget, however, that God has placed these together is such a way as to remind us that one cannot be understood rightly apart from the other.

The Reason For Paul’s Prayers

Paul informs his readers that he constantly prays for them. He “does not cease” (verse 16) to do so. He begins by telling them the reasons for his prayers. As I understand this text, there are two primary motivating factors for Paul’s persistence in praying for this church.35

The first reason is not stated because Paul assumes that we will readily understand it. He prays for the Ephesian church “for this reason” (verse 15). In verses 3-14, Paul has stressed the sovereign purposes of God for His church. It is clear from these verses that the church is “from Him,” “through him,” and “unto him” (see Romans 11:36; Colossians 1). Paul gives thanks to God because He has given birth to all who are members of His church. Paul makes his petitions to God because God is sovereignly working in and through His church. God gives life to the church, directs its growth, and controls its destiny. And so Paul prays to God on behalf of the church.

The second reason that Paul gives for his prayers is stated in verse 15 as well. He prays for the Ephesian church because there are genuine saints there. The lives of the members of the Ephesian church bear witness to the genuine faith which they have in Jesus Christ. The evidence is two-fold: (1) they have faith in the Lord Jesus; and, (2) they have a love for all36 the saints. Loving God and loving others are the marks of the true Christian. What Paul has recently heard37 concerning the Ephesian church convinces him that there are genuine believers there. Since God has purposed and provided for the blessing of true believers, and since the Ephesian saints are true believers, Paul prays on their behalf.

There are those who would argue that the doctrine of the sovereignty of God undermines the doctrine of human responsibility of man. Ephesians 1:3-14 emphasizes divine sovereignty (God’s eternal plan). Verses 15-19 demonstrate human responsibility (Paul’s prayers). For Paul, as for every Christian, the sovereignty of God is the reason for human responsibility. What better motive for my obedience than to know that God not only commanded my obedience, but He also purposed it, along with the results He would accomplish through it:38

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that you fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).

The Nature of Paul’s Prayer

Paul describes his prayer in general terms, so that while we do not have the exact words of his prayers, we are able to discern the essence of them. Consider these characteristics of Paul’s prayers, as described in our text:

(1) Paul’s prayer was addressed to God the Father. His prayer is to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (verse 17).

(2) Paul’s prayer was continual. Paul says here and elsewhere that his prayers were made “without ceasing” (verse 16, see also Romans 1:8-10; Colossians 1:9-12).

(3) Paul was not alone in praying for the church at Ephesus. Note the little word “too” in verse 15:

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.

We learn from Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that there were others who, like Paul, prayed for the saints in certain cities:

Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a deep concern for you and for those who are in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:12-13).

(4) Paul’s prayer included thanksgiving for the saints at Ephesus. This may not sound like a very significant statement, but it is. Paul was a Jew, and the Jews as a nation were not eager to see the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles, even though it was a part of the eternal plan and purpose of God.

The people of Jesus’ home town were transformed from enthusiastic approval to an angry murderous mob when Jesus made it clear to the people of Nazareth that His coming as Messiah included the blessing of the Gentiles (see Luke 4:16-30). The Jews of Jerusalem listened quietly to Paul’s personal testimony of his conversion to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, until he added that God had called him to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 22:1-23). The Jewish saints at Jerusalem only reluctantly granted that God had purposed to save Gentiles as well as Jews, but after having done so, kept on preaching the gospel to Jews alone (Acts 11:1-19).

Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5). He, like his co-worker of previous days (Acts 11:22-24), rejoiced when Gentiles came to faith. Like John the Baptist, he rejoiced in seeing the fulfillment of his calling (compare John 3:22-33).

(5) Paul’s prayer was a petition that the Ephesian saints would come to a deeper and fuller grasp of the truth of God as revealed in Scripture. He prays,

… 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. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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 (Ephesians 1:17-19).

Paul’s prayer of petition moves from the general to the specific:

  • Prayer for a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation” (verse 17)
  • Prayer that the “eyes of their heart may be enlightened” (verse 18).
  • Prayer that the Ephesian saints may come to grasp …

… the hope of His calling
… the glory of His inheritance in the saints
… the surpassing greatness of His power

Paul generally prays that the Ephesian saints may be given a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation” (verse 17). The first question we must answer is whether or not to capitalize the word “spirit.” I believe that we must. Repeatedly, wisdom and revelation are described as the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task” (Acts 6:3).

And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking (Acts 6:10).

And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26).39

For to us God revealed {them} through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:10).

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 (Ephesians 3:5).

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).

It is my understanding, then, that Paul is praying for a particular ministry of the Holy Spirit. What, then, is this ministry? Several lines of evidence tend to make this clear.

Some might think that Paul is praying for the Holy Spirit to give the church wisdom and revelation which is beyond that found in Scripture. I think this is both unnecessary. The Word of God is sufficient for all of our spiritual needs:

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:3-4).

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 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. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:2-4).

It is true that the Scriptures produce wisdom:

O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, For Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Thy precepts (Psalm 119:97-100).

And that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).

Nevertheless, I do not think that this is what Paul prayed for. There are several reasons for this. First, there is the order of the terms “wisdom” and “revelation.” Paul prayed for a “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation,” not for a “Spirit of revelation and of wisdom.” It would seem as though “wisdom” was meant to be understood as preceding “revelation.”

Second, I understand the first words of verse 18—“that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”—are an amplification, an explanation of the words of verse 17—“a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation.” Other texts of Scripture reveal a strong emphasis on the fact that divine “wisdom” is necessary to understand God’s inspired “revelation” in Scripture. In the Old Testament, the psalmist prayed for the wisdom required to understand the Law of God:

Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law (Psalm 119:18).

Make me understand the way of Thy precepts, So I will meditate on Thy wonders (Psalm 119:27).

Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, And keep it with all my heart (Psalm 119:33-34).

Thy hands made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments (Psalm 119:73).

Solomon indicated at the beginning of the Book of Proverbs that wisdom was necessary to understand difficult truth:

To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles (Proverbs 1:1-6).

When Jesus came to the earth as the promised Messiah, He came as God’s full and final revelation, God’s “last word” (see Hebrews 1:1-3). And yet He was not understood by men. He was not even understood by His disciples. Repeatedly in the gospels, the disciples and others failed to grasp the meaning of what Jesus was saying at that time (see John 2:17; 6:22-71; 7:37-40; 13:18-38; 14:1-5). Jesus understood this completely. They could not understand. Just before His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus spoke of His departure. He instructed them to abide in Him by abiding in His Word and keeping His commandments. And yet they did not understand His words. He assured them by promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would not only bring His words to their remembrance, but who would make their meaning clear to them as well (see John 14:25-26; 16:1-15). It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in communicating and clarifying the Word of God of which Jesus is speaking.

In the New Testament epistles, the Apostle Paul takes up this same theme. Paul contrasted the wisdom of God with the wisdom of men, showing that only by means of the illumination of the Holy Spirit could Christians grasp the meaning and application of God’s Word:

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “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.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But 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. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1-15).

In the light of this, I understand Paul’s general prayer of petition in Ephesians 1:17 and 18 to be his request for God to illuminate the minds of the saints in Ephesus, so that they could grasp the depth of the riches of God’s Word. This epistle to the Ephesians was, in part, an answer to Paul’s prayer. Paul prayed for a deeper insight into God’s plan and purpose for the saints, and the Epistle to the Ephesians takes us further into the “mysteries” of God’s working than any previous book of the Bible has done.

Specifically, Paul prays for a greater grasp of three avenues of biblical revelation. Paul has spoken of the first two already in verses 3-14, and he will expound upon the power of God in the final verses of chapter 1. These three truths are found only in the Scriptures. You may read the daily newspaper from the front page to the last, and you will never find these truths. You may read the secular writings of great minds, and you won’t hear a word about these foundational facts either. You will read of them often in the Bible. Let us pause to consider the truths which Paul believes to be so essential to the spiritual lives of these saints, and then to consider their importance to us as well.

The Hope of His Calling

The first fundamental truth is that of the hope of God’s calling. I understand the “calling” here to be one’s calling to faith in Jesus Christ.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12).

Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity (2 Timothy 1:9).

And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

This “calling” to salvation was a calling to “blessing” and to “eternal glory:”

Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen {and} establish you (1 Peter 5:10).

Many of the benefits or blessings of our salvation are yet to be fulfilled. It is these benefits which make up the “hope” of which Paul speaks, and for which he prays. Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesian saints will begin to grasp all of the blessings which God has in store for them, blessing which are beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp, and thus the ministry of the Spirit is required in order for us to comprehend them:

9 but just as it is written, “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.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

The Glory of Being God’s Inheritance

Paul has already spoken of our inheritance in Christ in verses 11 and 14. In these verses the emphasis falls on the fact of our inheritance in Christ. In verse 18, Paul reverses the emphasis. Now, what is in view is Christ’s inheritance in us. Those of us who are in Christ are the people of God, God’s inheritance. The glory of which Paul speaks is the glory of being God’s own possession:

“And I prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy Thy people, even Thine inheritance, whom Thou hast redeemed through Thy greatness, whom Thou hast brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deuteronomy 9:26).4041

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance (Psalm 33:12).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

The people of God’s inheritance are also the people of Christ’s inheritance:

“‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession’” (Psalm 2:8).

For Thou hast heard my vows, O God; Thou hast given me the inheritance of those who fear Thy name (Psalm 61:5).

The church is the glorious bride of Christ, which is now being prepared, and which will someday be presented to Him at the heavenly marriage feast (Revelation 19:7-9). What a glorious privilege, to be God’s own possession!

The Greatness of His Power, Directed Toward the Saints

The third and final unfathomable truth is that of the great power which God has directed toward His church. This is the subject of our next study, and so we shall only briefly seek to deal with it here.

The character of God assures us of the goodness of God’s plan:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will (Ephesians 1:5).

The power of God is what assures us that the plan of God will be fulfilled, just as He has planned it and promised it to us. This power is summed up in Christ, demonstrated in His resurrection from the dead, and directed toward the well-being of His saints. This power is beyond human comprehension, and thus it requires divine illumination to grasp.

Conclusion

Here, then, are three fundamental and foundational truths, truths which should transform the perspective and the practice of the saints. They are truths which would not be known apart from the divine revelation of the Scriptures, and cannot be grasped apart from the wisdom which the Spirit of God grants to the believer, to comprehend the incomprehensible. And this is why Paul not only declares the truth to the Ephesian saints, he then prays that God would given his readers a comprehension of that truth through the ministry of His Holy Spirit.

The verses which we have been studying all pertain to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian saints. As I understand this text, Paul’s prayer is his response, not only to what he has recently heard concerning this church, but also to what he has just written to them. In other words, I find a close relationship between the Word of God and prayer. This should not be surprising in the light of the decision of the apostles, recorded in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts:

1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 “But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 “But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4).

The two priorities of the apostles were prayer and the ministry of the Word. These should surely be high priorities for those of us who serve as elders. The question which we have not answered is “Why?” Why does prayer play such a vital role in the church, in relation to the Word of God? As we conclude, I would like to suggest some of the reasons why the early church recognized the priority of prayer in relationship to the Word of God.

(1) The Scriptures not only prescribe the ideal, that God’s Word would richly dwell in us, and that we would walk in its truth.

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 (Colossians 3:16).

3 For I was very glad when brethren came and bore witness to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth (3 John 3-4)

(2) The Scriptures are one of the primary means, not only of our salvation, but also of our sanctification

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures (James 1:18).

23 … for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, (1 Peter 2:1-2).

17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth (John 17:17).

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

3 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. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:3-4).

(3) The Scriptures alone give us the promises and assurances of the future blessings which make up our hope.

3 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. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:3-4).

15 And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:15-19).

1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

(4) The Scriptures are not passive, but an active discerning force which reveals matters as they are in truth.

12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12-13).

21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (James 1:21-26).

(5) The Scriptures are one of the weapons the Christian is to employ in the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged.

14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17).

(6) The unsaved are unable to understand and unwilling to accept what the Bible teaches.

25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. … 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (Romans 1:25, 28).

1 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, …1 Corinthians 1:14).

14 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; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which 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. 17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind (Ephesians 4:14-17).

(7) Satan actively seeks to blind men concerning the truth, or to distort it.

3 “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 and it came about that as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up (Mark 4:3-4).

14 “The sower sows the word. 15 “And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them (Mark 4:14-15).

1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4).

(8) False teachers distort the message of Scripture, twisting its message to appeal to fleshly desires.

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:17-19).

3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:14-18).

4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4).

(9) Paul’s refused to use the secular marketing methods of his day, which were thought to be persuasive and effective, dependent upon the Holy Spirit to convince men of the truth. Paul’s method of teaching and communicating the truth was dependent upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 2:17).

2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:2).

(10) Even those who once held and taught the truth may distort it, for their own gain. Notice the warning that Paul previously gave the elders of the church at Ephesus in his final charge to them:

25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will see my face no more. 26 “Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:25-32).

1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf, and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him (Colossians 2:1-6)

18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:18-22).

(11) Christians tend to forget what we have learned from the Scriptures, and need constant reminding of what they teach.

12 Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. 13 And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder (2 Peter 1:12-13).

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder (2 Peter 3:1).42

(12) Those who acknowledge the Bible to be the divinely revealed truth of God can lose their focus, concentrating on incidentals, rather than on fundamentals, on matters of debate and speculation, rather than on matters which are clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically revealed.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24).

20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—21 which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20-21; see 2 Timothy 2:14-18, 23; Titus 3:9).

(13) The Scriptures reveal the unseen things which faith is to lay hold of, while at the same time reminding us that the things which are seen are short-lived.

9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; 12 therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:9-16).

(14) The promises of the Word of God do not profit us unless we believe them and receive them by faith, just as the revelations of Scripture have no value to us unless we respond to them in obedience to the Word:

1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard (Hebrews 4:1-2).

21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does (James 1:21-25)..

(15) Prayer lays hold of the promises of God which the Scriptures declare. The Scriptures declare God’s purposes and promises to men. Faith believes these promises. Prayer lays hold of them.

In the light of the crucial contribution which the Scriptures make to the spiritual life and growth of the believer, and of the barriers and dangers to our correct assimilation, interpretation, and application of the revelation of the Bible, one can see why prayer is intimately linked with the Word of God.

Paul’s prayers strongly imply that Biblical truth is not the exclusive property of the preacher. Those who communicate the Word of God are to do so faithfully and accurately. But in the final analysis, we must study, meditate, pray, and conclude what God is saying to us. We are responsible for the truth which we have chosen to believe, and which we have decided to obey or ignore, protect and preserve or distort.

Left to ourselves, the Bible will mean whatever our fallen humanity (the flesh) wants it to mean. But when studied and applied through the wisdom which God supplies by His Spirit, we come to the truth which God conveyed by divine inspiration, and which He intends for us to believe and to obey. Just as God did not leave men to their own devices, to convey His truth to mankind, so He does not leave us to our own devices to determine the message and meaning He has revealed to us in His Word.

19 And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:19-21).

Paul’s words are not just relevant and applicable to preachers and teachers of the Word. They apply very directly to us. Just as Paul prayed that his readers would grasp the depth of meaning in his words,43 each of us must depend upon the ministry of the Spirit as we share our faith and biblical truths with others. It is not our ability to communicate, persuade, and convince which we are to depend upon, but the ministry of the Spirit, who will bring about God’s purpose for His Word:

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth, And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:6-11).

7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16:7-13).

As Paul prayed for his readers, we should always approach our own study of the Word of God with prayer, asking Him to open our hearts and minds to the riches of His Word. This is what the psalmist of old did, which enabled him to discover in the Law the wonders of His word:

17 Deal bountifully with Thy servant, That I may live and keep Thy word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Thy law. 19 I am a stranger in the earth; Do not hide Thy commandments from me (Psalm 119:17-19).

25 My soul cleaves to the dust; Revive me according to Thy word. 26 I have told of my ways, and Thou hast answered me; Teach me Thy statutes. 27 Make me understand the way of Thy precepts, So I will meditate on Thy wonders (Psalm 119:25-27).

33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of Thy statutes, And I shall observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law, And keep it with all my heart. 35 Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, For I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, And not to dishonest gain. 37 Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Thy ways. 38 Establish Thy word to Thy servant, As that which produces reverence for Thee. 39 Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Thine ordinances are good. 40 Behold, I long for Thy precepts; Revive me through Thy righteousness (Psalm 119:33-40).

123 My eyes fail with longing for Thy salvation, And for Thy righteous word. 124 Deal with Thy servant according to Thy lovingkindness, And teach me Thy statutes. 125 I am Thy servant; give me understanding, That I may know Thy testimonies (Psalm 119:123-125).

May God give us His Spirit of wisdom and of revelation, so that we may gain from His holy Word a deeper and fuller grasp of the hope of our calling, the glory of His inheritance in us, and the mighty power which is at work for those who believe.


34 The second prayer is recorded in Ephesians 3:14-19, with the benediction of verses 20 and 21.

35 I cannot prove it, but it is my sense that Paul’s prayers are not so much for specific individuals here in Ephesians, but rather for the church as a whole. The two elements are closely related, but the focus of Ephesians seems to be broad, rather than narrow, corporate and collective, rather than individual.

36 It is contrary to the gospel to have a prejudicial “love” for some of the saints, as both James (chapter 2) and Paul (Galatians 2) declare.

37 Some contend that the fact that Paul speaks only of “having heard of” the faith of these saints requires us to conclude that Paul cannot be writing to the church at Ephesus, since Paul was there personally. They maintain that Paul is claiming only to have “heard of” these saints, and not to have known them personally.

Paul’s words are very natural for a man who was once in Ephesus, and has been absent from them for some time. They sound exactly like the words which we read from missionaries who are abroad, whom we have sent out from our church. Paul’s speaks of that encouraging information he has recently received, of their on-going faith and love, which is evidence of their genuine conversion.

It is one thing to say that Paul’s words leave room for his never having been physically present among those to whom he writes; it is quite another to conclude that his words must mean this. In my opinion, there is no compelling reason to reject the long-held belief that Paul was indeed writing to the Ephesian church, as indicated in the introduction by an overwhelming majority of the Greek manuscripts.

38 And, if I disobey, as Jonah (Jonah 1-4) and Israel (Romans 11), God will still use that to accomplish His sovereign will. The difference between my obedience and my disobedience is not the achievement or failure of God’s eternal purpose, but my joy or my dismay, my blessing or my chastening.

39 See also Luke 10:21.

40 See also Matt. 4:1-11.

41 See also 1 Kings 8:46-53.

42 See also Romans 15:5; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 3:1; Jude 5.

43 I believe that Paul realized the meaning of his words in this epistle went far beyond his own grasp, as was the case with the Old Testament prophets before him (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

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7. The Power of God, Prayer, and the Christian’s Hope (Ephesians 1:19-23)

Introduction

The darkest moment in the life of the disciples was that three-day period when the body of the Lord Jesus lay lifeless in the tomb. For those three days, the disciples of our Lord were hopeless. They gathered together in a locked room, fearing the same fate as their Master, at the hands of the Jews (John 20:19). Even when reports began to reach them that the Lord was alive, they initially refused to believe them (Luke 24:11).

It was not until the risen Lord appeared to them personally that they were convinced of His resurrection. Once convinced, these men would never be the same. The resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus transformed the disciples from a frightened, discouraged, and defeated band of men to a dynamic, confident force which, in the words of their enemies, turned the world upside down.

The resurrection of our Lord was proof that He was the Messiah, as He claimed, and that death could not hold Him in its grip (see Acts 2:22-32). Beyond this, the ascension of the Lord Jesus to the right hand of the Father brought about the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit, empowering believers and convincing and converting those whom God had purposed to save (Acts 2:33-36).

In the first chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has spoken of the blessings which God has purposed and provided for every believer, in Christ, to the praise of the glory of His grace (verses 3-14). He has also prayed for the Ephesian saints, that the Holy Spirit might grant them the enlightenment to grasp the unseen realities of which the Scriptures speak, which are the foundation of their faith. He has prayed for their growing comprehension of the “hope of His calling,” and of the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (verse 18).

In verses 19-23, Paul describes the third foundational truth which is fundamental to the faith and practice of the Ephesian believers: the knowledge of His infinite power:

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, 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 fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:19-23).

The Easter season is nearly upon us. Most of us probably are content with our belief in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord as a historical event. In this belief, we differ from many. But this is not a sufficient grasp of these events as Paul understands and teaches them. There is much more to be gained from these events, as our text will indicate to us. The truths of this text are those which will transform our lives, if we but believe them. As Paul looked to the Spirit of God to make these truths and their implications known to his readers, let us likewise look to Him to enlighten our hearts, so that we might grow in our grasp of these realities, and thus find our thinking and lifestyles reshaped by them.

My approach in this lesson will be to capture and communicate the message of the text before us by summing up its essence in several sentences.

Ephesians 3:19-23 is a part of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian saints. It is not difficult to see that Paul’s prayer begins at verse 15. It is not quite so easy to see precisely where it ends. His prayer is that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the minds of his readers, so that they will grasp in a greater way the unseen blessings which God has provided in Christ, and are revealed in the Scriptures.

Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesian saints will be divinely enabled to grasp the infinite power of God in Christ. This text focuses on God’s power in two major categories: (a) God’s power over all other powers and authorities; and (b) God’s power exercised on behalf of the church. Verses 21 and 22a deal with the former, while the rest of the verses pertain to the latter.

Our text paves the way for Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter two. If, in chapter 1 Paul speaks of the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, in chapter 2 he speaks of the believer’s resurrection and ascension, in Christ (compare 1:20 with 2:6). Further, while in chapter 1 Paul speaks of Christ’s ascension as resulting in His being given authority over all other powers (1:21-22a), in chapter 2 he speaks of these authorities as those which once held us captive (see 2:1-3).

Paul’s words at the end of chapter 1 imply that the Christian’s assurance of the certainty of purposes and promises of God which constitute the Christian’s hope rests upon our recognition of His power to achieve them. Notice again the words of Paul in verses 18-20 as rendered by the New American Standard Bible:

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 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 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (emphasis mine).

The words “these are,” found in verse 19, are in italics in the NASB, indicating that they are not in the original text, but supplied by the translators. These words suggest what I believe to be true, and that is that the three elements of the Christian’s future hope mentioned in verses 18 and 19 are all inter-dependent. Apart from the supreme power and authority of God in Christ, we have no hope. It is because of His infinite power that we are assured of obtaining the “hope of His calling” and the “riches of the glory of His inheritance.” Indeed, apart from the sovereignty of God, all of the blessings of verses 3-14 would be nullified.

Recently I received a letter from a young woman in Africa. She was an orphan, and was not able to afford a college education. A gracious and godly Christian woman became her sponsor. The only problem was that this old woman died before the young woman received her diploma. She finished all her classes, but the final tuition payment was never made. In spite of the older woman’s good intentions, she was unable to fulfill her commitment.

Most of us have had the experience of being promised something and then not receiving it, because of the unwillingness or inability of the one who made the promise. God’s infinite power, even over death, assures us that His promises, unlike those made by others, will be fulfilled. We, like Abraham before us, can be “fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:21).

Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:18 and 19 imply that our grasp of the infinite power of God falls short of the wealth of that power. Paul prays that we might be divinely enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to comprehend the “surpassing greatness of His power.” Apart from divine revelation and illumination, we would not know the greatness of His power. Even with them, our finite minds will never fathom the depths of God’s goodness or greatness. The inference of this text and of the whole of Scripture is we will never, in this life, adequately grasp the vast wealth of God’s person and of that which He has provided for us. Further, we will spend all eternity praising Him for these.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Corinthians 1:7-10).

The power of God of which Paul speaks is that which is manifested in and through Jesus Christ. All of the blessings which God has purposed and provided for the saints are “in Christ” (see 1:3-14). It is the purpose of God to “sum up all things in Christ” (1:10). So also, God’s power is that which He brought about “in Christ” (1:20).

Paul’s words indicate a direct relationship between the infinite power of God which is manifested in Christ, and His resurrection and ascension. I believe that the power of our Lord is related to His resurrection and ascension in at least two ways. First, the resurrection and ascension of our Lord demonstrate the magnitude of the power of God in Christ. The surpassing greatness of this power is the same power44 which was evidenced in the resurrection of our Lord from the dead, and which was bestowed upon Him at His ascension.

Second, the power of God which is in Christ is that power which God bestowed upon Him as a result of His death, resurrection and ascension. While our Lord set aside some of the privileges and prerogatives of His heavenly glory at the incarnation, He gained more than these when the Father raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand:

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

9 But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:9-10).45

The power and authority bestowed on Christ by the Father at His ascension is greater than any and all other powers. The Lord Jesus is greater than all other powers by virtue of the fact that He created them, and by virtue of His resurrection and ascension to power.

16 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 by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).

13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:13-15).4647

The power of our Lord, bestowed on Him by the Father at the time of His ascension, sets Him above any and all powers. He is greater than any other power, than all other powers, whether these powers be present or future, heavenly or earthly:

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, 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 (Ephesians 1:19-21).

By virtue of His obedience to the will of the Father, His incarnation, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has been given all power and authority, to rule over all creation. The final phase is the second coming of Christ, to subdue His enemies and to establish the rule of God on the earth. At that time, every living soul will acknowledge His sovereignty:

9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

I do not play cards very often or very well. When I do, it is usually “Rook.” I do know this, when playing a card which is a “trump card,” I do so very cautiously. I know that it is possible someone else has a card of the same color, but with a higher number. Our Lord’s authority and power are not tentative, but certain. Because of this, we can be assured that His purposes and promises will be accomplished.

The power and authority of Jesus Christ includes His headship over the church. The precise meaning of verse 22 is difficult, and a matter of considerable discussion: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”

I understand these words to mean several things. First, they inform us that Christ is the Head of the church, which is His body:

18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:18).

Second, I believe that Paul’s words in our text go beyond the fact that Christ is the Head of the church. I believe that Paul is telling us that Christ, our Head, is “Head” over all things. The One who is “Head” over the church is also “Head” over everything else. This means that what the “Head” of the church desires, He gets. If the president of the local PTA is also the president of the United States, you can be assured that His power as president will benefit the PTA as well.

As the Head of the church, Jesus Christ directs His power to and through the church, to accomplish His purposes for it and for the saints.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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 (Ephesians 1:18-19a).

The power of God in Christ is not directed toward men in general, but toward the saints. God has brought about the blessing of the saints in Christ (1:3-14). His power is directed toward the benefit and the blessing of His own. This power is not a “blank check” which the saints may draw upon any way they choose, but is also governed by the purposes of God for the saints. Paul’s prayer in verses 15-18 is placed between the purposes of God (verses 3-14) and the power of God (verses 19-23) for good reason. Our prayers should be based upon God’s infinite power, and defined by God’s revealed purposes.

The power and authority of Jesus Christ which was granted to Him at His ascension, is now being poured out on the church in various ways. One way, mentioned by Paul in Ephesians, is the bestowal of the spiritual gifts required for the building up and ministry of the church:

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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 fulness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13).

As Christ’s fulness fills the church, so the church is the fulness of Christ. Verse 23 is probably the most difficult verse in our text. The church is the body of Christ, the “fullness” of Him who “fills” all in all. As Head of the church, the fulness of Christ is directed toward the church. As the body of Christ, the church fills up or fills out that which Christ continues to do in and through His church.

The church continues the work of Christ:

1 The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, 2 until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen (Acts 1:1-2).

What Jesus “began to do and to teach,” the church continues to do and to teach. Those who are true believers, and members of His body, the church, should see themselves as “filling up” the work of our Lord as a part of His body, which He empowers:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body which is the church in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

Conclusion

Paul believed that an understanding of the power of Jesus Christ was essential to the believer’s spiritual walk. Because of this, he not only describes this power, but he prays that the Holy Spirit would give each of his readers (and the church) a deeper grasp of this power.

What practical difference should this knowledge make? How would a better understanding of the power and authority of Jesus Christ make? Paul has linked this power to the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. When we look at the ways in which the resurrection and ascension of Christ impacted the early church, we will begin to see how these truths also affect us.

Let us trace the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus through the New Testament, beginning in the gospel of John. Since more attention has been given to our Lord’s resurrection, we will concentrate on the ascension of our Lord. Three texts in John’s gospel highlight our Lord’s ascension:

12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 “And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. 14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life (John 3:12-15).

60 Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 “What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life (John 6:60-63).

7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (John 16:7-11).

In John chapter 3, Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus, a renowned teacher of Judaism his day. And yet when Jesus told this Pharisee that he must be “born again” he was completely mystified. When Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, he was likewise puzzled. In fact, everything spiritual puzzled this man.

In response, Jesus spoke the words recorded in John 3:12-15, recorded above. I had always thought that Jesus was speaking of His death on the cross, when He said that He must be lifted up like the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness in Moses’ day. But in the context I think we can see that Jesus meant more, much more. The lifting up of Jesus on the cross was only the “first floor,” so to speak. His death and burial led to his further elevation, by His resurrection. This led to His ascension, to the “top floor” (so to speak), thus bringing about salvation for those who would believe in Him. The ascension of our Lord is thus linked to His saving work.

Have you ever thought of the ascension of Jesus as God bringing the saving work of Christ full circle? In the incarnation, the second Person of the Godhead added perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. In His incarnation, the Lord Jesus laid aside the use of some of His glory and power. In His resurrection and ascension, the Lord Jesus took perfect humanity to heaven, where He was given immeasurable power and authority. Now, in heaven we have a mediator between us and God, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

In John chapter 6, Jesus taught the crowds who flocked to Him after His feeding of the 5,000. He urged them to think of Him as greater than Moses, and His “bread” as greater than the manna which God provided through Moses. He taught them that He was the “bread from heaven,” and then went on to speak of His sacrificial death on behalf of sinners. He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They were horrified at His words, taking them only in their most literal sense. Jesus responded to them in the same way He had done with Nicodemus. He spoke of the spiritual meaning which lay behind his words, but they could not grasp it. He told this crowd that if the words of His sacrificial death as the “Lamb of God” puzzled them, His ascension back into the presence of His Father, from which He had come, would be even more difficult for them to grasp. And so it was.

Jesus speaks of His ascension also in John chapter 16. In chapters 14-16 Jesus tells His disciples that He must leave them and return to the Father. There, He will prepare a place for them. And from there, He will send His Holy Spirit, to manifest His presence in their midst. The Holy Spirit will not only bring Jesus’ words to the disciples’ remembrance, He will also empower the words and the work of the church. He will convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.

The statement which is pertinent to our study is found in verse 10: “And concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me” (emphasis mine). What catches my attention is the word “you,” and not the word “they.” How is it that the Holy Spirit will convince the world concerning righteousness by our Lord’s absence and the church’s inability to see Him?

I think I am beginning to understand. Jesus is soon to die, and then to be raised from the dead. For forty days He will come and go among His disciples, seen by no one other than them. And then, He will be taken up into the clouds, and seated at the right hand of the Father. It is then that the disciples (and His church) will see Jesus no more. Filled with His Holy Spirit, they will continue to live as though He were alive and present with them—because He is! Their lives will be transformed. They will cease to cower and hide for fear of the Jews. They will powerfully bear witness to His resurrection and ascension. In so doing, they will become living testimonies to the righteousness of Christ. Some will be convinced that Jesus is still alive, because the Father raised Him who was righteous from the dead.

3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, (Romans 1:3-4).

25 He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25).

Just before His ascension, our Lord gave the apostles (and thus the church) the so-called “great commission.” This command of our Lord was predicated on a simple fact, that all authority had been given to Him, on heaven and on earth. The great commission is stated as the consequence, the outflow of His authority:

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them:

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The message which the apostles proclaimed, after the Holy Spirit came upon the church, was that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, and that He was to return to judge His enemies. In order to avoid the judgment of God and to enter into the kingdom of God, men must believe in Jesus and God’s Messiah for the forgiveness of sins, the One whom God had made both Lord and Christ:

23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 25 “For David says of Him, ‘I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; Moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; 27 Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. 28 ‘Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.’ … 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘ The Lord said to my Lord,” Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. “‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:23-28, 32-36; note especially verse 27)

14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses (Acts 3:14-15).

The Lord performed many miracles, signs and wonders at the hands of the apostles, who persistently gave credit for these miracles to their living Lord:

5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:5-8).

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health (Acts 4:8-10).

The apostles were assured not only that Jesus was alive, and that He was performing signs and wonders at their hands, but also that He was in complete control. Listen to their confidence in His sovereign control over all things as they pray after having been arrested and released by the Jewish authorities:

23 And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? 26 ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord, and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:23-30).

When arrested and brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and commanded not to preach again in the name of Jesus, Peter responded,

29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross (Acts 5:29-30).

When Stephen was brought before the Sanhedrin, he spoke powerfully to the Jewish authorities concerning the stiff-necked rebellion of these men, as their fathers before them had rebelled against the Holy Spirit. As the assembled group were about to kill Stephen, he was comforted and they were cautioned by the vision which Stephen was given of his risen and ascended Lord, not sitting at the Father’s right hand, but standing, poised for action:

54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse (Acts 7:54-57).

The New Testament epistles make much of the power of Jesus Christ, granted to Him by the Father when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand. This very same power, which raised Christ from the dead, is that power by which God gives life to our dead and powerless bodies, so that we can live righteously:

10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 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 indwells you (Romans 8:10-11; see also Romans 7:24).

It is this power which provides all that we need to live in a way that pleases Him:

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).

It is not only the power of the risen and ascended Lord which saves us, but this same power also keeps us:

33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor 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 8:33-39).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

The hope of the Christian is based upon the power of the ascended Lord, to raise us from the dead, to overthrow the wicked, and to establish the eternal kingdom of God:

Then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:24).

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:42-43).

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).

When the kingdom of God comes to the earth, men of every nation and tongue, and every created being will praise Him for His power:

“Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11, see also 5:12; 7:12; 11:17; 12:10; 15:8).

After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (Revelation 19:1).

As we leave this text, let me conclude with some final comments on the subject of God’s power and prayer.

First, the power of God is not a blank check, which we fill in with prayer. The power of God is linked with His eternal purposes. God’s power assures the saints that what God has purposed and promised, He is able to accomplish. Our hope is therefore certain, our eternal reward secure (see 1 Peter 1:5).

There are those, like Simon the Sorcerer in Acts chapter 8, who wanted to be able to broker the power of God for his own profit. God’s power has not been given for self-serving purposes, and those who seek to use it in this way will be severely disciplined.

The power of God does not assure us of present prosperity, but of confidence in suffering, knowing that in suffering we fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24-29) and that we obtain the blessing of greater fellowship with the One who suffered for us (Philippians 3:10). The power of God is not a guarantee that Christians will escape from suffering, but that they will endure in the midst of it:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).

Second, God’s power should serve not only as a comfort to those who trust and obey, but as a warning to those who do not. We know that our Lord will come in power to subdue His enemies and to judge those who have not believed on Him. Those who profess to be Christians should also be reminded that God has invested His glory and reputation in the church. So it is that He will exercise His power to purge and purify His church when it fails to bring glory to Him:

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:17-18).

Third, prayer should not be viewed as an opportunity for finite men to bend the will and the power of God to serve their own selfish purposes, but as a time to submit our will to God’s will and to His purposes. How quickly we pervert and distort the truth of God’s word, especially in relation to God’s power and our prayers. We speak of “the power of prayer,” an expression which is not found, and which is without sanction in the Bible. It is not our prayer which is powerful, it is God who is all-powerful. We pray because He is powerful. But His power is restricted to those things which accomplish His purposes. If we would pray with confidence, let us pray for what God has purposed and promised, rather than for those things our flesh would desire:

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).

If we would pray like Paul, it would be for those things which God has purposed and promised. The prayers of our Lord Jesus should serve as models for all our prayers:

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39; see also Matthew 6:7-15)

Finally, we should be reminded that the power of God is not grasped by men who are strong, but clung to by those who are weak. Our Lord Himself was exalted by the Father because He was obedient to the point of death. He took on our weaknesses and sins, and God raised Him up and seated Him at the right hand of power.

So many Christians seem to think that they lack power and need to go through some kind of mental or spiritual gymnastics to get it. We don’t get power that way. It is in the recognition of our weakness and of His strength that we must turn to Him who has all power. It is not our power which matters, but His.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:7).

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you (2 Corinthians 13:4).

Let us look to Him, who has all power, and who freely employs it to fulfill all His purposes, for His glory and for our good.

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).


44 I do not wish to differ with the translations, but at this point I believe that the NIV does a disservice to the text when it renders it this way: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:19b-20, emphasis mine).

Other translations and paraphrases emphasize the fact that it is not a similar power, but the very same power: “That power is the same divine energy which was demonstrated in Christ when he raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honor in Heaven” (Phillips).

45 See also Luke 22:66-69; Acts 5:30-31; Hebrews 5:4-10; 1 Peter 3:22.

46 See also Philippians 2:9; Colossians 1:18; Romans 8:37-39; 1 Peter 3:22.

47 See Ephesians 1:20-22; Hebrews 2:10.

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8. The Guilt of Men and the Grace of God (Part 1) (Ephesians 2:1-10)

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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 of disobedience. 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Introduction

It isn’t often that one finds good theology written on the back end of an 18 wheeler. Nevertheless, I encountered a truck this week which had some good theology written on its tailgate. The truck was one of those extended dump trucks, belonging to a demolition company. The truck passed me quickly, and all I had time to do was to read the signs painted on the tailgate. The first sign was written in large letters, and it read: “We Could Wreck The World.” The second sign was on the bottom of the tailgate, written in smaller letters. It read: “Jesus Saves.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did the owner of the truck intend for these two signs to be read and understood separately, or were they meant to be understood together? The lettering on that truck expressed some mighty good theology. I don’t know how one could sum up the contrast between men and God more concisely. Men could wreck the world, and only Jesus can save it.

The Apostle Paul’s theology is not written on the back of a truck; it is recorded in the New Testament epistles which he wrote. In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul will summarize the condition of mankind, the kindness of God, and the nature of the salvation which He has provided for lost men in Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-10 contains three main segments: (1) Verses 1-3; (2) Verses 4-6; and (3) Verses 7-10. Verses 1-3 focus on fallen man, and his hopeless condition (dead) as a result of his sin. Verses 4-6 focus on God, and on His mercy and grace in making a provision for man’s salvation in Christ. Verses 7-10 focus on the purpose of salvation, to the praise of the glory of His grace. All together, they spell out the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Context

In Ephesians chapter 1 Paul focused our attention on the purpose of God and on the power of God, which assure the believer of the blessings which God has provided in Christ. The final verses of chapter 1 concern the vast power of God which He has vested in Jesus Christ, through His resurrection and ascension.

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 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 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.

Although He had died for the sins of the world, God raised Jesus from the dead, and taking Him back into heaven where He seated Him at His right hand. He invested Him with authority and power greater than any and all other authorities. Along with this authority and power, He was appointed as Head of the church, which is the earthly manifestation of His presence and which fills up that which remains of His ministry on earth before His second coming.

Man’s Problem: Dead in Sin
Ephesians 2:1-3

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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 of disobedience. 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.

If Ephesians 1:19-23 takes us to the heights in exploring the power and authority of the risen and ascended Christ, Ephesians 2:1-3 takes us to the very depths, as Paul expounds the powerless, hopeless, lifeless condition of fallen men, enslaved by their own fleshly desires, and dominated by the world around them and by Satan.

The first words of chapter 2 indicate Paul’s intention to contrast the condition of lost men with that of the risen and ascended Christ. Verse 1 begins, “And you …” The NIV does an excellent job of catching and communicating the thrust of Paul’s words, when it renders the first words if verse 1, “As for you …”

Consider the contrast between Christ’s position and ours. Christ is alive because of His righteousness, but we are dead, because of our sins. Christ is exalted, seated in the heavens; we are on and of the earth. Christ has been given power and authority over all other powers and authorities; we were subject to the powers and authorities.

The irony of fallen man’s dilemma is that he doesn’t even realize his condition until after he is saved. Lost men, blinded and deceived by Satan, think they are really “living it up,” when in reality they are dead. They think that by living in sin they are enjoying life to its fullest, but they are not. They suppose that they are free, subject to no one,48 but they are really enslaved.

Paul sums up the condition of lost men in one word: dead. To be dead is to be lifeless. To be dead is to be unable to help oneself. To be dead is to be absolutely powerless. To be dead is to be beyond hope (in the eyes of the world).49

Death is ultimately the result of sin. But in our text, Paul examines some of the contributing factors to our sin. First, men are sinners because they are born that way. We were, “by nature, children of wrath.” We were sinners, subject to the wrath of God because of our sin nature, which we obtained at birth. The unbelieving world looks at children as innocent, contaminated only by their environment. The Bible informs us that we were born in sin, having inherited the fallen nature of our forefather, Adam (see Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12).

Second, men sin and are therefore sinners because they follow the world in its course of sin and rebellion. Sinners love and seek companions, co-sinners, to share in the excitement and (unknowingly) in the penalty of sin (see Proverbs 1:8-19). This is why the Bible instructs us to avoid being pressured by the world to conform to its values and lifestyle:

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. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis mine).

Third, unbelievers sin because they are unwittingly subject to the influence of Satan.

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led (1 Corinthians 12:1-2).

And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

He who practices sin belongs to the devil, for from the beginning the devil sins (1 John 3:8, Berkeley Version).

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

Finally, men are sinners because they follow the dictates of the flesh. Elsewhere, Paul much more fully explains the role of the flesh in relation to sin (see Romans 7:7-25; Galatians 5:16-21). These are the natural, self-serving impulses and desires of fallen men. The flesh includes not only the sinful passions of the body, but also of the mind.

What is most interesting is that it is here that Paul chooses to unite the Jews and the Gentiles in the common condition of sin and death. In verses 1 and 2, the pronoun “you” is employed, but in verse 3 Paul changes to “we.” The “you” refers to the Gentiles; the “we” refers to the Jews. Paul’s statement in verse 3 is crucial to our understanding of the gospel. It is one thing for Paul to have said these words concerning the Gentiles. No Jew would disagree with him on that point. But Paul says these things about the Jews. The Jews thought that they were born “special,” that they were, because of their physical descent from Abraham, better than the Gentiles:

9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham (Matthew 3:9).

The self-righteous claim of the Jews, “We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15), is not only challenged, but reversed by Paul, when he writes, “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” (Ephesians 2:3, emphasis mine).

The Jews thought that of fleshly sins as those in which the Gentiles indulged themselves. In some ways it was true that the Jews were less addicted to the fleshly sins of sexual immorality and idolatry compared to the Gentiles. In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, Jesus indicted the Jews for being guilty of committing many of the fleshly sins mentally, if not literally (see Matthew 5:21-32). Often times, the Jews were guilty of the same sins, but found pious ways of justifying them (see Matthew 23).

As a friend of mine likes to say, “There is a difference between sin and crime. There are many sins which are not crimes, and many crimes which are not sin.” The self-righteous often pride themselves for living in a way that is socially respectable, but which is sin in the eyes of God (see Luke 16:15). As he has done in greater detail in Romans 1-3, in our text Paul demonstrates that the Jews, like the Gentiles are “dead” in their transgressions and sins, born under divine condemnation, and desperately in need of divine grace. In their fallen state, Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty, equally condemned, and equally hopeless apart from God’s grace.

Our condition as unbelievers is so foundational to our Christian belief and practice that Paul repeats it again in Ephesians chapter 4:

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).

In and of ourselves and apart from God, we are desperately and hopelessly lost. We are not “sick,” we are “dead.” We are without life, without hope, without potential, without “worth.” Any value we may have, or any hope, must come from outside of us. And so it does come, in Christ. This is the good news of the gospel, and that which Paul explains next, in verses 4-6.

God’s Grace: Alive in Christ
(2:4-6)

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus,

The words, “But God …” are a beacon of light and hope in a sea of despair. The condition of men in sin is not hopeless or terminal because God has come to the rescue of fallen men through His provision in Jesus Christ.

Paul begins with the motivation of God, which prompted Him to provide a way of escape from our condition of sin and eternal death. God was motivated by His mercy and His love for us. This divine motivation will do very little for our self-esteem, however. It will do much to promote humility on our part, and deep gratitude toward God.

Our love for God is prompted by His love for us, a love which initiates our love in response: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love for us is vastly different from our love for Him. He loved us while we were His enemies, while we were still dead in our sins and transgressions:

5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:5-8).

God’s love is not a response, but a cause. God’s mercy is not prompted by our potential or by any qualities we think we possess, but by our own pathetic condition. Divine grace was not bestowed on us because we were so worthy, or because God found anything good in us, but because of the goodness which is in God Himself. The goodness is in the giver, not the recipient.

Suppose that you were called by one of those beauty businesses which specializes in “make-overs.” If you were offered a free “make-over” should you feel flattered? Should you take pride in your beauty? I think not. The make-over is needed because of your lack of beauty. No beauty business is going to advertise its work by selecting a beautiful woman and then making only slight improvements on her beauty. They are going to take the most hopeless case they can find, and then take the credit for the transformation.

If a plastic surgeon called you, offering you free cosmetic surgery, so that he could use you for advertising, you should feel grateful, but not proud. He did not choose you because you were so attractive, but because you were so ugly, and could demonstrate the marvelous skills he has as a plastic surgeon.

So it is with God’s grace. God sent Jesus Christ to the world, to suffer and to die in the sinner’s place. He did this because we were in such terrible shape. He did this so that He could demonstrate His grace, and His power in transforming a “dead” man or woman into a living sacrifice, a living testimony of His grace and power. God’s motivation in saving us should not flatter us, but it does glorify Him.

God’s grace and salvation does not come to us in various forms, from which we may choose. His grace has been poured out to us lavishly in Christ, and in Him alone. It is through our union with Him that we are transformed from what we were to what He is. Our separation from God through sin has made us what we were in Ephesians 2:1-3. Our identification with Christ, through faith, makes us all that Christ is, as described in Ephesians 1:19-23.

Though on account of our sin we were dead, in Christ we are made alive (verse 5). Though we were formerly dead, we have been raised up in Him (verse 6). And although we were formerly enslaved to our own passions, to the world, and to Satan, in Christ we are seated in the heavenly places, now free from all heavenly and earthly powers that oppose God, and have become enslaved to Him who by love delivered us from our bondage to sin and to death.

God’s Purpose:
The Praise of the Glory of His Grace
(2:7-10)

7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It is most unfortunate that in most of our minds the thought unit is not Ephesians 2:7-10, but rather 2:8-10. Verses 8-10 are two statements, introduced by the word “for,” in support of Paul’s main statement in verse 7. The primary purpose of God for sending His Son to die in the sinner’s place, was not to produce the happiness of the sinner, saved by grace, but rather the demonstration of the grace of God for all eternity.

God’s purposes are not merely temporal, they are eternal. God’s purpose in saving sinners is not just to make men happy, to provide blessings, or to enable men to escape the torments of hell. The fact is that God is just as glorified by the punishment of the wicked as He is the salvation of those whom He makes righteous (see Romans 9:14-23; 1 Peter 2:12; Revelation 16:4-7). Whether it be in the punishment of the wicked or in the salvation of sinners by grace, God is working out all things to His own glory. The salvation of sinners is thus subordinate to God’s ultimate purpose of bringing glory to Himself. In the case of the salvation of sinners, it is the grace of God which is on display. In the case of the judgment of the wicked, it is the holiness and justice of God which is demonstrated.

It should be pointed out that if, as Paul writes, it is the riches of the grace of God which is to be displayed for all eternity, then salvation must be all of God’s doing, and not of our own. Grace is divine favor which is undeserved. God will not share His glory with any other being, and thus the work of salvation is entirely His work.

Paul gives two lines of supporting evidence for his statement that God has saved us for the demonstration of the riches of His grace. Each of these begin with the word “for.” The first is found in verses 8 and 9, the second in verse 10. The first concentrates on the cause of our salvation; the second on its effects. Whether in its cause or in its effects, salvation is all of God, and all of grace.

In Ephesians 2:8 and 9 Paul contends that salvation is not of man’s doing, but of God’s. “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, that no one should boast.” Men are saved by grace, not by works. This would come as more of a revelation to the self-righteous Jews than to the Gentiles. Men do not enter into eternal life because of their good deeds, but because of God’s goodness, in Christ. We have been saved by grace, through faith. This salvation is God’s gift, and not compensation for our efforts. And this is so that we will not boast, but will rather give glory to God. One cannot boast because of what we have done, but only in what He has done. As Paul writes elsewhere,

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

The second reason why God will be glorified for all eternity for His grace toward men is that any good deeds which result from our salvation as also the result of God’s grace:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

As saints, we are what we are because of His doing. We are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but we are His creation. He created us in Jesus Christ. Any good works which we might do as Christians are the works which He foreordained, which He planned and prepared in eternity past. We dare not take credit for them. We are simply to “walk in them.” Good works will not save us, and neither will they be the cause for our boasting, except as we boast in the Lord.

Conclusion

The passage before us sets before us the glorious difference between what we once were, apart from Christ, and what we now are, in Christ. The good news of the gospel is that we need not remain dead in our transgressions and sin, separated from God and destined for wrath. God has provided a way of salvation—one way—by which sinners can become saints. And this “way” is Jesus Christ:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

Christ died for our sins, so that we need not suffer the penalty of death. Christ rose from the dead and was ascended to the right hand of the Father. In Christ, we too are assured of our resurrection from the dead, and of our position with God in the heavenlies. All we must do is to agree with God concerning our condition, as outlined in Ephesians 2:1-3, and to receive Jesus Christ as God’s provision for our salvation, as explained in verses 4-6. In Christ we cease to be what we once were, and we forever continue to be what Christ is.

If you are a Christian, this text should serve as a reminder of what you once were, and of what you now are, in Christ. It should produce both humility and gratitude. It should stimulate you to love and good deeds, knowing that even the good works which you do are those which God has accomplished in and through you, for His glory.

If you cannot rejoice in these truths, then now is an opportunity for you to receive them for yourself. Verses 1-3 make it clear that you are no worse and no better than any other sinner. Apart from Christ, you are dead in your sins, without life or hope. But in Christ, you enter into the blessing of eternal life. You cease to be the pawn of your own fleshly desires, the world’s pressure, and Satan’s power. If you acknowledge verses 1-3 as an apt descriptive of your own condition, and if you trust in Christ as God’s provision for your salvation, you will come to experience God’s grace personally. I pray that today will be your day of salvation.

Ephesians 2:1-10 presents us with the gospel as a God-centered gospel. It contains no opportunity for human boasting, but only the grace of God, resulting in the glory of God. It presents a salvation which is all of God. The words of the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 11 are surely fitting, as related to God’s salvation:

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).

As clear as it is in Scripture that salvation is God-centered, that it begins with, is achieved through, and is for the glory of God, this point continues to be one that is lost to some Christians. We sing of this salvation as though it was initiated by man, and not by God. We sing that the “Savior is waiting … for us to open our hearts,” and that if “we take one step toward the Savior, we’ll find His arms open wide.” This gives men too much credit, and God too little.

Worse yet, contemporary Christian songs paint a very different picture of man’s condition in sin. God says we are dead in our transgressions and sins; some Christians believe that we are only sick. Other Christians seem to have gone even further. They cease to portray man as dead, desperately in need of God, and speak of God as though He were desperately in need of man. And so we hear these words being sung:

Could it be that God would really rather die than live without us?

Imagine it, God needs us, apparently more than we need Him. And if God can’t have us, He’d really rather die? What is this? Where does this come from? Surely not from Ephesians, or from the Scriptures. How easily we project our weaknesses on God.

The gospel, as summed up in Ephesians 2:1-10, unites Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, like the Gentiles, are dead in their sins. Both are lost and without hope, apart from Christ. Neither can be saved on the basis of works. All men, regardless of race or “religion” or status in life, are sinners, in need of God’s saving grace in Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, they are hopeless, doomed for an eternity in hell.

In Christ, all men are equal as well. Because it is not of our doing, but of God’s doing, there is no privileged class in the body of Christ. The only basis for boasting is in the work of Christ. And so the gospel destroys the myth that Jews are better than Gentiles. This is the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans:

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. “ 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known. “ 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:9-24).

This equality is the reason why the New Testament writers are so opposed to discrimination. James will have none of it, and condemns its practice in the church (see James 2:1-1-13). And when Paul finds discrimination in the church, he reacts strongly, insisting that it is a denial of the gospel, which makes all men equal, whether in their sins or in Christ (see Galatians 2:11-21). Let us not only acknowledge the equality of all men in Christ, let us also practice it, to the glory of God.

Our text has something to teach us in the matter of deliverance from the “addictions” of sin. There are many Christians who seem to think that secular deliverance systems really work. As I understand it, my sinful “addictions” (I really don’t like this term) can only be remedied in Christ. The one thing these addictions share in common is that they all originate with the flesh. Only my death, burial, and resurrection in Christ can deliver me from the domination which sin has over my flesh, and only walking in the Spirit gives me the power to live righteously (Romans 6-8). The best that human deliverance (for example, “12 step”) programs can do is to convert one form of addiction which is socially unacceptable to one which is acceptable. Christ is the answer to sin, to only answer. Not a program plus “God as you know Him,” but God as revealed in Christ.

In our text, I find Paul dealing with the past in a way that is quite different from the approach which is common today. In the first place, Paul does not allow his readers to think of themselves as victims. While there are many factors beyond the control of the individual, the fact is that the desires of the flesh and of the mind are involved, too, for which the individual must take responsibility. I do not do well to seek other explanations for my sin which are beyond my control, but to take responsibility for decisions I have made and actions I have done. My guilt is forever removed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As long as I focus on the guilt of others, I will ignore and avoid the grace which God has provided for my own.

Finally, I believe that our text has something to say in relationship to the current “lordship” controversy. Can one be saved without understanding the Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and accepting Him as such? I am sure that few grasp all that they could at the point of their conversion. Nevertheless, in our text it is difficult to see how, in Paul’s mind, one can be truly delivered from their bondage to their own flesh, the world, and Satan, if Jesus is not Lord of all. It is the power and authority of Christ which delivers us from the dominion of darkness. If people fail to understand this at the moment of their conversion, it may be because we have chosen to play down His sovereignty. In my opinion the only form of grace which God bestows is sovereign grace. To preach God’s grace apart from His sovereignty is to preach less than the whole truth.


48 The Jews of Jesus’ day were so blinded as to refuse to acknowledge their subjection to the power of Rome. See John 8:31-34.

49 The statement, “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” sums up the thinking of the world. The disciples, Mary and Martha, and those who knew Lazarus all thought that there was hope for Lazarus as long as Jesus got to him before He died (see John 11:21, 32, 37). Jesus wanted to teach them that, in Him, there is hope for those who are dead. In fact, only in death is there hope, for we must die to sin and to the Law’s condemnation if we are to live. We must die daily to sin, temptation, and the flesh.

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9. The Guilt of Men and the Grace of God (Part 2) (Ephesians 2:11-21)

11Therefore 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—12 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.

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Introduction

I love to read the story of Jacob’s marriage. Jacob was a man who felt that the rules were to be broken. He spent much of his life trying to make things work his way, rather than the way they were supposed to work. When Jacob saw Rachel at that well it was love at first sight. And after seven years spent working for this woman, the day of his marriage arrive. As was their custom, Jacob took his bride into his tent. Their sexual union consummated the marriage. What a shock it was for Jacob to wake up in the morning, with the sun streaming into his tent, illuminating the face of his wife—Leah!

With the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the church was born. Suddenly, Jewish Christians found themselves “married,” as it were, to Gentile believers. It was a much a shock to them as it was for Jacob to wake up and find Leah at his side. From the birth of the church to the present, there has been friction between Jewish and Gentile saints. In the Book of Acts, we find the Jewish believers resistant to the evangelization of the Gentiles (see Acts 10 and 11). And even when God’s purpose of saving the Gentiles was accepted, some insisted that the Gentile converts must become Jewish proselytes (circumcision and law-keeping) in order to be saved (see Acts 15). On the other hand, it appears that just as the Jewish saints were inclined to look down upon their Gentile brethren, Gentile believers were tempted to look down on the Jews for their unbelief and rejection of Jesus and their Messiah (see Romans 11:13-24).

Our text in Ephesians 2:11-22 is an extension of Paul’s teaching in the first 10 verses of the chapter. Both passages have a similar structure. Each falls into three divisions. The first division focuses on what we were in the past. The second on what Christ has accomplished. The third on the goal or result of this work. Verses 1-10 not only have their similarity to verses 11-22, they also have their distinct emphasis and focus. Verses 1-10 tend to focus more on our condition as individuals, whether Jew or Gentile, while verses 11-22 concentrate on our standing as Jewish and Gentile believers corporately. Verses 1-10 describe us as “dead” in our transgressions and sins and “alive” in Christ. Verses 11-22 speak of our previous condition as “far” from God, His covenant people, and His blessings, while the work of Christ on our behalf has brought us “near.” Though we were once separated from the nation Israel and a disposition of hostility existed between the two groups, we have now been united with them and the hostility has been removed.

There are many New Testament texts to which we could turn in order to find apostolic instructions concerning Christian unity. It is a vitally important truth, to believe and to practice. While other texts deal with the matter of the necessity of unity, and the attitudes and actions which are appropriate to it, no other text in the New Testament speaks more clearly and emphatically on the basis for Christian unity. Ephesians 2 speaks of the essence of unity; all other texts tend to teach on the expression of unity. Ephesians 2:1-10 deals with the reconciliation which God has brought between himself and fallen man through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:11-22 deals with the reconciliation which God has accomplished between Jews and Gentiles, through the work of Jesus Christ.

Let us come to our text with a spirit of expectancy, and with the heart of a learner, looking to Him who has reconciled us to Himself, and who has also reconciled us with Jewish saints as well to give us understanding hearts and minds. Let us seek to understand the essence of Christian unity, in order to be prepared for diligently pursuing its expression.

What We Were As Unbelieving Gentiles
(2:11-12 )

11Therefore 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—12 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.

Paul begins by urging his Gentile readers to remember what they once were, apart from Christ. Why do we need to be instructed to remember this, when we were not told to remember our condition as “dead in our transgressions and sins” in the first verses of chapter 2? I think I may understand. We would like to forget what we once were, as Gentile heathen. And, in many ways, we can forget.

Not so with our former condition in our transgressions and sins. Before, when we were “dead” in our sins, we were dominated by the world, the flesh, and the Devil. We still battle with these same three forces, which wage war on our spiritual lives. We cannot forget because the struggle continues on. We can’t forget what we cannot entirely leave behind.

But our condition as Gentiles can slip from our memory. Indeed, we want it to do so. In my dealings with prisoners and ex-offenders, I find that many of those who are released from prison keep touch with fellow-inmates, even when they have been close Christian friends while in prison. Some of this can be explained in the light of the prison system itself, which discourages (or forbids) felons from associating with our felons while on parole. But much of it is due to the fact that men want to forget their past, to leave it behind and to start over.

Jewish saints, who are proud of their heritage as Jews, do not wish to forget who they were. Many Gentile believers, whose past brings nothing but feelings of shame and regret (see Romans 6:21), are quick to blot the past out of their minds if they can. And thus they are challenged by Paul not to forget their past, but to recall it to mind. As they do so, they will be humbled, and will be reminded anew of the wonder of God’s grace, by which they were saved out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

In verses 11 and 12, Paul describes the Gentiles’ former condition from two very different perspectives. The first is from the point of view of the self-righteous Jew. The second is from the perspective of God Himself, and of His word. The first perspective is external, the second is internal. The first is physical, the second is spiritual. The first is inconsequential, while the second is of eternal significance.

Self-righteous Judaism tended to look only at the outside, to judge according to external appearances, rather than the essence of the matter (see Luke 16:15).50 Judaism and the “Judaizers” (those who wished to place the yoke of Judaism on the necks of Gentile converts to faith in Christ) judged a man on the basis of whether or not he was physically circumcised. To be circumcised was, in their minds, to be a part of the covenant people, assured of divine blessing. To be uncircumcised was to be a heathen, destined for God’s eternal wrath.

Elsewhere, Paul speaks about this matter of circumcision, and its meaning. In Romans 4, Paul reminded his readers that Abraham himself was not a circumcised man at the time he was regarded as a true believer by God. In the Book of Galatians, Paul teaches that circumcision does not profit a Gentile convert, and forbids Gentile believers to be circumcised (see 1 Corinthians 7:18; Galatians 5:1-12). True circumcision, in the Old Testament and the New, is the circumcision of the heart (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Colossians 2:11). This is the circumcision which counts. The other is but an external sign, which has no value apart from a genuine faith in God and obedience to His commands (see Romans 2:25-29; Galatians 5:6; 6:15).

The tone of Paul’s words in verse 11 make it clear that the external distinctions of circumcision is the basis for the discrimination of Jews against the Gentiles. Being “uncircumcised” to such Jews does not merely mean that you are a Gentile, but that you are a heathen. From a Jewish perspective, being uncircumcised is to be accursed, because one is not a Jew. This is not an accurate perception of the Ephesian saints’ past. Paul describes the condition which the Ephesian saints should remember in verse 12.

Verse 12 sums up, in Paul’s terms, what it meant to be an unbelieving Gentile. Circumcision is not mentioned here. What is mentioned is the essence of the hope of a true Jew. What the Gentile saints were missing as unbelievers is what a true Jew, a true Old Testament saint, understood to be the blessings associated with Israel.

I believe that Paul sums up the pathetic condition of unsaved Gentiles in the phrase, “separate from Christ.” Christ is the “son of David,” who will rule eternally as Israel’s king (see 2 Samuel 7:14). He was the “lamb of God” whom the prophets said would take away the sins of the world (see Isaiah 52:12–53:11; John 1:29). He is the “seed of Abraham,” through whom the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). He is the “prophet like Moses” for whom Israel looked (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:19-26; 7:3:37). He is even the “rock” which followed the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4). He is the one and only way by which men may be saved:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me (John 14:6).

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 “He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the very corner stone. 12 “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 4:8-12).

If being separated from Christ is the essence of the Gentile’s pitiable condition, Paul fills in some additional details in the remainder of verse 12. As unbelieving Gentiles, the Ephesians were formerly alienated and excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. The presence of God was associated with Israel, the place. Jacob first realized this as he was about to leave this special place (see Genesis 28:10-17). Solomon later acknowledged the same truth (1 Kings 8). When foreigners wished to worship and serve God, it must be on this soil (see 2 Kings 5:17; Isaiah 66). To be an Ephesian Gentile was to be removed from the nation and the place where God showered blessings upon man.

To be an unbelieving Gentile also meant that one was a stranger to the covenants of God, the covenants by which God promised to bless His people. First and foremost among these covenants was the Abrahamic Covenant:

1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

God purposed and promised to bless all the nations of the earth, but this blessing was only through the “seed of Abraham” and only to those who blessed him. To be a Gentile was to be a stranger to God’s covenants.

The desperate condition of unsaved Gentiles is now summed up by two phrases, “without hope,” and “without God in the world.” Godless and hopeless; this is what the we Gentiles are without faith in Christ. God has provided but one way for man’s salvation and blessing, the Lord Jesus Christ:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

“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).

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:11-12).

The Lord Jesus was a Jew. He was the offspring of the Eve (see Genesis 3:15), of the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8-12), and the seed of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Luke 1:27, 32). If one is to be saved from his sins, he or she must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was a Jew, receiving God’s salvation, which is “of the Jews.”

A New Relationship in Christ
(2:13-22)

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new51 man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18 for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

We are all familiar with this passage in 2 Corinthians:

Therefore 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).

It comes as no surprise to the Christian the faith in Jesus Christ is a new beginning. Old things pass away, and new things are created. What Paul speaks of individually in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, he speaks of corporately in Ephesians chapter 2. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us that we become a new person when we are born again. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul tells us that in Christ Jews and Gentiles lose their “Jewishness” and “Gentileness” and are fashioned into one new entity, the church. The blessing of the Gentiles was often addressed by Old Testament prophecy, but the birth of the church is something new and unexpected.

In the Old Testament times, a Gentile usually expressed faith in Messiah by identifying with the Jews. We can think of women like Ruth, who left her family and people and went with Naomi to the land of Israel, where she later married Boaz. We know of Rahab, the Canaanite woman who placed her faith in the God of Israel, and who became an Israelite. Both Ruth and Rahab were women who became of part of the messianic line (see Matthew 1:4-5).

There were also those who came to faith in the God of Israel who did not become Jewish proselytes. One early believer, a contemporary of Abraham, was Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Genesis 14:17-20). Another believer was Naaman, the Syrian captain (2 Kings 5). And there was the population of Nineveh, who heeded the warning of Jonah and repented (Jonah chapter 3).52

Many (probably the great majority) of the Jews believed that if a Gentile were to enter into the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, he must first become a Jewish proselyte. They insisted that in order to be saved, a Gentile must be circumcised and must submit to the Law of Moses (Acts 15:1).

The Law of Moses became a kind of invisible barrier, separating Jews and Gentiles. The Jews felt that they possessed the Law, and they disdained the Gentiles because of their ignorance of and disregard for the Law.53

“The Gentiles were called the uncircumcision by those who laid claim to that circumcision which is a physical and man-made thing. This was the first of the great divisions. The Jew had an immense contempt for the Gentile. They said that the Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of Hell; that God loved only Israel of all the nations that he had made; that the best of the serpents crushed, the best of the Gentiles killed. It was not even lawful to render help to a Gentile woman in childbirth, for that would be to bring another Gentile into the world. The barrier between Jew and Gentile was absolute. If a Jew married a Gentile, the funeral of that Jew was carried out. Such contact with a Gentile was the equivalent of death; even to go into a Gentile house rendered a Jew unclean. Before Christ the barriers were up; after Christ the barriers were down.”54

There were certain portions of the Law which almost automatically distinguished Jew from Gentile, and which made fellowship and intimacy nearly impossible, as these laws were understood and practiced within Judaism. The ceremonial food laws made it impossible for a devout Jew to eat a meal with a Gentile, or to stay in a Gentile home. The Law raised a barrier between Jews and Gentiles. This barrier was also evident in the barrier which was constructed in the temple, separating Jews and Gentiles:

This is a picture from the Temple. The Temple consisted of a series of courts, each one a little higher than the one that went before, with the Temple itself in the inmost of the courts. First there was the Court of the Gentiles; then the Court of the Women; then the Court of the Israelites; then the Court of the Priests; and finally the Holy Place itself.

Only into the first of them could a Gentile come. Between it and the Court of the Women there was a wall, or rather a kind of screen of marble, beautifully wrought, and let into it at intervals were tablets which announced that if a Gentile proceeded any farther he was liable to instant death. Josephus, in his description of the Temple, says: “When you went through these first cloisters unto the second court of the Temple, there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits. Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters that no foreigner should go within the sanctuary” (The Wars of the Jews, 5, 5, 2). In another description he says of the second court of the Temple: “This was encompassed by a stone wall for a partition, with an inscription which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death” (The Antiquities of the Jews, 15, 11, 5). In 1871 one of these prohibiting tablets was actually discovered, and the inscription on it reads: “Let no one of any other nation come within the fence and barrier around the Holy Place. Whosoever will be taken doing so will himself be responsible for the fact that his death will ensue.”

Paul well knew that barrier, for his arrest at Jerusalem, which led to his final imprisonment and death, was due to the fact that he had been wrongly accused of bringing Trophimus, an Ephesian Gentile, into the Temple beyond the barrier (Acts 21:28,29). So then the intervening wall with its barrier shut the Gentile out from the presence of God.55

The cross of Jesus Christ was a monumental event. We know that when our Lord died on the cross of Calvary, the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), symbolizing the fact that the barrier between men and God had been removed. But Paul goes on to tell us that the separating wall was also removed, the wall which separated Jewish believers from Gentile believers:

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances … (Ephesians 2:14-15a).

The death of Christ was His death and ours, under the Law, and thus the payment of the Law’s penalty of death for sin (see Galatians 4:4-5). But our Lord’s death was also His death (and ours) to the Law, releasing us from some of its former demands:

“Because Christ has come, and by what He has done in his flesh, especially by His death (see Col. i. 22), salvation and acceptance with God in His people is offered to all men on condition of repentance and faith. Peter was sent to Cornelius and bidden to regard no longer the distinction between ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness (Acts x). The Church in its council at Jerusalem had agreed that there was no longer to be a barrier because the Jews had circumcision and all the other ordinances of the law, and the Gentiles did not (Acts xv). The Lord came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil (Mt. v. 17). Much of it (e.g. the sacrificial ritual) was preparation for, and foreshadowing of, the Christ, and so was fulfilled by what He did when He came. The moral demands and principles of the law were not lightened by Jesus, but made fuller and more far-reaching (Mt. v. 21-48). In the discipline of obedience that its detailed regulations demanded, and as the revealer of right and wrong, it was intended to lead to Christ (Gal. iii. 24). In an absolute sense it cannot be said to be made of no effect in Christ (Romans iii. 31). But as a code ‘specific, rigid, and outward, fulfilled in external ordinances’ (Wescott), and so serving to separate Jews and Gentiles, it was abolished (cf. Col. ii. 20-22).”56

As unbelievers, both Jews and Gentiles are “dead in sin” and “children of wrath” under penalty of death. Through the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God reconciled all who are in Christ to Himself. The Jews, who were “nearer” in the sense that God had given them the Scriptures containing the promise of salvation, rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and only a remnant are, at present, “sons of Abraham.” We Gentiles, who were once “far off” are “brought near” through faith in Jesus Christ.

Gentile saints are not merely given membership in Judaism, both Jews and Gentile are reconciled to God in a new way, a way which removes the barrier which for so long divided them. God reconciled Jews and Gentiles to Himself as one entity, and that entity is not Israel or Judaism, but our Lord Himself.

This new unity which God accomplished through His Son on the cross of Calvary is something which no Old Testament saint ever imagined or conceived. This entity is described in several ways by the Apostle Paul. First, all believers are one because they are saved in the same way, through the same person, Jesus Christ. Jews and Gentiles are saved by obtaining a new identity in Christ.

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Second, when we are reconciled to God, both Jews and Gentiles are reconciled as “one new man” (verse 15). He has created us anew as “one body” (verse 16).

Third, when Christ came, He preached the same message of peace to both Jews (those who were “near’) and to Gentiles (those who were “far away,” see verse 17).

Fourth, Jewish and Gentile saints are one in that both have the same access to God through the same means, the Holy Spirit (verse 18).

Finally, as a result of the work of God on our behalf, Jews and Gentiles are being built up into a temple in which God Himself dwells (verses 19-22). Gentiles are no longer strangers, they are citizens. They are no longer strangers, they are members of God’s own household (verse 19). God no longer dwells in a building made with human hands, He dwells in the church, of which Jesus Christ is the head. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation for the church, and now it is continuing to be built up, completed just before our Lord establishes His kingdom on earth. There are not two walls, one Jewish and the other Gentile. The walls are made up of Jewish and Gentile saints, made one in Christ.

Conclusion

If there is anything which this text teaches us it is that God has created something entirely new and unexpected in the birth of the church. Jews are no longer distinguished from Gentiles. Gentiles need not become Jews to be saved and to enter into the blessings which God promised Abraham. The church is a new entity, born by the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of its Head, Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Christ is a part of His body.

We are not just reconciled to God, all believers are reconciled to each other as well. To become a Christian is to be born into a family, into His body, the church. There is no such thing as an autonomous Christian. It was never imagined that a Christian would live out his life as a saint in isolation. The shed blood of Jesus Christ not only joins us to God, but it joins every Christian to every other saint.

Our text teaches the reconciliation of men with God, and of Jewish believers with Gentile saints. By implication, this text and its message has much to say to us. Let us consider some of these implications as we conclude this study.

(1) Racism and discrimination cannot be tolerated in the church of Jesus Christ. In Christ, every believer has an equal standing before God. There are no “first-class” or “second-class” Christians, only those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.57

(2) Some of the tenants of contemporary church growth theology and practice fail to meet the standards of the gospel. Some of church growth theology is rooted in secular theory and practice. Thus, “homogeneous” church congregations are the ideal. “Birds of a feather flock together,” we are told, and thus churches grow faster which cater to a particular segment of society. In so doing, in my opinion, the principle laid down in Ephesians 2 is denied and violated. Paul seemed to hold the same point of view, because he strongly rebuked those in the Galatian church who hypocritically associated with the Jewish saints, to the exclusion of the Gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-21). He saw this as a denial of the gospel.

(3) It is my opinion that Messianic Jewish congregations operate dangerously close to the evil condemned by Paul in Galatians chapter 2. A distressingly large number of Jewish converts to Christianity are unwilling to shed their Jewish identity and to identify with a normal church congregation. They wish to retain their Jewishness, and seem unwilling to associate with any degree of intimacy with predominantly Gentile congregations. I believe the practice, if not the motivation, is highly suspect.

(4) When we cease to be “strangers and aliens” to the commonwealth of Israel, we become “strangers and pilgrims” to this world. When we find a new identity in Jesus Christ, our old identification with the world rightly changes. As Christ was hated and rejected by the world, so will those who identify with Him (see Hebrews 11:13-17, 32-40; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11-17; 4:12-19).

(5) The Scriptures do not even conceive of an individual coming to personal faith in Jesus Christ, and yet somehow not become intimately associated with and committed to a church. There are autonomous Christians around, who confidently claim Christ as Savior, but who feel free to live their lives independently of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, of which He is the head. Ephesians 2, along with other related texts, should expose this belief and practice as inconsistent with the gospel. You can be a part of the visible church without being a Christian, but you cannot be a Christian without being a part of His church.

(6) The unity which Paul elsewhere calls upon Christians to preserve, practice, and promote, is the unity which Ephesians chapter 2 is speaking. In chapter 4, Paul will challenge the Ephesians to “preserve the unity of the Spirit.” Ephesians chapter 2 describes the essence of the unity which we are called to express in chapter 4.

(7) Jesus Christ is the key to reconciliation. The hostility between Jews and Gentiles is deep-rooted and intense. World peace efforts today fail to grasp the depth of this division, or to comprehend that only Jesus Christ can make enemies fellow-saints. Christ alone is the key to reconciliation. Apart from Him, there can and will be no real and lasting peace. Peace will not be arbitrated or negotiated by politicians or diplomats; peace has been accomplished by Christ. All those in Him are reconciled.

For a number of years I have taught prison seminars. In one seminar, I had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of another instructor. He told me a wonderful story of reconciliation which he witnessed in a prison in Florida. As I remember the story, a young woman was attacked and brutally killed by her assailant. The killer was apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to prison. The mother of this young woman was a Christian. The Spirit of God began to convict her concerning her hatred of her daughter’s killer. Eventually, she gave way to God’s leading and wrote to the man. She told him that God had enabled her to forgive him, and not to hate him any longer. After a while, she found that she must see the man face to face. When my fellow-instructor taught a seminar in the prison where this killer was serving his time, both the killer and the victim’s mother sat side by side in the meetings. And the Bible which the young man held in his hands was a gift from the mother, with this inscription, “To my son.” That, my friend, is reconciliation. Only God can bring about this kind of reconciliation. And He has done so through the cross of Calvary.

There is no alienation so great, no hatred so strong, that the cross of Calvary cannot reconcile men with men or men with God. The cross of Christ reconciles sinners to God and sinners with one another. The church should be a living testimony to the reconciliation which God has accomplished on the cross.

May your life demonstrate this reconciliation, if you have been reconciled to God in Christ.


50 No man is able to correctly judge another, or even himself, because he is not able to discern the motives of the heart. See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

51 Barclay comments, “In Greek there are two words for new. There is neos which is new simply in point of time; a thing which is neos has come into existence recently, but there may well have been thousands of the same things in existence before. … There is kainos which means new in point of quality. A thing which is kainos is new in the sense that it brings into the world a new quality of thing which did not exist before. The word that Paul uses here is kainos …” William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, revised edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 116.

52 Remember as well the sailers in Jonah chapter 1, who became worshippers of God through their contact with Jonah and the storm.

53 Note the arrogance of the Jewish religious leaders for the masses who were Jews, but who were, in their opinion, ignorant of the Law:

The Parisees therefore answered them, “you have not also been led astray, have you? No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this multitude which does not know the Law is accursed” (John 7:47-49).

54 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philademphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 107.

55 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, pp. 111-112.

56 Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to The Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), pp. 82-83.

57 Only those meeting certain qualifications may hold the office of elder or deacon, and women are prohibited from certain leadership functions in the church. This is not due to any inferiority, but rather on the role which they have been called to play in God’s program. Indeed, the submission and silence of women in public ministry is part of God’s program to instruct the angelic host (see 1 Corinthians 11:10).

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10. Paul’s Imprisonment, His Prayers, and His Praise (Ephesians 3:1-21)

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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; 6 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, 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. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 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; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 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; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

God is a mysterious God. Throughout history, God has had both men and angels scratching their heads, trying to figure out how He would accomplish what He promised. God’s ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The things God has prepared for His children are those which our eyes have not seen, and of which our ears have not heard. They have not entered the hearts of men (see 1 Corinthians 1:9). When the plans and purposes are completed, men must marvel at the wisdom which He has displayed, a wisdom which did not require our counsel, and which was conceived and accomplished by God alone (see Romans 11:33-36).

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His rising from the dead, one of the great mysteries of the Bible is suddenly solved, and the implications are indeed glorious. Easter is therefore not only a celebration of our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection, but the celebration of the certainty of our own, at the second coming of our Lord.

In Ephesians, Paul speaks of a related mystery, the mystery which centers on Jesus Christ, and on His church. Because God is a God of mysteries—a mysterious God—we need to understand what a mystery is. Contrary to popular thinking, a mystery is not something which has never been the subject of biblical revelation. This may seem to contradict Paul’s words in our text:

4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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; 6 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 (Ephesians 3:4-6, emphasis mine).

The mystery, Paul tells us, is Christ. Certainly we can all agree that Christ is the subject of Old Testament revelation. There was, however, much about the Lord Jesus which was mysterious, and which was only clear after His first coming and the inspired commentary on His life in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies by the apostles. Specifically, it was not understood that in Christ Jews and Gentiles would become one, and that all racial distinctions would be nullified in the church.

A biblical mystery is something like a treasure hunt. In a treasure hunt, you are given clues. You must figure out one clue in order to discover the next. Finally, after finding all the clues, you arrive at the treasure. It is not until you find the treasure that the mystery is solved.

Our Lord Jesus is the treasure. In the Old Testament God gave men many clues about the Messiah. Nevertheless, men did not understand how all the clues fit together, like pieces of a puzzle, to make a complete picture. Even the Old Testament prophets themselves did not understand their own prophecies, and thus found them to be a mystery (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

Early in the Book of Genesis, we find that death is the penalty for sin. From Genesis chapter 3 onward, all men die. It was also in Genesis chapter 3 that we are told that through the offspring of Eve, salvation will be provided. Who would have ever imagined that this salvation would come about by His death? And when the Old Testament prophecies began to foretell the death of Messiah (see Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13–53:12), no one could understand how this could be true. Even the disciples could not understand how Jesus could speak of His death (see Matthew 16:21-22). It was not until after our Lord’s resurrection from the dead—a mystery to the disciples—that they came to understand the significance of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, all of which the Old Testament prophecies spoke. The pieces of the puzzle were revealed, but the big picture was still a mystery, until after these prophecies were fulfilled.

In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul returns to the mystery of which he has been speaking in the first two chapters of this epistle. In chapter 1, Paul indicated that the mystery was the purpose of the Father in summing up all things in Christ:

In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 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 upon the earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10).

In chapter 2, the term “mystery” is not found, but the mystery is there, and is explained by Paul in chapter 3, in our text. Our task, as we approach Ephesians chapter 3, will be to discover what the mystery is, and how it effects the life of the Apostle Paul. From this, we will gain insight into the way in which this mystery also relates to our own lives. Let us look to the Spirit of God, through whom the mystery is made known and communicated to the sons of God (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

The Structure of our Text

Our text has three major divisions. Verses 1-13 describe the mystery which has been entrusted to Paul and its relationship to his ministry. Verses 14-19 contain Paul’s second prayer for the Ephesian saints, a prayer based upon the revelation of chapter 2. And verses 20 and 21 conclude the first half of the Epistle to the Ephesians with a benediction.

Paul’s Chains and Paul’s Calling
(3:1-13)

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 And by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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; 6 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, 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. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 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; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. 13 Therefore I ask you not to lose heart58 at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

We know from the first three words of chapter 3 that this chapter is directly related to chapter 2. Paul begins, “For this reason …” We find the same expression in verse 14. Paul is about to pray, as he has already done in chapter 1. It would seem, as though Paul may have moved his hand in writing, and that the chains by which he was bound may have somehow caught his attention.59 Perhaps they were clinking as Paul’s hands moved from his ink supply to his parchment. Perhaps the links of his chain became tangled, keeping his hands from moving freely. Nevertheless, Paul was somehow reminded of his status as a prisoner, not only a prisoner for Christ, but also a prisoner for his Gentile readers.

Paul’s words concerning his imprisonment in verses 2-13 are prompted by his concern for the impact his incarceration might have on his readers. They know, of course, that he is writing from prison. We know from the first chapter of Philippians that there were some who sought to capitalize on Paul’s imprisonment by implying that his suffering was divine discipline. They wanted it to appear that Paul was wrong, and that God was chastening him. They, of course, were right and would be more than happy to give the saints the “truth.”

The final words of Paul concerning his imprisonment, recorded in verse 13 reveal his motive for bringing up the matter of his own personal situation. Paul does not, by any means, wish for sympathy, but rather he seeks to share the truth which will enable the Ephesian saints, like the Philippians (see Philippians 1:14), to become even more bold in their proclamation of the gospel. Let the Ephesian saints not be discouraged by his imprisonment, but rather let them take courage, knowing that his suffering is for their glory.

Paul’s chains were the result of his faithfulness to his calling, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. There was no doubt in Paul’s mind as to what his calling was:

16 ‘But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me’ (Acts 26:16-18).

5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (Romans 1:5-6).

15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:15-16).60

Paul’s calling was a stewardship, a stewardship of God’s grace (verse 2). He understood his calling to be prompted by the grace of God. God was gracious to take one who formerly persecuted the church and to make him a preacher of the gospel. God was gracious in sending Paul to the Gentiles, so that those who believed might become partakers of His blessings, by grace.

Paul’s ministry was the stewardship of a mystery. Broadly speaking, the mystery was about Christ, and about the salvation which He would accomplish on the cross of Calvary for both Jews and Gentiles. These things were spoken of in the Old Testament, even though they were not fully understood. What was utterly new and unexpected (a complete mystery) was that Jews and Gentiles would be reconciled to God as “one new man.” No one expected the equality of Jews and Gentiles, and no one expected the birth of the church.

It was not a welcome thought to unbelieving Jews. It was not even quickly or enthusiastically accepted by Jewish believers. Let us pause momentarily to trace the revelation and development of this mystery through history, and its reluctant acceptance by the Jewish Christian community.

The “mystery” of salvation, of which Paul speaks in Ephesians chapter 3 is illustrated in the relationship of two statements, both of which are found in the Scriptures. These statements are:

(1) Salvation is of the Jews (see John 4:22, KJV), and

(2) Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9, KJV).

When Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised that salvation would be provided through the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15). Later, God specified that His promised blessing (which included salvation) would come through the “seed” of Abraham:

And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He indicated to her not only that “salvation was of the Jews,” but that He was the Jew through whom salvation was to be provided:

“You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit; and those who sonship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:22-26).

Later, the Apostle Paul indicates that the promised “seed” of Abraham, through whom all the nations would be blessed, was not the Jews in general, but one Jew in particular, Jesus:

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed, He does not say, “AND TO SEEDS,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “AND TO YOUR SEED,” that is, Christ (Galatians 3:16).

Judaism misinterpreted the Old Testament promises concerning blessing and salvation. They wrongly interpreted the expression, “salvation is of the Jews.” They thought that salvation was the automatic possession of all Jews. This error was exposed by many, including John the Baptist and Paul:

9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 3:9-10).

1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named” (Romans 9:1-7).

21 He said therefore again to them, “I go away, and you shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 Therefore the Jews were saying, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 And He was saying to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. 24 “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:21-24).

The Jews further believed that only those Gentiles who became Jews could be saved:

1 And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

You can imagine the shock and horror of the prophet Jonah when God instructed him to preach to the people of Nineveh, Assyrians who were Israel’s dreaded foes. He knew that they would be saved, and he sought to prevent it. Only after his ordeal did Jonah begrudgingly confess, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). And even here he still evidences the pride and prejudice of a self-righteous Jew, looking down on the pagan Gentiles:

“Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I will sacrifice to Thee With a voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:8-9).

Jonah did not delight in God’s mercy and compassion, he resisted it. He did not praise God for His grace, he protested against it:

1 But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. 3 “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jonah 4:1-3).

The reason for Jonah’s protest is clear. He did not think that he, as a Jew, needed grace. He believed that Jews deserved God’s blessings. Here is self-righteousness in its most crass and ugly form. And Jonah is not the exception, he is the rule. He typifies the reason why the Jews resist the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. They do not want to be saved by grace, on the same basis as the Gentiles. They expect God to bless them because of who they are—Jews, as though they are superior to Gentiles. They fail to understand that the Law was given to them, not to make them superior to the Gentiles, but to condemn them as sinners, just like the Gentiles, so that they can be saved by grace:

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. “ 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace have they not known. “ 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:9-26).

Salvation, as Jonah reluctantly confessed, is not the private possession of the Jews, but it is the possession of God. He is the one who has accomplished it through the cross of Jesus Christ. And He is the One who has the right to bestow it upon any whom He chooses, by grace.

The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ and in His church was a mystery which no Old Testament saint (including the prophets) understood. It was a reconciliation accomplished by our Lord on the cross of Calvary, and the message of the apostles and prophets (including Paul), who proclaimed it. It was a message which self-righteous Jews hated intensely, and this is why the Apostle Paul found himself writing to his readers from a prison cell.

When Jesus introduced Himself to the nation Israel as her Messiah, He made it clear that He had come to save Jews and Gentiles. This was a message the Jews were not eager to hear (see Luke 4:16-30). The Great Commission, given to the apostles by our Lord before His ascension, was a command to take the gospel to all nations (see Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Nevertheless, the Jewish apostles were reluctant to carry out this command.

It was not through the planning or program of the Jerusalem church that Gentile evangelism commenced, but rather through the sovereign work of God. The vision God gave to Peter prompted him to take the gospel to the household of Cornelius, a Gentile. As a result, the leaders in the church at Jerusalem came to acknowledge the work which God was doing among the Gentiles (Acts 10:1–11:18). The stoning of Stephen brought about great persecution on the church in Jerusalem, which caused these saints to scatter abroad. Most of the Jewish saints shared the good news only with their fellow-Jews, but a few intrepid souls began to evangelize the Gentiles, which brought about the birth of the church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26). Before long, the church at Antioch was instructed by the Holy Spirit to send out Barnabas and Saul to commence evangelism among the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-4).

As the number of Gentile converts increased, certain Jewish legalists began to insist that the Gentile believers must become Jewish proselytes. They insisted that these Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved. And so the Jerusalem Council was convened to determine what was to be required of the Gentile saints. It was determined there that since the Jews were not able to be justified by the law, but only by grace, the Gentile believers must not be placed under the law either (Acts 15:6-29).

Even after the decision of the Jerusalem Council, some of the Jews persisted to resist Gentile evangelism, or they sought to “Judaize” them as much as possible. The epistles of Paul to Timothy, along with others, warn of the speculative and heretical teachings of such Jews (see, for example, 1 Timothy 1:5-11). Peter, followed by Barnabas and others, were intimidated by certain Jewish brethren, and began to disassociate with the Gentile believers, and Paul strongly rebuked them for this (Galatians 2:11-21). The centuries old hostility between the Jews and the Gentiles would not quickly or completely be eradicated. And so it is that Paul finds it necessary to write this epistle to the Ephesians, describing the new unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ.

Proclaiming this mystery of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ was Paul’s stewardship, even though it involved suffering (see also Colossians 1:24-29). It was a privilege, a gift of God’s grace, both to Paul and through him to the Gentiles. Let not any of his readers misinterpret the glorious privilege Paul had of suffering for the sake of the gospel. And let not any of them allow his suffering to deter them in rejoicing with him, to the glory of God.

Paul’s Prayer
(3:14-19)

14 For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 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; 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.

Paul’s prayer, begins with the expression, “For this reason …” By these words, Paul is telling us that his prayer is based upon good reason, and that reason is the purpose of God, as previously described by Paul in the first two chapters of this epistle. The purposes of God are the basis for Paul’s prayers.

God had purposed to redeem fallen men, both Jews and Gentiles, for the praise of His glory and grace (see Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). Prompted by His kind intentions, God provided a redemption for sinners through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Those who He saves, He seals with His Holy Spirit, securing our salvation for all eternity. And those whom He saves He gives the blessed hope of dwelling in His presence forever, holy and blameless.

God has purposed to save and to sanctify both Jews and Gentiles, and to reconcile them to Himself in one body. He has purposed to “sum up all things in Christ” (1:10), who indwells His church, who serves as its head, and who fills it with all of His fulness (1:22-23). Because God has purposed and provided for the salvation and sanctification of Gentiles, as well as Jews, and because God has called Him to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul now prays for the Ephesian saints, to whom he writes. Paul’s prayer is consistent with God’s purpose.

The motivation and confidence of Paul’s prayer is indicated by these words: “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (verse 15). The paraphrase by J. B. Phillips more accurately conveys the thrust of Paul’s choice of words: “From whom all Fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name.”

It is not the “familihood” of earthly creatures that is in focus, but the supreme “fatherhood” of God which Paul has in view. The earth knows of natural fathers, and of the families which they produce, but above and beyond every other “father” is the ultimate and supreme Father, God the Father. It is to this “father” that Paul prays.

And why does Paul find assurance and confidence in praying to the “Father in heaven”? Because we have been instructed to address our prayers to Him:

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do no be like them; for you Father knows what you need, before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father, who art in heaven …” (Matthew 6:7-9a)

In the next chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus encourages His disciples to pray by reminding them about their heavenly Father, to whom they address their prayers:

7 “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. 8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. 9 “Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11).

No wonder Paul reminds us of the Fatherhood of God. He is not just the “Father” of the Jews, but the “Father” of all who call upon Him through faith in the person and work of His Son.

Paul’s prayer does not sound very similar to many of the petitions which we address to the Father. The reason is that Paul’s prayer is shaped by the purpose of God, as revealed in the earlier chapters of Ephesians. Note the things for which Paul does not pray, the very things for which we often pray. Paul does not pray for …

  • The material prosperity of the Ephesian saints
  • Their prevention, removal, or quick relief from pain
  • Their physical health and well-being
  • Their emotional or psychological well-being
  • A transforming or ecstatic spiritual experience

Paul cannot pray for these things because they are often inconsistent with God’s purposes and with the way in which He works in the lives of His children (see, for example, Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 4-5, 11; 2 Timothy 3:10-12; Hebrews 11-12; 1 Peter 4). What he can pray for is that which God has purposed and promised, and which He has assured us He will accomplish, to His glory and to our good.

Paul prays for the spiritual strengthening of the believers in the power of the Holy Spirit. We often pray for the “outer man,” which is perishing; Paul prays for the “inner man,” which is being renewed day by day. It is as the outer man perishes that the inner man gains strength:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Paul prays also for that as a result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Christ will dwell in the hearts of his readers, by faith. Every Christian has been united with Christ, by faith. Every believer is “in Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 6:1-11) and yet our Lord instructs His disciples to “abide in Him” (John 15:1-11). Even so, Christ is in every true believer, but Paul prays that His dwelling in us might be enhanced. Paul desires spiritual growth, so that each day God is more evident in our lives, and that we are more aware of and devoted to Him.

Prominent in this pray of the apostle for the Ephesian saints is his request that the saints come to a greater knowledge, appreciation, and manifestation of the love of God:

And that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 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 (Ephesians 3:17c-19a).

God’s love is the starting point. It is also the life-long pursuit of the saint. And it is the goal. The love of God is infinite, boundless. Exploring the love of God is something like studying the universe. The more of it we know, the more of it we find is still unmapped and unexplored. We can spend our whole lives exploring its boundaries, but then discover that we have not pressed its true boundaries at all.

Finally, Paul prays that the Ephesian saints will be “filled up to all the fulness of God” (verse 19). In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul spoke of the relationship which exists between the Lord Jesus Christ and the church: “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 fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church is the “body of Christ” and He is its “head.” The church is the fulness of Christ, who fills all in all. In chapter 3 Paul therefore prays that the church would be filled with all the fulness of God in Christ.

Before we leave this prayer of the Apostle Paul, let me make several additional observations about this prayer.

(1) Paul’s prayer was for other saints, for their spiritual growth and edification.

(2) Paul’s prayer concerns that which God has purposed. His prayers are shaped by what he has learned of God’s will for all creation, and especially for the church.

(3) Paul’s prayer is for what is infinite. These requests of Paul are permanent, never to be removed from Paul’s “prayer list.” This is because they are never fully answered in this life. Just as he could pray these things all his life, so we can pray for them life-long too, because these prayers will never be fully answered until we are with Christ in the kingdom of God. In this life, we will never fully fathom the love of God and yet we can pray for it life-long and continue to grow in our grasp of that love every day of our lives.

(4) Paul’s prayer is for what is already true, in measure, but which God has purposed for us to comprehend and appreciate in even greater measure. Christ does abide in us, yet Paul prays that He will abide in our hearts. We are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us and who constantly indwells us, and yet Paul prays that we will be strengthened. Paul prays here, not for something which we do not possess, but for something we do possess, and should possess even more as we grow in Christ.

Paul’s Doxology
(3:20-21)

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

These last two verses are a benediction of praise. Here is the close of the first half of Paul’s epistle. Paul’s words are not unlike the closing words of our Lord in the so-called “Lord’s prayer”: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen” (Matthew 6:13). Note the emphasis of this benediction. First, it is God-centered. Paul will not end other than with his eyes fixed on God, and with these words he seeks to turn our eyes on Him as well. Second, Paul’s words focus on the goal of the church, and of every true saint, and of all creation—bringing glory to God. The ultimate goal of the church and every Christian is to bring glory to God. Christians differ from unbelievers in this matter. They, too, will bring glory to God, not by their obedience, but by their disobedience (see Romans 9:17). But while God’s purpose is to glorify Himself through sinners, it is only the saint who has the glory of God as his or her goal. We should strive to bring glory to God as our ultimate goal (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). Unbelievers unwittingly glorify God, in spite of themselves.

Third, Paul’s words focus our attention on the power of God which is at work in us. God’s power is the means by which His glory is achieved. It is He from whom, through whom, and to whom are all things (Romans 11:36). The power of God is infinite. The power of God is at work in us. The infinite power of God is at work in us to bring glory to Him. To God be the glory! This should be the theme of our lives, as it was with the Apostle Paul.

Conclusion

The third chapter of Ephesians is dominated by three dominant themes: (1) Paul’s prayers; (2) Paul’s imprisonment; and, (3) Paul’s calling. Paul’s prayers were a reflection of the divine purpose of God and His provision in Jesus Christ. His prayers were not for himself, but for Gentile believers. He prayed for those whom he would have tortured or put to death before his conversion, he now prays for as an apostle. What a marvelous conversion Paul’s salvation was. And when Paul prayed for the Ephesian saints, it was for their spiritual growth, not for their physical and material well-being. He prayed for what God purposed in the lives of His elect.

Concerning his status as a prisoner for Christ, Paul avoids speaking of his circumstances, or of the details of his suffering. He speaks rather of the reason for his incarceration. His imprisonment was due to his faithfulness to his calling. His arrest in Jerusalem (which led to his incarceration in Rome, see Acts 21-28) was brought about by unbelieving, legalistic Jews, who understood the nature and implications of Paul’s calling and wanted to kill him to keep the gospel he preached from spreading (see Acts 22:21-22). While Paul did not take a Gentile into the temple precincts, as he was accused (Acts 21:28), he could have. Paul chose not to focus on the negative aspects of his circumstances, but on the positive dimension of the mystery which had been revealed to Him. If Paul were to have written a book for publication, expounding the mystery of the gospel, it could have been entitled, How To Be A Christian Without Becoming a Jew.

Paul’s imprisonment was mentioned as a part of his credentials, showing him to be divinely appointed to proclaim the gospel. Unlike some television evangelists who promise prosperity to their followers and who flaunt their own extravagance as proof of their message, Paul points to his prison chains as proof of his calling, showing that the gospel does not promise present prosperity, but does assure the Christian of eternal blessing. How different Paul is from the religious hucksters of our time. They have leaned the “secret to prosperity;” Paul learned the secret of the gospel which led to suffering. Let the frauds be compared with Paul and see how they and their message stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture.

Paul’s calling was, first and foremost, to become a believer in Jesus Christ. His conversion delivered him from the condemnation which he rightly deserved as a self-righteous Pharisee, making him an unworthy soul saved by grace (see Philippians 3:1-16; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Beyond this, Paul’s calling was as an apostle to the Gentiles (see Romans 1:5; Galatians 2:9).

In addition, Paul’s calling was to proclaim the mystery which was not fully disclosed in the Old Testament, and which the Jews so strongly opposed. This mystery was that of the gospel, that in Jesus Christ Jews and Gentiles would be reconciled to God and to each other, not as two different categories of Christian, but as “one new man,” as “one body” in Christ.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, {leading} to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

Finally, the third chapter of Ephesians focuses our attention on Paul, and upon his calling as an apostle to the Gentiles. The last half of chapter 2 dealt with the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles to God and to each other, but Paul is not content to leave this matter alone. It is an essential element of the gospel, and one of the reasons for the strong Jewish reaction to Paul and the gospel which he preached.

In chapter 1, Paul spoke of the gospel as a “mystery,” as the “summing up of all things in Christ” (1:9-10). In chapter 2, the term “mystery” is not used, but it is a prominent theme in chapter 3. While God had clearly revealed the fact that He purposed to save and to bless both Jews and Gentiles through the seed of Abraham, it was not revealed that this would be accomplished in such a way as to make Jewish and Gentile saints one in Christ and to unite them in the church, the body of Christ. This was indeed a mystery which no Old Testament saint or prophet anticipated. No wonder that the Jewish apostles required some time to grasp this fact and to see it as a vital part of the gospel.

As I have reflected on this “mysterious” dimension of the gospel, I have concluded that it is a significant truth which many Christians (including myself) have failed to understand and appreciate. As we conclude this lesson, let me focus our attention on the mysterious element of our Christian faith.

(1) The gospel is mysterious.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, {leading} to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me (Colossians 1:24-29).

(2) All spiritual truth is mysterious.

6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8 the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9 but just as it is written, “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.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:6-13).

(3) Christianity is mysterious because God is mysterious. God is infinitely wiser than we. He is all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful. He often employs things which are paradoxical or even incompatible to us. He can use sinful men to achieve His purposes and to demonstrate His power and majesty (Romans 9:17). He chooses the weak and foolish things to confound the wisdom of the wise (1 Corinthians 18-31).

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:6-8).

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).61

(4) The Christian life is mysterious because God has chosen to reveal Himself and His purposes progressively. The term “progressive revelation” is often used with reference to the Bible. God does not reveal His plans and purposes immediately in the Bible, but progressively. And so we find the first promise of Messiah in Genesis 3:15, and throughout the rest of the Old and New Testament more and more is revealed about God’s purposes for Messiah. What we may fail to see is that God’s revelation is still partial and incomplete:

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

God is not only revealing Himself to men, but also to the angelic host. The angels are stooping to see what is happening (1 Peter 1:12). The angels are learning from what is going on in the church (1 Corinthians 11:10). Paul tells the Ephesian saints that the church is the classroom for angelic beings (see Ephesians 3:10). You may never have thought about it, but many of the mysteries for us as saints are also mysteries for the angelic host. God is keeping the angels in suspense. He is keeping the angels “on their toes” because He is progressively revealing the mysteries of His will to them throughout history and into eternity.

(5) The Christian life is mysterious because there is much going on of which we are ignorant, which is beyond the scope of our knowledge and understanding. Job did not know that God was teaching Satan through his sufferings (Job 1 and 2). Elisha’s servant was not aware of the involvement of the angelic hosts in the affairs of men (see 2 Kings 6). Finite men are not naturally aware of those things beyond our own understanding and frame of reference. We think in terms of time, and not in terms of God’s eternal purposes. We think in terms of what is seen, but there is much that is going on that is unseen (see Hebrews 11:1). And so it is in Ephesians that Paul speaks of God’s plans and purposes, established before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-14). He speaks of their fulfillment, which is yet to occur at the second coming of Christ (see Ephesians 1:10-14, 18). He tells us of the instruction of the angelic hosts, which are unseen to us, and of the spiritual war which is currently going on and in which we are engaged (Ephesians 2:7; 3:10; 6:10-20).

(6) The Christian faith must therefore rest on divine revelation, not on human reasoning. Men will not find God on their own because they do not seek Him. There is none who understands God’s ways (Romans 3:9-18). We would not know God apart from His self-revelation in nature and in His Word (see Psalm 19; Romans 1-3; Hebrews 1:1-3; 2:1-3; 4:12-13).

(7) Even the revealed Word of God is beyond the grasp of man’s understanding, apart from divine illumination of the Holy Spirit.

11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But 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. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:11-16).

7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. 12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 14 “He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you (John 16:7-14).

There are several implications to this mysterious nature of God’s dealings with His creation. Let me close with several of them for you to consider.

(1) If God and His working is mysterious, then we should expect that there will be much we do not understand. If we expect to understand all that God is doing we are self-deceived. We do not need to understand why God has commanded us to act in a certain way, but only to know that He has commanded it, and that we are to obey.

(2) We should not focus our attention on the things which God has chosen to conceal, but rather endeavor to understand and obey what He has clearly revealed to us in His Word.

29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).

6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. 7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-7).

14 Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:14-15).

23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels (2 Timothy 2:23).

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

(3) We should expect to live by faith, not by sight, in obedience to the Word of God, as illuminated by the Spirit of God.

Think of all the times in the Bible when the people of God were called upon to act, solely on the basis of God’s Word and God’s faithfulness. Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat of one tree, when that tree would have given them the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Abraham was directed to leave his homeland and family, and was not even told where he was going (Genesis 12:1). He was promised a son through Sarah, when this couple was “as good as dead” with respect to child-bearing (see Romans 4:17-22). By faith, Abraham was ready to take the life of this child, when all of God’s promises rested on him (Hebrews 11:17-19). All of the Old Testament saints lived as though God’s promises were true even though they did not receive them in their own lifetime (Hebrews 11:13-16).

You and I are called upon to live in time in the light of eternity. We are to live on earth in the light of heaven. We are commanded not to lay up treasures on earth, but to lay up treasure in heaven. We are told not to take revenge, but to leave justice to God. We are to walk by faith, and not by sight.

(4) We should not be as intent to know the particulars of God’s plan as we are to understand the overall plan and purpose of God as He has revealed it, and to live in a way that is consistent with that plan. More and more I am convinced that Christians are too self-centered. They wish to know “God’s will for their life,” and they ignore God’s plan for creation. As I understand Paul’s life and writings, Paul sought to understand God’s plan—the big picture—and then endeavored to live his life consistent with the big plan. Let us take heed, then, to this exhortation of Paul, and seek to practice it as he did:

15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

(5) If the angels are being instructed by the conduct and the practice of the church, it is imperative that we obey God’s imperatives for the church, whether we understand and agree with them or not. If the angels learn from the conduct and the practice of the church, then what we do is vitally important. If we only practice the Scriptures we understand and agree with, we limit ourselves to obeying only what is not a mystery, of acting only apart from faith, and of trusting our own judgment above God’s Word.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).

(6) Finally, if God’s ways are a mystery to men, which men will not arrive at through their own reasoning, we should be diligent to faithfully proclaim the Word of Truth, the good news of the gospel, to those who are perishing. The gospel was not merely Paul’s stewardship; it is our as well. Let us seek to be good stewards of the gospel as we proclaim it to a lost and dying world.

14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15).


58 “The infinitive (present active) enkakein is a late and rare word (see already Luke 18:1; II Thess. 3:13; II Corinthians 4:1, 16; Gal. 6:9) and means to behave badly in, to give in to evil (en, kakos).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1932) IV, p. 532.

59 For referemces to Paul’s imprisonment see also Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:8; Philemon 1:9.

60 See also Acts 13:1-4; 15:12; 21:17-19; Romans 16:25-27; Galatians 1:11–2:10.

61 See also Job 38-41.

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11. The Calling and the Conduct of the Christian (Ephesians 4:1-16)

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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 fulness of Christ. 14 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; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which 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.

Introduction

One of my favorite “healings” of our Lord, is recorded in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. For 38 years a man had been waiting near the pool of Bethesda, waiting for a miracle. The text tells us he was waiting for an angel to come and trouble the waters. If he could get into the pool first, this man believed, he could be healed.

One day Jesus came to that pool. Without being asked, Jesus approached the man and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man responded that he did want to be healed, but there was no one who would carry him and put him in the pool. Jesus gave this man a simple command, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk” (John 5:8).

It mattered not to the Jews that a man who had suffered for 38 years had been healed. What troubled them was that this man violated the Sabbath. He was carrying his bed. They were incensed and scolded the man for breaking their rules. I love his response. His defense was this: “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’” (John 5:11).

So far as I can tell, this man did not come to trust in the Lord Jesus as his Messiah. When the man learned who it was who had healed him, he went to the Jewish leaders and reported His identity to them. Nevertheless, this man had one thing right. If Jesus was able to make his body whole, He also had the authority to command him to break the legalistic rules of the Jewish religious leaders.

There was a sequence to the command that Jesus gave this man. First, he was to stand up. Then he was to take up his bed. And finally he was to walk. Perhaps at the moment Jesus spoke this man felt life and power in his limbs. Sensing that he had the strength, he arose. From here on it was all down hill. There was no need to stay by this pool any longer. He was going home. And so he very naturally took up his bed and walked away.

As we arrive at the fourth chapter of Ephesians in our study of this great epistle, we move (as many inform us) from the “doctrinal” portion of the epistle to the “practical” part. This may be true, but the connection between chapters 1-3 and 4-6 should be as natural to us as is was to the crippled man to arise and take up his bed.

The instructions which Paul lays down in chapters 4-6 are not just duties, which the Christian is required to perform, they are to be understood as the outworking of the marvelous salvation which God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Our obedience to His commands are the “good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). They are the actions which God’s grace and power has enabled us to perform, and which we gladly do, out of gratitude, to His glory.

This lesson is the first of a number of studies concerning our conduct as Christians, of the conduct which is befitting to our calling. Before we consider these final three chapters in detail, I want to pause long enough to reflect on the implications of our text. Before we begin to study the individual trees of these three chapters, let us pause to consider the forest.

Observations on the
Relationship of Chapters 1-3 to Chapters 4-6

(1) Chapters 1-3 are doctrinal and chapters 4-6 are applicational. Most students of Ephesians would agree to this two-fold division of the epistle. The first half of the book focuses on the doctrines which define the Christian’s calling, the second half has many instructions concerning the Christian conduct.

(2) Chapters 1-3 precede chapters 4-6.

(3) Chapters 1-3 are foundational to chapters 4-6. Chapters 1-3 provide the doctrinal basis for the application called for in chapters 4-6.

These observations may appear to be elementary, but even if this is true they are vital and they are often neglected in Christian thinking and practice. For this reason I want to explore some of the ways in which chapters 1-3 of Paul’s epistle to chapters 4-6.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 articulates the goal of our conduct, which is specified in chapters 4-6. Contrary to some popular teaching, the goal of our conduct is not primarily our own success or happiness or fulfillment. I hear very few Bible teachers urging husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church because marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Instead we are told that when we obey Ephesians chapter 5 our marriages will be exciting and fulfilling and we will be the happier for our obedience. While there is an element of truth here, this is simply not the focus which Paul gives us in Ephesians. Marriage, like the church, is an institution created by God to portray a spiritual relationship, to the glory of God. The simple reality (as is implied in 1 Corinthians chapter 7) is that being a godly husband or wife may result in a divorce, precipitated by an ungodly and unbelieving wife or husband. When Paul carried out his calling, he ended up in prison. Ephesians 1-3 emphasize the eternal purposes of God and the fact that He has provided salvation in Christ for the praise of the glory of His grace. The fact that He has also provided for our blessing is also stated, but this is not God’s primary purpose. God’s primary purpose is to display His splendor and glory, to His own praise. Our primary purpose is to seek to bring glory to God, in what we do and in what we avoid. As Paul writes elsewhere, Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).62

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 defines a new identity which every saint receives in Christ, which is the basis for his behavior as described in chapters 4-6. Chapters 1-3 lay down doctrine pertaining to what we formerly were, apart from Christ, and now what we are in Him. Chapters 1-3 describe the Gentiles as formerly separated from Israel, and now united with true Israelites in the new creation of God, the church. Our change in identity will necessitate and bring about a certain alienation with the world. Chapters 4-6 spell out some of the changes which are required by our new identity. Our identity (chapters 1-3) is the basis for our conduct (chapters 4-6).

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 prescribes the standard for our conduct, as is defined in chapters 4-6. All of our blessings have been brought about in Christ. The church is the body of Christ, the temple in which Christ dwells. As Christ is the means by which God has provided for our salvation and blessing, He is also the standard for our spirituality and conduct.

In the days when we were apart from Christ, dead in our transgressions and sins, the world, the flesh, and the devil prescribed and enforced our value system and our conduct. When we were lost in our sins we were at home with the world and strangers to the people and purposes of God. When we came to faith in Christ we ceased to be strangers, alienated from the promises and blessings of God, and we became strangers and pilgrims in this world. Our identity in Adam is exchanged for an identity in Christ. Our close identification with the world has been exchanged for a union with the church, the body of Christ. The teaching of Ephesians 1-3 provides not only a new identity, but a new standard of conduct, one to which the world is opposed.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 describes the means for our conduct, as defined in chapters 4-6. The Christian life is impossible. The standards are too high, to forces which act upon our flesh are too great. All of this can be seen in the description Paul gives in Romans chapter 7 of his own failure and frustration in trying to live a godly life by his own strength. In Ephesians 1-3 we are given not only the goal and the standard for our conduct, but also the means to live up to these standards.

The power to serve God is not found in us, in our own striving or strength. It is the power which God Himself provides in Christ and by means of His Spirit. Chapters 1-3 speak much of God’s power, which is at work in us, enabling us to serve Him in a way that brings Him glory (see Ephesians 1:19-21; 3:16-21).

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 provides the motivation for our conduct. The doctrine of chapters 1-3 contrasts what we once were, apart from Christ and what we now are and hope for in Him. Chapters 1-3 are all about the grace of God and this grace produces gratitude. Gratitude for God’s grace is one of the motivations for our service. Another is the hope and assurance we have of the fulfillment of God’s future promises. Another strong motivation is the knowledge of our eternal security (Ephesians 1:13), and that God has not only provided the grace to be saved, but also to serve Him, to His glory.

Chapters 1-3 describe those things which are unseen and unknown to us, while chapters 4-6 prescribe that conduct which is seen. We would never have known God’s eternal purposes, as Paul describes them in Ephesians 1-3 apart from divine revelation. We would not be aware of the fact that God is carrying out His work in the church for the instruction of the angelic beings, apart from divine revelation. Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians declare to us those things which we would not and could not otherwise know, because of our limitations as human beings. These unseen and unknowable truths become the basis for the behavior which Paul calls for in chapters 4-6.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 defines our conduct in time in terms of God’s eternal purposes. Ephesians 1-3 reveals the general plan and purpose which God has for His church. This was formerly a mystery, but now has been revealed by the Spirit to the apostles. Paul’s stewardship was to declare this mystery, especially to the Gentiles. The purposes of God which shaped Paul’s preaching and his prayers is revealed to us so that our lives may conform to God’s will for His creation, and especially His church. The plan of God for the church corporately goes a long way in prescribing God’s will for our lives personally and individually.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3, related to our salvation, is applied by chapters 4-6 to our sanctification. The way we “work out our salvation” is consistent with the way we are saved:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7; see also Philippians 2:12-13).

Our heavenly calling (salvation) is the basis for our earthly conduct (sanctification):

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 the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and 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, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:1-11).

Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians speak of the Christian’s birth; chapters 4-6 speak of the Christian’s walk. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has reminded us of our spiritual birth. He has contrasted what we once were, apart from Christ, to what we now are in Him, and the hope of the blessings which are yet to come. Now, in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul speaks to us about learning how to walk. In the first 16 verses, Paul speaks positively of our walk. Our walk is to be conformed to our calling. In verses 17 and following, Paul contrasts our new “walk” with the way we formerly “walked” as lost sinners.

In this lesson we will consider the “new” way of walking which we are to learn and to practice as believers in Jesus Christ. May God grant that we would understand Paul’s instructions and that our walk would be consistent with our high calling in Christ.

Our Conduct and Our Calling
(4:1)

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

Verse 1 is founded upon a principle which underlies the entire epistle: A person’s calling sets the standard for their conduct. The higher one’s calling, the higher one’s conduct must be. The law of the land sets a minimal standard of conduct, which all are obliged to obey. Certain occupations in life set the standard of conduct at this minimal level. But when a nominee for the position of Supreme Court Justice is being considered, he is expected to maintain a higher standard of conduct. Inappropriate behavior toward the opposite sex, or racially prejudiced comments would be cause for serious investigation, as we have recently witnessed.

There is no higher calling than to become a part of the church, over which Christ is the Head and through which God brings glory to Himself. Consequently, we find many exhortations in the Bible to live in a way that is consistent with our faith (see Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).63 As Paul has depicted our high calling in chapters 1-3, he now sets out to challenge us to that conduct which befits our calling in the remainder of this epistle.

Attitudes Befitting our Calling
(4:2-3)

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

A high calling does not justify a haughty attitude. We have been called to a position of blessing and privilege, but this must not be distorted in any way promote pride. We are not any better than those who are lost. We, in our former condition as lost sinners are just like the rest of mankind. We, in our new condition in Christ are righteous and forgiven only because of what He has done. Our salvation by grace should produce humility and gratitude, but never pride. Thus, Paul spells out the attitudes which befit the Christian.

These attitudes which Paul calls for in verses 2 and 3 are necessary because they are the attitudes of our Lord Himself (see Philippians 2:5-8). If we are to reflect Jesus Christ to the world in which we live, then we must manifest His attitudes. Furthermore, these attitudes are those which promote Christian harmony and unity.

Verses 2 and 3 depict attitudes, not techniques or methods. In world, and even in evangelical circles, people are more interested in techniques than in attitudes. They buy books written by people who appear successful, and who tell them how to be successful, too. The Bible has little to say about techniques and methods. It has much to say about obedience and about the attitudes which are conducive to godly conduct. It was Simon Magus, you will recall, who was interested in techniques (read Acts 8:1-24).

The inference of these verses is that the church is not perfect, nor will it be, until the Lord Himself comes and transforms us completely into His own image.

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:8-12).

8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

The descriptions of the church in Acts, the epistles, and in Revelation 2 and 3 all bear witness to the present imperfection of the church. One does not need to be patient with perfect people, nor to be forbearing. We need the attitudes Paul calls for because the saints are not yet perfect, and grace is required for us to live in peace and unity.

The attitudes listed in verses 2 and 3 are the outgrowth of our perception of how we compare with others in the church. The opposite of the attitudes Paul calls for (pride, impatience, pushiness, intolerance) are evidence of the fact that we think ourselves better than others. We read in Proverbs, “The poor man utters supplications, But the rich man answers roughly” (Proverbs 18:23). Why is this true? Because the poor man sees himself as dependent upon others, while the rich man thinks others need him. It is only when we take the place of the servant, like our Lord (see John 13; Philippians 2:1-8) that we can evidence the attitudes Paul requires of us.

Paul’s words in these verses remind us that Christian unity does not come naturally or automatically. Christian unity must be diligently preserved and promoted. We must be committed to the preservation and practice of Christian unity if it is ever going to be evident to the world about us. It is one of the sure signs that God is at work in and through us:

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

20 “I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. 22 “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me (John 17:20-23).

Another comment should be made concerning the attitudes which Paul has listed in these verses. While they are the virtues which our Lord manifested in His earthly life, and which we should evidence as well, they are not regarded as virtues by the world, but as weaknesses which should be set aside or overcome. The world does not offer seminars on humility, but on self-esteem and self-confidence. The world does not teach gentleness, but does give instruction in assertiveness. The attitudes which Paul proposes are those which the world opposes.

Finally, as regards the attitudes which befit our calling and which promote Christian unity, these are attitudes which will not be found in the flesh, but are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. These attitudes are the fruit of the Spirit:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:19-23).

The Basis of Christian Unity
(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.

The unity of which Paul speaks is not that which we should strive to create, but rather than which we should strive to preserve.64 The unity is one that exists by divine design and by divine creation. It is that unity of which Paul has already spoken in chapter 2:

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-22).

There is “one body,” the body of Christ, the church. It is in this “one new man” that all who are saved, Jew or Gentile, are reconciled to God and to each other. There is “one Spirit,” the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us (Ephesians 1:13) and who enables us to grasp the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power (1:17-19). It is through the Spirit that the church is made the dwelling place of God (2:22).

We all share a common (one) hope, the hope of His calling (1:18), the full enjoyment of the blessings which God has brought about in Christ (1:3). We have one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us by His blood and who is the head of the church (1:7, 22). We all share a common faith, all of us being saved in exactly the same way (see Romans 3:19-30; 4:1-16; Galatians 2:16). We all, whether Jews or Gentiles have but one baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; see Romans 6:1-11). And as such, we all have one God and Father, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. With so much in common, we can see why Paul would speak of something which already exists in fact, and which needs to be preserved and promoted. The unity which we share in terms of our position, is also to be shown in our practice.

Spiritual Gifts: Unity in Diversity
(4:7-16)

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” (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, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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 fulness of Christ. 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, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which 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.

The “But” of verse 7 seems to indicate some kind of change of subject. Verses 1-6 speak of what all Christians possess in common, which is the basis of their unity. Verses 7-16 speak of that which Christians individually possess uniquely, which is another contributing factor to Christian unity.

How can diversity contribute to unity? Let me turn your attention to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In what way would Adam and Eve better become one flesh, by being created exactly alike, or by being made very different from each other, but in a way they caused them to correspond to each other? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The differences between Adam and Eve were by divine design, so that their unity would be complete. Apart from each other, they were not complete. This is why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable [literally, corresponding to] for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The same is true of the unity which God has purposed for His body, the church. We share in common all of the things mentioned in verses 4-6. Nevertheless, we also are distinct in that God has given each one of us different spiritual gifts and different spheres of service. But when each believer finds his place of service and plays out his or her part, the whole body grows and fulfills its mission and ministry (4:16).

There are other texts which also teach us about spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; 1 Peter 4:10-11). Our text in Ephesians 4 has some unique areas of emphasis. Let me identity these for your consideration.

First, The emphasis in our text is not on the Holy Spirit, who is the means by which Spiritual gifts are given and employed (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-11), but rather on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the giver of these gifts. Spiritual gifts are gifts “of the Spirit,” but they are also gifts “from Christ.” It is as a result of our Lord’s victory, climaxing in His ascension (see 1:20-21), that spiritual gifts are bestowed upon believers. He, as the victor, has gotten the spoils of war. He, as the head of the church, distributes these “spoils” (gifts) to His body for the on-going ministry of the church.

Second, Paul here links spiritual gifts with the descent and ascension of our Lord. It is not easy to see how Paul’s use of some of the words of Psalm 68:18 here squares with the meaning of the psalm itself. We will not attempt to solve this problem. What we will do is to concentrate on why Paul uses these words.

In the context, Paul has been speaking of the attitudes which reflect Christ, and which facilitate Christian unity. The fundamental attitude is that of humility. I believe that Paul’s reference to Psalm 68 has a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is to show that spiritual gifts have their origin in the victory of Christ over the death, the grave, and His enemies. The second purpose is to demonstrate that spiritual gifts are intimately related to humility.

Did Christ give spiritual gifts to His church because of His ascension? Yes, He did. And how, Paul challenges us, did Jesus come to ascend? He ascended only because He first descended. Without His descension (so to speak) His ascension would have been impossible. I believe that this link between ascension and decension is the point of Paul’s words in verses 9 and 10. What Paul is showing us is that even in our Lord’s life and ministry the way “up” was “down.” Christ descended in order to ascend. So, too, as our Lord taught His disciples, the way to greatness is through service. If we are to employ spiritual gifts in a way that is consistent with the way our Lord obtained them for us we must humble ourselves as He humbled Himself.

Third, the gifts which are named are a small and distinct group. This list of spiritual gifts is very different from any other list. I believe that other lists encompass a broad variety of gifts, while this list of four or five gifts65 encompasses just one category of gift. All of the gifts Paul names here are what we might call “foundational gifts.” These gifts are those which are necessary and essential for all other gifts and ministries. The apostles and prophets have laid the foundation for the church and ministry by inscripturating the teaching and doctrine of our Lord (see Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). Evangelists proclaim the gospel defined by the apostles and prophets. They are the obstetricians of the faith. And pastor-teachers are the pediatricians. All Christian ministry is dependent upon the operation of these gifts. The first two gifts I would understand to have been fulfilled by the apostles and prophets of the New Testament era. The latter two gifts continue to function in the church today.

Fourth, the spiritual gifts are viewed as given to the whole church, not just to one local church.66 This realization has come to me slowly in the case of the last gift(s) mentioned, that of pastor-teacher. Usually, we think of this gift as functioning in the context of a particular local church. Usually, we would hope to find a pastor-teacher on the staff of a local church.

I am now beginning to wonder why pastor-teachers should not be considered a gift given to the church at large, and not just to one local church alone. We do not usually expect evangelists to restrict their ministry to one local church. Why, then, do we expect pastor-teachers to do so exclusively? I am inclined to think that each of the four gifts named in verse 11 are given to the church at large, and not just to a particular local church, which possesses them in a manner of speaking.

If you look at the Book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament, you will find that teachers were not limited to one place of service, where they stayed for a long period of time. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus, and to many other cities as well. Apollos also traveled from one place to another (see Acts 18:24-28), as did Paul. Never do you see a teacher in the New Testament staying on permanently in a local church as its pastor. This is an office which the Scriptures do not teach or require.

I think I am beginning to understand myself better as a result of my study of this text in Ephesians. I enjoy ministry in my local church, but I also find a strong inclination to exercise my gift of teaching in other contexts, outside the church. And so I minister in prisons, and have had the opportunity to teach overseas as well.

A few years ago, a godly Christian leader from India, Theo Williams, visited with the elders of our church. The elders asked him why it was worth the expense to send me all that distance to teach in India when they had godly Indian teachers there already. He responded that Christians in the West have certain strengths and perspectives which are needed by the church in India. He also quickly added that Indian saints have some perspectives very much needed in the West.67 The ministry of pastor-teachers ought not to be hoarded, but should be shared in such a way as to benefit the body of Christ at large.

The epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, and especially his teaching here in chapter 4, raise some real questions about the doctrine of the “autonomy of the local church.” In the past I have been associated with churches and denominations which hold to the “autonomy of the local church” as one of the fundamental tenants of their doctrine. And yet, having heard this said repeatedly, I cannot think of a single biblical text which teaches this at all, let alone repeatedly or emphatically.

I suspect that this “doctrine” is a leftover reaction from the reformers to the abuses of the Catholic Church. If we mean by this that no man or no body is able to dictate truth and divine directives to the church at large, then I agree. But when we use this teaching to justify the independence of individual churches, rather than inter-dependence, we have gone too far. We have too little communion and cooperation among and between individual “autonomous” local churches. Paul’s teaching on the church should challenge our thinking about the church and about our practice as a local church.

I think that the term “church” is used more broadly in the New Testament than it is understood by Christians today. We generally think of the church in one of two ways: (1) the church universal—all believers of all the ages, living and dead; and (2) the church local—the believers who gather in a particular local church. Paul seemed to think more broadly. The “church” at Ephesus or at Philippi or Rome was not just one local congregation but all of the saints in that particular city. We should be thinking not only of our church, but of all the saints, in our city, in our nation, in the world. It was with this broader view that the predominantly Gentile saints in the newly born church at Antioch took up a collection for the needy Jewish saints in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). Let us think beyond our own individual growth and well-being, and even beyond that of our local church, but of the growth and maturity of the church at large, around the world.

One final comment about the larger dimensions of the church, as Paul speaks of it. We often agonize when someone leaves “our church” to go to another. There are times when we should be concerned. We should be concerned if we have failed as a church. We should be concerned if our church has failed to live up to its calling, and especially up to the Scriptures. We should be concerned if people have left for the wrong reasons, or have gone to a church that departs from sound doctrine and practice. But we should not agonize over everyone who leaves our church to serve elsewhere. The “church” is bigger than “our church” and God may wish to use the gifts of some of our former members there. They have not deserted Christ who have left our congregation to serve Christ in another.

Fifth, the emphasis falls not on knowing your gift, but on finding your place of service. From Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 is seems impossible for one to be a good steward of the grace of God without knowing what his or her spiritual gift is. Having said this, I see many Christians waiting to serve until they have discovered their gift. This text in Ephesians chapter 4 may provide a happy solution. In this text Paul does not urge the saints to “discover their gift,” but rather to find their place of service in the body of Christ. I believe that as we seek to find a place of service we will also discover the gift or gifts which God has given to us.

Finding our place of service is not really that difficult, as I understand the Scriptures. The first thing we must know is what it is that God has commanded us to do. We are, for example, to minister to the orphans and the widows (James 1:27). We are to “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). We are to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). All we need to do is to look around us for those things which need to be done, which our Lord has commanded us to do. We should give a higher priority to those things which we do best, as good stewards of the grace of God. In so doing, we will discover not only our place of service, but those gifts which God has given us to enable us to serve. This is the emphasis which is evident in Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4.

Sixth, the focus here is not on the individual, but on the contribution which the individual makes to the corporate body of Christ. Even though individual saints are addressed here, and each has his or her unique blending of gifts, the emphasis falls on the church. Often I hear the subject of spiritual gifts taught in such a way as to place the gifted individual in the place of prominence. Status is attached to the gift, and if not, then people are told that knowing and exercising their gift will give them a feeling of significance and fulfillment. This may well be true, but the focus is wrong. Spiritual gifts are not given to us for our benefit as much as they are given for the building up of the body of Christ.

Spiritual gifts, according to Paul’s words in verses 12-16, are given for the edification of the body, and to facilitate the ministry of the church as the body of Christ. Christ indwells the church corporately (2:21-22) and the church corporately ministers on Christ’s behalf. The church is the visible manifestation of Christ on the earth. Christ not only dwells in it, it visibly manifests Christ to the world.

So often, when the saints go to church, the go to be ministered to, not to minister. They go in order to be blessed, not in order to be a blessing. They leave, not asking whether Christ was exalted and whether others were edified, but whether or not they were blessed. Our text tells us that we are given gifts so that we may contribute something to the body of Christ, so that we may fulfill our mission to the church and through it.

Seventh, spiritual gifts are given to members of the church until that time when the church has finally reached the goal of Christlikeness (see verse 13). There are some who teach that spiritual gifts existed only in the early church of the New Testament, and that gifts are no longer needed or present in the church today. While this may be a quick and easy way to handle some of the more controversial gifts, it is throwing the baby out with the bath water. In the light of Paul’s teaching here, how can we possibly conclude that spiritual gifts no longer exist? According to Paul, spiritual gifts cease will only when the entire church has matured and has become fully like Christ. Spiritual gifts cease only when that which is perfect has come, and this will take place only when our Lord returns.68

Eighth, while every spiritual gift has its own particular function, Paul sets forth the goal of every gift functioning in the body for the corporate ministry and maturity of the body of Christ. By each and every member of the body of Christ ministering to the body of Christ, the church is built up toward the goal of Christlikeness.

Ninth, in this passage, Paul contrasts maturity and immaturity as it pertains to the church. Immaturity is to no longer be “like children” (verse 14). The early church did pass through its stage of infancy. As individual churches are established, they also must begin at the “child” state and grow to maturity. The same is true of individual believers. Children begin life totally dependent on their mother. Their identity is linked with their mother. And then (almost too quickly, it would seem), the child begins to gain his own identity, his own individuality. Now the child is only aware of himself, of his own wants and needs. But as a child grows older, he not only becomes more independent, he also becomes more able to serve others.

While this kind of child development is readily evident to us, this is not what Paul chose to emphasize. He focused on the instability and the vulnerability of children. Young children have a short attention span. They flit about, from one activity to another. They are gullible and they believe nearly anything that someone tells them. Doctrinally, an immature church is unstable, changing its doctrinal views as often as some self-serving religious huckster comes to the church.

This is not the goal Paul holds out for the church. His goal is that due to the active involvement and ministry of every member, the church will grow up to maturity. It will be marked by doctrinal purity and stability. It will discern those who hold to a different doctrine and refuse to be turned away from the truth. The mature church will be growing in Christ-likeness, never arriving at it in this life and never being content with how far it has grown. The mature church is committed to the truth of God’s revealed Word and ever seeking to be more closely conformed to Christ, its Head.

The mature church, Paul says, is “growing up into Him who is the head” (verse 15). On the face of it, this statement seems difficult to understand. How can the body grow up into its head? We are not growing up into the Head, we are growing up to be more and more like the Head, Jesus Christ.

Let me try to illustrate what I think Paul means. Christ is the “Head” of the body in several ways. He is also the one who provides for the needs of the body, and He also guides and directs the body. He is the One who is to be preeminent in the church, to receive the glory and honor. He is also the one who created the church, who brought it into existence by His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In this last sense, our Lord begat the church with the “imperishable seed,” through the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Maturity is becoming more Christ-like as we become more obedient to the Word of God, and as we become more like our Father. Just as a child is born with all kinds of genetic potentialities, which become more and more evident as it grows up, so we become more like we were destined to be as we grow up into Christ.

Conclusion

The Christian’s conduct is to be based upon and consistent with his calling in Christ. He has been called to become an active, functioning member of the body of Christ. He has been called to obedience. The church is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, and the instrument by which God demonstrates the glory of His wisdom, power, and grace. As we obey Him and manifest His likeness, we fulfill our calling.

Christian unity is not an option, it is a mandate. It is both that which we possess and must preserve, and that for which we continue to strive. It is rooted in the origin and the life of the church. It is to be preserved by those who possess a servant’s spirit, and who respond to the grace of God by being gracious to their brothers and sisters in Christ who, like them, are not yet perfected.

I have but two questions to ask you as we conclude this lesson. The first is this: Are you in the body of Christ? I did not ask if you were a member of a certain church or denomination. I am asking if you have ever trusted in Jesus Christ as God’s only means of salvation. Have you received eternal life by trusting that He died in your place, that He suffered the punishment for your sins, and that He rose from the dead for your eternal justification? If you have been “born again” (see John 3) by personal faith in Jesus Christ then you are a member of His church, the body of Christ.

Having asked this, I must press on to ask: Are you an active and vital part of a local church? The Bible never conceives of anyone coming to faith in Christ apart from becoming associated with a local church and then finding your place of service to the body of Christ. I do not mean to say that your primary service can only be in the local church, for there are those who serve the body of Christ in the context of para-church organizations. Nevertheless, every saint should be associated and involved in a local church. Every saint should seek to find his or her place of service. Every saint should seek not only their own growth and maturity, but that of the church at large as well.

Are you in the body of Christ by faith in Him? Are you actively involved in the body of Christ? Are you serving the body, playing out your role, and thus contribution to the growth of the body and the glory of God? I pray that you are, for this is surely what our text demands of each and every Christian.


62 This instruction, in the context of 1 Corinthians 8-10, clearly indicates the necessity of subordinating our pleasure to the glory of God. The Christian liberties we might otherwise enjoy are to be sacrificed for the edification of our brother, for the sake of the gospel, and especially for the glory of God.

63 See also Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-ff., especially verses 12-17; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; Titus 2:1; Hebrews 12:1ff.; James 1:21ff.; 1 Peter 1:13ff.; 2 Peter 2:3-11.

64 Note, however, that in verse 13 unity is viewed as a goal, but not something which we create.

65 There is considerable doubt (and even debate) over the question of whether 4 or 5 spiritual gifts are named in verse 11. “Pastors and teachers” may either be “pastors” and “teachers” or “pastor-teachers.” I am inclined toward the latter option, though the significance of this is of little import to our study.

66 When you stop to think about it, even some of the epistles which were addressed to one individual (Timothy, Titus, Philemon) or to a specific local church were both circulated (Colossians 4:16) and collected as a part of the New Testament canon, so that the whole church has been blessed by them.

67 I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Roman church, where he had not yet visited: “For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established” (Romans 1:11). It was not that this church had no other gifted teachers, but that Paul’s gift would benefit them in a unique way, in a way that the teaching of others could not.

68 In addition to this line of argument, let me suggest another. Spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities to carry out certain functions. The “functions” or ministries of evangelism, teaching, giving, exhortation, helping and administration are still necessary, and so are the gifts which supernaturally empower and enable them.

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12. Leaving Our Old Ways Behind (Ephesians 4:17-24)

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

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

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

Introduction

I have always been one who enjoyed taking things that others threw away and finding a use for them. Our daughter Amy is just like me in this regard. The other day she called home from college. She reported that she and her roommate Gena were on their way to town to go out to dinner. It was about a mile walk. On the way, they observed a man carrying some items out to the street for the trash men. He must have been remodeling because among his “treasures” was an old toilet and a kitchen sink, still attached to the cabinet.

The girls both looked over the throw-aways, and gave a momentary thought to making use of them. Knowing how far it was from their dorm room, they decided not to try to take anything with them. After dinner, they once again passed by these same items, only this time the temptation was too great. They decided the toilet was too grungy to try to carry and fixed their efforts on the kitchen sink. Gena took the sink end while Amy crawled into the cupboard part. Away they walked with their find.

They carried this sink all the way home, until they reached to edge of their college campus. It was still a good distance to their dorm room and so they called campus security and requested a ride. Fortunately the van was dispatched. At first the driver was going to pass by the girls, thinking that they could not possibly be his callers. They flagged him down, loaded the sink in the back, and gratefully rode the remaining distance to their dorm room, where the sink and cupboard became a planter.

The campus security guard radioed in on his way to the dorm. “I picked up the girls,” he reported, “and the kitchen sink.” Needless to say, the security folks had a good laugh.

Often when I find something in the garbage, I do not use it for its originally intended use, but I adapt it for some other use. God has done something similar to every Christian. So far as our usefulness to God is concerned, when we are in our natural sinful state, we are fit for nothing else than the trash. But when God saves us through the person and work of His Son, He transforms us into something entirely new. Through His Spirit, which works in us personally and through other members of the body of Christ, He equips us for serving Him. He gives us a new identity and a new function.

In chapters 1-3 of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, Paul has spoken of the change which God has brought about in our lives, for our good and for His glory. In chapters 4-6, Paul exhorts us as Christians to carry out our calling as Christians. Our text in Ephesians 4:17-24 describes in very general terms the changes in our thinking and behavior which being “in Christ” requires.

Our text falls into three divisions. In verses 17-19, Paul writes concerning our new relationship to the world in which we live. In verses 22-24, Paul describes the Christian’s relationship to the flesh, our old nature. And in between, in verses 20-21, Paul reminds us that in coming to faith in Christ we learned a new way of life through Him who is the truth.

Verses 17-24 are general in nature. From verse 25 on Paul gets very specific, describing those things which the Christian must put off and those which he must put on. By putting off and putting on the things Paul identifies, we conduct ourselves in accordance with our calling.

Let us listen carefully to these vitally important truths, which are foundational to our Christian thinking and conduct.

Putting the World Behind Us
(4:17-19)

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

As we approach this passage, we need to remember what Paul has already said about our previous condition as unbelievers:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 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 of disobedience. 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 (Ephesians 2:1-3).

We were lifeless apart from Christ, dead in our trespasses and sins. Paul will take up this “lifeless” dimension of the unbelievers in our text in chapter 4, in verse 18. But what is central to our study is what Paul has to say above concerning the unbeliever’s relationship to the world and to the flesh. As unbelievers, we were the pawns of Satan, under his dominion, carrying out his dictates. We were unaware of this because he controlled us through the influence of the world and the flesh. We once walked “according to the course of this world” (2:2) and in accordance with the “lusts of our flesh” (2:3).

Now that we have been born again, in Christ we have been raised from our dead state spiritually to newness of life. And because of this, we are to renounce the world and its dominion over us. This is what Paul urges every believer to do in 4:17-19. We were also slaves to our own fleshly desires, and now as believers we are to “put off” fleshly things and “put on” the things of the Spirit (4:22-24). Being born again is meant to reverse the way we once were, apart from Christ.

In verse 17 of chapter 4, Paul introduces his teaching with a solemn reminder of the importance of what he is about to say: “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, …” The term “affirm” means “to bear testimony” or “to serve as a witness.” It is used elsewhere in the New Testament only by Paul.69 In every instance Paul employs this term to convey a sense of importance and urgency. When our Lord sought to convey this same sense, He employed the expression, “Truly, truly …”

Paul goes one step further in verse 17. He claims that his words are not his alone. What he is about to say is the instruction of the Lord Himself. Paul’s command is Christ’s command.

Now Paul lays down the command70 which all Christians are to heed: “That you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk …” Several things are implied or clearly stated by this command. Let us consider them one at a time.

First, faith in Christ demands a radical change in the lifestyle of the believer from the way he once behaved. The words “no longer” and “also” indicate that Paul’s readers once lived the way they are now to renounce and reject. Paul’s command is to cease living the way they used to live and to live in a way that glorifies God.

Second, this command deals with the Christian’s new relationship to the world. Once, as a part of the world system, we were alienated from God and strangers to His kingdom. Now, as those in Christ, we are citizens of God’s kingdom and members of His body, but we have become strangers and pilgrims to this world (see Hebrews 11:13-16; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).

Third, this command deals with the Christian’s relationship to the culture in which they live. While the Ephesians saints once lived like Gentile heathen, their fellow-Ephesians still do live this way. This may very well result in the persecution of the Gentile saints, since their godliness poses a threat to the sinful ways of their peers (see 1 Peter 4:1-6). But in addition there will be considerable pressure on the Gentile believers to continue to live as they used to.

Paul does more than to simply command his readers to cease living like unbelievers; he commands them not to conduct themselves as their unbelieving Gentile peers. Why didn’t Paul command the Ephesian saints not to live like the unbelieving Jews? Because these Gentile saints were a part of the Gentile culture. It was this culture which threatened to influence them to live as they formerly did. The “world” is, to a great extent, the culture in which we live, which seeks to pressure us to conform to its values, standards, goals, and conduct. The “world” which most influences us is the culture in which we have grown up.

Christianity, Paul implies, often runs across the grain of our culture, and thus we must determine to follow Christ and to cease to march to the drum of the world in which we live. Peer pressure contrary to God’s will and His Word is to be expected and rejected by the Christian, in order that he or she may walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called (4:1).

Fourth, Paul maintains that the moral conduct of men is the outgrowth of his mental processes. The dominant thought here, as we find elsewhere in Ephesians, is that doctrine determines conduct. What we believe affects the way we behave.71

I am not a student of philosophy, but there are men like Francis Shaeffer who have done considerable work in this area. I think that it is safe to say that the immorality which is so rampant in the western world has been conceived by godless philosophers, and has been skillfully propagated by institutions of “higher learning.” Paul’s warning about the dangers of philosophy can be better understood in the light of his teaching on the relationship between fallen man’s reasoning and his conduct. The way a man thinks does bear heavily on the way he acts.

The Way Gentiles Walk

The final statement of verse 17 through verse 19 describes the way in which Paul’s readers once walked as Gentiles, the way in which their peers still walk, and the way in which the Ephesians saints must no longer walk.

… that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 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; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

The lifestyle of unbelieving Gentiles is characterized as a walk which is …

in the futility of their mind
being darkened in their understanding
excluded from the life of God

The conduct of the Ephesian saints before their conversion to faith in Christ was the outgrowth of wrong doctrine. Paul speaks of their impairment as the “futility of their mind.” Futility is not to be mistaken for stupidity. Futile efforts are efforts which do not materialize into something worthwhile. Paul would not call Plato, Aristotle, or Socrates stupid. These men were Gentiles of great standing and of brilliant intellect. Nevertheless, their beliefs and philosophies were futile. They were futile because they failed to produce anything of lasting or eternal value.

Paul is taking us back to the very foundations of man’s thinking. The premises on which we base our thoughts determine what the results of our thinking will be. For example, the unbeliever (as a rule) thinks that life ends with death. Consequently, suffering is avoided and pleasure is pursued (see 1 Corinthians 15:32). The Christian believes that real life begins with faith in Christ and never ends. Because of this, suffering is joyfully endured for Christ’s sake, with the assurance that we will eternally enjoy the glory which awaits us (see 2 Corinthians 4:13-18).

The believer in Christ understands that he or she has been chosen for salvation for a purpose, to bring glory to God. Consequently, all that is done should be to His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The unbeliever sees all of life revolving around his own personal interests, and so self-interest is always the focus and servanthood is viewed with contempt. Furthermore, the thinking of the believer is based upon the revelation of truth in the Scriptures, while the thinking of the unbeliever is based only upon the individual’s subject perception of truth and reality. It is no wonder, therefore, that the mind set on the flesh is vastly different from the mind set on the Spirit (see Romans 8:5-9). And so it is that a believer’s thinking must be radically transformed (Romans 12:2).

The root cause of the distortion of Gentile thinking is also identified:

because of the ignorance that is in them
because of the hardening of their heart

After describing the mental condition of heathen Gentiles, Paul presses on to disclose the causes of their mental dullness. Their thinking is futile because they are ignorant. Ignorance here surely does not refer to one’s intelligence. Neither does ignorance seem to refer to what one does not know. Ignorance, as Paul uses the term, refers to the “knowledge” which unbelievers possess, in which they place their trust, and from which they base their actions. It may be brilliant ignorance, but when compared with the truth of God, it is ignorance.

The mind of man and the heart of man are closely inter-twined. When Paul speaks of the “hardening of their heart” he refers to the impact which the hardened heart has on the minds of fallen men. Hardness of heart keeps one from seeing things as they really are. This was true of Pharaoh, who could not see the “finger of God” in the plagues of the Exodus, even when his own servants pointed it out to him (Exodus 8:19). It was even true of the Lord’s disciples, who could not understand what He was teaching them (Mark 6:52; 8:17).

The mental condition of fallen Gentiles ultimately works itself out in the moral lives of these unbelievers. Men who are excluded from the life of God do not reflect the righteousness of God in their conduct. And so Paul describes the moral outcome of the Gentiles’ mental decadence: “And they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (verse 19).

Those who are mentally blind become morally callused. They lose any sensitivity to what is right or wrong. Consequently, they give themselves over to the pursuit of fleshly pleasure.

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).

Such men are not merely overcome by strong fleshly passions, they actively engage in the pursuit of these passions. They do not dabble in sin, they immerse themselves in it. They pursue the satisfaction of their fleshly appetites with a passion. They are greedy for fleshly pleasure. They can never get enough of it. They are, we would say, addicted to the pursuit of satisfying their fleshly urges.

Living According To What You Have Learned
(4:20-21)

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

Paul has already begun the transition from the mental decay of the Gentiles to their moral decadence. He has begun to shift his attention from the Christian’s obligation to resist and reject the ungodly pressures of the world system. He is already turning from the Christian and the world to the Christian and the flesh, from external temptation to internal temptation. But before he deals with the “old self” and the “new self,” Paul will remind his readers that what he is teaching them is not really new at all, but rather the reiteration of what they had already learned.

I believe that Paul is referring to the conversion experience of the Ephesian saints in verse 20. Paul may not even be attempting to distinguish between evangelism and discipleship here, but rather is only seeking to show the continuity between his teaching in this epistle and that which they had already received.

“Learning Christ” is not the typical way of referring to one’s coming to Christ in the Bible. It most certainly is not the normal way of referring to conversion today. Biblical terms such as “born again” are sometimes used, but more often unbiblical expressions are the norm. We talk, for example, of “inviting Christ into our lives,” which is both existential and self-oriented. We talk little of “learning” and we think that doctrine and evangelism are not closely related. “Let them first get saved, and then let them learn doctrine,” is the way many Christians seem to think.

Paul assumes otherwise, perhaps because some of those to whom Paul was writing came to faith directly or indirectly through his ministry at Ephesus (see Acts 19). Coming to Christ, as Paul believed and practiced, was not just an experience. It was learning. It was learning Christ.

One of the most foolish statements I have ever heard is, “I don’t worship doctrine, I worship Jesus.” Paul would never tolerate such mindless talk. How does one “learn Christ” without learning the doctrines which tell us who He is? Is Christ only a man, or is He also God? The difference is of great importance, and it is only from learning the doctrines of Christ in the Scriptures that we will know the answer.

I wonder how biblical our evangelism is, compared to that which we find in the Scriptures. Our method of evangelizing seems to be more of a sales presentation, which seeks to get as quickly as possible to the “bottom line”—some kind of assent to trusting in Christ. When Jesus evangelized, He taught. Everywhere we find Jesus speaking in the gospels, He taught. It often took a considerable period of time for the truth He was teaching to be grasped, and this was only through the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit (see Matthew 16:17).72 When Paul went to the synagogues, he taught from the Scriptures, demonstrating that Jesus was the promised Messiah (see Acts 9:19-22; 13:5, 14ff.).

As I understand Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:20 and 21, Paul assumes that those who have come to Christ have already learned much about Him, and about the nature of the Christian life which should result from trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Suffering should come as no surprise, if our evangelism has been true to the teaching of God’s Word (see Luke 9:23-26; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12). There is no “small print” left out of our gospel, which comes unexpectedly after conversion.

There is a reason why faith in Christ and learning are closely related. This is explained in verse 21: “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, …”

Jesus is not just a teacher; He is even more than the teacher. Jesus is the truth: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’” (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth. To come to Him in faith is to come from death to life, from condemnation to justification, from sin to sanctification, and from ignorance to true wisdom. You cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ without changing your thinking. This is what true repentance is all about—changing your mind, and coming to see things as God does. And so it is that Paul links evangelism and discipleship. Coming to Christ by faith is the result of learning about Him (see Romans 10:13-17), just as it is also the beginning of learning.

The lifestyle which Paul sets out as God’s standard for Christians should come as a surprise to no convert to Christ, as radically different as it is from our former way of life. Our relationship to the world and to our own flesh is simply the outworking of the gospel which we should already have learned in coming to Christ. If, as may be the case today, some have not learned these general things of which Paul speaks in verses 17-24, then the gospel has not been fully or faithfully proclaimed.

Putting Off the Old and Putting On the New
(4:22-24)

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

In the first verses of Ephesians chapter 2, Paul described the unbeliever as being subject to the world, the flesh, and the devil. In most instances, the devil exercises control over lost men by means of the external pressure of the world and corresponding internal inclinations of the flesh. In Ephesians 4:17-19 Paul has instructed the Christian to turn from the corrupting influences of the world in which we live (our culture). Now, in verses 22-24, Paul turns to the subject of our flesh, urging us to put off the “old man” and to put on the new.

I understand Paul to refer to the flesh as our “old self,” or as the marginal note in the NASB indicates, our “old man.” In Romans chapter 8 this “old self” would be synonymous with the “mind set on the flesh” (Romans 8:6-7). The “new self” would be our new “inner man” (Romans 7:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 3:16), the “mind set on the Spirit” (Romans 8:6).

Beginning at verse 25, Paul will specifically identify those attitudes and actions which we should “put off” and those which should be “put on” in their place. But here Paul is dealing with our manner of life in principle, in general terms. Our fleshly behavior is the outgrowth, the expression, of our inner fleshly nature, just as Christian conduct is the outgrowth and expression of the inner man, created and empowered by the Holy Spirit:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:16-24).

Paul persists in emphasizing the continuity between our conversion to Christ and our conduct in Christ, which should be evident in our manner of life.

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:1-14).

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, (Colossians 2:6).

In Christ, our old man has been crucified, put to death. In our daily conduct, we should crucify the flesh daily, and put aside the conduct which springs forth from fleshly desires. In Christ we were made alive, raised from the dead and seated with Him in the heavenlies (see Ephesians 2:5-6). We should therefore walk in newness of life, manifesting the work of the Spirit of God in and through us. It is by His power that we are both motivated and enabled to live in a way that pleases God:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.… 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 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 indwells you. (Romans 8:1-4, 10-11)

20 “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 delivered Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20).

This expression, “lusts of deceit” is somewhat puzzling as to its precise meaning. What we can be sure of is that there is a direct relationship between “lust” and “deceit.” I believe it is safe to say that “lust” is “deceitful,” and also to say that “deceit” is “lustful.” Lust is deceitful in that it does not produce what it seems to promise. Lust promises pleasure, but it ultimately produces death (see Romans 6:15-23, especially verse 21). Deceit is lustful in that it never seems to be satisfied, it always wants more victims (see Proverbs 1:10-19).

Jesus warned of the danger of attempting to remove evil, rather than replacing it (see Luke 11:26). Paul’s words indicate that our old nature and its deeds are not merely to be rejected, they are to be replaced. We must “put off” the old man and at the same time “put on” the new. While the old nature is continually being corrupted by the lusts of deceit, the new nature is renewing us, in accordance with the nature of God and His righteousness and truth. The old nature is being corrupted, the new is being renewed. The old is deceitful, the new deals in truth. The old is sinful, the new is righteous. The old is driven by lusts, the new by the character and purposes of God.

Conclusion

Christ did not save us in order that we may live any way that we choose. He saved us to live godly lives, and thus to live in a way that is radically different from our lifestyle as unbelievers. Our conduct, as Paul has indicated in verse 1 of chapter 4 is to conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of our calling in Christ.

The conduct which God requires of Christians should not come as a surprise to them after they have been saved. The gospel, as preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles, called men to repentance as well as to faith in Christ. Men were required to turn from their sin to Christ, and it was clear that this meant a new way of life. The “gospel” of our day is not so clearly stated. It is as though we fear that men will be receive Christ if they know what is involved. The irony is that the gospel, the true gospel, is the power of God unto salvation. The more we seek to rid the gospel of its unappealing aspects (from the unbeliever’s point of view) the more we rob it of its power. We then rely more on our cleverness and deceit than on the power of the Holy Spirit to convince and convert lost sinners. When we share our faith, let us tell it like it is.

This text, and those which follow in Ephesians, make it clear that while salvation and sanctification are the work of God, they require man’s response. God is sovereign in the salvation and spiritual growth of those whom He has chosen. He also ordained that men are to be informed of the gospel and of God’s standards of conduct, and that we are to act in obedience to His commands, not in our own strength, but in that which He supplies. Let us not leave this text with a passive view of our spiritual life. God has made every provision for our sanctification, and we are to obediently make use of them, for His glory and for our good.

It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the truths conveyed in the passage before us. While the verses which follow it will spell out specific conduct which befits the Christian, this text speaks of the basis for our conduct in general terms. It is our commitment to the general exhortations of this passage which will greatly affect our compliance with the commands that follow.

The Christian lifestyle will not be lived out by those with a pagan mindset. It is the Christian mindset of our text which works itself out in the conduct which befits our calling in Christ. Allow me to point out some of the inferences of Paul’s teaching in our text and its implications in our practical daily living.

Our pagan culture believes that the past is the key to the present. What we think and how we act, we are told, is the result of our past. It is only by understanding our past that we can live as we should in the present. In other words, the past controls the present.

The Bible reverses this. Paul teaches us that our thinking and conduct in the past was the outworking of our unregenerate thinking. Paul insists that we refuse to allow our past to control us in the present. Instead, Paul teaches us that what we now are, in Christ, is what should override and overrule our past thinking and behavior. What we now are in Christ should cause us to put away what we once thought and did as unbelievers. Our past should not be resurrected, analyzed and dwelled upon, it should be buried in an unmarked grave. It is not what we were that matters, but what we are. Let us ponder what we are, in Christ, and not what we were without Him.

In our culture, what you believe seems to have taken second place to how you feel. The sensitive, intelligent, and probing thing to ask these days is, “How do you feel about that?” Paul would rather have us focus on what we believe. What we feel is often a far cry from what is true, and even from what we believe. Faith, as I understand it, calls upon men to act on the truth God has revealed in His Word, not on how we feel. Abraham did not “feel” like leaving his homeland and relatives to go to an unnamed place, but he obeyed God. Neither did he feel like offering up his son, Isaac, but he was willing to obey. Our Lord did not feel like going to the cross of Calvary, but He obeyed the will of His Father. Let us act on what we know to be the truth as revealed in the Word of God, more than on how we happen to feel. As a rule, faith acts on the facts of God’s Word and disregards our feelings.

If the renewing of our minds is so vital to our Christian life, how is it done? The Bible is not a book of formulas, but I would like to focus your attention on one key element: the Word of God. When a person wants to learn a foreign language, what is the most effective way to do so? It is to enter into that culture and language and become saturated with it. This is how our children learn to talk and to think as we do. If we would desire to have our minds renewed, then we must find God’s thoughts and immerse ourselves in them. His thoughts have been incarnated in Christ, the Living Word, and recorded in the Bible, His inspired written Word.

I dare say that most Christians spend more time in front of their television sets, radios, magazines, and books than they do in their Bibles. Even many Christian stations and publications contain much that is secular thinking sprinkled with a smattering of spiritual jargon. If we would think God’s thoughts after Him, we will find them only in His Word. Let us become so saturated with His Word that we begin to reflect His ways, His values, His goals, His methods. This is the renewing of the mind which Paul calls for.


69 See also Acts 20:26; 26:22; Galatians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:11.

70 In the original text, the imperative mood is not used, but most Bible students would probably agree that the sense is that of a command. It is what A. T. Robertson, the Greek scholar, calls an “indirect command.” The same would be true of the parallel infinitives that convey the commands in verses 22 and 23. In each instance the imperative is preceded by the word “that.” See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, p. 539.

71 The reverse is also true. Men’s behavior affects the way they think. Just as bad thinking leads to wrong conduct, so wrong conduct leads to bad thinking. Solomon is an example of this. Although the wisest man in the world, Solomon disobeyed God in several ways. Among these was his marriage to foreign wives. I believe that as his moral conduct deteriorated, so did his mental acuity. What results is a downward cycle. Bad thinking leads to wrong conduct, which leads to further deterioration in one’s thinking, which leads to further moral decay. An illustration of this cycle can be found in Romans chapter 1.

72 The fact of the matter is that most of what Jesus taught was not understood by anyone until after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:25-26; 16:7-15).

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13. Putting Off Lies and Embracing the Truth (Ephesians 4:25-32)

The transcript for this lesson will be added once it becomes available.

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14. Righteous Anger (Ephesians 4:26-27)

26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity.

Introduction

A few years ago, several of us went to minister in a maximum security prison in Texas. One of the inmates who participated in the seminar was “Mo.” Mo was a very large man, built much like a sumo wrestler. Numerous scars on his body bore witness to violence and hard-living he had experienced. This was underscored by his missing front teeth. Watching Mo eat reminded me of watching the clothes tumble about in a large commercial drier in a laundromat. One of Mo’s talents was singing. I will never forget his rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Nor will I forget the words of my friend, Dick Plowman, then area director for Prison Fellowship. Dick said, “Now just what song will Mo sing for us? Whatever one he wants!”

Mo was big enough and tough enough to do just about anything he wanted. God is bigger and stronger. But God’s character limits Him, so that He can act only within His own character. God can only do that which is holy, just, and right. This means that whatever God does is right. Human anger may often be sinful, both in origin and expression, but divine anger is always righteous anger. Human jealousy is most often a vice, rather than a virtue, but when God is jealous it is a righteous jealousy.

Because anger and jealousy are frequently attributed to God in the Bible, we must agree that not all anger and jealousy are evil. Pressing the matter further, if we are to imitate God, then there must be times when we should be angry. Our text in Ephesians 4:27-28 is about righteous anger. In this lesson, we will seek to learn the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how it is that we can express righteous anger in a way that brings glory to God.

You will notice that Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter four is similar to that found in the Book of Proverbs:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, Lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit (Proverbs 26:4-5, KJV).

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity … .

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32).

In Proverbs, we are first instructed not to answer a fool according to his folly. In the very next verse, we are instructed to answer a fool according to his folly. Both statements are true, and are to be taken seriously. In the first proverb, we are taught that we ought not respond to a fool on his level, we ought not to allow ourselves to be brought down to the level of a fool by answering him as foolishly as he has spoken. On the other hand, we are to answer the fool in a way that gives him no dignity, no satisfaction, lest he take himself too seriously. A fool is to be deal with as a fool, but we should not be made fools also in the process.

So, too, in Ephesians chapter 4 we have two seemingly conflicting statements. In verse 26, we seem to be commanded to be angry; in verse 31 we seem to be commanded not to be angry. The solution is to be found in the fact that there are two kinds of anger. The anger which is a manifestation of our old self (the flesh) is to be put off. The anger which is a manifestation of God’s righteousness is to be put on.

In this lesson our study will focus on the righteous expression of anger. When we come to verses 31 and 32, we will turn our attention to Paul’s command to put off unrighteous anger. We will begin our present study by considering why Paul would appear to be commanding us to be angry. Then we will consider some examples of righteous anger, as seen in God the Father, in God the Son, and in the lives of some of the saints. We will then give attention to the ways in which anger can lead to sin, turning once again to the examples provided us in the Bible. We will also consider the consequences of unholy anger. We will conclude by identifying some principles which should guide us in distinguishing between holy and unholy anger.

“Be Angry!”
(4:26a)

The command, “Be angry!” just doesn’t sound right, does it? We are uncomfortable with a command like this. We find ourselves trying to avoid or explain this command away, because anger does not sound godly. But we must remember that there are two kinds of anger. There is the “anger of man” which “does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20), and the anger which is an expression of God’s righteousness. We are commanded in our text to be angry in a way that is righteous, that is a reflection of God.

Let us begin our study by considering examples of righteous wrath in the Bible. We will begin by looking at some instances in which God was angry. Then we will consider the anger of our Lord Jesus Christ. Next, we will consider the righteous wrath of godly men in the Bible. Finally, we will seek to identify some of the characteristics of righteous wrath, which distinguishes it from the wrath of man.

God was angry at the unbelief of Moses, which caused him to resist obeying the command of God to go to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, insisting that he let God’s people go (Exodus 4:14). God is angered by the mistreatment of those who are helpless, the strangers, the widows, and the orphans (Exodus 22:21-24).73 God was also angered by men turning from trusting and worshipping Him, to the worship of idols (Exodus 32:10; Deuteronomy 6:14-15; Judges 2:13-14; Ezra 8:22). God is angered by the grumbling and complaining of His people (Numbers 11:1, 10), which is often expressed by resistance to His appointed leadership (Numbers 12:9).

All of these offenses which arouse God to anger seem reasonable enough, but there are times when men may commit offenses which seem minor to us, and yet which provoke God to anger. One such case is described in 2 Samuel chapter 6. The ark of the covenant had been captured by the Philistines, and was kept for a short time as a trophy in the house of their god, Dagon. The problem with this was that God shamed their “god” and caused a plague to fall on those in whose city the ark was being kept. Eventually, the ark was returned by the Philistines, transported on an ox cart.

One could expect the Philistines to transport the ark this way. They did not know any better. But God had stipulated in the Law that the ark must be carried by the Levites, by means of poles that were place through rings in the ark. The Israelites forgot this and began to transport the ark on an ox cart, like the Philistines. When the ox stumbled and the ark seemed in danger of falling off the cart, Uzzah reached out to stabilize the ark and was struck dead by God. This angered David, who could not understand this outburst of anger at first. Only later, upon reflection, did he realize how important obedience to God’s instructions was. And then, when the ark was transported, it was done as God had instructed (see 2 Samuel 6:1-19).

Our Lord Jesus was also angry. We are told of His anger at the Pharisees for their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5). That same anger seems to be expressed in the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-22), and in our Lord’s woe’s to the Pharisees in Matthew 23. I believe it is also implied in our Lord’s rebuke of Peter, when he chided Him for speaking of His sacrificial death (Matthew 16:23).

Godly men were also angered by unrighteousness. Moses, who was initially unshaken by Israel’s worship of the golden calf, became angry when he finally came down from the mountain and saw the extent of Israel’s sin (see Exodus 32:1-20). Earlier, Moses was angered by Pharaoh’s hardened heart, and his refusal to listen to God and to let the Israelites go (Exodus 11:8). While the text does not say so, it would appear that David was angered by Goliath’s blasphemy (1 Samuel 17). David was later angry when Nathan told him the story of the rich man who stole a poor man’s little lamb, not knowing that he was the villain (2 Samuel 13:21).

Paul was angered when he learned that false teaching had reached the saints in Galatia, and that some were embracing it. The whole epistle of Paul to the Galatians is white hot with Paul’s expressed anger and outrage. One example of Paul’s anger in Galatians can be seen when he rebuked Peter and others for their hypocrisy in dealing with their Gentile brethren (see Galatians 2). When Paul was illegally beaten and detained at Philippi, he refused to allow his persecutors to simply release him. He demanded and received a public act of apology, which must have gone a long way in securing the protection of the church at Philippi from such injustice in the future (Acts 16:35-39).

Characteristics of Righteous Indignation

Anger is not always wrong. Anger that is righteous has certain earmarks, by which it can be distinguished from unholy wrath. Consider the following characteristics, which are evident from the examples cited above.

(1) Godly anger is God-like anger, it is an expression of the anger which has toward the actions of men. Godly people are angry when God is angry. It is anger which is consistent with the holy and righteous character of God.

(2) Godly anger is legal anger. It is wrath based upon men’s violation of God’s law, and it is anger which is lawfully expressed. The Old Testament Law not only revealed that conduct which was unacceptable to God, making Him angry, but what the consequences of God’s anger would be. Godly anger is not vigilante justice, it is legal justice. Those who hate abortion but express their anger in the burning of abortion clinics (and thereby endangering other lives) are not expressing their anger legally.

(3) Godly anger is not explosive, but is only slowly provoked.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6). Repeatedly, God warned sinful Israel through the prophets before pouring out His wrath on them. God’s anger does not have a hair trigger.

(4) God does not take pleasure in expressing His anger in the judgment of men.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

For the LORD will rise up as at Mount Perazin, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gebeon; To do His task, His unusual task, And to word His work, His extraordinary work (Isaiah 28:21).

(5) Godly anger is always under control. Godly anger does not lose its temper. Ungodly anger is excessive and abusive; godly anger never is. Godly anger is always under the control of the one expressing it, rather than anger taking control of them.

But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; And often He restrained His anger, And did not arouse all His wrath (Psalm 78:38).74

“Be Angry, But Do Not Sin”
(4:26)

If anger is not always evil, it can easily turn one to evil. Anger, like greed, is often the root of various evils. Ungodly anger may become the root of some of the evils addressed in Ephesians 4 and 5. Anger may prompt one to speak to a brother in a way that is destructive. Just as speak may edify or build up others, it can also tear down and destroy. Anger which is not properly resolved may lead to slander or false testimony. Anger has prompted people to steal. Anger has caused some to be unfaithful to their mate.

Even anger that begins as righteous indignation can turn sour, becoming ungodly wrath. This is why immediately after Paul commands us to be angry, he warns us to be angry, but not to sin. In seeking to understand Paul’s instructions regarding anger and its relationship to sin, we will begin by considering the Psalm from which Paul’s quotation has been taken. After this, we will consider the righteous expression of anger in the context of the Bible as a whole.

As you can see from the text, Paul’s words, “Be angry, and do not sin,” are cited from a psalm of David, Psalm 4:4. The words which Paul has cited can only be understood in the light of the context of the entire psalm, which is cited below:

1 (For the choir director; on stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.) Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! Thou hast relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer. 2 O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? {How long} will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah.

3 But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; The Lord hears when I call to Him. 4 Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.

5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And trust in the Lord. 6 Many are saying, “Who will show us {any} good?” Lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us, O Lord! 7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound. 8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety.

David composes this psalm out of his own distress. Unrighteous men have scoffed at David’s honor, making it a reproach. They have loved what is worthless and deceptive. In Paul’s words, they have not loved the truth (compare Ephesians 4:17-24). David agonizes over the wickedness of such men, and calls upon God to deal with them.

The structure of this psalm is significant, and critical to its interpretation. David’s words in the last half of verse 1 are addressed to God. He pleads with God to hear his prayer, and to respond.

If verse 1 contains David’s petition to God, verses 2 and 3 are David’s rebuke, addressed to those wicked men who have scorned his righteousness. Their sin is identified and rebuked in verse 2. Further, in verse 3 David teaches them the truth. The Lord sets the godly man apart. He loves and honors him. David may not react to their wickedness as they expect, but he does cry out to his God, and His God hears and answers him, because he is righteous. Let those who spurn the righteous take heed to this warning.

Verses 4 and 5 seem to me to be a kind of “self-talk.” Here, David addresses himself, urging himself to act as a righteous man should. He is being wrongfully treated by sinful men. He should not allow his anger to turn sour, and become sin. He gives the judgment of his enemies over to God, and in so doing leaves his own heart and soul at peace. No sleepless nights for David. He will rest in peace, leaving the judgment of men to God, and setting his heart and mind to the worship of his God in righteousness.

Twice in this very short psalm David refers to his bed. In verse 4, David speaks of being still, of not taking action himself. Apparently David has done all that he could, in the rebuke of his enemies as recorded in verses 2 and 3. Now, he remains still on his bed, not mulling over the sins of his enemies, or plotting their demise, but rather meditating on the virtues of his God. In verse 8 he speaks once again of lying down and sleeping in peace, knowing that his defender is God, which assures him that he will dwell in safety.

In my opinion, Paul’s words, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” recorded in Ephesians 4:26, are prompted by his grasp of David’s words in Psalm 4. While we most often think of this command as an instruction to make our peace with men (usually our mate) before we go to sleep for the night, I am inclined to think that David saw the only sure solution to his anger in obtaining peace from God. Unfortunately, confrontation and discussion may not resolve the problem which produces our anger. After having done what we can do, it is only as we give judgment over to God that we find the rest which David describes in his psalm.

And so David exhorts himself with the words of verses 4 and 5. His anger is wholly justified. He is right to be angry. He is duty-bound to be angry at the sins of men and of their injustice. But in being angry, David admonishes his own soul not to sin. The sins of his enemies against him should not provoke him to sin. He should, so far as vengeance is concerned, leave this to God. He should be still on his bed, devote himself to meditation, and concentrate on the worship of his God.

In verses 6-8, David’s words are again addressed to his God. He declares to God the despair of others, who wonder who will bring about good. And so David concludes his psalm by petitioning God on his behalf, and others like him, for divine intervention. He prays for the light of God’s countenance. He praises God for the gladness of his heart. And for the peace which enables him to lie down in peace, knowing that his life and safety is in the hands of His sovereign and trustworthy God.

David was right to be angry because his enemies were sinners who mocked at the righteousness which God reckoned to him. There are two kinds of anger, that which is righteous and that which is sinful. Both David and Paul speak of righteous anger. David recognized that anger has within it the seeds of its own destruction. It is possible for a good thing to lead to evil (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:12-13). And thus, the exhortation to be angry, but not to sin.

Paul adds a dimension which David does not mention in his psalm. It should provide the Christian with strong motivation for heeding Paul’s admonition to avoid sinful anger. He warns us that we are not to “give the devil an opportunity” with respect to anger. How can this be? Several opportunities are apparent. First, Satan may take advantage of unresolved anger to promote some other sin, such as slander, strife, or even physical violence. Satan would surely seek to use our anger to create divisions within the body of Christ. Many churches have been split over petty differences between two saints (see Philippians 4:2-3). Satan, as the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) will surely use our sin, spawned by anger, as an occasion to accuse us before God, and perhaps may use us to accuse our brethren. Satan recognizes anger as a fertile field, capable of producing all kinds of sin, and sin is his specialty.

Paul gives but one method here, by which we may avoid letting righteous anger turn to sin. He instructs us not to “let the sun go down on our anger.” While righteous anger is to be slow to originate, it is to be quickly dispelled. Anger has a kind of corrosive effect. Anger is designed to prompt us to act, to get us “off the dime” of passivity.

But what are we to do? How are we to act on our anger, so as to produce that which is righteous and profitable, rather than giving Satan an opportunity? Paul does not tell us what we should do here. I believe that other Scriptures do spell out what is usually required of us. In short, the process of “church discipline” is the course of action we should take. This process for dealing with our anger toward a brother is Christ is outlined in several texts, and is illustrated in others.75

The first step in the process is confrontation. The one who has offended us, or who has acted in a way that dishonors God is to be confronted with his sin. This is to be done as privately and on as small a scale as possible. If the wayward one repents, the matter is settled. If not, then the matter must become more and more public, until it is resolved. If the sinning saint persists in sin, he must finally be put out of the church, and deprived of the benefits of its fellowship. In the case of the brother who accepts correction, our anger should be converted to forgiveness. If the brother is disciplined, our anger should turn to grief. In any case, our anger should not be allowed to linger on, turning to bitterness.

In those cases in which our brother is angry with us, we also have a responsibility to bring matters to a conclusion that dispels anger and which reflects the righteousness of God. We are to go to that brother who has an offense against us, and seek to bring about a reconciliation as quickly as possible (see Matthew 5:23-26).

There will be those cases where confrontation is not possible, or advisable. Such seems to have been the case with David in Psalm 4. The Scriptures provide us with the “ultimate cure” for our anger, and that is to leave our wrath to Him who alone can judge men in truth and justice:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

Conclusion

Most of our anger is the “wrath of man” and not the “holy anger” of God. And thus we should wish to see less and less of this self-centered anger in our lives. But if we are to take this text seriously, we must also say that we should see more righteous anger than we do. If God is angered by sin, then we should be angered by it as well. We, like the saints in Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 5), seem to be more willing to accommodate sin than we do to condemn it, and to remove it from our midst. All too often, I see parents—Christian parents—who think of the sinful actions and attitudes of their children as cute, rather than to be angered by it and to deal with it as God would have us do. We are not angered by rebellion, irate over injustice, distressed by abortions and immorality and sin. We think of a man like Lot as “soft of sin,” but this righteous man was “vexed” in his soul over the sin which was all about him (see 2 Peter 2:7-8). When we see sin as God does, it will make us angry.

And when we are angry, then we should deal with sin as God has directed us, so that our anger is dispelled, and it does not lead us to sin. We need to confront the sinner, and without minimizing the sin, to seek its solution in genuine repentance. In many marriages that end up on the rocks of divorce, the root problem is anger that has not been righteously expressed and dispelled. In many families, the division and discord stems from a failure to obey Paul’s instructions concerning anger. In many churches, the unity of the body of Christ has been hindered by the lack of righteous anger. Let us seek to be both good and mad to the glory of God and for the health and unity of His body, the church.


73 Surely, in or day, we would include the helpless fetus, which is killed mercilessly in the womb, day after day, time after time, in the abortion mills of our cities.

74 See also Isaiah 48:9.

75 See Matthew 5:21-26; 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-5; see also 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.

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15. The Christian Work Ethic (Ephesians 4:28)

Introduction

Few will challenge my qualifications to speak on the subject of stealing. Only this week, a friend dropped by with a present, a “slim jim.” This is a device for getting into a locked car. It is a significant improvement over the clothes hanger I have used for years. Over the years I have helped many get into their cars, after they have locked themselves out. On one occasion, I did so after the locksmith left in shame. On another, I had to ask a policeman to step aside and let me do the task.

Stealing is a major problem in our nation. Many businesses suffer economically from theft by employees. I heard of a man in New York whose car stalled in the middle of traffic. The man got out of his car and lifted the hood. As he did, another man ran up and said something like this: “You get the battery, and I’ll get the radio.”

Prisons themselves have a problem with theft. Some years ago I spoke in a prison where the number one problem in that institution was theft, not by the inmates, but by the guards. Prisons are not very successful at solving the problem of stealing, either. In a prison where I taught years ago, an inmate confided in me that he was going to give up stealing … sort of. While he was in prison, he would learn as much about theft as he could. He would be tutored by the pro’s, the best in their field, so that he became an expert in a variety of crimes. And when he got out, he planned to sell his services to less gifted thieves, as a consultant. He would engineer the crime, and they would execute it. And then he would receive a fee for his services.

This passage illustrates the dramatic change which faith in Jesus Christ should produce in an individual’s thinking and conduct. Our text is not just for thieves. It is the declaration of a Christian “work ethic” which every true believer should apply in the realm of their employment. Let us listen well to these words, seeking to understand and apply them to the glory of God, to the edification of the church, and for our own good. Stop Stealing! Let him who steals steal no longer …

There are several significant elements of this command which we must take into account. First, the Apostle Paul is speaking to Christians. He has laid down the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in chapters 1-3. Second, in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul writes to Christians concerning that conduct which is befitting their calling (see 4:1). The commands given in verses 25-32 are addressed to true believers in Jesus Christ.

Having noted that the command of verse 28 is addressed to Christians, let us secondly recognize that Paul speaks to those who have not yet given up their practice of stealing. Paul writes in the present tense: “Let him who steals steal no longer …” He does not write in the past tense: “Let him who stole steal no longer …” Strange as it may seem, Paul believed that there were those who continued to practice their former lifestyle as thieves as Christians.

Third, it is apparent that Paul believes that the thief is not beyond the power of God and His gospel. Thieves can be saved, and Paul assumes that they have been saved. Remember that those who were crucified beside our Lord were thieves, and one of these became a believer (Luke 23:39-43). There are no sinners too lost for God to save through the shed blood of Christ:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Fourth, Paul does not believe that salvation automatically or instantly changes a man’s thinking or conduct. I believe that in His grace God sometimes delivers sinners from specific sins at the time of their conversion. I have heard the testimony of those whose lives have been radically changed at conversion. Some, addicted to alcohol or drugs, have told of an immediate release from their addictions. This is not true of all saints. And even those whom I know who have been delivered from a specific sin would claim to have been delivered from all sin. As I understand the consistent teaching of Scripture, coming to faith in Christ does not end our struggle with sin, it commences it (see Romans 6 and 7). If every Christian were instantly delivered from sin, the command of Paul here would be meaningless.

Fifth, Paul does not believe that there is a general, once for all, life transforming event in the life of the Christian, which instantly changes him from a sinner to a sinless saint. In short, Paul does not believe in perfectionism. There are those who teach that we can have complete victory over sin in this life. They would not claim that this victory comes at the time of our salvation, but through a second, life-transforming, experience. By whatever means, they speak of a quantum leap in our spiritual life, an instant and total victory over sin. If this were so, Paul would here be calling for Christians to enter into this experience, rather than to be dealing with sins individually and specifically.

This is not to say that Paul rejects the concept of watershed changes of heart and commitment:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

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. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

It is to say that while we may make life-long commitments, we must also expect a life-long struggle with sin. The sins which are woven into the fabric of my nature and character will dog my heels all my life. And in those times when I think victory has come, I will find their ugly head raised once again, to deal with anew. The struggle with sin is life-long, and total victory over sin comes only when we are transformed into the likeness of our Lord in His coming kingdom.

Sixth, let us note that Paul understands the gospel and true Christian conversion to require a radically different way of thinking and behaving. There are some things that need no change—indeed, should not change—when we come to faith in Christ. For example, our station in life need not change (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-24). But our former way of thinking and behaving must be set aside:

This I say therefore, 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. 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, 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, 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 (Ephesians 4:17-24).

The Many Faces of Stealing

Most of us approach the subject of stealing with a narrow mental picture of this evil. In our mind’s eye we see a man with a gun in his hand, with a mask over his face, forcibly taking the property of another. Stealing has many more forms than this. Let us seek to explore some of the many forms which stealing takes, and thus to broaden the range of practices which fall under the general label of stealing. What we will find is that the church has more thieves among its members than one might first suppose. And what we will also discover is that many forms of stealing persist in the lives of those who profess Christ as Savior. Consider the following categories of stealing.

(1) Desperation Stealing. There are those who steal out of need. It is not that such stealing is in any way justified, but it is at least understandable.

Men do not despise a thief if he steals To satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house (Proverbs 6:30-31).

Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, Lest I be full and deny {Thee} and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

(2) Thrill-seeking Stealing. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the one who steals, not out of need, but out of sheer pleasure in doing evil. The adulteress appeals to the excitement of immorality: “Stolen water is sweet; And bread {eaten} in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). But worse yet is the thief who robs for the pleasure of causing pain an injury to another:

“My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit; We shall find all {kinds} of precious wealth, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse,” My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, For their feet run to evil, And they hasten to shed blood. Indeed, it is useless to spread the net In the eyes of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:10-19).

(3) Deceptive Stealing. Deceptive stealing does not happen by force, but by deception.

1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against the Lord, and deceives his companion in regard to a deposit or a security entrusted {to him}, or through robbery, or {if} he has extorted from his companion, 3 or has found what was lost and lied about it and sworn falsely, so that he sins in regard to any one of the things a man may do; 4 then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him, or the lost thing which he found, 5 or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs on the day {he presents} his guilt offering (Leviticus 6:1-5).

Jacob “robbed” his brother of his birthright by deceiving his father into thinking that he was Esau. He gained possession of the birthright in a way that neither his father nor his brother would have allowed if they had been aware of what was being done (see Genesis 27). Rachel also deceived her father Laban about the family gods she stole from him (Genesis 31).

The way some people conduct their business involves theft by deceit.76 The Bible speaks of “unjust balances,” weights which are deceptive, thus giving the customer less than he thinks he is getting. “Differing weights and differing measures, Both of them are abominable to the LORD” (Proverbs 20:10; see also 11:1; 20:23; Micah 6:11). Some employees falsify their expense reports, so that they are reimburses for expenses that do not exist. Others bill several customers for the same expense.

(4) Stealing by omission or delay. Some employers steal from their employees or their creditors by delaying the payment of what they owe. This enables them to have the use of monies which are not rightfully theirs, and thus to gain by it at the expense of others. Others steal when they fail to return something lost or borrowed to its owner.

(5) Stealing from God. Men have devised numerous ways of stealing from God. Men may fail to give God all or a portion of what their offerings or sacrifices. They may offer sacrifices which are inferior, defective, or second class. An animal that wouldn’t sell at auction may well be offered up at the temple. Some are even so bold as to offer that which they have stolen:

For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense, And I will make an everlasting covenant with them (Isaiah 61:8).

11 “For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, My name {will be} great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering {that is} pure; for My name {will be} great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts. 12 “But you are profaning it, in that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’ 13 “You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and {what is} lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord. 14 “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations” (Malachi 1:11-14).

8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed Thee?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation {of you}! 10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows” (Malachi 3:8-10).

(6) Stealing by oppression. This kind of stealing takes place by means of the misuse of power. In its crudest form, a robber arms himself with a handgun, automatic rifle, or even a bomb, threatening to injure or kill if his demands are not met. But there are much more subtle forms of robbery, which are oppressive. The Old Testament prophets spoke out against this kind of robbery:

O house of David, thus says the Lord: “Administer justice every morning; And deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, That My wrath may not go forth like fire And burn with none to extinguish it, Because of the evil of their deeds (Jeremiah 21:12).

2 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on David’s throne, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates. 3 ‘Thus says the Lord, “Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of {his} oppressor. Also do not mistreat {or} do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 “For if you men will indeed perform this thing, then kings will enter the gates of this house, sitting in David’s place on his throne, riding in chariots and on horses, {even the king} himself and his servants and his people. 5 “But if you will not obey these words, I swear by Myself,” declares the Lord, “that this house will become a desolation (Jeremiah 22:2-5).”’”

“The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice” (Ezekiel 22:29).

In robbery by oppression, the powerful abuse their power. Rather than using it to protect the powerless (especially the widows, orphans, and strangers), they use it to prey upon them. These oppressors prosper at the expense of the poor.

John the Baptist condemned oppressive robbery as a part of his prophetic ministry:

10 And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” 11 And he would answer and say to them, “Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.” 12 And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse {anyone} falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:10-14).

Tax collectors had the power of government behind them. They abused this power by increasing taxes to include a healthy profit for themselves. Those who resisted or refused to pay these inflated taxes placed themselves against the government. Soldiers often abused their power to forcibly take the property of others and make it their own. Who could resist them? When one is robbed by a bandit, they can call upon the police for help, but who does one call on for help when robbed by the police?

Some of the most despicable oppressive robbery is done by religious leaders. This was condemned in the Old Testament, and in the New:

2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God,” Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat {sheep} without feeding the flock. 4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 “And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 “My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek for them”’” (Ezekiel 34:2-6).

And as raiders wait for a man, So a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem; Surely they have committed crime (Hosea 6:9).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25).

14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation (Matthew 23:14).77

Jesus implies that those who have come before Him were thieves, whose intention was to rob the sheep. He, on the other hand, came as the Good Shepherd, who had come to give His life for the sheep. Some of these “thieves” may have claimed to be the Messiah, but many of them may simply have been Jewish religious leaders, whose task was to shepherd the flock. The Jewish leaders abused their power. They took advantage of the foreigners who came to worship at the temple (Matthew 21:11-12) and they somehow used their position and power to acquire the houses of widows (Matthew 23:14). The very ones they were to protect they victimized. Many of the religious leaders were thieves.

(7) “Good deal” stealing. There is another kind of stealing which is but a variety of oppressive stealing. I have chosen to refer to it as a separate category because of its importance and prominence. I believe that Satan commends himself for his best work when he can persuade men to commit a sin, but in a way that gains men’s praise, rather than their disapproval.78

No one gets more pleasure out of finding a “good deal” than I. When I find something of value, and I am able to buy it at a fraction of its true value, I pat myself on the back for having done so well. I often brag about my “great buy” to my family and friends. I have even had people say this in response to one of my bargains: “Man, you didn’t buy that; you stole it.”

I used to think this was a compliment. Now, I must consider the possibility that it is really an indictment. Did I knowingly or unknowingly gain at someone else’s expense? Did I buy something at an extremely low price because the seller was vulnerable? Did I avoid paying a fair price because I had power (money) and the other party was powerless (in desperate need)? One of the broad terms which the Bible uses as a synonym for stealing is “unjust gain.” A “just gain” is one where both parties—the buyer and the seller—gain. An unjust gain is one in which one takes advantage of the other. Let us beware that our “good buy’s” are not a “steal.”

The Christian Work Ethic

Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

If Paul’s first command is addressed to Christian thieves, the remainder of the verse applies to everyone. It sets down a work ethic which is diametrically opposed to that of the thief, and which is the standard for every Christian. Let us consider this work ethic phrase by phrase.

“But Rather Let Him Labor”

It is self-evident that stealing is not a noble occupation, certainly not so for the Christian. Paul’s words indicate that stealing should be replaced by sweating. The inference is clearly made that stealing is the opposite of hard work. There are those who may sincerely wish to work, but cannot find it, and thereby feel “compelled” to steal. For most thieves, however, stealing is the lazy way out. Years ago I regularly visited a young man who was a three-time felon. When he talked about getting out, he told me that he would much rather break into a couple of coin operated machines than to work as a laborer for unattractive wages. Stealing for him was much easier than work.

Stealing is not just avoiding work, it is an attempt to avoid the curse. God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2:15). This work was not drudgery, but a delight. But after the fall, the curse made those things which were once a pleasure, a pain. Women were to bear children in pain (“labor” pains). And men were sentenced to a lifetime of toil:

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

When men seek to live off of the toil of others, they seek to overturn the consequences of the fall.

“Performing With His Own Hands What Is Good”

The expression, “with his own hands,” may well be addressing the evil of stealing, which parasitically lives off the work of others. The toil which is described is that which “works up a sweat.” It is also work which one performs with his own hands. While I do not think this verse condemns or forbids white collar “desk jobs,” I do believe that it gives dignity to blue collar work. There is nothing wrong with manual labor. In fact, it is here advocated as good therapy for thieves.

A Christian work ethic requires more than just hard work, as important as that is. It also requires a worthwhile enterprise. We are commanded to perform with our own hand “what is good.” In this context, I believe that the word “good” refers to that which is useful and beneficial. There are many jobs in this world, and most of them require hard work. But some jobs do not produce anything of value. With such useless work, the community in which we live is not benefited. We should not only feel good after a day’s work because we have worked hard, but also because we have done something worthwhile.

“In Order That He May Have Something To Share With Him Who Has Need”

There are a number of reasons for work. One reason is so that we may not become a burden to others (see 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Another is so that we may care for our family, so that they do not become a burden on others (see 1 Timothy 5:3-8, 16). Here, Paul commands us to work hard so that we will have the means to help those who are truly in need.

Here is a mindset that is foreign to the thief, but is to be a way of thinking for the Christian. The criminal mind must be put off, as a part of the old man. And in its place we must have our minds renewed, so that we think and act Christianity. The criminal mind is really no different than the fleshly mindset of the unbeliever. The criminal simply takes his self-centeredness outside the bounds of what society accepts. The corrupt mind focuses on selfish “needs” or desires. If someone else has what I want, I take it. It is not necessary to work for what you want, but only to find someone who has worked and who has what you want, and then to take it. The Christian mind thinks in exactly the opposite way. It works on the principle of grace, not greed. It works hard, setting aside resources so that it will be able to meet the needs of others. The corrupt mind uses its strength to steal from the weak; the Christian mind uses its strength to serve the weak. The corrupt mind seeks to gain at the expense of others. The Christian mind seeks the good of others, at our expense.

Conclusion

It should not come as news to us that robbery is wrong. It seeks to avoid the toil of work, and thus to overturn the curse. It forces others to sacrifice to serve our own self-interest. It is the opposite of grace, which seeks to give at our expense. And it is rebellion against the sovereignty of God in the way He has distributed material things. It is also unbelief, a failure to trust in God79 to provide for our needs.

Our text suggests that there are far more thieves among Christians than we might wish to believe. It also indicates that conversion alone does not eradicate this sin from our lives. It is an evil which must be acknowledged and put aside. If we are to put off stealing, we are to put on hard work, producing what is good and useful, and to earn money which we can use to minister to others.

If Paul’s words teach us anything, it is that being born again is no insignificant event in the life of an individual. It is a radical change of life. It is a turning from trusting in our own righteousness to trusting only in the righteousness of Christ. In terms of our text, it is a dramatically different way of thinking and behaving. Rather than seeking to gain at the expense of others, Christians are to give at their expense. They are to willingly accept the toil of work as God’s will, and as a way of earning the means by which they can minister to the needs of others.

While our text, along with others, teaches the necessity of hard work, let us be perfectly clear that our works in no way contribute to our salvation. It is only by the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary that we are saved. It is God’s work that saves us, not our own. The gospel is the good news of salvation apart from works. It is a message of grace. And just as we are saved by grace, we are to serve God and man in a way that manifests grace. And so it is that we work so that we may give to others, freely. Once we have experienced God’s grace, we are obliged to express it to others. The gospel turns crooks into caring Christians, and takers into givers.


76 Corrupt businessmen have found many ways of stealing, and deceit is but one of many forms of business theft.

77 See also John 10:1-1.

78 For example, the Bible condemns the “sluggard.” The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the sluggard, and none of it is good. The sluggard is not one who never works; he is one who works hard to avoid the “work” he dislikes. I believe that many “workaholics” are really sluggards. They immerse themselves with their work, so that they can escape their responsibilities elsewhere, such as in the home and in the church. And because they “work so hard” society (and even the church) commends them for it, without recognizing the evil behind it all.

79 Notice that robbery is misplaced trust according to this psalm: “Do not trust in oppression, And do not vainly hope in robbery; If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10).

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16. Taming the Truth (Ephesians 4:25-32)

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17. From Malice to Mercy (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Introduction

A young woman was brutally raped and murdered. The assailant was arrested and convicted of the crime and sent to prison. The mother of the victim harbored anger and bitterness in her heart toward the man who had taken her life. She was also a Christian. In time, God convicted the woman about her hatred toward this felon. She came to recognize her own sin and was able to forgive this young man in her heart. Eventually, she wrote the man in prison, to tell him of her change of heart. This was still not enough. She knew that she would have to visit the man face to face. And this she did.

Some time later, a Prison Fellowship instructor visited the prison where this young man was incarcerated, to teach a weekend seminar. Later, he told me about the miraculous change of heart and forgiveness he witnessed at that seminar. As he looked out into the audience, he saw the young man who had killed the young woman. Beside him sat the girl’s mother. In the prisoner’s hands was a Bible, with an inscription in the front which read something like this: “To my son …”

That is forgiveness, Christian forgiveness. It is the kind of forgiveness which our text calls for, not just on the part of a few individuals, but on the part of every Christian. In our text Paul commands us to put off all bitterness, anger, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice. He commands us to put on kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.

Paul’s instructions, found in our text, are vitally important to each of us, and to our church. As we begin this study, let us remind ourselves of the immensity of the problem of anger and malice, and of its implications.

(1) The anger and malice which Paul condemns is a part of the past of every believer, and of the present condition of every unbeliever:

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 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 3:1-3).

28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32).

(2) The anger and malice of which Paul speaks is the fruit of our old nature, with which we continue to struggle:

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:18-21).

(3) The anger and malice which Paul condemns is a problem in the local church:

20 For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; (2 Corinthians 12:20).80

The Corinthian church was marked by strife and division. Some saints were even taking other saints to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-11). When Paul wrote his first and second epistles to Timothy, who was serving temporarily in Ephesus, he had much to say about strife and discord. One of the requirements for church leaders was that they be free of the evils which he condemns in our text in Ephesians (see 1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 2:22-26; Titus 1:7). The need for these qualifications to be stated and emphasized strongly argues for the presence of anger and strife in the church.

Jesus spoke much to His disciples about the necessity of loving one another, and that this would mark out His disciples from others:

35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Anger and malice produce disunity and discord, thus disrupting the church, its unity, and its ministry:

An angry man stirs up strife, And a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression (Proverbs 29:22).

For the churning of milk produces butter, And pressing the nose brings forth blood; So the churning of anger produces strife (Proverbs 30:33).

It is difficult for there to be unity in a church that is filled with bitterness, anger, malice, and slander. It is unlikely that our ministry will edify those whom we hate and hope to see suffer for the things they have done to us. It is hard to pray with and for those whom we wish to be cursed, rather than blessed (see 1 Timothy 2:8). It is hard to worship when we are at odds with one another (see Matthew 5:21-26). It witness to the unbelieving world is tarnished by our strife with our fellow-believers. It is no wonder that the New Testament has so much to say in condemnation of hatred and in requiring us to love one another (see, for example, 1 John 2:9; 3:13-15; 4:20).

(4) Bitterness, anger, and hatred is at the core of many marriage problems:

19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them (Colossians 3:19).

7 You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:7-9).

(5) Scripture seems to indicate that anger and strife hinder our individual growth and sanctification which the Scriptures were given to promote. This is why Peter precedes his command to grow in the Word with a command to put off all malice and guile and slander:

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord abides forever. “And this is the word which was preached to you. 1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, (1 Peter 1:22-2:1)81

(6) Putting off malice and bitterness and putting on kindness and forgiveness is the first step in the process of reconciliation. It is the prerequisite to reconciliation and Christian harmony. Joseph was wronged by his brothers. He suffered the consequences for their sins against him for years. But after his elevation to power under Pharaoh, Joseph indicated his forgiveness of his brothers in the naming of his two sons (see Genesis 41:46-52). His forgiveness of his brothers was granted before their arrival in Egypt, and it was the basis for the process of reconciliation that was to follow. Forgiving his brothers freed Joseph from a spirit of revenge and motivated him to act for his brothers’ benefit. So it is with each of us. Edification and growth occurs in the context of forgiveness and grace, not in bitterness and revenge.

Initial Observations

Several general observations concerning our text are crucial to its interpretation and application. Let us begin by taking note of these. First, our text is the specific application of the more general command given earlier in the chapter:

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, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:22-24).

And so, in verses 31 and 32, we are specifically commanded to put off bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, while we are commanded to put on being kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving.

Second, what Paul has to say about anger here concerns unrighteous anger. All manifestations of anger which spring forth from bitterness and malice are to be put off. Righteous anger, which was dealt with in verses 26 and 27, is to be expressed in accordance with the principles set down there and elsewhere in Scripture. While every form of unrighteous anger is to be put off, righteous anger is not.

Third, the commands which Paul gives here are given to Christians, and they concern the relationships which believers have one with another. Believers neither desire to obey them, nor are they able to do so. Paul does assume that Christians have been given the means to obey these commands.

Fourth, the evils which Paul lists in verse 31 have a sequence and an order which is consistent with their nature and practice. Bitterness and malice are inward attitudes, sins of the heart. These produce wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. Clamor and slander are predominantly sins of the tongue, and thus we see the continuity here with what Paul has commanded in verses 25, 29, and 30.

Fifth, the cure for bitterness and malice and all of its fruits is forgiveness. Verse 32 is the cure for all the Paul condemns in verse 31.

Putting Off Anger and Hostility

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (Ephesians 4:31).

The first sinful attitude which Paul condemns is “bitterness.” Phillips renders this word “resentment” and the New English Bible translates it “spite.” Barclay defines this as “long-standing resentment,” “a spirit which refuses to be reconciled.”82 In effect, bitterness is the bearing of a grudge against another, because of some wrong we believe they have committed against us or another.

If I understand the Scriptures correctly, certain sins are “root” sins, while others are the “fruit.” Greed, or the love of money, is a root sin, and the source of many other sins (see 1 Timothy 6:10). Pride seems to be another “root” sin. Bitterness also appears to be a root sin:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled (Hebrews 12:14-15).

“Wrath” is rendered “passion” by the New English Bible and “bad temper” by the Berkeley Version. Barclay renders it, “outbursts of passion.”83 This term refers to the explosive outbursts of anger which are common practice to those with “bad tempers” and less frequent with others. These violent, explosive eruptions of temper are destructive. Very often, the angry words which are spoken at such times are regretted, and often do great damage to relationships.

“Anger” is rendered “long-lived anger” by Barclay.84 If “wrath” has a hair-trigger and is highly volatile, anger is less explosive, less violent, but much longer in duration. It savors the sinful satisfaction of making people pay over a longer period of time. It is more premeditated, while “wrath” is more spontaneous.

“Clamor” is rendered “noisiness” by Berkeley and “quarrelsome shouting” by F. F. Bruce.85 The Twentieth Century New Testament renders it “brawling, and abusive language.” Foulkes, quoting Findlay, explains that this is “the loud self-assertion of the angry man, who will make everyone hear his grievances.”86 As a rule, angry speech becomes louder and louder, as well as more and more animated. Clamor depicts our speech at its loudest and most animated levels.

The term rendered “slander” is transliterated “blasphemy.” And so it would be translated, if it were speaking of an angry man’s profanity, when speaking with reference to God. Here, however, man’s anger is directed toward other men. And so the term is translated “slander.” It is that speech which demeans the other person. It is destructive, not constructive, speech. It is also speech which often falls short of the truth.

“Malice” is “ … the evil inclination of mind … that even takes delight in inflicting hurt or injury on one’s fellowman.”87 Hodge speaks of malice at the “desire to injure.”88 Malice is resentment that has turned even more sour, so that we now bear ill will toward another to the degree that we wish to see them suffer. It is the attitude which, when it conceives, actively seeks to bring harm to another.

All of these evil dispositions are to be “put off”—every one of them, with no exceptions. These evils are like cancer cells. They perform no good or healthy functions, they only bring suffering and ultimately death. And so, when we operate or radiate or chemically treat these cells, we are satisfied with nothing less than the total eradication of every cell. So it is with these evils. Every hint of them is to be cast aside as evil and destructive.

Putting On Kindness, Tenderness, and Forgiveness

And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

Kindness appears to be the counterpart of malice. Malice dwells upon a perceived wrong, committed against us or one we love. It therefore seeks to make the offending part pay for his actions. It wants the other person to suffer. It looks for ways to cause harm to the other.

Kindness is the opposite. It is occasioned by grace. It is not prompted by the good which the other person has done, but by the good which God has done. It seeks to bring about the blessing of the other person at our own expense. It does not seek to get even by causing pain, but to get ahead of the other in bringing a blessing to them. It desires and strives for the blessing of the other person, even when that person has caused us harm. It recognizes that even when our brother has purposefully committed sin against us God has allowed this for our good and His glory: “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph realized that God used the sin of his brothers, committed against him, to bring about good, not only in his life, but in the lives of many. Kindness is the believer’s response to grace, which includes the grace which comes to us through the sins of others which causes our suffering.

“Tender-heartedness” does not seem to correspond directly with any of the terms in verse 31. It does, however, contrast with the angry disposition described there. Malice is born out of resentment, and this, when conceived produces anger, wrath, clamor and slander. When we wish harm would come to a brother, we have little concern about him. If we look for his pain and suffering, it is only that we might take pleasure in it.

Tender-heartedness is that sensitivity toward our brother which stems from kindness. Kindness seeks the blessing of our brother. We thus begin to tune in on our brother’s responses to our speech and actions. We look to see if we are understood, and if we are being a blessing. When we find ourselves doing harm, we stop or modify our actions. We look for weaknesses and needs, not to take advantage of them, but in order to minister to them. Tender-heartedness is the sensitivity which comes from caring about the other person.

The key concept in verse 31 seems to be that of forgiveness. The fact that it is both present and prominent in our text strongly argues that Christians will sin against one another, so that forgiveness is required. As long as we are still struggling with sin, forgiveness is vitally important to unity and harmony in the church.

The forgiveness which Paul calls for here is specific. He defines what forgiveness is like and how it works. He does so in relationship to the forgiveness which every Christian has received from God. Kindness and forgiveness (and likely tender-heartedness) is to be reciprocal, but when it is not, we must press on anyway. “Forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Let us consider Paul’s words here, to discern the relationship between God’s forgiveness of our sins in Christ with the forgiveness which we are to manifest toward others.

(1) God’s forgiveness should motivate our forgiveness (see Matthew 18:21-35). It is because we have been forgiven that we desire to forgive others, in obedience to Him.

(2) God’s forgiveness was “in Christ.” God accomplished divine forgiveness in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross of Calvary. It was through His shed blood that men receive the forgiveness of sins. It is also through Christ that we are able to forgive the sins of others. If Christ’s death on Calvary motivates us to forgive, it also empowers us to forgive.

(3) God’s forgiveness in Christ sets the standard for our forgiveness of others. It demonstrates the degree to which we should go in forgiving others. Since His forgiveness is total and complete, so ours must be also.

(4) God’s forgiveness in Christ was without exception (universal), and thus ours must be as well. On the cross, Jesus declared, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). His forgiveness was universal. His death on the cross of Calvary was not purposed to save everyone, but it was accomplished to forgive all men. When that forgiveness is spurned and rejected, then we choose to suffer the wrath of God ourselves, rather than to be forgiven in Christ.

(5) God’s forgiveness was not selective in terms of the sins committed. God, in Christ, forgave us all our sins. He did not selectively forgive us of some sins and not others. His death was for the forgiveness of every sin. No sin is left uncovered by the cross. We dare not be selective so far as which sins we will forgive and which we will not. We must forgive every sin.

(6) God’s forgiveness was granted to His enemies in Christ, before they repented. God’s forgiveness was granted men in advance of their salvation. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:5). We cannot wait until those who have wronged us repent, and ask our forgiveness. We must forgive those who have harmed us before they ask for it. Forgiveness is meant to precede repentance, and not to follow it. Forgiveness facilitates and encourages repentance.

(7) God’s forgiveness in Christ was both willing and sacrificial. It was at His expense (the expense of His only Son) that God accomplished forgiveness for our sins. When we forgive the sins of another against us, we cease to require that they “pay for it,” and we declare the fact that we are willing to bear the price ourselves.

(8) God’s forgiveness in Christ was accomplished as He gave up His life for those He forgave. We cannot forgive others and live for ourselves at the same time. We must first die to self, and to the old man, and then forgive others from our new nature.

Conclusion

Before I dare to speak further about the practice of forgiveness, I must begin by calling attention to its premise. We can forgive others, as God forgave us, only after we have received the forgiveness of God in Christ. We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We also forgive, because He first forgave us. And so I ask you as kindly and yet as directly as I possibly can. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ, in His death on the cross of Calvary, for the forgiveness of your sins? It is Receiving God’s forgiveness is His only way of reconciliation. You cannot give what (forgiveness) you have not first received. If you do not have the joy of knowing that your sins are forgiven, receive God’s forgiveness by trusting in Jesus Christ.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:9-10).

Our text gives us the good news that we don’t have to be angry, and to harbor resentment and malice toward others. Paul speaks of forsaking anger and showing kindness not just as a choice, but as a command. It is something that we, as Christians, both can and must do, by God’s grace.

This text not only confronts us with our obligation as Christians, it speaks to us of a great opportunity. This passage offers us great hope because it assures us not only that we can change, but that others can change as well. It assures us that a person who is negative, resentful, bitter, and insensitive can change, so that he or she becomes forgiving, kind, and tender-hearted. We dare not seek to excuse our attitudes or actions by saying, “That’s just the way I am.” God does not accept the way we are. He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, not only to forgive us, but to transform us. Ephesians 4:17-32 is all about changing. It is about those changes which God has made possible, and which we, by His grace, are to implement in our lives. What a blessed thought! Christians can and must change.

Let us not suppose that Paul has meant for us to conclude that the putting off and anger and the putting on of forgiveness is a substitute for confrontation, rebuke and correction. It is not. Dealing with unholy anger and the granting of forgiveness is but the first step on the path toward reconciliation. When we forsake unholy wrath and forgive those who have harmed us, we now become free to deal with those who have wronged us in a way that is for their benefit. It enables us to confront and correct with reconciliation in view, rather than revenge. And, having granted forgiveness, we make it much easier for those who have wronged us to repent and be reconciled.

In the light of our text and others, the Christian dare not say, “I cannot forgive.” What we must mean is, “I will not forgive.” We can choose to disobey God’s command through Paul. We can refuse to forgive, and to continue to harbor bitterness and resentment. But we must never say that we do so because it is impossible to do. God has forgiven us in Christ, and so the work of Jesus Christ makes it possible. What we will not and cannot do through our old nature, we can do through the new nature which God has given us. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that forgiveness and reconciliation can be accomplished:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:22-26).

We may seek to justify ourselves by pointing to the enormity of the sin which someone has committed against us. Whatever that sin may be, it does not measure up to the sins which we have committed against God, and which He has forgiven in Christ. We may refuse to forgive because we are convinced that the offending party will only sin in a similar way again. So do we! How many times do we come to God to confess a sin which we have confess often before, only to repeat again?

As we begin to fathom the immensity of our sins and the magnitude of God’s forgiveness, we will be motivated to forgive others, who have sinned against us. This is but one of the many reasons why we, in this church, observe communion weekly. Who has ever gone a week without sin? What greater comfort and joy can we find than to be reminded of our forgiveness in Christ? And what greater motivation for forgiving others?

One final word about forgiveness, as I close. I do not understand it, but I dare not ignore it. It is a word from none other than our Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us listen and take heed.

9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.)’ 14 “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 6:9-15).


80 Until now, I have always understood 2 Timothy 3:1-9 as a description of the condition of the unbelieving world in the last days. Now, I am more inclined to view this as a description of much of the professing church in the last days (note, for example, verse 5). In particular, Paul describes the apostate church as containing those who are “irreconcilable” (verse 3). This is due to neglect or flagrant disobedience to the instruction of Paul in Ephesians chapter 4.

81 Note, too, that immediately after his command in verses 1 and 2, Paul turns to the subject of the church and its unity. Peter thus deals with the same subject matter that Paul does in Ephesians, only in a different order.

82 William Barclay, The Letters To The Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 159.

83 Barclay, p. 159.

84 Page 159.

85 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), p. 364.

86 Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 137.

87 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 223.

88 Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Ephesians (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991 [reprint]), p. 200.

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18. Making Love More Than a Three-Letter Word (Ephesians 5:1-6)

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 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. 3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 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. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Introduction

The difference between “immorality” and “immortality” is great; the difference in the spelling of these two terms is but one letter, the letter “T.” I have never thought a great deal about the relationship between these two concepts, until recently.

Several years ago there was an article in the newspaper about a beautiful young woman who was dying of cancer. She knew that she had a few years to live, at most. She said that she did not want to be forgotten after her death. And so she posed as the centerfold for Playboy magazine. What a tragic way to be remembered, if indeed she would be remembered.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I noticed another article in the paper. It was a letter to “Dear Abby” from a young teenage girl, about to graduate from high school. She thought she had a serious problem—she was still a virgin. To her, this was a stigma which no high school graduate should have to bear. Her question to Abby concerned how she should select the young man who would remove her stigma.

It is nothing less than amazing to see how far the value system of our culture has slipped in just a few years. Not long ago, the stigma which a young girl feared was that of being immoral. There was the fear of being considered “loose” or, worse yet, of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Now, the fear is being known as a virgin.

A good part of the problem of our culture with morality is that it has equated “love” with “sex.” Our culture has diluted and perverted “love” because it thinks of love only in terms of sex. Our culture is not giving thought to sexual conduct and its relationship to biblical standards. It is not even thinking of sex in relationship to morality. We have morally collapsed, so that the discussion of our day is about aids, and condoms and abortion. Even here, there is not a great deal of thought given to morality, but only to pragmatic considerations.

The Bible speaks with great clarity on the subject of sexual morality. It makes “love” more than a three-letter word. And what may surprise you, my friend, is to learn that holds not only “love” in high esteem, but also “sex.” No one should have a higher view of sex than the Christian. No one should have a greater appreciation for the God-given gift of sex than the Christian.

In this we will seek to explore the relationship of sexuality to spirituality. We will attempt to sharpen our understanding of love and its implications for sexual morality and conduct. We will find that the Bible turns the secular view of love and sex upside-down. Let us listen well, then, to Paul’s words, and let us seek to understand and to apply what God has to say to us about the biblical view of love and sex.

Imitating God by Walking in Love
(5:1-2)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 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.

There are differences among commentaries and even of Bible translations as to where and how the text we are studying should be divided. There are even differences concerning how chapters 4 and 5 should be divided. I have chosen to devote this study to Ephesians 5:1-6 because I believe that it describes what it means to walk in love.

Paul has already had much to say about the Christian’s walk. The term “walk” is a figure of speech referring to one’s lifestyle, manner of life, or conduct. In the second verse of chapter 2 Paul reminds the Christian of his former “walk.” In the first verse of chapter 4, Paul exhorts his readers to walk in a manner which is worthy of their calling. In verse 17 of the same chapter, Paul instructs us not to walk as we formerly did (and as the Gentiles continue to do) “in the futility of their mind.” The Christian’s conduct is the manifestation of a transformed mind (see Romans 12:2), the outgrowth of being “renewed in the spirit of our mind” (Ephesians 4:23).

Now, in verse 1 of chapter 5, we are commanded to “walk in love.” In verse 8, Paul continues the imagery of “walking,” but moves on to describe our conduct as “walking in the light.” In verse 15 Paul instructs us to walk as those who are wise. The Christian life is therefore a walk …

… worthy of our calling (4:1-16)
… based upon a renewed mind (4:17-32)
… in love (5:1-6)
… in light (5:7-14)
… in wisdom (5:15–6:9)

In chapters 4 and 5 the Christians conduct is described in terms of walking, and in chapter 6 in terms of warfare (6:10-20).

The imitation of God which Paul calls for in our text is not an entirely new concept. In chapter 4, Paul has already put for God as the “measure of a mature Christian:”

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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 fulness of Christ … 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, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth … And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:11-13, 22-24, 32).

From eternity past, God has not only chosen us for salvation, but has sovereignly purposed that we will be like Christ:

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; (Romans 8:28-29).

While our Christ-likeness is a certainty, a result of God’s doing, it is nevertheless a matter for our diligent effort and disciplined obedience. Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are involved in our sanctification, while it is all the work of God.

In the first verse of chapter 5, Paul reminds us that we are the children of God. We are not just children, we are the beloved children of God. We, as beloved children of God are to imitate Him. It seems to me that in referring to us as “beloved children” Paul is reminding us of the fact that our sonship is both the motivation and the means for imitating God. He made us beloved sons, and as such we gratefully seek to be like Him. And because we are His sons, we share in His divine nature, and by means of this new nature, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are able to serve Him and to meet His standards (see Romans 8:1-4).

The imitation of God is not a new teaching. It was often taught in the Old Testament, and this was reiterated in the New. Our Lord Himself taught us to imitate God:

2 “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them,’ You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2).

16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ 44 “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 “And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).

Paul does not instruct us to seek to imitate God in every way, but only in certain ways. Here, Paul teaches us to imitate God by demonstrating the same kind of love which He has shown us. There are certain dimensions of God’s attributes and character which belong only to Him. Theologians call these God’s incommunicable attributes. God’s self-sufficiency, sovereignty, and omnipotence belong only to Him. God’s communicable attributes are those which we can and should imitate. His love, mercy, justice, longsuffering and grace are to be evident in our lives.

Satan wanted to be “like God,” but in a way that was entirely evil:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:12-14).

Satan wanted to be like God. He wanted to do so in his own strength, and for his own self-serving purposes. He did not seek to bring glory and honor to God, but to usurp God’s glory and honor for himself. There are some cults who teach that men may become “gods.” We never find this in the Bible. We are to be like God in that we love as He first loved us, in Christ.

34 “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).

12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you (John 15:12).

20 “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 delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:7-10).

The love which we are to manifest is not to be defined as a three-letter word (sex); it is to be defined as a nine-letter word: sacrifice. Christ’s love for us has been demonstrated on the cross of Calvary. His love motivates our love. His love sets the standard for love. His love defines biblical love.

Christ’s death on the cross of Calvary is a two-fold sacrifice. It is a sacrifice for sinners. In love, Christ died on Calvary for our sins. He sacrificed Himself for us, for our benefit. Second, Christ’s death on Calvary was a sacrifice prompted by love for the Father. His sacrifice was “a fragrant aroma,”89 one that gave the Father pleasure.

Our love is to be sacrificial, not self-serving. Christian love does not seek its own gratification, but the good of another. Christian love seeks to do good to another at its own expense. More than this, Christian love is expressed by acts of sacrifice to God. Christian love not only imitates God, it seeks to please Him by sacrificially serving others. This is why the Apostle Paul speaks of Christian service as the surrender and service of our bodies as a living sacrifice:

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. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

It is common to hear love and doctrine spoken of as though they were two opposite and even opposing entities. They think of “doctrine” as cold and irrelevant and unloving. They think of “love” as warm and fuzzy and unrelated to doctrine. It is a conclusion that people may reach by bad experiences, but it is not one that they will ever arrive at from the Scriptures. Elsewhere, Paul has written, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

The goal of the doctrinal instruction which Paul gave was love. From his words in 1 Timothy chapter 1 we can imply that his doctrine was the basis for a “pure heart,” a “good conscience,” and a “sincere faith.” From our text in Ephesians, we can conclude that biblical doctrine defines God and His attributes. We cannot possibly imitate God without knowing God, and without knowing His attributes. Biblical doctrine is our only reliable source of information concerning the God whom we are to imitate. Let us never consider doctrine and love enemies. In the words of the secular song, “You can’t have one without the other.”

Christian Love Abhors Immorality

3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 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. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Love is both positive and negative: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Christian love is demonstrated by acts of sacrifice, to God and to men. Christian love never expresses itself in immorality.

The pagan world confuses love with lust and immorality. The Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage and given the land of the Canaanites, one of the most morally depraved cultures of all time. Sexual immorality was rampant, so much so that God commanded the Israelites to kill every living Canaanite, and even their children and their cattle.

The world of Paul’s day was little different:

“It has been said that chastity was the one new virtue which Christianity introduced into the world. It is certainly true that the ancient world regarded sexual immorality so lightly that it was no sin at all. It was the expected thing that a man should have a mistress. In places like Corinth the great temples were staffed by hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes and whose earnings went to the upkeep of the Temple.

“In his speech Pro Caelio Cicero pleads: ‘If there is anyone who thinks that young men should be absolutely forbidden the love of courtesans, he is indeed extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle that he states. But he is at variance not only with the license of what our own age allows but also with the customs and concessions of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that that which is now lawful was not lawful?”90

One should remember that in contrast to the God of the Bible, the “gods” of the heathen were often immoral themselves. And so it was that those who “worshipped” them did so by acts of immorality. To be an imitator of the heathen gods was often to be immoral.

In verse 3, Paul adamantly declares that Christian love and sexual impurity are incompatible. Three words are used to describe sexual immorality in this verse. The first (“immorality”) is the most general, referring to “immorality and sexual perversion of almost every kind.”91 The second (“impurity”) speaks of sexual sins in terms of uncleanness. The third term (“greed”) is somewhat debated among the scholars. Some think the term goes beyond sexual misconduct to material greed. I agree with those who see this as a lust or greed for sexual impurity.

Paul forbids the saints to engage in sexual immorality. They cannot pursue love and lust at the same time. One is of the spirit, the other, of the flesh. But Paul is saying more than this. His words in verse 3 imply that while individual saints are to avoid immorality, they are also corporately responsible to see to it that such sins are not committed by the saints.

We are our “brother’s keeper,” and so we are commanded not to allow sexual sins to even be named among us. I take it that Paul means that the church should be characterized by such purity in sexual matters that no accusation or allegation of sexual misconduct can even be raised. He may even be going further than this. Paul may be saying that sexual immorality is not a fit subject for conversation among the saints.

There are certain subjects that are simply not edifying. Sexual immorality is one of them in my opinion. This subject matter simply does not fit into the curriculum of that which edifies others in their faith and Christian walk. It falls short of the divine standard:

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, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Some time ago I visited the campus of a Christian college. It happened to be “human sexuality emphasis week.” You can imagine how carefully I listened to the expert who spoke to the student body. He railed against the church for its conspiracy of silence concerning sex. He referred to but one biblical text in his entire message, and that text was misused. He never mentioned the biblical texts in Ephesians chapter 5 (verses 3-4, 12) which indicate that some subjects of not to be discussed among believers. He urged his audience to “find someone to talk with” about their sexual traumas of the past, without so much as a word regarding whom they should talk to or how. I fear that many unwholesome conversations may have resulted from this man’s misguided words.

When I read Paul’s words of warning concerning our conversations about sexual matters, I think of the endless parade of television talk shows, where every kind of sexual sin is paraded and probed in public. And many Christians, curious to learn what the unbelieving world is doing, listen, without recognizing the damage that is done. We had best consider these strong words of warning which God spoke to the Israelites, forbidding them to satisfy their curiosity concerning the evil practices of their predecessors in the land of Canaan, the Canaanites:

29 “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31 “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods (Deuteronomy 12:29-31).

Ignorance is bliss when it comes to sin. Adam and Eve refused to believe this in the Garden of Eden, and ever since their sons and daughters have sought the forbidden knowledge, which does not edify, but only destroys.

Unfortunately, those sins which we think we would never commit are those which we will openly discuss. In verse 4 Paul moves from immoral conduct to immoral speech. He forbids us to joke about those things which are immoral. The first term, “filthiness,” is the more general term for impure conversation. The second term, “silly talk,” refers to the crude, even stupid, jokes which are often told to one another. The third term, “coarse jesting” is unfortunately translated in a way that obscures its meaning. Coarse jesting is that which has been referred to above as “silly talk.” The jesting referred to by the third term is that which is clever, which is witty, which precariously presses the ragged edge of decency. This is high class dirty talk. It is joking so clever that many may laugh in spite of themselves.

Paul tells us that jesting about immorality is not “fitting” for saints. Why? What’s wrong with humor that deals with immorality? First, it doesn’t take sin seriously enough.92 That is a deadly error. Second, it enables us to talk about things we would not dare to discuss seriously. Humor allows us to press the line of appropriateness further than we could seriously. If we venture too far, we simply say, “Just kidding.” Third, joking about immorality often is but the first step we take toward immorality.93 I wonder how many people “fell” into immorality after joking about it.

There is yet another reason why we must not joke about what is immoral. From the text, it seems as though this may be Paul’s primary reason for forbidding it. Joking about sex demeans it. Think about it for a moment. What do we joke about? Aggies? Pollocks? Newfies (Newfounlanders)? Mothers-in-law? Wives? Husbands? Joking makes “light” of something. How would you feel about someone joking about your mother, or your home town, or your country? We wouldn’t like it, because we know that such humor is mocking or demeaning what we hold dear.

Sex is a gracious gift from God. We dare not make light of God’s gifts. We mock them in so doing. We dare not suggest or imply that lust or impurity or temptation comes from God. Only good things come from God:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:13-17).

Instead of belittling God’s gracious gifts, Paul tells us, we are to “give thanks.” Thanksgiving is the appropriate response to the good gifts of God. If sin depreciates, love appreciates, all that is holy, righteous, and good.

Just how seriously does God take immorality? Does He wink at this kind of sin? Listen to Paul’s words, to hear how deadly and destructive sexual immorality is: “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” (Ephesians 5:5).

It could hardly be more clear than this. Those who practice sexual immorality aren’t going to heaven. God saved us to deliver us from such sin, not to allow men and women to persist in this sin with impunity:

10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2).94

In verse 6, Paul presses the point he has made in verse 5 even further. Not only is it true that the sexual immoral don’t go to heaven; it is also a fact that such sinners suffer the wrath of God. God hates sin, all sin, including the sin of immorality. And so it is that those who practice such sin find that God’s wrath awaits them:

4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Hebrews 13:4).

7 “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).

14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying (Revelation 22:14-15).

Those who profess faith in Christ and yet practice sexual sin as a lifestyle have little reason to be assured of their salvation. They are not behaving as “beloved children” (5:1), but as “sons of disobedience” (5:6).

Paul’s words in verse 6 warn the Christian concerning those who would deceive them with “empty words.” In spite of the fact that the Bible speaks clearly, repeatedly, and emphatically on the subject of sexual morality, there are those who would seek to obscure its teaching. They speak “empty words,” and they seek to appeal to the flesh. They urge us to follow our urges. They tell us that God “wants us to be happy and fulfilled.” They assure us that there will be no judgment on such sin. They Bible often warns of such false teachers. And they do not all come from outside the church, either:

1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep (2 Peter 2:1-3).

18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:18-22).95

It is appalling to see that much of the professing church has succumbed to the values of a fallen and depraved culture, rather than to hold fast to the values of the Scriptures. Now many mainline denominations not only refuse to call sexual immorality and perversion sin, they even ordain those who openly practice such sin. And, worse still, they not only practice sin, they openly promote it: “… and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). The final straw, as it were, is when immorality is not only tolerated in and by the church, it is done with a certain pride, and often justified in the name of love:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst (1 Corinthians 5:1-2).

Christian love refuses not only to practice sexual immorality, but also to permit it. That “love” which seeks to express itself by practicing sexual impurity and by embracing those who live immorally is not love at all. Christian love roots out every trace of impurity, dreading every form of it as we do the deadly cancer cells which would destroy our physical bodies.

Conclusion

If our society has taught us that immorality is “making love,” the Bible exposes this as a lie. Immorality is never the expression of love; it is the expression of lust. Immorality is not the work of the Spirit, but the fruit of the flesh. Immorality is not to be practiced by the saints, and it is not to be tolerated among the saints, either. Love is defined in terms of sacrifice, and is to emulate the love which our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated in His sacrifice for sinners at Calvary.

It may be that these words of Scripture have pricked your heart, and that you now look back upon previous immorality with remorse. Take heart, the cross of Christ is the solution for sin, all sin. Jesus forgave the woman caught in the act of adultery. Paul speaks of those who were once immoral, but who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. That forgiveness is available to you in Christ:

3 And the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” 6 And they were saying this, testing Him, in order that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground. 7 But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And again He stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And when they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the midst. 10 And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 And she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more” (John 8:3-11).

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Do you notice that in our text sexual morality is not advocated because it is the cure for aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.96 While sexual purity does protect one from some of the physical consequences of sin, this is not the motive which Paul seeks to promote. We are to avoid immorality because we are “beloved children” of God, and because we seek to imitate Him in our conduct. We avoid immorality because it is not love, and because it satisfies our physical desires at the expense of others. In the final analysis, sexual immorality is to be shunned because we love God and seek to bring glory to His name.

Christians are sometimes accused of being “puritanical” and thus are wrongly charged with failing to hold sexual intimacy in high esteem. It is the unbelieving, immoral, world which does not value sex highly enough. It is only the Christian who can rightly appraise the greatness of this gift from God. The pagan fails to regard sex highly enough, and thus they almost indiscriminately engage in sex with a host of partners. Christians value sex, and thus they restrict its pleasures to one mate, within the context of marriage.

Those tools in my garage which I value most are those whose use I most restrict. I don’t loan my valuable tools to those who fail to appreciate them, or who will not use them carefully and skillfully. I will loan a crescent wrench to nearly anyone. So it is with sexual intimacy. If we value it highly, we will restrict its use. And this we do to the glory of God.

Let us leave this text with a clearer grasp of what Christian love is all about. It is not about self-gratification, but about self-sacrifice and the glory of God. May God make the goal of this instruction love, to His glory and for our good.


89 See Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, 25, 41; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16; Philippians 4:18.

90 Cited by William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976 (revised edition), pp. 161-162.

91 Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to The Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 141. Foulkes goes on to say, “ … it involves all that works against the life-long union of one man and one woman within the sanctity of the marriage bond” (page 141).

92 “The gravest disservice any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin.” William Barclay, p. 163.

93 ““To jest about a thing or to make it a frequent subject of conversation is to introduce it into the mind and to bring nearer the actual doing of it.” William Barclay, p. 162.

94 See also 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.

95 See also Jude 8-23.

96 See, however, Proverbs 5:7-14.

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19. Walking in the Light (Ephesians 5:7-14)

7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says,

“Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”

Introduction

Several months ago, our blue Jetta was involved in an accident, rearranging the front end. I opted to repair the car myself. I went to a place that sold used Volkswagen parts. There were several Jettas in this small wrecking yard, with similar body styles. I was looking each car over to find the body parts which were in the best condition. Among these Jettas, I was more than delighted to find a blue one. Since its body parts were in very good condition, I bought them.

As I was completing this repair project, I was amused, and just a little proud that I had been able to obtain parts which were the same color. I didn’t even have to repaint the car! It was getting dark as I finished the car. My daughter, Jenny, and I decided to drive it to the service station and fill the fuel tank. Under the lights of that service station I realized something I had not previously known—Volkswagen has more than one dark blue. The new body parts were not the same color. The colors were similar, but not identical. In the darkness, the difference was unnoticeable, but in the light, the discrepancy was obvious.

Light has a way of exposing what darkness tends to conceal. That is precisely the truth upon which Paul bases his instruction in Ephesians 5:7-14. In chapters 4-6, Paul sets down the standards of the conduct which God requires of those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. These high standards define the conduct which the gospel was purposed to produce (see Ephesians 2:8-10), which reflect the glory of God through the church (1:3-14), and which are pleasing to Him who saved us by His grace (5:10).

Light and darkness are prominent themes in Paul’s epistles.97 These symbols are prominent in the gospels,98 and in the teaching of our Lord.99 They are employed as well by Peter100 and John.101 The symbols of light and darkness are not new in the New Testament; they are themes which are rooted in the Old Testament, and which are drawn upon and applied in the New. In our text, Paul likens our former nature and conduct as “darkness,” contrasting our nature and conduct as Christians by likening it to “light.” Let us listen well, to grasp what it means to walk no longer as children of darkness, but to live as children of light.

Paul’s Argument

Paul’s argument is based upon a fundamental premise: Christians have undergone a dramatic transformation which is here described as having been transformed from darkness to light. In the Bible, salvation is never spoken of as a trivial matter. Those who are saved by faith in Christ are not merely improved, they are radically transformed. They have been delivered from death and given eternal life and have been saved from a life of sin to a new life which is characterized by good works (Ephesians 2:1-10). They have been delivered from slavery to sin and to Satan to become sons of the living God (see John 1:12; Ephesians 2:11-22; Romans 8:1-25). Here, in our text, Paul describes the transformation which the Christian experiences in terms of the change from darkness to light. His words in our text are similar to his teaching in the Book of Colossians:

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:9-14).

This change in our condition should be accompanied by a corresponding change in our conduct. At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul exhorts each believer to walk in a way that is consistent with his calling as a Christian: “I, Therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).

The Christians “walk” or Christian lifestyle has been described in several different ways thus far in Ephesians 4 and 5. The Christian is to walk in unity and in community with his fellow saints (4:1-16).102 The Christian is to walk in a way that is dramatically different from his walk as an unbeliever (4:17-32). Christians are further instructed to “walk in love” (5:1-6). And now, Paul speaks of the Christian’s lifestyle as a “walk as children of light” (5:7-14). If we are to walk in a manner that is consistent with our calling, Paul instructs us, we are to live as those who are “children of light.”

It may be well here to pause for a moment, and to reflect on what Paul is telling us, for Paul’s teaching and the popular perception of Christianity differ greatly. The gospel is often presented as though faith in Jesus Christ requires no great change, and that one need but to “add” Christ to his experience, to “invite Christ into his life,” and then life will become more pleasant, but at little cost to the Christian. Jesus spoke of discipleship, and he cautioned those who would too quickly follow Him to “count the cost” (see Luke 9:23-24, 57-62; 14:25-25).

Becoming a Christian is not so much a matter of adding Christ to your life as it is abandoning your life to find true life in Christ. And when one thus trusts in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the change is not small. It is a radical transformation. It is a change from death to life, from darkness to light. Paul’s words indicate that our calling as Christians should have a radical impact on our conduct. We will never be the same again. We should never think or act the same. Our thinking and our behavior after our conversion should compare to our former “walk” as though it were night and day. Anyone who thinks of salvation differently would seem to do a disservice to the teaching of our Lord, and of the Old and New Testament writers.

While Paul has been privileged to reveal certain truths previously mysterious to the saints (Ephesians 3:1-13), his call to conduct our lives as “children of light” is not new. It is consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testaments. And so he calls our attention to this citation in verse 14: “For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” As it has often been observed, this citation does not precisely match any Old Testament text. Some have therefore concluded that this must not be a citation of Scripture, but rather a reference to an early Christian hymn, or spiritual teaching known to Paul and the Ephesians. A number of the more recent commentators understand it in this way.

There are difficulties with this explanation. Not only do many of the older scholars reject it, but the way in which Paul introduces it strongly suggests to us that it is a Scriptural quotation. While several texts in Isaiah are suggested (9:2; 26:19; 52:1), the text which is most similar is found in Isaiah 60:1.

Hodge (along with other older commentators such as Calvin) concludes that this citation in verse 14 is intended by Paul to be understood as a quotation from the Old Testament. He writes,

“As this formula of quotation is never used in the New Testament except when citations are made from the Old Testament, it cannot properly be assumed that the apostle here quotes some Christian hymn, with which the believers in Ephesus were familiar, or some apocryphal book, or some inspired book no longer extant. We must understand him either as referring to many exhortations of the Old Testament Scriptures, the substance of which he condenses in the few words here used; or as giving the spirit of some one passage, though not its words. Both these methods of explanation may be sustained by appeal to similar passages.”103

Hendriksen, in his fine commentary, seems inclined to agree with Hodge when he writes, “For myself, the more I study Isa. 60:1 in the light of its own context the more I begin to see certain resemblances.”104 Hendriksen goes even further, however, by proposing a solution to the problem by suggesting that Paul may have been referring to the Isaiah text(s) and to a hymn at the same time:

It is conceivable that though Ephesians 5:14 is in the final analysis rooted in Isa. 60:1, the form in which the latter passage is here reproduced by Paul was that of lines from an early Christian hymn. The hymn, in other words, may have been based on the Isaiah passage.105

Contemporary Christians often have difficulty understanding how the writers of the New Testament employ Old Testament texts, even when it is clear which text is being quoted. The reason is that our understanding, interpretation, and application of biblical texts is often too narrow. We expect the connection between the Old Testament text and its use in the New to be both obvious and direct.

Sometimes there is a direct, obvious correspondence between the Old Testament text and its appearance in the New. Such would be the case with some of the commandments (see Romans 13:8-10). If an Old Testament prophecy, this may have been evident even before the prophecy was fulfilled (see Matthew 2:5-6). The connection with New Testament events may also not have been understood beforehand (see Matthew 2:17-18). It may come as a complete surprise:

And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Matthew 2:14-15).

There are times when a New Testament writer may claim Old Testament support for his teaching, but does not actually cite a biblical text: “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says” (1 Corinthians 14:34). At other times, a text is cited, but somewhat loosely, and without a precise reference to its location:

But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT THOU REMEMBEREST HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT THOU ART CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? (Hebrews 2:6).106

Not infrequently, an Old Testament text is cited in the New, but in a form that is less precise than the original text. This is sometimes due to the fact that the quotation is cited from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, frequently employed by the New Testament writers), a sometimes rather free paraphrase of the text, rather than a precise Greek equivalent of the original Hebrew text. At other times, the quotation by the New Testament author may not precisely follow any known Old Testament text. It may even be that the New Testament writer deliberately departed from the Old Testament text, for his own reasons.

Sometimes, a New Testament author may apply an Old Testament principle in a way that appears to go well beyond its original instruction. This may be due to the New Testament writer’s greater insight into the meaning and application of the Scriptures. In seeking to show how the Old Testament Law supported his teaching that those who minister the gospel should be financially supported, Paul cites this text which refers to the treatment of an ox:

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen is, He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops (1 Corinthians 9:8-10).

I believe that there is yet another use of the Old Testament Scriptures, which both the Old and the New Testament authors often employ, which often goes over our heads, unnoticed. This is the use of symbolic terminology, which refers to previous events or to prominent biblical themes, with which the reader is expected to be familiar.

Let me seek to illustrate this from the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets frequently referred to events which happened earlier in Israel’s history, often by the use of terms associated with those events. In the prophecy of Isaiah, for example, the theme of creation is often employed. God created the heavens and the earth. He also created the nation Israel. These events involved great miracles. The God who accomplished creation is the same God who now promises to do great things for His people. Reference to God’s previous work as the Creator gives assurance that He is able to accomplish that which is yet future. The “exodus motif” is yet another prominent theme to which the prophet Isaiah refers. In Isaiah, both the creation and the exodus are drawn upon to give the readers courage and confidence in the words which God is speaking through His prophet, Isaiah:

Do you not know? Hove you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable (Isaiah 40:28).

But now, thus says the LORD, your creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD you God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place (Isaiah 43:1-3).

“I am the LORD, your Holy One, The Creator of Israel, your King.” Thus says the LORD, Who makes a way through the sea And a path through the mighty waters (Isaiah 43:15-16).107

Paul frequently employs the imagery of light and darkness in his preaching and in his epistles (see Acts 13:47; 26:22-23; Romans 13:11-14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; 6:14-18; 11:13-15; Colossians 1:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-16). When he does so, I believe that he expects us to understand his references in the light (no pun intended) of the progressive development of the light/darkness theme in Scripture. I believe that his citation in verse 14 of Ephesians chapter 5 not only draws upon the “light” imagery of Isaiah, but also of the rest of the Scriptures. Let us pause to consider the development of this prominent and powerful image through the Scriptures.

The first creative act of God recorded in Genesis chapter 1 is the creation of light:

And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness (Genesis 1:2-4).

At the beginning of this creation account, the earth was dark and in disarray (formless and void). At the end, it has light and is ordered. The progress is from darkness to light and for disorder to order. Light was created by God to separate darkness and light. Paul will later draw on this creation of light and relate it to godly living (see 2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

In the Psalms, light and darkness are used symbolically. Light becomes the symbol for salvation (27:1), life (36:9; 49:19; 56:13), righteousness (37:6), truth (43:3), the Word of God (119:105, 130),108 and God’s splendor and presence (104:2; 44:3; 89:15; 90:8). Darkness symbolizes ignorance (82:5). Of particular importance, light is symbolic of the Christ who is yet to come:

The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. This is the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, do save, we beseech Thee; O LORD, we beseech Thee, do send prosperity! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. Thou art my God, and I give thanks to Thee; Thou art my God, I extol Thee. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalm 118:22-29).

Proverbs speaks of the conduct of the godly using the imagery of light, while using darkness in reference to the wicked:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; They do not know over what they stumble (Proverbs 4:18-19).

It is in Isaiah, however, that the symbolism of light and darkness becomes most prominent in the Old Testament:

Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord (2:5).

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness (5:20)

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to His word, it is because they have no dawn (8:20).

The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them (9:2; see Matthew 4:15-16).

And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day (10:17).

“I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon, And those who dwell in darkness from the prison” (42:6-7).

“And I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone” (42:16).

“He says, ‘It is too small and 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” (49:6).109

“Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God (50:10).

“Pay attention to Me, O My people; And give ear to Me, O My nation; For a law will go forth from Me, And I will set My justice for a light of the peoples” (51:4).

“Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” … And if you give yourself to the hungry, And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness, And your gloom will become like midday” (58:8, 10).

Therefore, justice is far from us, And righteousness does not overtake us; We hope for light, but behold, darkness; For brightness, but we walk in gloom (59:9).

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising (60:1-3).

“No longer will you have the sun for light by day, Nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And your God for your glory. Your sun will set no more, Neither will your moon wane; For you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, And the days of your mourning will be finished” (60:19-20).

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives, And freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn (61:1-2).

Other prophets join with Isaiah in using the imagery of light and darkness:

It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22).

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall I will rise; Though I dwell in darkness, the LORD is light for me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness (Micah 7:7-9).

If darkness symbolized man’s sinful ignorance and actions, it was also employed by the prophets to speak of the coming day of God’s wrath. Some unbelieving Jews mistakenly looked forward to the coming of Messiah, thinking that it was a day of “light,” of divine blessing, when it was to be, for them, a day of “darkness,” of divine judgment:

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD, For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you? It will be darkness and not light; As when a man flees from a lion, And a bear meets him, Or goes home, leans his hand against the wall, And a snake bites him. Will not the day of the LORD be darkness instead of light, Even gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20),110

Before we give particular attention to Isaiah 60:1-3, let us press on to the New Testament, to see how the themes of “light” and “darkness” are taken up by our Lord and by the apostles:

At the time of His coming as a child, Jesus was worshipped as the “light” that was to come:

25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; 30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32).

John, in words reminiscent of the first chapters of Genesis, introduced his gospel by presenting Jesus as the “light.”

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. 9 There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him (John 1:1-10).

Matthew also spoke of our Lord as the light. When Jesus left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, Matthew informs us that this was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah who was the light:

12 Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, And to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a light dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16, citing Isaiah 9:1-2).

Jesus clearly and repeatedly spoke of Himself as the “light”:

Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

As the “light,” Jesus was God’s provision for salvation:

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:16-21).

“I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me may not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).

When our Lord died for sinners on the cross of Calvary, darkness supernaturally fell upon the earth for three hours. I believer that this “darkness” was symbolic of the divine wrath which God had poured out upon His Son, as our substitute.

45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46).

Our Lord also declared that all who believed in Him were to live as “lights,” or as “sons of light.” They were therefore to be a reflection of His light:

35 Jesus therefore said to them, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 “While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and He departed and hid Himself from them (John 12:35-36).

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; 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).

Little wonder that in Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament “light and darkness” are such prominent symbols. Saul’s conversion was one which resulted from our Lord’s appearance to Him in a blinding light (Acts 9:3-4, etc.). Paul understood that the gospel of our Lord was a “light,” not only for Jews, but for Gentiles as well:

“For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed You as a light for the Gentiles, That You should bring salvation to the end of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).

“And so, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; 23 that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23).

For the Apostle Paul, the imagery of light and darkness was a prominent theme:

11 And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Romans 13:11-14).

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 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. 17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:9-14).

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen (1 Timothy 6:13-16).

Both Peter and John spoke of “light” as well:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10).

5 And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:5-10).

8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him (1 John 2:8-10).

And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it (Revelation 21:24).

3 And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; 4 and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5 And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:3-5).

Little wonder, then, that Paul should speak of the Christian’s conduct in terms of the contrast between light and darkness. Living as light fulfills God’s purpose for Christians, as seen throughout the Scriptures, Old and New Testament. Our overriding purpose in life is not just to preach the gospel, to win souls, or even to make disciples. Our overriding goal is to reflect God to an ungodly world, and to a heavenly host, to the glory of God. The goals of missions, evangelism, and discipleship are an outgrowth of our function as lights. We proclaim the gospel and make disciples because this is what God has done, in Christ. We do these things because they are a part of living as lights in a dark world.

What Does It Mean To Live As Lights?

Having seen that we are obligated to live as lights, we must now turn our attention to the application of Paul’s instructions. What does it mean to live as lights? Paul does not leave us without guidelines in this matter. Our text not only contains Paul’s exhortation, it provides us with instruction concerning the implementation of living as lights.

We are not left to wonder what “light” is like. Light produces certain fruit. The fruit of the light,111 Paul tells us, is goodness, righteousness, and truth.112 Goodness is the predisposition to do that which is both wholesome and helpful, what is beneficial. Righteousness encompasses all that is consistent with the holy character of God and which meets the standards set down by His Word. Truth not only excludes falsehood, but it includes only that which God’s Word defines as true, truth as God’s Word declares it.

Living as children of light is living so as to manifest goodness, righteousness, and truth, as Paul has indicated in verse 9. Living as children of light can also be described as “trying to learn”113 what is pleasing to the Lord” (verse 10).

The children of light desire to live as light. Therefore, they do not merely avoid the thinking and the deeds of darkness out of a fear of divine chastening alone, but they genuinely desire to do what is right in order to please the One who delivered them from darkness to light. Where there are negative motivations for avoiding sin, the motivation of which Paul speaks here is a positive one. The children of darkness have pleasure as their goal, too, but they live in order to please themselves, not to please God.

While it is true that living as lights is for our own best interest, this should be a secondary motive, not a primary one. We should seek to please God and others before seeking to please ourselves (see Romans 15:1). All too often I hear evangelical Christian leaders urging Christians to act in a certain way primarily because it serves their own interests best. This is not the “high road” of the Apostle Paul, nor of any other writer in the Scriptures.

The expression “trying to learn” suggests something more to us. It suggests that learning to walk as children of light is an on-going process. The commands of the Scriptures, Old Testament and New, provide us with some clear absolutes as to what we must and as to what we must not do. But these commands do not cover every choice we are called upon to make.

Let me illustrate this in terms of marriage. When we marry, we make vows which express our commitment to our mate. We are obligated to keep our vows. But in addition to the keeping of these vows, there is a process of getting to know our mate (see 1 Peter 3:7), so that we may please them (see 1 Corinthians 7:33-34). There are many books published which “instruct” men on how to “please” their wives, but I believe that a wife’s greatest pleasure comes from her husband “learning” this on his own, and doing it out of the joy which he finds in pleasing her.

So it is with pleasing God. God delights in His children learning to know Him, and then doing that which we believe gives Him pleasure. What we decided to do (or to avoid doing) may not be what another believer chooses to do, but this is a matter of personal conviction, not of keeping a command. Pleasing God is a life-long process, one that is never complete, but one in which there should be both perseverance and growth.

Paul’s teaching in our text indicates that living as children of light will have a radical impact on our relationships. We have already seen this indicated earlier in the epistle. While we Gentiles were once alienated from Israel, her covenants, and her blessings, we have now been reconciled to God in one body, the church. We who were once at odds with Israelites are not united with them inseparably. This union was not grasped by the Old Testament saint (chapter 3), but it has become clear to the church through the teaching of Paul (4:1-16).

If, in Christ, we have become one new man (2:15) and one new building (2:19-22), we also discover that in Christ we have a new relationship with unbelievers, those who are still the children of darkness (see 2:1-3; 4:17-24). As children of light we now have far greater intimacy with those who, like us, are in Christ. But we also experience a corresponding detachment from the children of darkness.

Paul describes this detachment in terms of two prohibitions. The first is expressed in verse 7: “Therefore do not be partakers with them.” The second “do not” is found in verse 11: “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.”

In some of His final words to His disciples, our Lord indicated to them that their relationship with Him would bring about a corresponding animosity from those who rejected Him:

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20)

Years later, Peter writes to those who are suffering persecution at the hand of unbelievers and assures them that such is the normal reaction of those in darkness, whose deeds have been exposed by the light:

For the time already past is sufficient for your to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you (1 Peter 4:3-4).

In Ephesians 5:7, Paul urges the saints to not become partakers with those who are godless because their actions are (1) improper for saints (5:3) and (2) because the wrath of God is the fate of those who live in sin (5:5-6). In verse 11 Paul presses the matter even further. Christians are to avoid participation in the “unfruitful deeds of darkness” because their task as lights is to expose the deeds of darkness.

Light reveals that which darkness conceals. Darkness conceals sin and even promotes it. Light exposes sin and thus living as children of light has the function of exposing the sins of those in darkness, which is the first and fundamental step in evangelism.

Our Lord Himself came as the “light” (John 1:1-13). Those who acknowledged their sin turned to Him for salvation, while those who preferred darkness to light rejected Him (see John 3:16-21). We, like Christ, are to live as children of light as a part of our calling to reflect and reveal Christ and to proclaim the gospel. It is the contrast in our conduct with that of the world which makes the gospel clear. It is by our contrast with the world that we fulfill our obligation as “lights”:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; 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 5:13-16).

The rub comes in determining where it is that we draw the lines of separation. We are not to be partakers with those in darkness (Ephesians 5:7), nor are we to participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness (5:11). Where, then, do we draw the line in terms of our relationships with the lost?

The Pharisees of our Lord’s day drew the line far too conservatively. They hypocritically drew the line at the level of association with sinners. To have any contact with sinners was thought by them to be ungodly. They were wrong, as our Lord made clear, both by His teaching and His preaching. Very early in His ministry Jesus offended the self-righteous Pharisees by His association with sinners. Jesus indicated that it was necessary to associate with sinners in order to save them:

27 And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, “Follow Me.” 28 And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. 29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32).

The Corinthian church seems to have agreed with the position of the Pharisees, but they went to an additional extreme. They, like the Pharisees of our Lord’s day, seemed to hold the conviction that they could not associate with unbelievers (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). And yet, while they were careful to shun unbelievers, they were puffed up with pride in the fact that they accepted a man who professed to be a believer, yet who lived with his father’s wife, something which even shocked the pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

Paul’s teaching on separation and fellowship is clear. In general terms, as “children of light” we are not to have fellowship with darkness. More specifically, we are not to shun unbelievers, nor to avoid association with them. We are to avoid intimate fellowship with them, especially as they practice what is displeasing to God. As Christians, we are not to have fellowship with those who profess to trust in Christ, but whose conduct denies Him.

9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15),114

In some ways, I fear that the contemporary Christian church surpasses the error of both the Pharisees and the Corinthians. Both the Pharisees and the Corinthians drew the line somewhere, even if they drew it in the wrong place. We don’t seem to be willing or able to draw the line anywhere. Because we equate the success of a church with its size, we seem unwilling to discourage any from attending and taking part, let alone to act in discipline by putting someone out of the church.

As I read the Book of Acts, the church grew dramatically. In the context of the Book, Luke is careful to indicate that the church grew because of its faithful proclamation and practice of the Word of God (see Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35; 6:1-7).115 Luke also indicates that the church grew as its purity was protected. Thus, as a result of the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, great fear came upon the whole church and the unbelieving community, and with it came more converts:

11 And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things. 12 And at the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number (Acts 5:11-14).

The purity of the church does not hinder the proclamation of the gospel; it is an essential manifestation of the gospel. I believe that this truth underlies the words of Paul in our text. In other words, by living as children of light we not only practice the truth of the gospel, we proclaim it to an unbelieving world.

I fear that in many churches today which proclaim to be evangelical, we are not “manifesting the light” to the glory of God and to the health of the church, and to the salvation of the lost. To keep with the symbolism of light and darkness, I fear that some churches are trying to win the lost by “turning the lights down low.”

Allow me to explain. The underlying premise of the “lights down low” folks is that people won’t be attracted to a gospel which threatens their beliefs, values, and lifestyles. And so, in order to get people saved, we need to play down the negative aspects of the gospel (sin, righteousness, judgment) and slip the gospel in positively. We need to make the unbeliever comfortable with Christianity if we are to attract them to our churches. If sin and hell are unpleasant topics, then these should be set aside, at least for a time. Once people are saved, they tell us, then we can speak to them about discipleship. This sounds a whole lot like the “bait and switch” methodology of unscrupulous salesmen.

There are many difficulties with this philosophy and methodology. In the first place, it does not square with our Lord’s methods or teaching. There were many who seemed eager to follow Jesus, but He consistently warned them of the cost of discipleship. Neither does it square with the Lord’s teaching concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in evangelism, as found in the Gospel of John:

7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. 8 And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:7-11).

If the Holy Spirit is to convict men of sin, righteousness, and judgment, then surely we dare not avoid these truths in dealing with unbelievers. The very subjects which Scripture identify as the foundation and starting point of the gospel are those which the “low-light gospeleers” would set aside. The truth of the matter is that the gospel, in its pure form, is not appealing. Indeed, it is repulsive, to lost men. Nevertheless, it is our task to proclaim it in the simplest and clearest terms possible, relying upon God to draw men through the ministry of His Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:5).

Jesus did not come to minister to the healthy, but to those who are sick. He did not come to speak to those who were comfortable, but rather to those who mourned and were broken-hearted. He spoke words of comfort, healing, and salvation to the hurting, and He spoke words of rebuke and warning to those who were comfortable and complacent. Why should we do anything less?

As Paul’s words indicate, our task is not to ignore sin, but to expose it. This is done by living righteously, living as lights. Those whom God has chosen, He will draw to the light by His grace and through His Spirit. And those who love their sin and the darkness will seek to extinguish our light. And so it is that some of the texts which speak about light are found in close proximity to those which speak of persecution (see Matthew 5:10-16). We are not to identify with darkness, nor to withdraw entirely from it, but to live as lights in a darkened world, so that sin might be exposed by righteousness, to the glory of God, to the salvation of the lost, and to the blessing of the believer.

Conclusion

Let us conclude our lesson by seeking to sum up what Paul has said. First, the Christian’s conversion calls for a radically new lifestyle and a new relationship with the world and with unbelievers. Jesus is the light of the world, and all who name His name as believers are to walk in the light and to walk as lights, just as He did when He was physically on this earth.

Second, to walk as children of light is also to walk in love. All too many play down our obligation to walk as lights by emphasizing their intention to “walk in love.” We dare not attempt to separate these two aspects of our Christian walk. Paul has just spoken of our “walk in love” in Ephesians 5:1-6. Now, in verses 7-14, he presses on to remind us of our responsibility to “walk as light.” There is no conflict. If we do no walk as light we will not be walking in love. Love does not “support” the sinner and the expense of righteousness. Love admonishes, rebukes, and seeks to restore the sinner in the promotion and practice of righteousness. Note the close connection of “love” and “light” in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

11 And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Romans 13:11-14).

To walk as children of light is the ultimate calling of the Christian. It is in so doing that we obey and please God. It is in so doing that we glorify God. It is in so doing that the gospel is proclaimed.

Walking in the light will, in all cases, glorify God. It will in some instances result in the salvation of lost souls. It will in many cases lead to persecution. And it will also put us at cross-purposes with Satan. We should expect him to seek to blind men with respect to the light of the gospel:

3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan is not content to stop here. In his attempts to “turn out the lights” he goes so far as to disguise himself as an “angel of light,” thereby hoping to directly attack the church through deception and distortion:

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

These false lights will be evident because their fruit will not be the fruit of the light, as Paul indicates.

Paul’s emphasis is not merely upon individual compliance with our duty to “walk as lights,” but on the task of the church, collectively, to be a light. The church must take a hard line toward sin. The church must act decisively and rigorously to root sin out of the church. We are not only to seek to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), but to rigorously root sin out of the church (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).

If I understand Paul’s teaching on “light” correctly (including his citation from the Old Testament in verse 14), it is not the unbeliever that is challenged to “wake up” and to “rise from the dead,” but rather the believer. This text, as I understand it, is not primarily a salvation text, but a sanctification text. We can be lights only in a reflective way. Christ is the only true light. We shine as He shines upon us. In Isaiah chapter 60, the exhortation was for the people of Israel to “wake up” and to turn from their sin to righteousness, from darkness to the light. Elsewhere, when Paul takes up the theme of light and darkness, he is exhorting Christians to wake up:

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).116

Only those who are in Christ can be lights. This compels me to ask you a simple question of the greatest import: “Have you seen the light?” Have you acknowledged your sin, Christ’s righteousness, and the judgment which awaits all who reject the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary? These are dark days. Those without Christ are not only darkness, subjects of the prince of darkness, but they also await the dark day of God’s coming wrath on sinners. Come to the light. Trust in Him who suffered and died for your sins, and whose righteousness can be yours by faith.

May God grant that we may not only see the light in personal salvation, but that others may see the light in us, as we live lives that are marked by goodness, righteousness, and truth, to His glory.


97 See Acts 13:47; 26:22-23; Romans 13:11-14; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; 6:14-18; Colossians 1:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-16.

98 See Matthew 4:12-16; 26:45-46; Luke 2:25-31.

99 See Matthew 6:19-25; Luke 11:33-36; 22:53; John 3:16-21; 5:33-35; 8:12; 9:5; 11:8-13; 12:35-36, 46.

100 1 Peter 2:9-10.

101 See John 1:1-13; 1 John 1:5-10; 2:8-10; Revelation 18:22-23; 21:24; 22:3-5.

102 I acknowledge the fact that Paul does not employ the term “walk” in these verses, but it is evident that Christian unity and community is the central theme of verses 1-16. The Christian’s conduct is to live and serve in an interdependent relationship to the whole body of Christ.

103 Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Ephesians (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991 [reprint]), pp. 215-216.

104 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 234.

105 Hendriksen, p. 235.

106 See also Hebrews 4:4.

107 See also 4:5-6; 40:26; 41:20; 45:8, 12, 18; 48:7; 51:13; 65:17-18, which are but a sampling of Isaiah’s allusions to God’s earlier actions in history.

108 Psalm 19 is particularly interesting, as God’s revelation is described as “light.” In those verses which speak of God’s revelation of Himself through His creation (verses 1-6), the sun is prominent as the light emitting source (verses 4-6). The psalmist then speaks of the revelation of God through His Word (verses 7-14). In Psalm 119, the Word is referred to as “light” (verses 105, 130). In Psalm 19:12, while the term “light” is not employed, the Word of God is spoken of as that source of illumination that reveals the psalmist’s secret and hidden sins.

109 Be sure to read the preceding context in verses 1-5.

110 See also Jeremiah 4:23; 13:16; Lamentations 3:1-2.

111 Some texts read “fruit of the Spirit” rather than “fruit of the light.” In the final analysis, we need not agonize over which reading is correct because those things which Paul identifies as “fruit of the light” in Ephesians chapter 5, are virtually the same as those which he also identifies as “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians chapter 5.

112 For “goodness” see Romans 16:14; Galatians 5:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:11. For “righteousness” see Romans 6:21f.; Philippians 1:11; Hebrews 12:11. For “truth” see 2 Corinthians 4:2; 6:7; 7:14; Galatians 2:5, 14; 3:10; Ephesians 1:13; 4:21, 24-25; 6:14; Colossians 1:5-6.

113 The term rendered by the expression, “trying to learn” here in Ephesians 5:10 is the same as that rendered “prove” in Romans 12:2. Foulkes writes concerning this term: “The participle here dokimazontes [‘trying to learn’] is from a verb that sometimes means ‘approving’ (as in Romans xiv. 22 and I Corinthians xvi. 3), but more commonly ‘proving’ for oneself, and so here ‘choosing.’” Francis Foulkes, The Epistle of Paul to The Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 146.

114 See also Matthew 18:15-17.

115 A case can also be made for the growth of the church due to the sovereign work of God, in spite of the actions of the church and its leaders. For example, consider the evangelization of Gentiles in spite of the reluctance and resistance of the Jews (see Acts 8:1-2; 10:1—11:22).

116 See also Romans 13:11-14 above.

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20. Walking Wisely (Ephesians 5:15-21)

15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

Introduction

Of all of the places our family has spent the night, one stands out in particular—the Alpine Lodge. We were driving back to Texas after having visited our families in Washington State. The fuel crisis of that time did not make travel any easier, and to make matters even worse, we had a large van with a healthy appetite for fuel and a small gas tank. Several times we found it necessary to spend the night in a small town, so that we would be able to get fuel the next morning, after the service stations opened.

We were driving in a remote area and it was beginning to get late. We needed fuel as well as a place to spend the night. When a small town finally came in sight, we all agreed that this was where we would stay, if we could find a motel with any vacancies. The flashing red neon sign of the Alpine caught our attention on the right hand side of the road. (We won’t forget that sign, because our room was right behind it, so that the blinking light illuminated our room the entire night.) There was no bathroom in the room we would rent for the night. It was down the hall. There was one bath, not two, and its doors were the kind you see on the old Western movies, with two swinging doors. The top and the bottom of the doorway was open, nor was there was there any lock on the door. It was not a time to be very particular about where we would spend the night.

We quickly learned that the Alpine Lodge was also a tavern. The bar tender was also the inn keeper and so I had to go to the bar in order to check in. I will never forget that scene, and neither will my girls. The bar, like the rest of that place, was far from elegant. A large but rather listless German Shepherd was lying on the floor, right next to the bar. And two drunks were seated at the bar, right where I had to go to get the towels for our room. The most amazing thing is the conversation which I happened to overhear while I was waiting for our towels. One of the drunks was witnessing to the other, attempting to lead him to the Lord.

While I might be willing to grant that a bar is a possible place for evangelism, it is not consistent with my view of the gospel to think of a drunk as an evangelist. There is something incompatible about drunkenness and evangelism. They just don’t seem to go together.

In our text in Ephesians chapter 5, Paul speaks of the incompatibility between drunkenness and being filled with the Holy Spirit. While the ill informed and unsaved might confuse these two (as we see happening at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2), no Christian should confuse them. And yet it seems that some did so. In the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul found it necessary to rebuke the Corinthian saints for drunkenness at the Lord’s Table, an almost unbelievable thought (1 Corinthians 11:17-34; see especially verse 21). And so, in Ephesians 5:15-21, Paul speaks of the contrasts which Christian faith produces with our former walk as unbelievers.

Our Text in Context

Ephesians 1, 2, and 3 reveal the eternal plan and purpose of God for His church, in a depth never before revealed until Paul’s conversion and calling to faith. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 describe the conduct of the Christian, which is to be the outgrowth of his identification with Christ and His church.

In Ephesians 4:1–6:9, Paul describes our conduct in terms of our walk.117 In Ephesians 6:10-20, he speaks of our conduct as warfare. Ephesians 4:1–6:9 speaks of our conduct in terms of its relationship to men, both non-Christians and our fellow-believers. In Ephesians 6:10-19, he speaks of our conduct in terms of our spiritual warfare with fallen and hostile celestial beings.

At Ephesians 5:15 we come to the final description of the Christian’s walk. This section continues through chapter 6, verse 9. In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul calls us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In 4:17-32 Paul calls us to walk in a way that differs dramatically from our walk as Gentile pagans. In 5:1-6 Paul urges us to walk in love, while in 5:7-14 we are instructed to walk as children of light. Finally, in 5:15–6:9 we are called upon to walk as those who are wise.

This final command—to walk as those who are wise—is the longest of Paul’s instructions for walking. It begins at verse 15 of chapter 5, and ends with verse 9 in chapter 6. The overriding command of this section is recorded in verse 15, and repeated twice, in verses 17 and 18:

15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise.

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

18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.

Each command to walk wisely has a corresponding contrasting command, not to walk unwisely. These three commands are all variations of one command, to walk carefully, as those who are wise. By the use of participles, Paul gives further clarification and illustration of his commands. Most of these participles are easily identified by the translation of the NASB, which gives them an “ing” ending. These are: “making,” verse 16; “speaking,” “singing,” and “making melody,” verse 19, and “giving thanks,” verse 20. The last participle is not as clearly indicated, because it is rendered as an imperative, “be subject,” verse 21.118

Paul’s final command to walk wisely is stated in terms of being “filled with the Spirit” (verse 18), and then further clarified by the participles which follow. The submission which serves as evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit is that which should be evident universally and mutually, as well as in marriage, the family, and in other social institutions of authority. The resulting structure becomes apparent:

15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,

16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

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

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

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

20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

The universal and mutual submission which Paul calls for in broad and general terms in verse 21 is more specifically applied in 5:22–6:9. Here, Paul speaks of submission in the context of relationships: husband and wife (5:22-33); parents and children (6:1-4); slaves and masters (6:5-9). In later lessons, we will study these verses in detail. The important thing to observe at this point is that the submission called for in Ephesians 5:22–6:9 is that which is called for in 5:21. In other words, 5:21–6:9 is a unit, and the submission which Paul speaks of is but one manifestation of the filling of the Holy Spirit.

In this study, I have chosen to consider the text a command at a time, working down through the text as Paul has written it. Let us give heed to Paul’s instructions concerning wisdom, and let us endeavor, by God’s grace, not only to understand what Paul is teaching here, but to do it.

The First Command:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

“Therefore be careful how you walk”

The Christian’s walk is to be one that is given careful consideration. It is one that is to be the outgrowth of thought, of purpose, of deliberate and disciplined action. This week I have watched, along with countless others, some of the Olympic Games in Spain. Not one of those athletes arrived at the Olympic games by chance, without thought, planning, or diligent and disciplined preparation. Paul, speaking of the “Olympic games” of his own day, calls for Christians to act with similar dedication:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

We will soon see that walking carefully is walking wisely, and that walking wisely is, in the final analysis, walking in the Spirit. Why is it, then, that so many Christians equate being filled with the Spirit with spontaneity? It was Paul who wrote to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit [Spirit] of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6).

I remember well the senseless injuries and deaths of men and women soldiers after the Persian Gulf War ended. It happened because these soldiers were lulled into a false sense of safety and security. Sometimes in the course of duty, and other times in the pursuit of souvenirs, soldiers carelessly went about in places where mines and booby traps had been placed by the enemy. And this carelessness led to injury and death for some. Christians live in a fallen world, in a hostile and dangerous world. We dare not live our lives and Christians in a haphazard fashion. We must give careful thought to our attitudes and actions. This is what Paul calls for, nothing less.

“Not as unwise men, but as wise”

To walk carefully is to walk as those who are wise. To do otherwise is to walk as one who is unwise. Elsewhere in Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 1-3; James 3:13-18), two kinds of wisdom are contrasted. Divine wisdom is contrasted with mere human wisdom. But here in our text, Paul speaks only of divine wisdom as wisdom, while he identifies human wisdom as that which is, in truth, unwise. There is only one true wisdom, and all other wisdom is unwise. In our text, as in the Book of Proverbs, to walk as one who is wise one will live skillfully. In our text, as in Proverbs, wisdom begins with the “fear of the Lord.” As Paul writes elsewhere:

18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

I am impressed that here, as earlier in Ephesians, Paul seldom gives a command without also giving a corresponding prohibition. And so the instruction is given in terms of “not … but.” Paul does not speak of the relationship between our past life apart from Christ and our new life in Christ in terms of continuity, but in terms of contrast. We do not carry the baggage of our pagan lives into the faith; we jettison that baggage, replacing it with that which God produces in us through His Spirit. Christian living involves a complete mental overhaul, a whole new set of values, motivations, means and methods.

“Making the most of your time,119 because the days are120 evil”

The “time” to which Paul refers here seems to be a particular time, the opportune time. His instruction might even be paraphrased, “seize the moment.” In Colossians, the opportunity Paul has in view is that of evangelizing the lost: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Colossians 4:5). In both Ephesians and Colossians, wisdom is in the context. It takes wisdom to recognize that the days are evil. The lost are inclined to be oblivious—morally numb—to rightness and wrongness of the world in which they live.

It takes wisdom not only to recognize the evil nature of the days in which we live, but wisdom as well to know how best to respond. A Christian may rightly sense the evil of an abortion clinic, but blowing up the building seems to fall far short of that action which is wise, which brings glory to God, which enlightens a darkened world, and which promotes the gospel. In these present evil days, a Christian teacher has many restrictions to the proclamation of his or her faith in the public school classroom. A wise Christian will manifest wisdom both in what is said and done, and in how it is said and done. A Christian employer faces many difficulties in terms of hiring and firing employees. Wisdom is necessary to know what to do and how to do it, to the glory of God, to demonstration of what is good, and to the advancement of the gospel.

Evil days also seem to present the Christian with many distractions and diversions. While we have more free time than any previous culture, look how many “time eaters” our culture has produced. It is no wonder that a friend wrote these words on a card, which he attached to his television: “Redeeming the time.”

Just before our vacation in England, I read a biography of John and Charles Wesley. These men traveled many, many miles, mostly on horseback. They preached in many different places. They wrote an incredible number of hymns. I was struck by the impact these men had as we went from place to place (some of which were out of the way places) and found historical markers indicating that one or both of them had preached in that place. These men knew how to make the most of their opportunities. How much greater the opportunities are in our day, not only because of the evil of our time, but also because of our technology. But who would dare to have our lives compared to the Wesleys?

The Second Command:

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

Walking wisely is, according to these words, walking in accordance with God’s will. Walking wisely is walking in the will of God. To fail to know and to do God’s will is to be foolish. If Paul’s words imply anything, it is that God’s will is not a deep, dark secret, which only a handful of saints will ever be able to discern. The “will of God” is here depicted as that which is patently clear, and that anyone who fails to discern or to do it is foolish. Doing the will of God is acting wisely, and with sound reasoning, as guided by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. As Bruce puts it, “The doing of his will is not a matter of irrational impulse but of intelligent reflection and action.”121

The important thing is for people to know and to do God’s will. But what is this “will of the Lord” to which Paul refers here? It is not surprising that fallen men have twisted the meaning of God’s will, focusing more on ourselves than upon God, and upon His plan. We just returned from a vacation with my parents. We had a choice to make whenever we took a picture. We could take a picture with only the scene. Usually, however, there were commercial pictures available which were far superior in quality. The other choice—the one which we made—was to “personalize” each picture. And so, in virtually every photo, one or more members of our family was in the picture. Often, our presence served to obscure the scenery.

We have likewise tended to “personalize” the picture of the will of God which the Scriptures paint for us. God’s will has thereby become “God’s will for my life.” When the Bible speaks of God’s will, there are times when it speaks of His specific will for a particular person, in a given situation. But this is not the norm. Much more frequently, the Bible speaks of the “will of the Lord” as His overall plan. In the context of Ephesians, the “will of the Lord” is the eternal plan of God, outlined in chapters 1-3. Through Paul, additional elements of God’s will, which were previously a mystery to men, have now been revealed. If we are to be wise, rather than foolish, we are to be astute concerning the plans and purposes of God, as revealed in the Scriptures. And we are to base our decisions on this eternal plan. We are to subordinate our plans to the eternal plans and purposes of God. In the vast majority of instances, the will of God for our life is dictated by God’s eternal plan. In those instances where specific divine guidance is needed, God will direct our path, whether by revelation, or providentially.

The Third Command:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation,122 but be filled123 with the Spirit”124

In the second chapter of Acts, some mistakenly identified the filling of the Holy Spirit as the conduct of those who had too much to drink. In the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, we learn that some of the Corinthian saints actually did become drunk while gathering together as a church to remember the Lord’s death through communion. Heathen religions did make use of wine, but in a way that led to sin and debauchery:

By the ancients, moreover, an overdose of wine was often used not only to rid oneself of care and to gain a sense of mirth but also to induce communion with the gods and, by means of this communion, to receive ecstatic knowledge, not otherwise obtainable.125

There is an implied relationship between getting drunk with wine and being filled with the Holy Spirit. This relationship has, as I understand it, but one similarity, and that is the similarity of “getting drunk” with “being filled.” Both terms imply a control over an individual by an outside force, which alters one’s thinking and conduct.

The similarity between drunkenness and the filling of the Spirit ends here, with this one factor—control. The control which wine gains over the one who becomes drunk is detrimental and even destructive. The thinking and the actions of a drunk are not those for which a man is praised. The control of the Spirit produces clear thinking, a wisdom which is beyond human abilities, and conduct which benefits those with whom we associate.

I have yet to hear of a drunk who was considered wise in the midst of his drunkenness. A drunk makes a fool of himself. A drunk does not make wise use of his money, his time, or of his body when under the control of alcohol. He may gather together with others. He may even join with them in music, but it will not be for true worship. It will not result in the edification of others, or in the glorification of Christ.

Paul begins by contrasting the filling with the Spirit and drunkenness in a general way. Drunkenness results in dissipation—waste. By inference, we can see that the filling of the Spirit is fruitful, beneficial, edifying. Paul describes the benefits of the filling of the Spirit in several ways. Paul employs four participles in verses 19-21, which depict four manifestations of the Spirit’s filling.

Paul’s third command, recorded in Ephesians 5:18-21, is similar to another of his commands, recorded in the third chapter of Colossians. It may be well for us to refresh our memories as to this parallel text:

And Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 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. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:15-17).

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”

Here, as also in Colossians chapter 4, Paul seems to be referring to the public gathering of the church as well as to smaller gatherings as well. In verses 19 and 20, he seems to be dwelling on the role which music is to play in the church.126 The drunken man sings too, but not as Paul is describing.

Some have made noble efforts to define and distinguish “psalms,” “hymns,” and “spiritual songs.” I am not convinced that any of these is precise, or even intended by Paul. I am more inclined to find Paul indicating to us that our music in church may have a variety of forms. Through the years I have heard song leaders instruct the congregations, “Now let’s sing this song worshipfully.” What one meant was to sing acapella. Another wanted us to sing slowly and quietly. And yet another wanted us to sing loudly, briskly, and enthusiastically. By inference, Paul indicates to us that Christian music may have a variety of forms, none of which should exclude the other. Having said this, I must also go on to say that I believe some musical forms and styles have no place in Christian worship. While all things may be “lawful” and nothing evil of itself, not all things edify (see 1 Corinthians 6:12).

The music of which Paul speaks is not considered apart from its lyrics. The lyrics of the songs we sing are instructional. We sing to one another. In so doing, we speak to one another, by means of the lyrics of the songs we sing (5:19). In Colossians, Paul tells us that we teach Scripture through Christian music, and we even admonish musically. Music has a way of distilling our theology. It is one of the ways that we teach and learn. Thus, we should be careful about the words of the songs we sing. We should even be careful to enunciate the words we sing, so that others can hear and understand. Music that is not understood is not edifying:

What is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Corinthians 14:15-16).

I believe that good Christian music also focuses on the major truths of the faith and that it sets aside the minor issues which are divisive. In our church, a number of staunch Calvinists sing hymns written by the Charles Wesley, without any hesitation or reservation. Why? Because Wesley’s great hymns dwell on the “camels” of the faith and not on the “gnats” (see Matthew 23:23-24). Good Christian music tends to promote the unity of the church, rather than to divide it.

“Singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”

Christian music is not just horizontal—”speaking to one another”—it is also vertical. And so Paul goes on to indicate that the Spirit-filled Christian not only speaks to his fellow-believers in song, but that he also speaks to God. If our theology can be expressed and communicated in song, so can our praise. This praise is not to be thought evident in music that is professionally and flawlessly performed, but in terms of the heart from which it emerges. This is not a justification for poorly performed music, but a reminder that, once again, it is not the outward appearance which matters so much to God and the inward motivation (see Luke 16:15). And because this music flows from the heart, it need not happen only in a congregation, or with accompaniment. It can and should take place all week long.

“Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father”

As indicated earlier, Paul may well be speaking here of that thanksgiving which is expressed musically. The Spirit-filled Christian is evident by his on-going thanksgiving, expressed in the name of Christ to the Father. Such thanksgiving not only recognizes the existence of God, but the sovereign involvement God has in the life of the believer. It recognizes that all that happens in the believer’s life is from God, that every good and perfect gift is from Him (James 1:17), and that even suffering is a gift (Philippians 1:29) which comes from God for our good and His glory (see Romans 5:3-5; 8:28). It recognizes and responds with thanksgiving for God’s gracious involvement in our lives as the result of His fathomless wisdom.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

“Be[ing] subject to one another in the fear of Christ”

Finally, the filling of the Holy Spirit is evident by our submission to one another. This submission ultimately stems from a fear or reverence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not of the one to whom we are in submission. This submission is not just to those who are in authority over us. This submission is mutual—one to another. Since submission is the subject of the next several paragraphs, and of our next several lessons, we will leave this matter here for the time being. Nevertheless, let it be noted that the Spirit is viewed here as the source of our submission one to another, as we see elsewhere (see Philippians 2:1-8).

Conclusion

In this section, Paul has exhorted Christians to walk as those who are wise. He has repeated this command three times, seeking to show what is involved in walking as those who are wise. He has also provided us with those manifestations of the Spirit which bear witness to His presence and control in the life of the Christian.

One test of the Spirit-filled Church and of the Spirit-filled Christian is their music. Notice what Paul gives as a test of the filling of the Spirit. Paul’s benchmarks are not the same as those often employed in the church today. Some think that a church is Spirit-filled when people sing skillfully, dramatically (dancing, for example), or enthusiastically (with clapping or raised hands). Others think that Spirit-filling is evident in restraint in worship and music. They may have a pipe organ, rather than guitars or drums or a keyboard. They may sing slowly and somberly. Neither method of singing sets a given church apart from others as “Spirit-filled.”

What does set apart a Spirit-filled church is that their music is understood as communication both with their fellow-believers and with God. The words which are sung are true to biblical doctrine, indeed, the expression of that doctrine. The “spirituality” of our singing and worship is not how we feel as we sing, but whether or not others are edified and God is glorified. The emphasis is not on us, on our feelings, or on our fulfillment, but on God. We should speak to others about God. We should admonish others not to be disobedient to Him. We should speak with great thanksgiving to God, giving Him praise and glory through Christ.

Spirit-filling is not evident in careless, thoughtless, structure-less spontaneity, but in godly wisdom and in orderliness. It is not seen in those who exalt themselves (even by means of actions and words which seem spiritual), but by submitting ourselves to doing that which edifies and builds up our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us be careful, then, about judging the Spirit’s filling by standards which are worldly or fleshly, rather than in accordance with God’s Word.

Walking wisely involves thought, consideration, prioritizing and planning. It involves choices and disciplined living. It requires us to have a sense of the times in which we live, and a resolve to be good stewards of the opportunities which God gives us in this short period of time which constitutes our earthly sojourn. It shuns foolishness and it seeks to comprehend as fully as possible the plans and purposes of God, and then to subordinate our lives to God’s eternal plans and purposes. It means worshiping wisely, rather than foolishly, and particularly as this relates to music. Our music is to communicate to others so that they are edified, and to communicate with God in grateful worship and praise. It means living sacrificially toward others, seeking their good above our pleasure.

Walking wisely will be evident in the fruits which Paul has described in our text. But where does the walk of wisdom begin? It begins by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God initiates God’s work in us, giving us light and life so that we recognize our foolishness and impending doom. We recognize that it is in Christ that true wisdom is found, and in Him alone. Before you can walk as one who is wise, you must come in simple faith to the “only wise God” through Jesus Christ.

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

54 And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers? (Matt. 13:54).

12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. 13 “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute (Luke 21:12-15).

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 And yet they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking (Acts 6:8-10).

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 16:25-27).127


117 The structure of Ephesians 4:1—6:9 is quite clearly indicated in the text, although many translations do not reflect this. Two key terms indicate the structure. They are only found together (or in close proximity) in chapters 4-6 when they indicate a new paragraph. These terms are “therefore” and “walk.” Thus we find the indication of a new paragraph at Ephesians 4:1, 17; 5:1-2 (“therefore” in verse 1 and “walk” in verse 2); 5:7-8 (“therefore in verse 7 and “walk” in verse 8); and 5:15.

118 Thankfully, the King James Version and the American Standard Version do supply the “ing” ending by their renderings, “submitting” (KJV) and “subjecting” (ASV).

119 Virtually the same expression is found in Colossians 4:5, and yet the NASB renders it differently in these two texts. In Ephesians, it is rendered, “making the most of your time,” while in Colossians it is translated, “making the most of the opportunity.”

120 There is a future “evil day” which is yet to come. Paul refers to this future evil day in Ephesians 6:13. There are also certain times when evil seems to increase. Such as times is referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:26. Here, Paul is speaking of this entire age—until Christ comes—as evil (see Galatians 1:4).

121 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles To The Colossians, To Philemon, And To The Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991 [reprint]), p. 379.

122 “The noun rendered ‘dissipation’ appears also in Tit. 1:6 (where the children of church elders must not be chargeable with dissipation) and 1 Peter 4:4 (in reference to the profligacy which marked the former lives of people recently converted from paganism to Christianity); the corresponding adverb is used of the ‘riotous living’ in which the prodigal son wasted his substance (Luke 15:13).” Bruce, p. 379.

123 Note that being filled with the Spirit is a command. It is also a present imperative, indicating an on-going process, rather than a once for all event.

124 The question here is whether the term “spirit” refers to the human spirit, or to the Holy Spirit. It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit is in view. Hendriksen holds this view:

“Although it is true that the apostle makes use of a word, namely, pneuma, which in the translation should at times be spelled with, at other times without, a capital letter (hence “Spirit” or “spirit”), it should be capitalized in this instance, as is often the case. Paul was undoubtedly thinking of the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy spirit. Evidence in support of this view: a. the expression “filled with” or “full of” the pneuma, when the reference is to the Holy Spirit, is very common in Scripture (Luke 1:15, 41, 67; 4:1; Acts 2:4; 4:8, 31; 6:3; 7:55; 9:17; 13:9); and b. the very contrast here in 5:18 between getting drunk on wine and being fulled with the pneuma occurs also, though in a slightly different form, in Acts 2:4, 13, where the reference can only be to the Holy Spirit.” William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 239.

Bruce adds, “The same phrase, ‘in spirit,’ occurs in three other places in this letter—in Ephesians 2:22, with regard to the new community of believers as the dwelling-place of God; in 3:5, with regard to the revelation of the ‘mystery’ of the new community to God’s ‘holy apostles and prophets’; and in 6:18, with regard to the prayer life of Christians. In three places the Holy Spirit is certainly intended, and equally certainly it is he that is intended here.” F. F. Bruce, p. 380.

125 William Hendriksen, p. 240.

126 In Ephesians 5:20 Paul speaks of giving thanks. In Colossians 3:16 this thankfulness is expressed in song. It would seem then, that Paul may well be thinking of songs of thanksgiving in Ephesians 5.

127 See also 1 Corinthians 1:20-25, 30; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 1:7-8, 15-17; 3:8-10; Colossians 1:9-10; 2:1-3; James 1:5; 3:13-18; Revelation 5:11-12; 7:11-12.

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21. The Meaning of Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:21-32)

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.

Introduction

This week I saw a portion of a television program having to do with a certain species of primates. The gist of what I saw (which was not the program in its entirety) was that some primates, such as the chimpanzee, have a very aggressive and somewhat violent demeanor, while another species manifests a disposition which personifies (dare I use this term?) the hippie slogan of the ’60s: “Make love, not war.”

Noted authorities gave their analysis of the contrasting behavior of these two species. The peaceable primates seemed to substitute sexual activities for more hostile behavior. The peaceful primates were also noted to have sex with either the male or the female of the species, without discrimination.

I was beginning to see where this program was headed, and I was right. These primates are our closest ancestors. Thus, if we wish to understand human behavior, we should study these primates. The inference was now becoming clear: we should learn from the peaceful primates, and model our conduct after them. Promiscuity and perversion are now somehow “good” because they promote peace, or at least they minimize aggressive conduct and violence.

I “violently” (pardon the pun) disagree with both the premise and the conclusion. I do not think that our conduct should be modeled after monkeys (or chimpanzees, and any other primates), and neither do I believe that sexual promiscuity is the solution for violence. But there is one thing I will accept: we must go back to our beginnings as a basis for our behavior. Those who hold to the evolutionary theory of origins would be consistent with their beliefs to look to the primates for keys to understanding human conduct. Those who hold to divine creation, and to the authority of the Scriptures look to the early chapters of Genesis to understand why men behave as they do, and to understand how we should behave so as to please God.

The subject of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:21-33 is that of submission in the context of marriage. Paul’s instructions here create a head-on collision with the beliefs and practices of our culture. Paul’s instructions are written off as the ranting of an ancient male chauvinist. It is one thing for the unbelieving world to reject Paul’s instructions; it is quite another for Christians to do so. And yet many Christians refuse to take Paul’s words seriously. Even some of those who profess to take the Scriptures on face value try to tip toe past passages such as the one we are studying, trying to avoid the stigma of professing and practicing its teaching.

I would like to believe that there are some who have not taken Paul’s words seriously out of ignorance. Unknowingly, they believe Paul’s teaching to be a mere reflection of his culture, and not a timeless teaching, independent of the culture of that day, and of our own. I believe most Christians fail to understand the responsibilities of Christian husbands and wives in the light of the biblical basis which underlies and necessitates them.

Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean. The Lord’s Supper is one of the two ordinances our Lord has given to His church in this age. We are to regularly remember the Lord’s death at communion because He instituted it, He commands it, and the New Testament church devoted itself to a regular observance of it.

Suppose that someone were to suggest that this was merely an ancient celebration, applicable and meaningful only to the saints of days gone by. Instead of perpetuating this ancient ceremony, they tell us, let us do something more meaningful, more enjoyable, more relevant to our culture. Why not have an ice cream and pie supper? Wouldn’t our unsaved friends be more likely to attend? Wouldn’t people find it more beneficial?

Hopefully, we would have enough sense to reject such a foolish proposal. We must first argue that we dare not set aside that which our Lord has instituted, and which His church has continued to practice, from New Testament days onward. We should also point out that the bread and the wine of communion are symbols, symbols of our Lord’s sacrificial death for sinners. If we were to change these symbols radically, we could not do so without modifying the symbolism. Chocolate syrup might taste delicious on vanilla ice cream, but it would hardly replace the wine (or grape juice) as the symbol for Christ’s shed blood.

Like communion, marriage is a divine institution. Christian marriage has certain commitments, obligations and duties which are symbolic. The roles which God has given to a Christian husband and his wife and not culturally derived, nor are they arbitrarily based. They are intended to symbolize and represent a greater, more fundamental reality. While marriage is temporal, the reality which is symbolizes is eternal. And thus we cannot understand the importance of the duties of the husband or the wife without grasping the reality which Christian marriage is to symbolically communicate. This fundamental reality which underlies and explains the attitudes and conduct of a man and his wife in marriage is the relationship of Jesus Christ to His church. This relationship was not understood clearly in Old Testament times. In Paul’s words, it was a mystery. Now, through the teaching of the Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers, this mystery is clear, and our conduct in marriage is to be a reflection of this mystery.

The symbolism of marriage can only be understood in the light of the substance on which a Christian marriage is based: the mystery of Christ’s relationship to His church. For this reason, we will undertake our study of Ephesians 5:21-33 in three segments. The first lesson will focus on the basis for Christian conduct: the relationship of Christ and His church. The second lesson will be a consideration of the responsibilities of the Christian wife. The third will deal with the duties of the Christian husband. If we understand and apply Paul’s teaching, we will discover that one’s attitudes and conduct in a Christian marriage, like every other dimension of the Christian’s life, are dramatically different from those of the world.

The Headship of Christ

22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

The headship of Christ over His church is the first characteristic mentioned by Paul in our text, which is to be symbolized in a Christian marriage. One expression is employed by Paul here to explain how our Lord is the Head of His church—He is the “Savior of the body” (verse 23). In other words, the headship of Christ is evident in the salvation which He accomplished at Calvary.

In the early chapters of Ephesians, Paul has spoken much more fully concerning our salvation in Christ. He has spoken of Christ’s headship no less than three times previously. Consider these texts once again, as Paul surely meant for them to lay the foundation for what he now says concerning the headship of Christ.

In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up128 of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10, emphasis mine).

22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23, emphasis mine).

14 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; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which 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 (Ephesians 4:14-16, emphasis mine).

In his other epistles, Paul adds even more detail to this definition of headship. Consider the following texts:

13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:13-16).

16 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 by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything (Colossians 1:16-18).

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; … 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God (Colossians 2:8-10, 18-19).

From all of these texts, we can identify the following fundamental elements of headship, all of which relate to the submission of the wife to her husband:

(1) Christ is the head of His church as its Creator. Headship has to do with origins. Adam was the head of his wife because she came forth from him (1 Corinthians 11:8). Christ is the Head of the church because He has brought it into existence; the church originates in Christ (Colossians 1:16-18).

(2) Christ is the head of His church as its Sustainer. Headship involves sustenance, and Christ is the Sustainer of the church (Colossians 1:17; 2:19; see also Ephesians 4:15-16).

(3) Christ is the head of His church as its Consummation. All of history is being divinely directed toward the goal of “summing up all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

(4) Christ is the Head of His church by possessing complete authority over it. Headship involves authority. To be the “head” of a company is to be in charge of it. To be the head of the church is to be in authority over it (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:16-18).

(5) Christ is the Head of His church because He has priority over it. Adam is the head of Eve because she was created for his benefit (1 Corinthians 11:9),129 and Christ is the head of the church because the church was created for His benefit. This is a neglected truth, and one which needs to be emphasized in our own times, when men look of God as though His task were to serve us, rather than recognizing that we have been created to serve God.

(6) Christ is the Head of His church because He is the One who is to be preeminent and to receive the glory. Christ is to be the object of our worship, adoration, and praise. He is to be lifted up and exalted. He is to have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).130

Four of the elements of Christ’s headship are drawn together by Paul in Romans, where he writes, “For from Him [origin] and through Him [sustaining] and to Him [consummation] are all things. To Him be the glory [preeminence, praise], forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

The Submission of Christ For His Church

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

It is not easy to think of our Lord as an example of submission. It is one thing to speak of the submission of our Lord to His Father’s will (see John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28; Philippians 2:8). But how can one who is the supreme leader of the church (its head) also be submissive to it? Some may seek to solve this problem by simply denying that our Lord did submit Himself to the church.

To deny our Lord’s submission to the church (as well as to the Father’s will) in order to “protect” His headship is something like denying our Lord’s suffering in order to protect His glory. The Old Testament prophets did not know how to harmonize these two streams of prophecy, but they did know better than to reject one in order to preserve the other (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).

I do not see how we can deny the fact that Jesus did, in some fashion, submit Himself to men. Philippians 2:3-8 certainly seems to include this dimension of our Lord’s submission.

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).

If we are not convinced by Paul’s words in Philippians chapter 2, then let us consider what Peter says in 1 Peter 2 and 3. The context of 1 Peter 2:13–3:7 is surely that of submission. Christians are instructed to submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake (2:13-17). Servants are then told to submit to their masters, especially the unreasonable ones (2:18-20). Christ is then pointed out as our example, in whose steps we should follow:

20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:20-25).

Jesus submitted Himself to wicked and sinful men, so that by so doing He could become the “Shepherd and Guardian” of our souls (2:25). And He submitted Himself silently, without returning evil for evil, even though He suffered unjustly. Immediately following Peter’s reference to our Lord’s submission, he turns to women, urging them to submit (in silence) to their husbands, linking their submission to that of Christ: “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1, emphasis mine).

If wives are to submit to their husbands “in the same way” that Christ submitted Himself to wicked men, then surely we cannot deny that our Lord did submit Himself to men. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will, and to wicked men, to become our Savior.

There is yet one more way that our Lord can be said to “submit” to men. I believe that He submits Himself to the church by seeking its blessing at His expense. I believe that self-sacrifice is a form of submission. This is the submission which I see emphasized in Ephesians 5:25-27, it is the submission of love.

I think the reason why Christians find it difficult to accept the submission of our Lord to His church (Ephesians 5:25-27) and even to wicked men (1 Peter 2:21-25) is that we have come to think of submission only in terms of one’s station or authority, rather than in terms of one’s humility and service. Our Lord’s status and authority was all the reason He would have needed to avoid the cross, but His service to the church as its Savior required His suffering on that cross. Our Lord humbled Himself, not regarding His own personal interests above ours, and thus submitting to the agony of the cross.

The headship of our Lord is not contrary to the cross; it is the consequence of it. Suffering and glory are not opposing truths, but complimentary truths. Our Lord has become the Head of the church by submitting Himself to the Father, to the church, and even to sinful men.

The Unity of Christ and His Church

28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.

The relationship between Christ and His church is a mystery, Paul tells us, a great mystery. Paul has already spoken of this mystery in chapter 2, and especially in chapter 3. Now, he applies this mystery to marriage. A fundamental element of the mystery is the union between Christ and His church.

Think about this. In the Old Testament time, men had to keep their distance from God. They could not approach Mount Sinai when God was giving the Law (Exodus 19:12-13, 21, 24). The people could only approach God through the shedding of the blood, and both in the Tabernacle and the Temple there were barriers established between God and men. Even the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies but once a year.

Little did men dream of the intimacy which God had in mind for His people. Jesus would come to the earth to “tabernacle” among men (John 1:14). He would take on human flesh, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity (Philippians 2:5-8). In Christ, men not only saw God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), they touched Him, and felt His healing touch (1 John 1:1). And when Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, the veil which formerly separated men from God was torn asunder, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). The Lord Jesus became the means of an intimacy with God the Old Testament saints could hardly imagine:

19 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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).

This intimacy was even more than that of being with Him, it was that of being one with Him, of being in Christ (see Ephesians 1 and 2). While men did not grasp this truth, it was nevertheless indicated in the Old Testament in a variety of ways. In this sense, being one with Christ was anticipated in the Old Testament Scriptures, but not comprehended, and thus, a mystery, a great mystery.

In verse 31 Paul turns to a very early indication of this mystery of Christ’s union with His “body,” the church. Here, he cites Genesis 2:24, and immediately informs us that this text refers to Christ and His church. How can this be? Because marriage, from its beginnings, was designed by God to symbolize the relationship of Christ to the church.

In Genesis chapter 2, God created Adam. Adam was given the task of naming all of the animals God had made. As they passed by two by two it became apparent that every male animal had its female counterpart. Adam was conspicuous as the only creature without a corresponding mate. I believe that by this means God created a yearning in Adam for a mate of his own.

And God provided her. But she was not like any other creature in that she was not made from the dust of the earth; she was created instead from Adam’s flesh and bones. God created the woman as Adam’s helpmeet, fashioning her to correspond to him in every way. God then brought the woman to Adam, and presented her to him as his wife. Adam joyfully responded, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23). As creation’s first husband and wife, Adam and Eve symbolized by the marriage the unity of Christ and His church which would be achieved at the cross of Calvary, centuries later.

I have performed many marriage ceremonies, and have often cited the words of Genesis 2:24, but until recently I did not really understand what was meant by those first three words: “For this cause …” Moses instructs us that when a man and a woman come together in marriage, the man is to leave his mother and father and to cleave to his wife, to become one flesh. While there may be practical benefits to a man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife, Moses does not bother to mention them. His words indicate that there is one fundamental reason. This is indicated by the words, “For this reason …”

But what is the reason? The reason is given in the preceding verses. The reason is that the fundamental and primary union evident in the marriage of Adam and Eve is to be reflected in every subsequent marriage, to symbolize the union of Christ and His church, achieved centuries later through the work of Christ.

Adam and Eve had no parents. God created Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s flesh and bone. They began as one flesh through the creation of Eve. This union was also to become evident in their sexual union and in the bearing of children. But the first marriage on earth began with only one relationship, a man and his wife. This husband-wife relationship, Moses indicates to us, is the primary one, and the parent-child relationship (which will follow) is secondary. And so it was that every subsequent marriage was to reflect something of the first marriage and, so to speak, the last, the marriage of Christ to His church.

Conclusion

Our text is based upon a principle, which is vitally important and yet little understood in our times: God has established certain institutions in this world which are earthly symbols of heavenly realities. The nature of the heavenly reality determines the nature of the symbol. Stated briefly the substance dictates the symbol. This inter-relationship between substance and symbol is referred to by the writer to the Hebrews:

1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. 4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; 5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:1-5).

To pervert or the symbol is to distort the picture of the heavenly reality, which it represents. And for this reason, conduct which may not seem to be an abomination by society is regarded by God as that which requires the most severe discipline. This is evident in Paul’s teaching concerning the conduct of the Corinthians at the Lord’s Table. Evils they did not takes seriously were dealt with most severely:

17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God, and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. 23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep (1 Corinthians 11:17-30).

When the Corinthians behaved as they did at the Lord’s Table, they not only violated divine instructions concerning communion, they distorted the symbolic commemoration of our Lord Himself and of His atoning sacrifice for our sins. To disregard God’s instructions concerning symbolic institutions is a sin of the most serious order. What was true of communion is also true of Christian marriage, and of the conduct of the man and the woman as husband and wife. Each has a symbolic role to play, and to ignore, reject, or distort their symbolic duties is a serious matter.

When Paul lays down these instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians chapter 5 he also informs us that these duties are symbolic in nature. Beyond this, he informs us just what it is that we are privileged to symbolize in our role as husband or as wife. The duties which Paul sets down are not a reflection of Paul’s narrowness and chauvinism, as some would say, but the teaching of our Lord Himself, pertaining to matters of great importance. We should expect that these teachings conflict with the values and attitudes of our society. The Christian’s conversion brings about a radical transformation of our thinking and behavior, and this will not be in harmony with a sinful, fallen world. Let us expect reaction to Paul’s teachings. But let us not adopt the thinking of the world in which we live toward these matters. Let us rather obey God’s commands and fulfill our duty to portray heavenly truths, not only to men, but to angels as well:

8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 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; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-12).131132

Christians have become far too casual about the commands of our Lord pertaining to symbolic actions. If such actions do not set well with our desires (the flesh), and are in conflict with the values of our culture (the world), then we pronounce them to be the idiosyncrasies of Paul, or actions related only to that culture and time, or just plain foolishness. In the light of our text, we dare not think this way any longer. There may be a few areas of our Christian life where we have a measure of freedom to change a symbol, so as to make it more pointed to our culture,133 but we have no right at all to disobey, change, or distort God’s symbolic commands when they distort the picture they are to portray concerning the substance.

For those who have chosen to set aside the teachings of Paul and Peter on the roles and responsibilities of husbands, and especially of wives, I have this question. If you have set aside certain biblical commands, duties, and actions, with what have you replaced them? What are you doing which boldly and dramatically reflects the headship of Christ over His church, and the submission of the church to Christ? What are you doing which contradicts the values and attitudes of the world in which we live, so that the dramatic contrast between Christianity and heathenism is underscored? What is it that you have replaced God’s symbols with, which brings about persecution for your identification with Christ and the proclamation of His glorious gospel? I am sad to say that those who have set aside divine duties have not replaced them with anything which challenges and contradicts the world, the flesh, or the devil.

Having spoken as directly and forcibly as I can concerning our duties and responsibilities to carry out our symbolic roles, let me also remind you that these roles are not a reflection on us as persons, but rather are a reflection of Christ and His church. In Christ, there are no distinctions; we are all equal in our standing before Christ:

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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 3:26-28).

Some attempt to use this text in Galatians to undermine the New Testament teaching on submission, particularly the submission of the wife to her husband. Those who seek to do so fail to get the point that while we are all equal in our standing before Christ, our roles differ when we are required to symbolize the submission of the church to Christ. The heavenly reality is one of headship and submission. Our earthly roles as husband and wife are to reflect this headship and submission. But our relationship to Christ is one of equality with every other believer, because we are all saved by His grace and stand justified in Him.

Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean in this way. Suppose that we are all actors in a play. In this play there are many characters, but among them there is a hero and a villain. The actor who is given the role of the villain is not any less a person in his standing because of his role than the one who plays the hero is a better person for doing so. We must distinguish between what we are as a person in Christ and what role we are to portray about Christ and His church. We are all given a role to play, but a subordinate role does not imply an inferior relationship to Christ.

If someone were to protest that the role they have been given to play is beneath them, I would first remind you that we are not worthy of any role. We were, as sinners, worthy only of Christ’s eternal wrath. Any role is a privilege. And, further, let me remind you that in order to achieve our salvation at Calvary, Jesus took on a role which was beneath Him. Finally, I would say to you that the values assigned to our roles by our culture are opposite to those assigned by God. Do you think it demeaning to hold a position of service? Our Lord has taught us that to be the greatest is to serve, and not to be served (Matthew 20:20-28). Why, then, should we agonize about any role which God has graciously given to us?

I must ask one final question of you, my friend. Have you received the salvation which this text calls on Christians to symbolize by their relationship as husbands and wives? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior? As a man seeks out the woman whom he loves and woes her to himself, so Jesus Christ seeks those who will become a part of His bride, the church. He came to the earth, lived a sinless life, manifested God to a sinful world, and then died on the cross of Calvary, bearing the punishment which we deserve for our sins. By trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, we may become one with Christ, a part of His church. Just as a man proposes to the woman of his choice, so God has proposed to you through the gospel. As a woman must accept the proposal of her husband to be, so you must accept God’s offer of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. There is no value in seeking to demonstrate the symbolism of the gospel until you have first received of its substance—Christ Himself. I urge you to trust in Him for your salvation.


128 This expression, “summing up” is a rendering of the verb form of the same term which, in its noun form, means “head.” Thus, the Berkeley Version renders the verse this way: “In keeping with His kind intent as He personally planned for the arrangement by which the times should reach maturity, and everything in heaven and on earth should come to a head in Christ.”

129 Paul goes even further, not leaving this with Adam and Eve, but in stating that woman is created for the man’s sake, that is, that the wife’s is given as the man’s helper, and not the reverse.

130 Note the rendering of the King James Version: “… that in all things He might have the preeminence.”

131 See also Colossians 3:11.

132 See also 1 Corinthians 11:10; 1 Peter 1:10-12.

133 Greeting one another with a holy kiss may be an example. In our culture, we may be able to convey love and care for one another by a handshake, or a hug, if a “kiss” has the appearance of evil in our culture. But the symbolic gesture we set aside should be replaced by another, one that does convey the reality which it is indented to symbolize. Such adaptations should be carefully and prayerfully done, and they will likely be few and far between.

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22. The Submission of the Christian Husband (Ephesians 5:21-32)

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.

Introduction

Ours is a truly intriguing text. The topic is introduced in Ephesians 5:21 and extends to chapter 6, verse 9. One would hardly expect a text on submission to address husbands. Much less would one expect this text to spend much more time instructing husbands than wives. And yet but 3 1/2 verses are addressed to Christian wives, while 8 1/2 verses are written to Christian husbands.

It is not just that this passage on submission spends much time speaking to husbands. The wonder of this text is what Christian husbands are instructed to do. We are not at all surprised by what Paul has to say to wives. They are called upon to symbolically display the submission of the church to its Head, Jesus Christ by their submission to their own husbands. If wives are to reflect the submission of the church to Christ, what would you expect Paul to command the husbands to do?

I would have expected Paul to reason in this way: Husbands are to manifest the headship of Jesus Christ over His church, and thus they are to be the spiritual leaders of their wives. If the wives are commanded to submit, then the husbands surely must be instructed to lead. But they are not. Instead of commanding husbands to lead their wives, Paul instructs them to love their wives.

For Paul, loving takes priority over leading. Why? What is the relationship between leading and loving? Why does Paul command husbands to love, but not to lead? What is it that Christian husbands are responsible to demonstrate in their relationship with their wives? These are the questions which we will seek to answer in our third and final study of Ephesians 5:21-33.

It is only as we come to understand this relationship between loving and leading that we will grasp the vast difference between the servant leadership of Christianity and secular leadership of the world in which we live. Let us look to Him who is both the author and the interpreter of these words, so that we will not only understand, but obey them, to the glory of God.

The Command: “Husbands, Love Your Wives”

If Paul’s command to Christian wives is summed up by the term, “submit,” his command to Christian husbands is summed up by the term, “love.” Husbands are to love their wives according to two models, each of which is introduced by the word “as” (see verses 25 and 28). They are first instructed to love their wives “as Christ also loved the church” (verses 25-27). They are further instructed to love their wives “as their own bodies” (verses 28-32). And so we find in these two models the final keys to the structure of our text, which we can sum up in this way:

A general call to submission (verse 21)
The submission of wives to their husbands (verses 22-24)
The husband’s love for his wife as Christ loved the church (verses 25-27)
The husband’s love for his wife as his own body (verses 28-33a)
The wife’s submission expressed as respect for her husband (verse 33b)

Our Approach

In this study, we will seek to identify the form which the submission of the husband takes in relation to his wife. At the outset we must grant that all appearances indicate that the husband’s submission is expressed in terms of his love. The love of the husband is compared to (a) the love of Christ for His church, and (b) the love a man has for his own body. We will begin by considering the love of Christ for His church. We will then turn to the love of a man for his own body. After this, we will seek to crystallize the relationship between leadership and love, and pursue some of the practical implications of this relationship.

The Love of Christ for His Church
(5:25-27 )

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

The love of the Father was demonstrated through the sacrificial death of the Son:

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).

As Paul wrote in Romans,

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

There may be a sense in which we may say that God loves the whole world (see John 3:16), but the love which the husband is to have for his wife is not all-encompassing; it is a selective love. The love of Christ which we husbands are to imitate is a love for the church. Christ, our Model, “loved the church” and “gave Himself up for her.” His love in Christ was a selective love, or, to put the matter in theological terms, it is an elective love. Christ died to save those whom the Father had chosen in eternity past (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

When a man sets his heart upon a woman whom he desires to be his wife, he sets her apart from all other women. He seeks companionship with her, with the goal of making her his wife. While he can love his neighbor, and even his enemy, his love for his wife is unique. It sets her apart from all other women. In the Bible, this special love is contrasted with hate (see Psalm 97:10; Amos 5:15; Matthew 6:24; Romans 9:13). When we love our wife with the kind of love which Christ has for His church, we love her and “hate” all others.

There are those who bristle at the doctrine of election. This is the doctrine that God chooses only some to be saved. The Scriptures are quite clear that God chooses whom He will save, and that only those whom He has chosen and drawn will be saved (see John 6:37, 44, 65; 15:16; 17:2, 24; Acts 13:48; 16:14).

Those who reject the doctrine of election cannot conceive of a “loving God” who will not save all. They define “love” differently from the Scriptures, for in the Bible loving someone sets them apart from others. You cannot “love” someone or something without also “hating” something else.

Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED” (Romans 9:13). Election is the expression of love, for love sets the object of love apart.

Paul continues to spell out the way in which a husband’s love for his wife is to be Christ-like. As the love of Christ for His bride, the church, was selective, it was also sacrificial. Christ “gave Himself up” for the church. Christ died on the cross of Calvary, suffering in the sinner’s place, bearing our punishment for sin and satisfying His Father’s holy wrath toward the sinner.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

He [God] 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).

The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming Messiah in sacrificial terms (see Isaiah 52:13–53:12), and so it was at the outset of His public ministry that Jesus was introduced by John the Baptist as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The writer to the Hebrews has much to say about the sacrificial aspects of our Lord’s earthly ministry (see chapter 9). In our text, Paul sums up the sacrificial nature of our Lord’s work on behalf of His church by telling us that He “gave Himself up for her” (verse 25). The kind of love which God requires of husbands involves sacrifice. We cannot love our wives as Christ loved the church without sacrifice.

According to Paul, the selective and sacrificial work of Christ was for a two-fold purpose. Each of these two purposes is introduced by the word “that” in verses 26 and 27.

26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

Christ gave Himself up for the church so that she might be cleansed and purified, that she might become holy. Paul reveals not only the goal of the church’s purification, but the means. I have wondered at Paul’s choice of words. Why does he tell us that the church has been cleansed by the “washing of water with the word”? Is the church not purified and sanctified by the shed blood of Christ? By all means (see Hebrews 9:11-14; 1 Peter 1:2, 18-19).

The imagery of “washing” is also one that is found elsewhere in relationship to our salvation, or our cleansing from sin (see Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:11). But of particular interest is Paul’s reference here to the “word.” Jesus told His disciples that they were clean because of the word which he spoke to them (John 15:3). The gospel is a cleansing agent, for it is the good news of Christ’s atoning death at Calvary. The Word is a cleansing agent also for sanctification (John 17:17).

But why the emphasis here on the Word of God as the means by which the church is saved and sanctified? A friend of mine, Craig Nelson, suggested the reason. It is because the Word of God is the instrument by which the husband may contribute to the spiritual growth and sanctification of his wife. I believe that this is a mandate for men, an implied command to be men of the word, if they are to contribute to the spiritual development of their wives. How does a husband seek to edify and build up his wife? In the same way the apostles and elders seek to promote the growth and maturity of the church—by devoting themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).

The first goal of Christ’s sacrificial ministry to the church was her spiritual growth and purity—her salvation and sanctification. The second goal of Christ’s sacrificial ministry is divinely self-serving. While one of Christ’s goals was to bless some with salvation and sanctification, His ultimate goal is not man-centered, but God-centered. Christ’s sacrificial ministry to the church was for his own glory. The church has been called out, set apart, cleansed and sanctified. The church is not yet complete in terms of her number, nor in terms of her glorification. The church is being prepared as a bride. The ultimate goal of our salvation and sanctification is to be presented to Him, perfect and complete, as His bride, to His glory. The glory of God is the ultimate goal of Christ’s sacrifice, not the blessing of mankind. How easily we lose sight of this reality. How clear it is in Ephesians that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of God’s eternal plan (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

The Love of Christ For His Body
(5:28-33a )

28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself

Verses 25-33 deal with the duties of the Christian husband toward his wife. On the surface, it would seem that the husband’s role is likened to two different models (introduced by “as,” verses 25, 28), the love of Christ for His church (verses 25-27) and the love which a man has for his own body (verses 28-33). In reality, these two models merge, so that the central focus is Christ, and the primary obligation of the husband is to imitate Christ by sacrificially and tenderly caring for his wife.

In verses 25-27, Paul reasoned from the model for marriage to the mandate for the husband. He began by describing the sacrificial love of Christ for His church, and then called upon Christian husbands to demonstrate this same love toward their own wives. He reasoned from the divine to the human. In verses 28-33, Paul’s reasoning is reversed. He begins with the husband’s love for his wife and then concludes with Christ’s love and union with His church. He starts with marriage and ends with the mystery of marriage.

In his instructions to the Christian wife, Paul selected one prominent feature of the relationship of Christ and His church—that of His headship over the church, and of the husband’s headship over his wife. Contrary to our expectations, when Paul addresses husbands the matter of Christ’s headship is set aside, replaced by another dimension of Christ’s relationship to the church—love. Paul makes the love of Christ for his church the pattern for the conduct of the husband in relationship to his wife. The central focus is now the sacrificial love of Christ toward His church. Thus, it is not “leadership” which is most prominent in our text, but “love.”

It would seem at first glance that Paul leaves Christ and His church behind at verse 28, turning to something a man can identify with easily, his self-love. This love is not the kind of love which is so prominent today—a psychological self-love, but a very practical, tender care which we show toward our own bodies.

This reference to love for one’s own body is not a new and novel thought. It is rather a reality which is taken for granted, and which is referred to by our Lord in the Gospels:

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’” (Matthew 22:35-39, emphasis mine).

I believe that Paul’s words in our text are a further commentary on the words of our Lord in the Gospels. The love of self to which our Lord and Paul refer are the tender care which we give to our own physical bodies. Thus, the husband’s care for his wife is related to the care which we have for our neighbor, and likened to the care which we show to our own bodies.

The care which a man has for his wife should go above and beyond that care which we show to our neighbor. The reason for this is found in our text. We are to love our neighbor in a way that is like the way we love and care for our own bodies, but we love our wife as what she really is, a part of our own body.

Two truths merge in verses 28-33. The first truth is that of the union of Christ and His body, the church. The church is the body of Christ. By faith, we are one with Christ. The husband’s love for his wife is to reflect the unity of Christ and his church. But there is another unity which is directly related to the husband and the wife, the unity of the husband and the wife as one flesh at creation.

Paul places these two truths side by side in our text. We are members of His body (verse 30). But in addition, the husband and wife are also “one body,” not only in their physical union (see 1 Corinthians 6:15-20), but in the original union of Adam and Eve. And so Paul cites Genesis 2:24 in verse 31 of Ephesians 5. As we see in Genesis 2, the words cited are in response to the creation of Eve out of Adam’s own flesh (Genesis 2:22-23). Marriage, at the beginning, was the joining of a man and his wife. Since there were no parents involved in the creation of Adam and Eve, and since Eve was made from the flesh and bones of Adam, the union of a man and his wife is primary, and that of a man and his parents is secondary. For this cause, every man who marries must leave his parents and cleave to his wife, for the unity of a man and his wife is deeper and stronger than the unity between a child and his parents.

This first marriage was a prototype of the ultimate marriage, the marriage of Christ and His church. As Eve was created out of Adam’s side, the church was begotten through the wounding of the Lord Jesus. And so the Lord Jesus loves and cares for His church tenderly, because she is, indeed, His flesh. And the husband, too, must love his wife as his own body, because she is also one with him. The two become one flesh. Paul has not left the model of Christ and the church in verses 28-33, but he has underscored it, by turning to the original marriage of Adam and Eve, and pointing out its model of the ultimate marriage, brought about by the Savior, centuries later.

The Relationship Between Leading, Loving, and Submission

Throughout our study of Paul’s instructions to the Christian husband, the terms for “leader,” “leadership,” and “authority” have not been mentioned. The key word which sums up Paul’s exhortation for husbands is not “leadership” but “love.” And so we are back to our initial question: “Why does Paul speak to husbands about loving, rather than about leading?”

The starting point is our Lord Himself, in His relationship to the church, His bride. Few would debate the fact that our Lord took the initiative and the leadership in the salvation and the sanctification of the church. The important thing to notice in our text is where Paul places his emphasis in his account of our Lord’s winning of His bride. The motive is clearly love, and the manifestation of that love is servanthood, expressed in His sacrificial “giving up” of Himself at Calvary. It was our Lord’s love which prompted Him to lead as a servant, and thus to accomplish the salvation and sanctification of the church.

It is the love of our Lord which prompted Him to subordinate His own rights and privileges, and to condescend to taking on human flesh, and then to death on Calvary. In His first coming, Jesus not only submitted Himself to the will of the Father (see Matthew 26:39), He also submitted His interests to the interests of lost sinners, whom He would save by His death, burial, and resurrection:

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).

What is most difficult for us to grasp is the fact that our Lord actually submitted Himself to the church in His coming and on His cross. Yet this is precisely what Peter indicates in his first epistle. In challenging the saints to live in submission, he turns to Christ as our example of submission, a submission which is to the church:

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives (1 Peter 2:18–3:1).

Peter begins by calling for Christians to submit themselves to those institutions and leaders which God Himself has ordained (1:13-17). He then turns to slaves, and instructs them to submit to their masters, not just the kind ones, but the cruel ones as well (1:18-20). He then calls our attention to Christ, who is our example of submission. Not only did He submit to human government in his death, but He submitted Himself to us as well, to bring about our salvation (see 1:21-25). Wives, then are addressed in chapter 3, and Peter’s first words are, “In the same way, you wives be submissive to your own husbands …” Christ, then, is our model for submission, and that submission goes beyond submission to the Father, to include men.

The relationship between loving and leading is dramatically illustrated in the lives of our Lord’s disciples. Throughout the gospels, from the beginning to the end, they were constantly pressing Jesus as to when He would establish His kingdom. The reason was because they were eager for the position, prestige, and power they believed that this would bring them. In other words, they could not wait to become leaders in this kingdom.

Their ambition and hunger for power was so great that they even sought to surpass their fellow-disciples in position. They argued with one another as to who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37). The disciples wanted to force others to get in line behind them (Mark 9:38). James and John got their mother to appeal to Jesus that He give them the two top positions (Matthew 20:20-28).

Jesus frequently instructed His disciples that Christian leadership was vastly different from secular leadership. Service was greatness, and not being served (see Matthew 20:25-28). As the time of His death grew very near, Jesus did not speak to His disciples about leadership, but about love. He washed the disciples’ feet, setting an example for them of the way in which leadership should be expressed, and the humility which a leader should possess (John 13:1-11). Over and over in His upper room discourse (John 13-17), Jesus spoke about love.

After His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples on several occasions during those 40 days before His ascension. One of the most significant for us is His appearance to Peter and some of the disciples, as recorded in John chapter 21. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, and three times Peter affirmed his love. And after each of Peter’s affirmations, Jesus responded, “Tend My Sheep” (with some small variations).

I believe that this text in John is critical to our understanding of the relationship between loving and leading. Peter was, like his fellow-disciples, intent of becoming a leader. Jesus persisted in speaking to him, and the others, about becoming “lovers.” They were to be distinguished by their love one for another (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17). Jesus did not speak to Peter about leadership, per se, but about loving. If Peter loved Jesus, then He would tend His sheep. Peter’s love would result in his leadership, in his servant-leadership (see 1 Peter 5:1-4).

It was not just Peter and the disciples who were wrongly motivated in the matter of leadership. We can see the problem in the churches of the New Testament. There certainly was competition evident in the church at Philippi (see Philippians 1:12-18; 2:1-8; 19-23; 4:2-3), and John also mentions it in his 3rd epistle (3 John 9-10). The church at Corinth was characterized by its factions and its factional leaders (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-17; 4:6). Certain spiritual gifts were touted as superior to other gifts (although in the wrong order—see 1 Corinthians 12:20-25), and this led some to elevate themselves above others. The solution to the problem of power-hungry leaders is found in 1 Corinthians 13—in love.

Interestingly enough, the church at Ephesus would later have a love problem as well. In the Book of Revelation, a short letter is addressed to the church at Ephesus. In many regards, the church was to be commended for its leadership in recognizing false teachers and in dealing with error. Their one great failure was in the area of love:

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 ‘Remember therefore 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—unless you repent. 6 ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God’” (Revelation 2:1-7).

I believe that what Paul teaches husbands in this text is based upon an important principle, which can be summarized in this way: “Love expresses itself in servant (submissive) leadership, which seeks the benefit and blessing of another at one’s own expense.” It dare not be assumed that those who set their hearts on leading will love and serve those under their authority. It can be assumed that those who love will serve by leading, in a way that benefits others at the leader’s expense.

The other night, I watched this principle in action. Our church was having an ice cream social and skit night. One of the skits was a “banana eating contest.” Several women were selected from the audience, blindfolded, and then told that they were to see which one of them could eat the most bananas in a designated time. What wasn’t said was that, by previous arrangement, all of the contestants would silently get up and sit down in the audience, leaving only one person on stage, eating her bananas. The woman who was left behind to eat all the bananas was eating as quickly as she could. She began to choke up, and was having trouble swallowing.

I was sitting behind her husband, who became more and more restless. By the time this skit ended, the husband was out of his seat, standing in the aisle, ready to end it. He loved his wife and probably didn’t appreciate the fact that she was put in that situation. While she was being a good sport, he was acting in love, taking leadership that was for the protection and care of his wife. This “lover” didn’t need to be exhorted to “lead,” his love prompted him to lead. Lovers will not hesitate to lead, for the benefit of those under their care, and thus they do not need to be instructed to lead, only to love. Love will lead the way to the blessing of the one loved, at the expense of the lover. And thus love submits itself to the interests of the one loved in servant-leadership.

Conclusion

Submission has the same spirit and the same essence, but it is expressed in different ways. It is not appropriate for a father to manifest submission by obeying his child, or for a master to obey his slave. Those who are given leadership positions demonstrate their submission by becoming servant-leaders, motivated by love. In general terms, submission is demonstrated upward (toward those in authority over us) by fear (respect) and obedience, while submission is demonstrated downward (to those under our authority) by a spirit of servanthood which is evident in our leadership.

Paul’s teaching to both husbands and wives should cause us to be very discerning about the content of the “how-to” books on marriage. Paul’s teaching on marriage is not like the teaching of most marriage manuals. Most books on marriage are based on this kind of motivation: “How can I have a successful, happy, and fulfilling marriage?” The Bible starts with a very different motivation: “What is God’s purpose for marriage, and how can my conduct as a husband or wife fulfill this purpose and thus bring glory to God?” Let us not deceive ourselves by thinking that following Paul’s teaching will guarantee a happy a fruitful marriage. It could lead to a divorce, as Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 indicates. Being a godly husband or wife doesn’t assure you of having a happy and successful marriage. Righteousness often leads to persecution and suffering, and this may happen at home (see Matthew 10:34-36; see Micah 7:6).

The marriage manuals seem to equate loving your wife with making her happy, and so they encourage husbands to wash the dishes and to do the kinds of things which wives desire. This is not bad, in and of itself. We should seek to please our mate (see Romans 15:1), but our ultimate goal is to contribute to her purity and godliness. This may require decisions and actions which are not welcomed and are certainly not warm and fuzzy. If our Lord has chosen to employ suffering for the purification of his church (see Romans 5; 8; Hebrews 12), then surely the husband may also chose the uncomfortable way as a means to godliness for himself and his wife.

It is sometimes said that if the husband were the kind of spiritual leader he should be, the submission of the wife would be easy. How “easy” is it for us to follow Christ’s leadership? From Romans chapter 7, I would have to say it is impossible. It is only as we “walk in the Spirit” (Romans 8:1), as we are “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) that we can and will love our wives and submit to our husbands, “in the Lord.”

May God grant that each of us carry out our part in acting out the gospel to a lost and dying world, and to the angelic watchers, as we are filled by His Spirit.

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Passage: 

23. The Submission of the Christian Wife (Ephesians 5:21-32)

21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.

Introduction

Several years ago, I was speaking at a missions conference in India. We were riding in a van, on our way to tent where the conference was being held. We noticed several ladies walking beside the road whom we knew to be going to the conference, and so we stopped to give them a ride. The seat of the van were already filled. There was a box on floor that I had been using for a seat. When the ladies entered the van, I started to sit on the floor, so that one of the women could use the box to sit on. A godly older man, who was one of the officers of the mission, strongly resisted my efforts to sit on the floor. He wanted to give up his seat, so that I would not give up mine. I will never forget what he said, “If you sit on the floor, I shall lie on it.”

In his mind, I was a guest speaker, and thus I had to be given a place of honor. It was bad enough that I should be sitting on a box, but when I attempted to sit on the floor, that was going too far. He would not hear of it. He must be in a lower position than I, so if I sat on the floor, he would have had to lie down.

This man not only knew about submission, he was committed to practice it. I would that every one of us would be as committed to practice submission as my Indian friend. For him, submission was a way of thinking and a way of life. He looked for those occasions where his submissive spirit could work its way out in practice. Our text not only calls for acts of submission, it calls for this same kind of submissive spirit, not just from wives, who submit to their husbands, but from every Christian, as they submit one to another.

In our first study of Ephesians 5:21-33, we concentrated on the symbolic nature of marriage, and of the way in which it demonstrates the relationship of Jesus Christ to His church. In this lesson, we will devote our attention to the duty of the wife to submit to her husband, a reflection of the submission of the church to Christ. In our next study of these verses we will concentrate on the submissive spirit of the husband in relation to his wife.

The Structure of the Text

 

(21) and be subject

to one another

in the fear of Christ.

(22) Wives, be subject

to your own husbands,

as to the Lord.

(24)…the wives ought to be (subject)

to their husbands in everything.

(24)…as the church is subject to Christ,

   

(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.

(33b) and let the wife see to it

that she respect her husband.

 

 

Of the 13 verses which constitute our text, only 3 1/2 verses are directed to the wives, while the remaining verses are directed toward the husbands. The verses which address the wives manifest a certain pattern or structure, which I have attempted to demonstrate above.134 Submission is called for in the first column; the focus of that submission is indicated in the second column, and then the standard is recorded in the third column. While there are many who do not like what Paul has to say to wives in these verses, there is little doubt as to what he has written. He begins with the general command in verse 21, and then applies it to wives in verses 22-24 and 33b. He repeats his instructions three times, each time giving more detail as to what is required of the godly Christian wife is she is to be in submission to her husband.

The Command: Be Subject135

The difficulty with understanding Paul’s command to wives to “be subject” to their own husbands is that our grasp of the meaning of the word “submit” is too narrow. Generally speaking, we think that the word “submit” is synonymous with the word “obey.” We are inclined to restrict submission to refer only to our response to those who are in authority over us. Very often, this is the case—but not always. Paul’s instruction in verse 21 is directed to every believer. Christians, without exception, are to “be subject to one another,” without any exceptions. Submission, then, must not only work “upward” (in terms of authority), but also downward. And so it is that submission is called for on the part of husbands to their wives (5:22-33), fathers to their children (6:1-4), and masters to their slaves (6:5-9).

Delling, in his article on the Greek word underlying the term “submit,” writes as follows: “In the first instance, then, hupatassomai does not mean so much ‘to obey’—though this may result from self-subordination—or to do the will of someone but rather ‘to lose or surrender one’s own rights or will.136 In the NT the verb does not immediately carry with it the thought of obedience … 137

The idea implicit in the term is “to place under” (in the active voice).138 As it is found in our text, the idea would be, “to subordinate oneself” or “to place oneself under.” In general terms, submission is the placing of oneself under the one to whom we submit. Since we are commanded to submit ourselves one to another, we are to place all others above ourselves. This idea is certainly not foreign to the New Testament, nor is it found only where the term “submit” is employed:

3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8).

1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me” (Romans 15:1-3).

I doubt that any one word can sum up the essence of what the Scriptures mean by submission. Let me suggest several words, each of which identifies a certain element of submission. The first word is “surrender.” Submission is a voluntary act or surrendering one’s rights or will. The second word is” sacrifice.” The third is “service.” The service which is rendered those to whom we submit often involves a sacrifice. It costs us something to render service to the other person. A fourth term is “authority,” while a fifth is “obedience.” When we submit to one who has authority over us, we should evidence this submission, in part, by our obedience. Conversely, when we submit to those under our authority, we evidence this with sacrificial service. I final term is “priority.” Those to who we submit have, in some manner, priority over us, our rights, our pleasure, or our will.

I believe that the difficulty we find in defining submission is due, in part, to the fact that while submission is the same in its essence, it may differ greatly in its expression, depending on the context it is found. A wife’s submission to her husband is manifested differently than a child’s submission to its parents, or a slave’s submission to his master. One’s submission to a person in authority over him is expressed differently from his submission toward one who is under his authority. A wife’s submission to her husband is modeled after the church’s submission to Christ, while her husband’s submission is to be modeled after Christ’s headship over the church.

The Scope of the Wife’s Submission

The submission of women is addressed in two general contexts in the New Testament. The first is the submission of women to men in the context of the church which is corporately gathered. This is the basis for Paul’s instructions to women in 1 Timothy chapter 2 and in 1 Corinthians chapter 14. The second context for the submission of the woman is that of marriage. This is the context for the submission which Paul calls for in our text in Ephesians chapter 5.

In our next lesson, we will address the subject of the submission of the husband as the head of his wife. In this lesson, we are dealing with the submission of the wife to her husband as her head in marriage. This text does not require a general submission of all women to all men. It requires the submission of a wife to her own husband.

The woman is to “put herself under” the headship of her husband, her own husband. This word “own” indicates that while there may be other expressions of submission which are necessary and appropriate for a wife to evidence in her relationships with others, there is a special “submission” which is required in relationship to her husband. The same exclusiveness can be seen in the practice of “love.” We are to love everyone, including our enemy, our neighbor, and our brothers in Christ. But the “love” of a woman for her husband is special and unique. Her love for others is of the same essence, but not the same expression.

In our text, the scope of the wife’s submission is limited to her own husband. There are not restrictions specified or implied as to the scope of her submission to her husband. This text requires that the woman be subject to her own husband “in everything.” Does Paul mean for us to take his instruction literally?

Initially, I was inclined to think otherwise. I was inclined to take Paul’s teaching on the submission of the wife here in a way that was similar to our Lord’s teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:3-12. In that text, Jesus was asked to elaborate on the exceptions, to specify in what exceptional cases divorce could be sought. Jesus refused, turning his questioners attention to the rule, rather than to the exceptions. This was not because there were no exceptions (see Matthew 5:32), but because undue attention to the exceptions would weaken the rule. Permanence in marriage is not only the ideal but the norm, and divorce is never to be given the status of that which is expected. Consequently, I was convinced that Paul was speaking in a similar way here: “Yes, there are exceptions, when submission is impossible, but this is not to be the norm.” I’ve changed my mind on this. Paul’s words, “in everything,” seem to set aside any exceptions.

But what about those texts which indicate that we cannot “submit”? What about the civil disobedience of Peter and the apostles, when they told the religious leaders of Jerusalem, “We must obey God rather than men”? My answer is that the apostles disobeyed, but they did not cease to be submissive. A godly wife may not be able, before God, to obey her husband’s every demand, especially if he is not a Christian. But in her disobedience, she can still be submissive in spirit.

Let me illustrate what I am saying from the life of a very godly woman, whose name was Abigail, as found in 1 Samuel chapter 25. Abigail was married to a fool who was fittingly named Nabal (which means “fool”). Her husband was a rich man, with many cattle. David and his men hid out in the hills where Nabal lived and kept his flocks. During the time of David’s presence, Nabal suffered no losses, and gained from the protection offered by David and his men. And yet when David asked for an expression of appreciation from Nabal at the time of the sheering of the sheep, Nabal hotly refused.

David was greatly angered, and set out to kill not only Nabal, but every male associated with his household. Abigail knew that her husband has refused to give David what he had asked for. She knew that he would forbid what she was about to do. Nevertheless, Abigail went out to meet David, along with the gifts which David had asked for. She acknowledged to David that her husband was a fool, and pled for David not to commit evil by shedding blood, thereby adversely affecting His future reign as Israel’s king. David listed to her and took her gifts. And later, after God struck Nabal dead, he took her as his own wife.

How can we justify Abigail’s actions, in the light of Paul’s teaching? How could her actions possibly be an illustration of submission? They certainly were not acts of obedience. In the text of 1 Samuel 25, Abigail is spoken of in the most favorable way (see 25:3). David would hardly have married her if she were not a godly woman. The key to understanding the actions of Abigail is to understand the essence of what submission is. Submission is “placing yourself under” another. Submission, as I have already indicated, is not always expressed in obedience.

Abigail placed herself under Nabal (her husband), as well as under David (as God’s king to be). Abigail placed her own interests below those of her husband. She could not defend or support the decision of her husband, because he was wrong. She placed herself at risk, to save his life. She went out to meet the man who was angry and ready to kill. She pled with David for her husband’s life, and asked that the blame be hers. What better thing could she do for her husband?

How easy it would have been for her to fulfill the appearance of submission. She could have embraced her husband’s evil decision to reject and to humiliate David, the future king of Israel. She could have chosen to do nothing, once she realized that David was coming to kill Nabal and the other men in his household. And by this “appearance of submission” she would have been rid of this man who was a fool. Doing nothing would have been to her advantage, and acting as she did put her at great risk. By doing nothing, her husband would have died, but by her intercession his life was spared. This is true submission, acting on behalf of another, for their benefit, at your expense.

When Paul speaks of the wife being in submission to her own husband, in everything, he means that she need never cease to be submissive in spirit, even if she must disobey him in a specific area. He means also that wives should not attempt to compartmentalize their lives, setting certain areas “off limits” to submission. One can quickly see how we as members of the church would be tempted to do so in relation to our Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. The wife’s submission to her own husband is to be complete, across the board, without exception.

The Basis of the Wife’s Submission

23 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. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

In verses 23 and 24, Paul writes that the basis for the submission of the wife to her own husband is the duty of the church in relationship to its Head, Jesus Christ. In our first study of this text, we emphasized the symbolic function of Christian marriage. From its inception in the Garden of Eden, marriage has served as a symbol of the relationship of Christ and His church. Marriage, even in Old Testament times, anticipated the day when Jesus Christ would come to the earth to die on the cross of Calvary to purchase a bride for His own possession.

In the marriage relationship, it is the husband’s privilege to portray the headship of Christ over the church by his loving and sacrificial leadership. The wife’s privilege and high calling is to symbolically represent the church in its submission the Lord Jesus Christ, its Head. The husband symbolizes Christ headship, while the wife symbolizes the submission of the church to her Head. The divinely appointed role of marriage as a symbol of Christ and the church is therefore the basis for the attitudes and behavior of both the husband and the wife.

Guiding Principles For Wife’s Submission

Three statements in our text supply the guiding principles for the submission of the wife to her husband:

“in the fear of Christ” (verse 21)
“as to the Lord” (verse 22)
“as the church is subject to Christ” (verse 24)

Notice the central and common element in all three statements: Christ. Submission in all of its expressions (wife, husband, father, child, slave, master) is rendered “in the fear of Christ” and “as to the Lord.” Our submission to others is a reflection and outworking of our submission to Christ. And so it is the children are instructed to obey their parents “in the Lord” (6:1), and slaves are exhorted to obedience to their masters “as to Christ” (6:5) and “as to the Lord” (6:7).

It is also significant to note what is not said. Nowhere in this text is anything said about any “qualifications” which the husband must meet, before the wife submits to him in everything. It is not said that he must be a Christian. In a similar text in 1 Peter 3:1-7, the submission of the wife is required even if the husband is “disobedient to the word” (3:1).139 For the wife to submit, her husband does not have to be intelligent, wise, or a “spiritual leader.” The fact that he is her husband is the only qualification given. As such, the wife’s submission to him is a reflection of the submission of the church to Christ. If the husband utterly fails to fulfill his obligations as laid down by Paul, this in no way relieves the wife of her obligation to submit to him. Indeed, her submission becomes all the more striking as his leadership proves to be poor.

In verse 24 Paul instructs wives that their submission to their own husbands is to be like (“as”) that of the church to Christ. This guiding principle is the most suggestive of the three. It is not, however, the kind of “how to” instruction which Christians seem to demand today. It does not have a list of duties. It does not provide us with clever techniques for proper submission.

Why not? Because this kind of “how to Christianity” comes dangerously close to legalism, and it looks a great deal like the mechanical religion of the Pharisees in the New Testament. Paul’s instructions are not given to us to make submission easy, but to challenge us to godly living. Let me suggest some of the implications of Paul’s less than specific instruction.

First, in order to obey Paul’s command to be submissive, the Christian wife must understand biblical doctrine. Christ, Paul has said, is the “Savior of the body” (verse 23). The husband is to be, to the wife, like Christ is to the church. This means that she must understand the doctrine of salvation. She must live with her husband as the church lives toward Christ. Thus, she must also understand the doctrine of the church. At the very least (because there are other Scriptures than Ephesians), the godly Christian woman must understand the relationship of Christ and His church as laid down in chapters 1-4.

In addition to serious study of the Scriptures, the godly wife must meditate upon the Scriptures, to discern how the relationship of Christ and His church is to be played out by her conduct in relation to her husband and her marriage. From this study and meditation, the wife must determine what specific actions are required and come to some personal convictions about those matters which are not clearly defined by Scripture. She must grow in faith, trusting that God is leading her and sanctifying her, not only when her husband plays his role well, but when he does not. No simple rules will give her all the answers, and thus Paul does not attempt to give them.

From a related passage in 1 Peter chapter 3, we can identify three examples of the wife’s submission, as outlined by Peter:

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 And let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear (1 Peter 3:1-6).

The first example of submission is that of the silence140 of the wife. Following the example set by none other than our Lord (1 Peter 2:21-25), wives should not try to convince or convert their disobedient husbands by their words, but by means of their silence and their godly demeanor. The ungodly woman would seek to change her husband by nagging him (see Proverbs 19:13; 27:15), but the godly woman leaves change to God.

The second example of submission is found in the appearance and demeanor of the wife. The “chaste” behavior of the wife is yet another manifestation of a submissive spirit. In the context of Peter’s instruction of wives who would be godly, “chaste” behavior is reflected in the dress and appearance of the woman. The ungodly woman, like the world in which she lives, is obsessed with outward appearances, rather than with inward character (see Matthew 6:1-18; 23:25-26; Luke 16:15).

Much emphasis is placed upon dress and cosmetics, rather than upon qualities of the spirit. In the culture of the New Testament church, women dressed in a way that did not draw attention to themselves. Instead of “dresses” (1 Peter 3:3), they would wear a more generic robe. Heads were covered as well as the rest of the body. Women who wished to be prominent might not find verbal assertiveness acceptable, and so they would turn to the more subtle and silent devices. Dresses which revealed much more of their “curves” and adornments which were sure to catch the eye were worn. And the results were assured. People would take note, and they would become the focus of attention.

Modesty, on the other hand, would not draw attention to oneself, and thus the prominence which should bear witness to the husband’s headship would be given to him. I should add that a woman’s attire and appearance can attract attention backhandedly as well. A woman whose clothing is disheveled and disorderly, and whose appearance would qualify her for a staring role in a horror movie will also get attention. Whether it be by means of fancy clothing and heavy makeup or by means of atrocious clothing and no makeup, the affect produced can be the same—attention gained at the expense of the husband.

The third example of a wife’s submission is that of reverence or respect for her husband. This is not only singled out by Peter (1 Peter 3:2, 4), but also by Paul in our text (Ephesians 5:33b). How easy it is for a wife to subtly indicate a spirit of disrespect by her attitudes and by her actions. I have often seen this done in what seems to be a very spiritual manner: “Please pray that my husband will become the spiritual leader in our home.” The inference is that he is nothing but an unspiritual slob, who is unworthy of respect (or submission).

Conclusion

Whether our culture agrees with Scripture or not—whether we agree with Paul or not—the clear teaching of this text, supported by other equally clear instructions from Scripture, is that wives are to be subject to their own husbands in everything. The basis for the wife’s submission is the relationship of Jesus Christ and His church. The purpose of her submission is to symbolically demonstrate the submission of the church to her Head, Jesus Christ. To fail to submit is to disobey our Lord, to dishonor the word of God (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5), and to distort the representation of Christ and His church, not only to the world, but to the angelic witnesses as well (see 1 Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 3:8-11; 1 Peter 1:12).

By inference, our text has much to say to the young woman who is considering marriage. A commitment to marriage to a young man is the commitment to a lifetime of submission to that man. If there is any one question which should be in a young woman’s mind concerning marriage it is this one: “Is this the kind of man I want as my “head,” to whom I will submit in all things for the rest of my life?” Surely our text suggests the necessity of premarriage counseling, so that an independent, objective third party can help in arriving at the answer.

Once in marriage, this question must be laid aside. The man you have married is the man to whom you must submit. This is not due to any merit on his part, not because he is a good leader and deserves to be followed, but because he, as your husband, is the picture of Christ in your marriage, as you are the picture of His church.

If there were ever a picture of a person who refused to submit, it would be Sadam Hussein. Here is a man who defied the United Nations, and was subsequently defeated in war. And yet, even in defeat, Sadam persists to refuse to allow the inspection of sights suspected to contain weapons of mass destruction. He resists submission to the full.

Do we think we are any different than he, in the final analysis? We are not. We, too, resist the necessity of submission as though it were the most horrible requirement. The world (or culture) in which we live is adamant in its resistance to the teachings of Scripture regarding the submission of wives to their husbands. Our own flesh resists subordination to the interests of others, insisting on seeking self-interests first. And the devil persists, as he has done from the beginning, to promote rebellion against God’s authority and His headship.

True submission is not difficult, my friend, it is impossible. There is no way that we can, in and of our own strength, submit. But that only means that we must look to God to produce that of which we are incapable, but which His word commands. Our text on submission follows immediately upon the teaching of Paul concerning being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). It is only as the Holy Spirit controls our life that the will and the ability to obey His commands are produced. To submit to one another necessitates that we die daily, that our flesh by crucified, put to death. This is God’s work, and we must trust in Him to do it. This is God’s work, and we must cooperate with Him as He does it.

All of human history is about the divine purpose of God to bring all things under God’s authority and control, in Christ. Satan rebelled against God’s authority when he fell. He then tempted Adam and Eve to follow in his steps. Jesus Christ came to this earth the first time so that some might submit to Him for salvation. He comes yet again to subject all those who have rebelled against His authority and headship.

Our text is about submission—the voluntary surrender of our rights and self-interest for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. There is another way in which surrender will be accomplished in the future, and this was is subjection. When our Lord Jesus returns to the earth to establish His kingdom, all of His enemies will be subjected to Christ. This will not be voluntary, but will be accomplished forcibly:

When Peter preached to the Jewish unbelievers in Jerusalem at Pentecost, He not only informed them that the One they had crucified was the Christ, the Messiah, but that He was coming back, to subdue His enemies:

22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—23 this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.… 32 “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘ The Lord said to my Lord,” Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet. “‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:22-23, 32-36).

The One who submitted Himself to the will of the Father and to the suffering of the cross is the One who will return to subject the whole world to His authority:

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).

Have you submitted to Him by faith? Have you trusted in Him as God’s salvation, as the only way to heaven? If not, there is awaiting you that dreaded day when you will bow, not in humble and grateful submission, but by subjection. I pray that you will submit to Him as your Savior, and not wait until you are forced acknowledge Him as the One whom you rejected. There is a world of difference between submission and subjection. What a beautiful thing submission is. What a privilege is ours to practice it, to His glory and for our good.


134 As you can see, I have rearranged the verses and their order slightly. Verses 23 and 24 are reversed in order, and the order of verse 24 is rearranged as well.

135 In Ephesians 5:21—6:9, the term rendered “(be) subject” is found only in 5:21 and 5:24. It is also found in some texts in 5:22. Submission is replaced by obedience in 6:1 and 6:5.

136 Gerhard Delling, “Hupotasso,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), Vol. VIII, p. 40.

137 Delling, p. 41.

138 Delling, p. 39.

139 I’m not certain that this refers only to “unbelieving” husbands. It seems to be more general, referring to those who are disobedient to the word. They are “won” to obedience, which may or may not include salvation. In any case, if Peter’s words apply even to a hostile, unbelieving, husband, surely they apply to all other husbands.

140 Silence and submission are linked in 1 Timothy 2:11-12; 1 Peter 2:21-25; and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, as well as in 1 Peter 3.

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24. Children, Obey Your Parents: The Submission of Parents and Children (Ephesians 6:1-4)

The transcript for this lesson will be added once it becomes available.

http://feeds.bible.org/deffinbaugh/ephesians/deff_ephesians_24.mp3
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25. Submission and Slavery (Ephesians 6:5-9)

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

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.

17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. 18 Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

22 Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. 25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. 4:1 Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven (Colossians 3:22–4:1).

1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against. 2 And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

6 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. 9 Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:6-10).

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:18-21).

10 I appeal to you for my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12 And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason parted from you for a while, that you should have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account; 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (lest I should mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well) (Philemon 1:10-19).

Introduction

Recently, a certain Christian organization decided to file a lawsuit against another group of Christians. Immediately an outcry arose, citing 1 Corinthians chapter 6 as forbidding such a suit. The suing saints were not taken aback for long. They explained this text away by pointing out that 1 Corinthians 6 forbade an individual to go to court with another individual, and that they were suing as an organization. The argument is about as convincing as a group of men living in immorality arguing that the prohibition of 1 Corinthians 5 does not apply to them because it was addressed to an individual.

We come now to a text which, on the surface, seems to let all of us off the hook. How many of us own slaves? Who among us is a slave? But like the teaching of 1 Corinthians, the application is much more broad than merely slaves and masters. Our text applies to all Christians, in a variety of ways.

Paul begins by requiring all Christians to submit to one another in the fear of Christ (5:21). Submission applies to every Christian. Then Paul sets out to show how submission applies to the lives of Christians in a broad range of life situations: marriage (wives and husbands, 5:22-33), family (children and parents—6:1-4), and now slaves and masters (6:5-9). In each of these categories, Paul is not interested only in the expression of submission, but in its essence, in its mindset and motivation. Consequently, each category further unfolds the true nature of submission, and all of these categories together give us the full meaning of submission that Paul wants Christians to understand and apply.

Let me attempt to illustrate this with another Christian duty—love. We dare not limit our concept of love to the love of husband and wife, or of parent and child. We are to love our neighbor. We are even to love our enemy. If we are honest, we should admit that an understanding of what it means to love our enemy may, at times, help us to love our husband or our wife, or even our child. Sometimes they are our enemy, and we must love them. Thus, understanding love in its broader dimensions enriches my understanding and application of love in a more restricted dimension.

So it is with submission. Understanding submission in the context of slavery helps me to better understand submission in general, and thus in other categories. The submission which God requires of a slave toward his master is instructive concerning the submission which God requires of a child to its parents, or a wife to her husband. The submission which God requires of a master instructs husbands concerning their submissive spirit in relationship to their wives and children.

Our text makes it clear that the commands which are given to slaves have a much broader application: “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” (Ephesians 6:9, emphasis mine). Masters are not given a separate set of principles concerning submission. They are called upon to act on the same principles which Paul has set down for slaves. And so we see that Paul is not speaking only to slaves, and not even to slaves and masters, but to all the saints.

Our text is of great value and importance because it takes submission farther than any of the earlier examples of Christian submission. In this passage, Paul presses hard on the spirit of submission, and not just on its outward appearances. It is this spirit which every Christian must strive for in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this spirit of submission which God seeks, and for which He rewards us when we obey.

Our Lord Jesus became a slave in order to bring about our salvation (Mark 10:45), and thus also became an example of submission for slaves (1 Peter 2:18-25). Paul often referred to himself as the Lord’s slave (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19). Beyond this, every Christian has been delivered from slavery to sin, and has become a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:16-20; 14:4; 1 Corinthians 7:22). And so the instructions which Paul gives to “slaves” applies to every Christian, as Christ’s slave.

Slavery in the Roman Empire

The slavery of Paul’s day was fraught with abuse. William Barclay writes of the evils of slavery in the Roman empire during the time Paul wrote this epistle to the Ephesians.

“It has been computed that in the Roman Empire there were 60,000,000 slaves. In Paul’s day a kind of terrible idleness had fallen on the citizens of Rome. Rome was the mistress of the world, and therefore it was beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen to work. Practically all work was done by slaves. Even doctors and teachers, even the closest friends of the Emperors, their secretaries who dealt with letters and appeals and finance, were slaves.

Often there were bonds of the deepest loyalty and affection between master and slave … But basically the life of the slave was grim and terrible. In law he was not a person but a thing. Aristotle lays it down that there can never be friendship between master and slave, for they have nothing in common; ‘for a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’ Varro, writing on agriculture, divides agricultural instruments into three classes—the articulate, the inarticulate, and the mute. The articulate comprises the slaves; the inarticulate the cattle; and the mute the vehicles. The slave is no better than a beast who happens to be able to talk. Cato gives advice to a man taking over a farm. He must go over it and throw out everything that is past its work; and old slaves too must be thrown out on the scrap heap to starve. When a slave is ill it is sheer extravagance to issue him with normal rations.

The law was quite clear. Gaius, the Roman lawyer, in the Institutes lays it down: ‘We may note that it is universally accepted that the master possesses the power of life and death over the slave.’ If the slave ran away, at best he was branded on the forehead with the letter F for fugitivus, which means runaway, at worst he was killed. The terror of the slave was that he was absolutely at the caprice of his master. Augustus crucified a slave because he killed a pet quail. Vedius Pollio flung a slave still living to the savage lampreys in his fish pond because he dropped and broke a crystal goblet. Juvenal tells of a Roman matron who ordered a slave to be killed for no other reason than that she lost her temper with him. When her husband protested, she said: ‘You call a slave a man, do you? He has done no wrong, you say? Be it so; it is my will and my command; let my will be the voucher for the deed.’ The slaves who were maids to their mistresses often had their hair torn out and their cheeks torn with their mistresses’ nails. Juvenal tells of the master ‘who delights in the sound of a cruel flogging thinking it sweeter than any siren’s song,’ or ‘who revels in clanking chains,’ or, ‘who summons a torturer and brands the slave because a couple of towels are lost.’ A Roman writer lays it down: ‘Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law.’”141

The Old Testament Law and Slavery

If the servitude of Paul’s day was slavery at its worst, the slavery which the Old Testament Law prescribed was of a vastly different kind. Slavery was not prohibited by the Law. The Israelites (Leviticus 25:44, 46) and even the priests (Leviticus 22:11) were allowed to possess slaves from the other nations. Even an Israelite could sell one of his family into slavery, or even himself if forced to by poverty (Exodus 21:7; Leviticus 25:35-42). By law, a Hebrew slave was to be treated even better than the slaves taken from the heathen (see Leviticus 25:35-42, 46).

Granted, slavery could hardly be considered a desirable condition. One’s freedom was significantly restricted. Nevertheless, The Mosaic Law provided for those who might decide to become lifetime slaves, as strange as this might seem (Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17). This strongly suggests that slavery in Israel was of a very different kind than that found in the heathen nations (2 Chronicles 12:7-8).

When circumcised, slaves in Israel were allowed to enter into the worship of the One True God. The were the benefactors of God’s gracious provisions, such as the Sabbath rest (see Exodus 11:5; 12:44; 23:12; 25:6). A master was to be punished for cruelty or injury to his slave (Exodus 21:20; 21:26-27). It would appear from Job’s remarks that a slave could even file a grievance against his master (Job 31:13). Runaway slaves were not to be returned, but were to be given sanctuary (Deuteronomy 23:15). I take it from this that Israel was, by far, the best place for any person to be a slave.

Slavery in the Gospels and in the New Testament

In the Gospels, slavery was frequently mentioned. Our Lord told a number of parables in which slaves and their masters were key characters. Never de He condemn slavery as evil in any of these stories. (Neither did He indicate that slavery was an asset to society) In some stories, the slave was punished for his unfaithful service (see Matthew 25:14-46; Luke 17:7-10). Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:15 indicate that a slave-master was under no obligation to explain to his slave why he was commanding him to do a certain task. A slave doesn’t need to be told “why,” just “what.”

Sometimes, the slave master was represented in a favorable light (see Luke 7:2-10). Faithful slaves were highly commended, while unfaithful slaves were condemned. What Jesus taught about one’s standing in the kingdom of God turned the value system of that society (and our own) upside-down. He taught that greatness was not to be measured in terms of being served, but in terms of being a servant. He was the greatest example of this truth the world has ever seen:

And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 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 10:42-45).

Paul, too, spoke about slavery. Slavery was assumed to be a fact of life. In our text in Ephesians and elsewhere (1 Corinthians 7:21-24; Colossians 3:22–4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:6-10), he instructed both slaves and masters concerning their conduct. He spoke of himself (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19) and others (Colossians 1:7) as God’s slaves. Paul did not view slave as the ideal condition, and encouraged any who could gain their freedom to do so, but those who could not were not to agonize about it, knowing that both masters and slaves are God’s bond-servants:

21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called (1 Corinthians 7:21-24).

When he encountered Onesimus, a runaway slave, and led him to faith in Christ, Paul wrote to Philemon, his master. He sent the epistle which we know as Philemon to this slave-master, along with his returning slave. He indicated what a blessing Onesimus had been to him. He urged Philemon to accept Onesimus back, receiving him as a brother, while still his slave, but clearly left the door open for him to set him free, so that he might return to Paul and minister to him as he had done before. Slavery might not have been sin, but setting this slave free appears to have been the “high road” which he encouraged his master to take.

Whatever one’s status might be in society, Paul makes it abundantly clear that one’s earthly status does not affect his standing before God, in Christ. In Christ there are no second class citizens:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

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).

Underlying Assumptions

From our text in Ephesians 6, along with the other New Testament passages dealing with slaves and masters, we can identify a number of underlying assumptions, which are foundational to Paul’s teaching in our text and elsewhere. Let me sum up some of these assumptions:

(1) In the church of Jesus Christ there will be both slaves and masters who are saints.

1 Let all who are under the yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine may not be spoken against. 2 And let those who have believers as their masters not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but let them serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

It is not conceived of as inconsistent with the Christian faith that either a slave or a slave-master could be a born again believer and a part of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Once, when I was teaching in a prison, an inmate was amazed that I could suggest that a guard could be a Christian. I suggested to this inmate that there were those who might wonder if an inmate could be a Christian. The truth is that guards and inmates can be saved, and serve in their capacities as Christians, to the glory of God. So it is with slaves and masters.

(2) Slavery is hardly likely to be labeled a social asset, but in the Bible it is not viewed to be as great an evil as some might think. The Old Testament community of Israel was not defiled by it. It was not one of the evils which Israel was to rid, so that God could dwell in their presence.

(3) Masters are construed to exercise legitimate authority over slaves, and thus slaves are obligated to obey them. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul indicates that “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1). Thus, if anyone resists this authority, he resists God (13:2). In Romans 13 Paul is speaking of government authorities. This includes the laws of that government, unless they clearly violate God’s laws. When the Roman government gave slavery legal authority, it was assumed that Christians should submit to their status as slaves, and thus to their masters. Peter makes the connection between the authority of government and that of masters even more clear, by speaking of the two side by side in 1 Peter 2:11-25).

(4) For some, God has divinely appointed their “calling” as slaves, and requires them to remain in this condition unless they have a legitimate opportunity for obtaining their freedom (See 1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

(5) Slavery is divinely ordained, not because it is righteous, but because it provides a context in which righteousness is readily evident, both on the part of the slave and of his owner.

Paul’s Instruction to Slaves

Of all the instances in which one would hardly expect to read about submission, it would be here. Who would think there would be any problem in getting a slave to obey? The difference is between suppression and submission. Few slaves enter into slavery voluntarily. It is something that one is forced into. I think it is safe to conclude that those whose “obedience” is compelled, are those who are most likely to be unsubmissive in spirit.

I remember hearing of a waiter who was “serving” a very demanding individual at one of his tables. After considerable abuse, the waiter disappeared into the kitchen to bring out a salad for his hostile diner. Just out of sight, before entering the dining room, the waiter spit with great satisfaction on the guest’s salad. On the outside, the waiter was courteous and helpful, but on the inside, he was resisting his role as a servant.

The closest institution to slavery that I know of in our culture is a prison. The inmates are the “slaves” and the “guards” are the “masters.” In Texas prisons, the inmates often call them “boss.” The inmates have virtually no rights (even when they are wrongly accused or treated). There are few who are willing or able to challenge the authority of those who are in charge.

In the course of teaching a seminar in a large Texas prison, I spoke about Daniel, and his submission to those who were in authority over him. He was a virtual prisoner of the Babylonian Empire, and yet he devoted himself to serving the king. He was a faithful and a submissive “prisoner.” I then pressed the point further. I said, “Some of you men spend more energy fighting the (prison) ‘system’ than you do fighting sin.” That comment got a substantial response. The fact is that many prisoners may outwardly keep the rules, but inwardly they are still rebelling, still “spitting in the salad.”

In chapter 4, Paul urged the saints in Ephesus to cease walking “as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their mind” (4:17). Instead, they are to “lay aside the old self” (4:22), to “be renewed in the spirit of their mind” (4:23), and to “put on the new self” (4:24). Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:5-9 instructs slaves and masters as to how “the new self” and the “renewed mind” of the Christian impacts their attitudes and actions as slaves or as masters.

The Christian Slave’s Submission Must Be Inward, As Well As Outward

In his instructions to slaves, Paul focuses on three areas in which slaves are to manifest a reversal in their thinking and actions. Let us give thought to these three areas of contrast between the response of the ungodly and the response of the saints to slavery.

In verse 5 Paul instructed Christian slaves to be obedient to their “masters according to the flesh,” but in a way that would distinguish them from unbelieving slaves. The expression, “according to the flesh,” suggests two important assumptions, which it seems Paul makes here. First, slavery is really a matter of the “flesh” and not of the “spirit.” That is, a slave master’s authority is limited to the “flesh” of his slave. He possesses his body, and he has the right to employ it’s services for his own purposes and profit. His authority ends here.

Second, I believe Paul assumes that the unbelieving slave will render obedience only in the flesh. The ungodly servant may appear to be obedient, but his spirit may well be in rebellion. He will do no more than his master demands and requires. When his master is not present, or when he is not looking, the slave lets up, producing only under pressure. All that the master gets from his ungodly slave is begrudging service. The slave cares not for his master, nor will he do more than he is forced to do for his master’s benefit. And not only will the unsubmissive slave fail to give his master his due, he may also steal from his master by pilfering, an evil which Paul forbids (Titus 2:9-10).

Paul’s words imply that while the authority of a slave’s master is limited to the flesh, the extent of a Christian slave’s submission goes far beyond the outward. There is a spirit of submission which is to attend one’s actions, and which inspires the godly slave to go above and beyond the minimum requirements of his master. Several phrases describe the deeper, more spiritual, level to which the slave’s submission is to extend:

“with fear and trembling” (verse 5)
“in the sincerity of your heart” (verse 5)
“not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers (verse 6)
“doing with will of God from the heart” (verse 6)

Here, then, is the inward dimension of submission, which is to accompany the outward acts of obedience, and which therefore set the Christian slave apart from the rest. The slave is to obey his master “with fear and trembling” (verse 5). This expression may refer to a respect for his master, but as it is used elsewhere by Paul, I believe that it speaks of a deep sense of humility, and of dependence on God. Consider these texts, where the expression “fear and trembling” occur:

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3).

And his [Titus’s] affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling (2 Corinthians 7:15).

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Paul did not come to the Corinthians with an arrogant, authoritarian spirit and demeanor, but in humility. He knew that the salvation of men was not something he could accomplish in his own strength, and so he spoke simply, trusting in the Spirit of God to convince and to convert lost sinners. Titus was received by the Corinthians with “fear and trembling.” These saints were humble, and aware of God’s ministry among them through Titus, and so they obeyed his instructions. The Philippians were to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.” They were to humbly (see the early verses of chapter 2) conduct their lives, knowing it was not their own strength, but God’s strength and wisdom which was being accomplished through them. So, too, slaves are to obey their masters, aware of their God-given authority, and also aware that the submission requires is that which He alone produces, through His Spirit (see Ephesians 5:18).

Obedience is to be the outflowing of a spirit of submission which originates in the “sincerity142 of the heart” (verse 5). This expression informs us that the “heart” is the spring from which “sincerity” flows. The terms rendered “sincerity” is used by Paul in Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2 and 9:11. It refers to a singular purpose, as opposed to mixed motives, and this singularity of purpose often is evidenced by generosity. When one gives, one is to give with the singular purpose of pleasing God, and he is thus to do so generously. When a slave obeys his master, he is to do so with a purity and singularity of motive, and that is to please the Lord. The generosity which accompanies “simplicity” is evidenced by going above and beyond the minimum requirements he has been given by his master.

To be specific, the one motive is to please God, and the mixed motive which is to be rejected is that of being a “men-pleaser by way of eye-service” (verse 6). The man-pleaser seeks to please his master. His obedience is a performance for his master, only when he is present to view it. The slave thereby hopes not only to win his master’s approval, but also to be rewarded for his apparent (feigned) obedience.

Once again, Paul presses to the “heart” of the matter, instructing slaves to be “doing the will of God from the heart” (verse 6). It is not therefore not the outward acts of obedience alone for which Paul calls, but an inward spirit of submission and obedience, which results in obedience and faithful service, whether the master sees it or not.

The other day, one of our elders spoke of a principle that is applied to business. It goes something like this: “It isn’t what is expected, that gets done, But what is inspected.” This is not only true in business today, it is also true in slavery. The minute the boss is out of sight, production slows down, and perhaps stops altogether. Those who spoke respectfully to their master moments earlier when he was present, suddenly begin to make fun of him and to speak disrespectfully about him. That is the way it is when men obey externally, but not from the heart. Submission produces a far greater obedience.

One of the young men who worshipped and ministered among us in his seminary years recently returned to our church for a visit. Todd and Melody Elafson will soon be going to the mission field. A few years ago, Todd had ministered in a church that decided to close its doors. During the weeks that followed, Todd had to support his family by working as a laborer in the construction business, until he was offered a position in another church.

During those days his work barely provided for the needs of his family. These were difficult and discouraging days for Todd and his wife. He told me that one day conditions were such that all of the other workers went home. He could not afford to lose a day’s work, and so he stayed on the job. His task was to carry materials from the ground up to the roof of the building under construction. So far as Todd could tell, no one was there to see whether he worked or not. In simple obedience to God and to his employer, Todd labored hard, though unsupervised. Hour after hour he pressed on. He told me that as he did so unto the Lord, he was overcome with joy. He sang songs and meditated on Scripture and prayed and praised God—all alone.

Or so he thought. Unknown to him a contractor was on the job in the building. He had not seen the contractor, inside the building, but the contractor had seen him, on the roof. The contractor watched him all day long. And when the day was nearly over, the man approached Todd and told him he had never seen a man work so hard when no one was around to see it. It was a wonderful testimony to the truth of this text, and it gave Todd the opportunity to share his faith. That is what Paul is talking about—an obedience with begins in the heart, and which extends to work which exceeds anything the world expects.

Christian Slaves Are Slaves of God, And Not Men

Jesus said it, no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Our text calls for slaves to obey their masters, but in a way that makes it clear that they are, in doing so, serving God.

5 Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; 6 not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

The fundamental submission and obedience which Paul calls for here and elsewhere in his teaching on the subject is to our Lord. The Ephesians were not instructed to obey their masters and Christ, but to obey their masters in obedience to Christ. The fundamental obedience is therefore not to masters, but to the Master. This is not only true for slaves, it is true for wives (5:22) and children (6:1).

Have you ever watched a movie in which a trained animal performed? In nearly every case, the animal does not belong to the actor, who appears to be giving the animal his cues. The animal is looking beyond the actor, who stands nearby, off-camera, giving it every command. The animal is not obeying the actor, but its owner.

So it is for the slave. The master gives him orders, and he obeys, but in so doing he is obeying his Master, Jesus Christ. The way you know who is really in charge is to observe what happens when the (slave) master’s orders contradict the Master’s orders. In these occasions, which are conceived of as rare in the Scriptures, the saint must choose to obey God rather than men (see Acts 5:29).

The non-Christian slave does not see the Master behind his master, and thus he does only what his earthly master demands, and only when he is standing over him, threatening to punish him if he fails to produce to his master’s expectations.

Look for Your Reward in the Future, Not in the Present

The world view of an unbelieving slave could be very narrow in Paul’s day. It is unlikely that slaves were free to travel very far from home. They might never come back. The slave’s “world” could well be his master’s estate. His associations might be limited to only be his fellow-slaves. Hope would hardly characterize his view of the future. His only reward would be the favor he might gain by being a man-pleaser, or the few things he might pilfer when his master wasn’t looking.

Imagine how the Book of Ephesians could transform the world-view of a Christian slave. From Ephesians chapters 1-3 the slave would marvel that God chose him in eternity past, and that He sent Jesus Christ to die for his sins on the cross of Calvary. From these chapters he now comes to grasp the fact that he has been joined together with believing Jews, and is a part of God’s glorious church. And for all the blessings which he has already received in Christ, there is yet to come the glorious return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. There is yet to come an eternity of worship and praise in God’s presence.

The Christian slave comes to understand from Ephesians that the purpose of history is not to make people happy or to achieve momentary comfort, but to glorify God, now and for all eternity. Just as God purposed to accomplish this through the submission of Jesus Christ to suffering in God’s will, so He has purposed for us to glorify Him by our submission in suffering as well.

And so the slave who is also a saint learns not to look for his rewards from his earthly master, but from His heavenly Master. He learns that he is to obey his earthly master now, in submission to the Lord, and to wait for that day when He will be rewarded by His heavenly Master. While earthly masters see very little of what their slaves do, our Heavenly Master sees all that we do, and He also sees our hearts. And so the Christian slave looks to his inner attitudes and to his outward actions, knowing that God will judge him according to both. And in spite of the treatment which he receives from His earthly master, the treatment he will receive from God will be just.

Here, then, are three areas in which the attitudes and actions of the Christian slave should contrast those of the unbelieving slave. The Christian slave submits inwardly as well as outwardly to his earthly master. The Christian slave obeys his earthly master as an expression of his submission to the Lord. And the Christian slave looks to his Heavenly Master for his reward, which he will receive in eternity. The Christian slave lives by faith, his conduct energized by the Holy Spirit who works within him to the glory of God.

Paul’s Instruction to Masters

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.

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven (Colossians 4:1).

It is interesting to note what is not said to masters, here or anywhere else in the Scriptures. It is not said that masters should free all their slaves. Instead, masters should submit themselves to God and should subordinate self-interest to serving others. Masters should use their position in such a way as to serve the best interests of those who are their slaves.

Can you imagine what a different place the Roman Empire would have been if every slave owner had used his position to benefit his slaves? The problem with authority is that sinners abuse it, using it for their own selfish gain at the expense of those under them. Paul calls for attitudes and actions which would set Christian masters apart from all others. He calls for actions which would likely cause a Christian slave owner’s peers to be greatly upset with him, for he would put a great deal of pressure on them by his practices.

Probably the most dramatic contrast which our text highlights between a Christian view of slaves and masters and that of the unbelieving culture of that time (and ours) is revealed by this command: Masters, do the same things to them.

In the world, there is a double standard, one for masters, and another for slaves. But with God there is one standard, for masters and slaves, for husbands or wives, for parents or children. All are slaves of Christ, and all are called upon to submit themselves one to another in the fear of Christ (5:21).

At first glance, one might think that Paul has much more to say to slaves than he does to masters. After all, he has four verses addressed to slaves (verses 5-8) and only one addressed to masters (verse 9). But Paul’s words in verse 9 indicate that what he has said previously to slaves applies equally to masters. All Paul adds in verse 9 are a few additional words which more precisely apply the principle of submission to the circumstances of a slave owner.

There is but one specific command given to masters, and that is to “give up threatening.” Threatening must therefore have been a very common practice among slave owners. I think I know why. Consider these verses from the Book of Proverbs.

A slave will not be instructed by words alone; For though he understands, there will be no response (Proverbs 29:19).

He who pampers his slave from childhood Will in the end find him to be a son (Proverbs 29:21).

In these verses, we are being told “how things are,” not necessarily how things should be. Elsewhere we are told that a bribe accomplishes a great deal (Proverbs 17:8). This is not to say that bribes are good, for they are shown to be evil elsewhere (15:5; 17:23). But, in a fallen world where men and women are willing to set aside what is right for money, bribes work. So, too, in a fallen world where slaves rebel against their masters rather than submit to them, beating and threatening “works,” too.

But if Christian slaves serve their masters in an entirely different way than unbelieving slaves, Christian masters rule their slaves in a way that contrasts with the way unbelieving masters rule. Threatening seeks to produce obedience by instilling fear. Christian leadership seeks to motivate service through grace and gratitude. The reverence which the slave should have for his master should not be created by threats, but is the attitude of heart which a Christian slave should have in his heart toward his master because of the work of the Spirit (see verse 5 above). The service which is ideal is that which is rooted in the grace of a master toward his slave, and in the love of the slave for his master:

“But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door of the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently” (Exodus 21:5-6).

The slave’s devotion to his master is the result of his relationship to Christ. So, too, the master’s care for his slaves is the outgrowth of the master’s relationship to the Master. The master is just as much a “slave” of Christ as his slave is. And just as the Christian slave obeys his earthly master, looking to God for his reward, so the slave master fulfills his obligation to his slaves, knowing that he will give answer to his Master, in heaven. And he knows as well that His Master will judge with justice, and not with partiality.

Conclusion

As we come to the conclusion of this lesson, let us pause to reflect on what Paul has taught us in this text.

First, we learn that submission to higher authorities is rooted in our submission to God. In every case in Ephesians 5:21–6:9, the submission for which Paul calls is “unto the Lord.” In a very practical way, our submission should be based upon the assurance that God is in complete control, and that the authorities to which we are instructed to submit are those whose authority God has placed us under. While a Christian slave may not understand God’s purposes for his calling as a slave, he must be convinced that this is his calling. Jesus submitted to the authority of the Roman government and to the cross of Calvary, knowing that this was His Father’s will, and that the Father was in complete control, even as He was sentenced to death (see John 19:10-11; Acts 2:23).

Our text informs us that the slave’s obedience to his master is the will of God. Submission to those in authority over us is the will of God. A slave need not agonize so much about what God’s will for him is as he does over his obedience to the will of God. A child, likewise, can find the lion’s share of God’s will for his life summed up in this one command, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Christians often agonize about “knowing God’s will” when the greater portion of His will for our lives has already been revealed in Scripture. We may focus on the process of discovering God’s will because we don’t like what He has revealed to us about His will in His word. God does guide individually and personally, but it is most often through His word, and never contrary to it.

Submission and obedience goes beyond the surface level of appearances. Submission is not just giving the impression of pleasing, even to the one whom we are seeking to please. It goes much deeper, to the goal of seeking the benefit and blessing of the one we are subject to, to their good and God’s glory. Head-coverings for women do not prove they are submissive to their husbands, her actions do. Let us be careful that our submission goes much deeper than mere appearances.

The glory of God and not our happiness is the chief end of our salvation. The gospel is often represented in terms of our happiness or fulfillment or contentment, as thought God’s primary purpose for saving us was our own pleasure. God saved us for His own pleasure, and to bring glory to Himself. God’s glory is also our good, and so we do benefit from His grace in salvation. The error is to see man as the chief end of God’s purposes rather than God.

God often chooses to glorify Himself through suffering. God was glorified by the innocent suffering of His Son. He is also glorified by the innocent suffering of slaves (see 1 Peter 2:18-25). We will never understand or obey Paul’s instructions to us as slaves of Christ until we grasp the fact that our calling in life is to glorify God, and that suffering for us not only leads to glory, it is glory. It is not that we should live our life without joy, but rather than we should experience joy in suffering for the glory of God:

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:2-3).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

The Gospel of our Lord does not call on us to overthrow evil institutions as much as it does to be lights in this world by response to them. There are some Christians who thing we should try to bring about heaven on earth by transforming society and its institutions. The Scriptures do not urge us to overthrow institutions, but to submit to them, and by living our lives to the glory of God, showing how the Christian faith can endure and even thrive in the worst circumstances.

Christians are to live in their small little world in the light of the eternal plans and purposes of God for His creation. The “world” of the slave may be small, but the plan of God is immense. Glimpses of that cosmic plan have been revealed by Paul in chapters 1-3. The conduct of the slave toward his master is governed by God’s purposes for history. We are to live out our lives in the light of the bigger picture, which we find only in the Scriptures.

Trusting in Jesus Christ is inseparably tied to the matter of our submission and obedience to His authority. The same word is used for “masters” in verse 5 as is translated “Master” in verse 9. Submission is the appropriate response of the Christian to divinely appointed authority. Why is it, then, that some try to separate saving faith from submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. Paul insists that every Christian submit to the authorities God has placed over them. He bases this submission and obedience on our submission to Jesus Christ. How, then, can some speak of being saved without submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord. In Paul’s mind, to be saved is to be subject, not only to Christ, but to all divinely ordained authority. Salvation is not only about the atonement of Christ, it is also about His authority. Salvation is about His death for us and His dominion over us.

And so I must close by asking one simple question: “Whose slave are you?” You are either a slave to sin and thus to Satan, or you are the bond-servant of Jesus Christ. Salvation begins when we recognize God’s authority over us, and our failure to live up to His standards. It begins when we cease to trust in our own efforts and receive the death of Christ on our behalf. It is by trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection that our sins are forgiven, and that we become His slaves by the bonds of love and gratitude. If you are not His slave by faith in Christ, do so today. He in whom we are instructed to trust for our eternal salvation is the very one who became a servant for our salvation.

“He does not tell them to rebel; he tells them to be Christian where they are. The great message of Christianity to every man is that it is where God has set us that we must live out the Christian life. The circumstances may be all against us, but that only makes the challenge greater. Christianity does not offer us escape from circumstances; it offers us conquest of circumstances.”

“He tells the slaves that work must not be done well only when the overseer’s eye is on them; it must be done in the awareness that God’s eye is on them. Every single piece of work the Christian produces must be good enough to show to God. The problem that the world has always faced and that it faces acutely today is basically not economic but religious. We will never make men good workmen by bettering conditions or heightening rewards. It is a Christian duty to see to these things; but in themselves they will never produce good work. Still less will we produce good work by increasing oversight and multiplying punishments. The secret of good workmanship is to do it for God.”

“Paul has a word for the master of men, too. He must remember that although he is master of men, he is still the servant of God. He too must remember that all he does is done in the sight of God. Above all he must remember that the day comes when he and those over whom he is set will stand before God; and then the ranks of the world will no longer be relevant.”

“The problem of work would be solved if men and masters alike would take their orders from God.”143


141 William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [revised edition], 1976), pp. 179-180.

142 “The word [sincerity] … is used several times by St. Paul (by him only in the N.T.), and always indicates singleness and honesty of purpose, sometimes showing itself in liberality … Here the meaning is the obvious one, there was to be no double-heartedness in their obedience, no feeling of reluctance, but genuine heartiness and goodwill.” T. K. Abbott, A Critical And Exegetical Commentary On The Epistles To the Ephesians And To The Colossians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, [reprint], 1974), p. 178.

143 William Barclay, p. 181.

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26. Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 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. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

Introduction

As Hitler’s appetite for power and territory grew, his army began to march across Europe. In some cases, the fight could hardly be called a battle. The German army advanced, with its tanks and with technologically advanced weapons. In some of the underdeveloped nations, their armies made a futile effort to resist Hitler’s aggression, fighting back with spears and even rocks. It was no contest at all, because these nations were not equipped for the battle.

The same could be said of Satan, and those whom he opposes. Many of his victims do not even know there is a war going on. They make easy prey. Christians should know that we are in the midst of a great spiritual struggle, although many seem not to believe it. And even more distressing is the fact that many who consider themselves “in the war” do not understand the nature of Satan’s schemes, of the weapons which he employs, or of the weapons which God has provided for our defense.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is perhaps the clearest definition of the spiritual war which we find from the pen of the Apostle Paul. It not only assures us that there is a spiritual war, but it warns us that apart from utilizing the weapons which God has provided for us, we are hopelessly underpowered. This passage informs us as to what our divinely weapons are. Beyond this, these weapons imply the nature of the struggle which we are in. The weapons which God has provided for us are those weapons which best repel the attacks of Satan, and thus we can learn a great deal about the nature of Satan’s opposition from simply considering each of the weapons at our disposal.

In this first lesson, we will concentrate on verses 10-13, which direct our attention to the war itself, and to our grasp of its gravity. After a consideration of the war in general, we will then proceed to examine in more detail each of the weapons Paul mentions, and the offensive strategy of Satan which they imply. May God give us open hearts and minds to understand the spiritual war, and the means which He has provided for our defense.

The Spiritual War in the Old Testament

It should come as no surprise to the Christian to read here that we are engaged in a great spiritual battle. From the early chapters of the Old Testament it is apparent that Satan is the enemy of God, and that he actively seeks to oppose God, His purposes, and His people. Let us consider the evidence for the spiritual war in the Old Testament, and then to further pursue this matter in the New Testament.

We would probably turn first to the third chapter of the Book of Genesis to find Satan striking what appears to be the first blow of the spiritual war. Actually, the battle began long before the creation of Adam and Eve. Satan’s rebellion against God is described in two Old Testament prophecies:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’ (Isa. 14:12-14).

12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 “You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. 14 “You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 “You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created, Until unrighteousness was found in you (Ezek. 28:12-15).

It is clear from these verses that the prophets are not speaking only of an earthly ruler, but of someone possessing much greater power. They are speaking of none other than Satan. He was the angel who was created by God (Ezekiel 28:13), given the highest authority under God, but who was not content with this. He was the one who was in Eden, the garden of God (Ezekiel 28:13). He was once blameless at the time of his creation, but then was found with sin (Ezekiel 28:15). He possessed great beauty, power, and authority, but he had to have more. He wanted to exalt himself further; he wanted to become like God (Isaiah 14:14).

When Satan rebelled against God, others joined him in opposing God and His purposes. And so we find Satan making his first public appearance in Genesis chapter 3, not as Satan, but as a creature which God has made. Satan comes to Adam and Eve as a fellow-creature, under God’s authority and that of the man and his wife. His temptation is heeded, and God’s Word disobeyed, leading not only to the downfall of Adam and his wife, but of all their offspring.

In Genesis chapter 6, we are told that the “sons of God” took wives from among the “daughters of men.” In the Old Testament the expression, “sons of God,” is used of angels rather than in reference to men. It would therefore seem that Satan was seeking to employ fallen angels to corrupt the “seed of the woman” who was promised to defeat Satan and to bring about man’s salvation from sin (Genesis 3:15).144

The events of the Book of Job are believed to have occurred in patriarchal times, and thus Satan’s appearance in Job 1 and 2 would have taken place after Genesis chapters 3 and 6. Satan was gathered around the throne of God, along with the other “sons of God” (Job 1:6). He contended that Job would only serve God as long as God blessed him. God then granted Satan the authority to afflict Job, but always within strict limits. In the case of Job’s adversities, they came first from Satan, but ultimately from God, whose sovereign control over the events of His servant’s life never wavered. An important thing to note here is not only that the suffering of Job, which appeared to be of very natural causes, was of satanic origins. Furthermore, we are led to see beyond the earthly drama to its more celestial purpose of instructing not only Satan, but all the “sons of God,” to God’s glory, if not to Satan’s fuller grasp of the issues.

In 2 Kings chapter 6, the king of Syria was waging war against Israel. God informed Elisha the prophet of all the Syrian king’s battle plans in advance, and the prophet conveyed them to the king of Israel, so that all of Syria’s attacks were nullified. When the king of Syria learned that Elisha was the source of his troubles, he sent out his army to seize him. In the morning, the Syrian troops surrounded the city of Dothan, where Elisha was staying. When Elisha’s servant arose early and went out, perhaps to draw water, he saw the Syrian army as it was surrounding the city. The panic-stricken servant rushed to his master and told him what he had seen.

While the servant was terrified by what he had seen, Elisha remained calm. He knew something that his servant did not. He knew that earthly armies were no threat when the host of heaven was on his side. And so he prayed that the eyes of his servant might be opened, to see the “invisible army” which was on duty to protect the people of God:

15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said,” Strike this people with blindness, I pray. “So He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 19 Then Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city; follow me and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he brought them to Samaria (2 Kings 6:15-19).

This heavenly army descended to Elisha, who prayed that they might strike the enemy with blindness. As a result, Elisha was able, singlehandedly, to lead the entire Syrian army into the hands of the Israelite army’s hand. He would not allow them to be killed, but instead sent them all home after giving them food and water. The heavenly army is ever-present, and it responds to the prayers of the saints.

In 1 Chronicles, we see another glimpse of Satan’s opposition to God and to His people. A glimpse which is not mentioned in the parallel account in 2 Samuel chapter 24: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chr. 21:1). Unless we had been given the revelation of this verse, no one would ever have attributed David’s actions here to anything other than bad judgment. But behind his foolish and sinful decision we find Satan, ever seeking to oppose God through His people.

Finally, in the Book of Daniel we come to one of the most dramatic examples of the spiritual warfare:

24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “Certainly, O king.” 25 He answered and said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:24-25).

10 Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.… 20 Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. 21 “However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince (Daniel 10:10-13, 20-21).

In Daniel chapter three, Daniel’s three companions are thrown into the fiery furnace, because they will not bow down before the golden image which king Nebuchadnezzar had set up. But when these three were cast into the furnace, the king looked in and was shocked to see not three, but four men inside, and they were not writhing in pain or being consumed by the flames, they were walking around inside that furnace. If not our Lord Himself, this fourth person was surely an angelic being, sent there to save the lives of these faithful men.

In chapter 10 an angel was sent to Daniel, in answer to his prayers (note verse 12). This angel informed Daniel that he had set out to come to him much sooner, but that he encountered opposition from the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” who withstood him, delaying him for 21 days. Having been left there with the kings of Persia, Michael came to his rescue. After he finished speaking with Daniel, the angel would encounter the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece” (verse 20). The important thing to notice here is that angels are very much involved in the affairs of men and of nations. The godly angel came in response to Daniel’s prayers and the ungodly celestial beings opposed this angel. More than this, the unholy angels seem to have a link with political kingdoms and their kings.

The Spiritual War in the Gospels

In the Gospels of the New Testament the spiritual war is again evident. In Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13), the account of our Lord’s temptation by Satan is recorded. Satan sought to tempt our Lord to renounce His submission to the Father by acting independently for His own selfish gain. He was, of course, unsuccessful, for which we all may be grateful. What worked on Adam and on others, would not work on this King.

Three of the Gospels record the exorcism which our Lord performed on the Gerasene demoniac.145 Note the unique contribution of each account, which adds to our understanding of the spiritual war:

And when He had come to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs; they were so exceedingly violent that no one could pass by that road. And behold, they cried out, saying, “What do we have to do with You, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:28-29).

And seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” And he began to entreat Him earnestly not to send them out of the country (Mark 5:6-10).

And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they were entreating Him not to command them to depart into the abyss” (Luke 8:30-31).

From Matthew’s account we learn that these demons which possessed these men knew that their days were numbered. They expected the Lord Jesus to come and to engage them in war. What they did not understand was why He had come at that time. He had arrived early by their way of thinking. They, like all others, were not looking for two comings of the Messiah, but only one.

In Mark chapter 5 we are told that the demons begged Jesus not to be sent “out of the country” (verse 10). And in the parallel account in Luke chapter 8 we find that the demons entreated Jesus not to “send them into the abyss” (verse 31). From these two texts we would conclude that for a demon to be sent “out of the country” was also to be confined “in the abyss.” Here again, as in the Book of Daniel, it seems that fallen angelic beings have certain geographical boundaries for their activities. If a demon was sent “out of the country” he understood this to mean that he was no longer free to oppose God and His people on the earth, but would thereafter be confined in chains in the abyss.

In Matthew’s Gospel we learn that the church which is soon to be established is going to withstand the attacks of hell itself (16:23). Luke tells us that Satan had the audacity to demand that our Lord allow him to “sift Peter like wheat” (Luke 22:31). It was Satan who entered into Judas, using him to betray his Lord and to hand Him over to those who would arrest Him (John 13:27). In spite of his efforts to the contrary, Satan, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), was soon to be defeated on the cross of Calvary.

The Spiritual War in the Church

Early in the Book of Acts, Satan is found opposing the people and the purposes of God. In Acts chapter 5 we read of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who had given a certain amount of money to the work of the Lord, but who had lied about the amount. When Peter rebuked Ananias for his deception, he attributed the source of the lie to Satan: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).

In Acts 13:10, Paul rebuked Elymas the magician for opposing the gospel, calling him a “son of the devil.” In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul spoke of the church’s reticence to forgive a repentant brother as giving Satan the opportunity to take advantage, adding that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2:10-11). Later in this same epistle, Paul speaks of Satan as the “god of this world” who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4). And near the end of this epistle Paul warns that Satan and his subordinates disguise themselves as true believers, thereby seeking to lead some astray by their authoritarian leadership:

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 Paul speaks of a future day of evil, when “the man of lawlessness” is revealed, whose working is in accordance with the activity of Satan, and is accompanied by power, signs and false wonders (2:9). In 1 Timothy 3:6 Paul warns about laying hands too quickly on leaders, lest they become conceited and fall into the same condemnation incurred by the devil. In chapter 4, he warns of those who will fall away from the faith and pay attention to “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (4:1). In chapter 5 of 1 Timothy Paul urges younger widows to get married and not to become idle gossips and busybodies. This sounds very “human,” but Paul links it to satanic activity: “Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan” (1 Timothy 5:14-15). Imagine this. Paul refers to gossiping as turning aside to follow Satan. Now who would have ever considered gossip to be satanic? Paul does.

In his epistle, James condemns the quarrels and strife which were taking place among the saints. He first links such sins to the pursuit of fleshly pleasures (4:1-3). He then indicates that such sin is rebellion against God which grieves His Holy Spirit (4:3-4). Next, James links quarrelling and strife with Satan:

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:6-7).

Peter had come to learn about Satan the hard way (see Matthew 16:21-23; Luke 22:31). And so we find him warning others of the threat which Satan poses as our adversary. Note that Peter’s warning comes in the context of leadership and of submission (5:1-7):

8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world (1 Peter 5:8-9).

In the letters to the seven churches, recorded in Revelation 2 and 3, the Lord Jesus frequently mentions Satan as the source of temptation and trials in the church (see 2:9, 13, 24; 3:9). The remainder of the Book of Revelation describes the coming final conflict with Satan, and his ultimate demise (see especially chapters 12 and 20).

I have a theory about the intensity of Satan’s opposition against the church. He knows, as we do, that the church is being watched by the angels, and that they are being instructed by what they see.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).

8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 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; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3:8-10).

I understand that a significant number of angelic beings joined with Satan during or after his rebellion against God, as described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. I am also inclined to believe that Revelation 12:4 may be speaking of a time yet to come (the “evil day” of Ephesians 6:13) when other angels might also join with Satan in his rebellion against God. If this is so, then it gives even greater significance to the “lessons” which the angels are learning from their observation of the church. As the angels observe the women in submission to their own husbands (1 Corinthians 11:10), they are reminded of the importance of their submission to God. It may well be that in Job 1, Satan was not only trying to make a point with God, but with his fellow-angels, when he suggested that the only reason why any creature worships God is a selfish one. No wonder, then, that Satan would work so hard to corrupt the church and its message to the angels.

From these texts and many others, I believe that it is safe to say that Satan is the arch-enemy of the church. He is ever seeking to cause the saints to stumble and attempting to thwart the plans and purposes of God for His church.

The Spiritual War As Depicted In Ephesians

The spiritual war which Paul describes in chapter 6 should come to us as no surprise in our study of Ephesians. Paul has already paved the way for his teaching on the Christian’s conduct in the spiritual war by what he has taught us previously in the epistle.

Imagine for a moment that you are a slave, and that Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is being read to the whole church as it gathers for worship. As a slave, your world is a small one. You have severe limitations in terms of personal freedom, and in your exposure to the world. As you hear Ephesians chapter 1, you realize that your salvation is a part of God’s plan, decreed before the earth was created and time even began. You also come to learn that while God’s purpose was to save you from your sin, His ultimate purpose is to sum up all things in Christ. You may be a slave, but you are a part of an eternal plan, and privileged to take part in bringing glory to God. You also learn from this chapter that Christ’s power is beyond our human grasp, a power which was evidenced in the raising of Christ from the dead, and of exalting Him above all other powers. The entire celestial host is under His power, and that power is exercised toward “us who believe” (see 1:18-23).

In chapter 2, Paul reminds you that you were once dead in your sins, and alienated from God. You lived according to the lusts of your flesh, but in reality you were a pawn of Satan, unwittingly carrying out his plans and purposes, even as he is at work in all the “sons of disobedience” (2:1-3). Because of His great mercy, you have been saved from your sins, and reconciled to God in Christ. You have been forgiven your sins and saved unto good works through the grace of God in Christ (2:4-10). You were also a pagan Gentile, separated from the people of God. In fact, you were adversaries with God’s people. But now, in Christ, you have not only been reconciled to God, you have been reconciled with His people.

In being saved, you did not merely become a Jewish proselyte. God did not reconcile Gentiles to himself by making them Jews, He reconciled both Jews and Gentiles as one new man to Himself. This means that Gentiles are not second-class citizens of heaven, nor are Jewish Christians somehow superior to Gentile believers. All are joined in one body, the church, through the Spirit of God to become a dwelling place of God.

Chapter 2 provides a significant reason for the spiritual war. As unbelievers, we were under the power and control of Satan, even though we did not know it. But when we came to faith in Christ by His grace, we were delivered from his “kingdom of darkness” and made citizens in the “kingdom of light.” Our salvation caused us no longer to be the enemies of God, but at the same time resulted in us becoming the enemies of Satan. No wonder he so aggressively attacks Christians. They were once his subjects.

In chapter 3, the slave is given and even more complete picture of the eternal plans and purposes of God. Here, Paul speaks of the “mystery” which God purposed to reveal through him. The mystery is an expansion of Paul’s words in chapter 2, verses 11-22. They mystery is the church, and that God would reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to Himself and to each other, so that they would become fellow-heirs and fellow-partakers of the promise of Christ in the gospel. And this mystery is now been revealed through the church, even as Paul has revealed it to the church. This mystery is for the instruction of the angelic hosts:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-12).

If the church is the classroom of angels, then the conduct of Christians in the church must surely be consistent with the “lesson” which God is teaching. Because of this, Paul exhorts Christians to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling” (4:1). The Christian’s walk is then described in Ephesians 4:1–6:9. That walk is to be a walk …

worthy of our calling (4:1)146
which contrasts with our former walk, and that of the Gentiles (4:17)
in love (5:1-2)
in wisdom (5:15)

The walk of the wise is characterized, in part, by the filling or control of the Holy Spirit (5:18), which, in turn is evident in our mutual submission one to another (5:21–6:9). It should come as no surprise that Paul would turn to the subject of our spiritual warfare immediately following his instructions on submission and obedience. This area is one in which Satan’s own rebellion is most evident, and also an area in which his attacks can be expected.

Does our slave, listening to Paul’s letter for the first time, think that his world is a small one, and that his obedience has little significance? If he does, Paul’s letter should teach him otherwise. He is engaged in a great struggle, the spiritual war. He is called upon to take up the full armor of God, and is thereby assured that he will not be defeated. If chapters 1-3 have taken our salvation and its blessings back to its roots in the eternal plan and purpose of God, then chapter 6 takes our struggle with sin back to its source—Satan. Many of the sins which seem completely human in origin, actually have a satanic source. And so Paul concludes this epistle with a lifting of the veil, so that we may see the broader implications of our struggles with sin, and so that we may be reminded that Satan’s final and complete destruction, while yet future, is certain. And so Paul has taken our salvation from its origins, in eternity past, to its consummation, in eternity future. Our lives are thus to be lived in the light of the big picture of what God is doing—the will of God. We are to adapt our lives to His will for His creation, rather than to seek to persuade God to conform to our wills.

One more thing should be said about the relationship between Paul’s teaching on submission and obedience in 5:21–6:9 and his teaching on the spiritual war in 6:10-20. Submission is the giving up of our rights and the pursuit of our self-interest. The spiritual war is about not giving way, but standing fast. How often we tend to reverse these two. We are all too inclined to give up or to give in in matters where we should stand fast, and too eager to stand fast where we should give ground. We need to learn to stand where we are commanded to stand, and to submit where we are instructed to submit.

What Our Text Tells Us About The Spiritual War
(6:10-13)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 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. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

(1) Coming to faith in Jesus Christ is to be understood as entering into every spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), but it is also the commencement of a great struggle with Satan and his forces. Let those who would dwell on the blessings of our faith also take note of the battle which we have entered into by faith in Jesus Christ, and which we must wage in His strength.

(2) The church is engaged in a spiritual war, and its enemy is Satan and a host of unseen angelic and celestial enemies whose power vastly exceeds our own. With a few exceptions, our enemies remain invisible to our eyes, but they nevertheless are real, and so is their opposition. These celestial enemies seem to have various forms, as is suggested by the variety of terms used by Paul to identify them: “rulers,” “powers,” “world forces of this darkness,” “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (verse 12). I doubt that we can fully grasp the variety and the number of those forces which oppose us. I would simply remind you that there seem to be various rankings of angelic beings, and that the description of heaven in Revelation speaks of creatures which will probably not be understood by us until we are in God’s presence (see Revelation 5:6, 8, 11).

The angelic beings have great power. Satan would seem to possess the greatest power. One dare not underestimate this power. Some time ago I heard a fine preacher speak of Satan as a “wimp.” I was shocked. How could one ever come to this conclusion from our text, or from any other? To underestimate his power is to underestimate the immensity of the spiritual struggle, and the corresponding need which we have for divine enablement, if we are to withstand Satan’s attacks. I would remind you that those who speak lightly of the celestial powers should be taken back by these verses:

9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed (2 Peter 2:9-12).

8 Yet in the same manner these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. 9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed (Jude 8-10).

We dare not underestimate our enemy, “who prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). From these words in 1 Peter, it take it that Satan does not have false teeth. He not only desires to devour, he will devour those who do not take up the “whole armor of God.”

(3) Paul’s focus in our text is not on every aspect of Satan’s opposition to God and man, but on his war with the saints. Satan carries on his warfare on various fronts. He seeks to keep unbelievers from the truth, and he may use his demons to possess men, but in Ephesians chapter 6 Paul’s concern is with Satan’s war against the church, and with the defenses which God has provided the Christian.

(4) In the spiritual war Satan employs a variety of strategies to oppose and to defeat the Christian. Paul does not speak of the “scheme” of the devil, but of his “schemes” (plural). When Satan tempted our Lord, as recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, he gave up, for the moment. But Luke makes it clear that it was only for a time, only until he could regroup: “And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Not only did Satan tempt our Lord with several different lines of approach, he purposed to continue to tempt Him, when the opportunity presented itself. Satan is an opportunist, with an almost endless variety of “schemes.”

(5) At the present, Satan’s opposition against the church is not a frontal attack, but a subversive attack through intrigue, deception, and trickery. The demons were shocked to discover that Jesus had come. They were expecting Him to come later, for their final confrontation (see Matthew 8:28-29). Satan’s strategy for the present time (until the final conflict) is that of subversive activity. He is presently employing deception and intrigue to trip up the Christian. This is a time of guerilla warfare, of snipers and booby traps, not of frontal attack.

(6) There is a coming, “evil day,” when the spiritual war will intensify, and when the dangers for believers will increase. It is true, in one sense, that the days are evil: “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). But Paul does not seem to be speaking of “evil days” in general but of a coming “evil day.” I understand this day to be that future day when satanic opposition will intensify, leading to the second coming of our Lord and the final destruction of Satan and his hosts (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Revelation 12, 20). The Christian warrior is to be characterized by vigilance, so that he will not be caught off guard by Satan’s schemes, and so that he will be able to stand in the final days of confrontation.

(7) The Christian’s weapons have been divinely provided, in Christ. Putting on the “full armor of God” is putting on the armor which our Lord girded Himself, when He set out to bring about the salvation of His own in an evil day:

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist (Isaiah 11:1-5).

16 And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him; And His righteousness upheld Him. 17 And He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. 18 According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; To the coastlands He will make recompense. 19 So they will fear the name of the LORD from the west And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream, Which the wind of the LORD drives. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 59:16-20).

When we put on the “full armor of God” we are actually putting on Christ:

11 And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts (Romans 13:11-14).

All too often, when men write about the spiritual warfare, too much prominence is given to Satan and his demons. Not so in Scripture, and certainly not so in our text. Paul sees to it that it is Christ who is preeminent. The enemy is Satan and his subordinates, but the victory is in Christ, and in the armor which He provides the saints.

(8) Paul’s instruction to put on the full armor of God is a command. During the Second World War, my father and many other men received a letter in the mail, that began something like this: “Greetings from the President of the United States.” That letter, as you may know, was notification of having been drafted into the military. The President’s “greeting” was not an invitation, it was a summons. One did not dare to ignore this letter, without expecting serious consequences.

Paul’s instructions concerning the spiritual war are similar, in that Paul is informing every Christian that they have been drafted, not to fight a physical war, but to fight a spiritual war. We are not encouraged to take up the “full armor of God,” we are commanded to do so. These verses are our marching orders, and we dare not ignore them, or fail to carry them out to the letter.

(9) Our protection against Satan’s attacks is assured only if and when we take up the full armor of God. Satan’s schemes are many, and he attacks us at any point he considers vulnerable. Thus, our armor must be complete. We cannot pick and choose our armor, but rather we must put all of it on. We must be completely equipped, or we are vulnerable to his attacks.

Paul’s emphasis on the “full” or “complete” armor of God in Ephesians chapter 6 teaches us something else, by implication. If we must put on the “full armor of God” in order to stand, then the armor of Ephesians chapter 6 must be the full or complete armor that we need. Why would Paul be so emphatic about putting on the full armor of God and then not tell us what all of that armor is. I would therefore conclude that we do not need any armor other than that found in Ephesians 6:10-20. I would also conclude that any “armor” which men might suggest in addition to God’s full armor is not necessary, and is indeed unnecessary.

(10) Our duty is not to attack Satan, or to defeat him, but rather to withstand his attacks. Our task is defensive, not offensive. Those who would attack Satan do not understand Satan’s power, or God’s plan. It is not we who will defeat Satan, but Christ. Our duty is to resist Satan, not to remove him. I hear Christians speak of “binding Satan” and I now hear Christians sing as though we can “run Satan out of town.” The Bible says nothing of these kinds of warfare, but only of our standing fast in the face of his attacks.

We are to stand (in effect, to stand still), because God is the One who wins the battle. In the Book of Revelation the saints who are “overcomers” do not defeat Satan. Indeed, many of them actually die at his hand (12:11). Satan’s final defeat (20:7-10) comes not at the hand of the saints, but from the hand of God, who sends fire from heaven (20:9).

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death” (Revelation 12:10-11).

And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:9-10).

In spiritual warfare the battle is the Lord’s. At times, God simply commanded the people to “stand still” and watch the Lord win the battle, without any human help:

10 And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 “Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. 14 “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:10-14).

When the Christian is actively engaged in the battle, it is the Lord who wins the victory (see Joshua 5:13–6:27). When David fought Goliath, he did not even have a sword, but only a sling. While David fought, it was the Lord who gave the victory. Even Goliath’s words to David made it clear that this young man could not prevail on his own. And David’s words made it clear that the battle, and the victory was the Lord’s:

41 Then the Philistine came on and approached David, with the shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, with a handsome appearance. 43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine also said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.” 45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. 46 “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” 48 Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground. 50 Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled (1 Samuel 17:41-51).

(11) Satan’s defeat and our defense is spoken of in terms of the gospel. Jesus spoke of Satan’s defeat a number of times in the Gospels. In every instance, His defeat is viewed as accomplished at the cross of Calvary. Our salvation and Satan’s defeat has already been accomplished by our Lord, when He died on the cross of Calvary and then rose from the dead, triumphing over His foes, foremost of whom is Satan himself.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out” (John 12:31).

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:8-11).

The Christian’s defenses are also directly tied to the gospel. They are truth, righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the word of God. Our deliverance from Satan’s power and our defense from his subsequent attacks are found in Christ and in the gospel which His death and resurrection have made a reality.

(12) The nature of our weapons tells us a great deal about the nature of the war we are in, and of the methods which Satan will employ in his efforts to destroy us. As we proceed with our study of each element of our armor, we will see that the armor which God has provided corresponds precisely to the schemes of Satan, and his methods of waging war with the saints. Thus, to know the armor which God has provided is to know the ways in which Satan will seek our downfall.

The Spiritual War From A Broad Biblical Perspective

Ephesians chapter 6 is one of the most thorough treatments of the spiritual war in the New Testament, it is but one of many texts which sheds light on this subject. In addition to the contribution of Ephesians chapter 6, we may add several other observations concerning the spiritual war which will help us in our study of Ephesians 6:10-20.

(1) Our victory over Satan’s attacks is not always evident in terms of his defeat and our success, but is sometimes won in what looks like our defeat and his success. When Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, it looked very much like he had won. But in our Lord’s apparent defeat (and Satan’s apparent victory) the Savior brought about our salvation and Satan’s defeat. So it will be for some saints. The Book of Revelation informs us that there will be a time when Satan and his subordinates will appear to triumph over the saints, but this should be viewed as a momentary defeat which accomplishes the purposes of God, and which serves as a prelude to Satan’s final destruction:

9 And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also (Revelation 6:9-11).

(2) Satan’s opposition is not to be found so much in the bizarre and the supernatural as it is in that which seems natural and even human. You will notice that the subject of demonization is not raised in our text. Neither is any emphasis given here to lying wonders and signs, although these are a part of Satan’s arsenal of weapons. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to doubt God’s goodness and to disobey His Word. His opposition to Job was evident in the form of natural disaster and human illness. The same appears to be the case with his affliction of Paul (see 2 Corinthians 12:7). His temptation of David seems to be in terms of an appeal to his pride (1 Chronicles 21:1). So, too, his temptation of our Lord was an appeal to what we would think of as natural ambitions and desires (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

(3) Satan’s opposition to the believer is seldom direct, and is most often through other means, which we might not recognize as being satanically inspired. In very few instances does Satan directly involve himself in his attack against men. He did directly tempt our Lord, but this is certainly the exception. Usually, he prefers to “speak” through other instruments, so that we don’t recognize that it is he who is opposing us. He spoke through a serpent in the garden of Eden, and he spoke through Peter when he resisted Christ’s plan to die on the cross (Matthew 16:23). More often, Satan employs his demons to do his bidding (see 2 Corinthians 12:7).

We are all familiar with these three forces, all of which are hostile to the believer: the world, the flesh, and the devil. I would like to suggest that Satan most often employs the world and the flesh to attack the believer. And so it is that Satan is sometimes identified as the ultimate culprit, when it would appear that the world or the flesh were the source of one’s temptation. Who would have seen Satan behind David’s numbering of the Israelites (1 Chronicles 21:1)? Who would have imagined that Judas’ temptation arose from anything other than his own greed? Who would have thought that the deception of Ananias and Sapphira was motivated by anything more than their own greed and desire for man’s praise? When the Scriptures inform us that Satan is behind a particular temptation, it is because the forces seem so natural we would not have expected any deeper, more sinister, source.

Satan is more than willing to accept men’s adoration and obedience indirectly. If we become his servants by serving our own interests and seeking the satisfaction of our fleshly desires, Satan gladly accepts our indirect submission to him. In fact, I think he even delights in it, because he is the great deceiver. How he must find pleasure in letting men think they are free, when they are really his slaves!

It does not seem advisable to give Satan credit for every evil deed, or to blame him for every instance of opposition, difficulty, or temptation. Job did not know the Satan was behind the tragedies which came into his life. It does not seem that he needed to know. What he needed to know what that an all-wise, all-powerful God was in control of the universe, and of his life. What Job needed to do more than to “bind Satan” was to believe and obey God. Satan’s fingerprints may often be found on much of the evil and suffering which takes place in this world, but some of the evil comes from our own flesh (James 1:13-15), and from living in a sinful and fallen world (Romans 8:18-25).

(4) Satan’s opposition is the outworking of his own rebellion and distorted perception. To put it simply, Satan’s opposition is guided by his own warped perception of reality. He cannot believe that anyone would worship God on the basis of Who He is, rather than on the basis of what He gives. Satan cannot think of God as our Reward, but only as the Rewarder of those who do His bidding. And so it is that Satan sought to afflict Job, thinking that his submission and obedience would immediately cease.

Satan tempts those in power by appealing to their pride and ambition, because that is the way he responded to his position of power. He appeals to those under authority to act independently, rather than to submit to those over us. He appeals to self-interest and he urges us to shun self-sacrifice. He knows nothing of grace, and he delights in the downfall of others.

Satan’s perception is warped. He is not all-knowing, nor is he all-powerful. He operates on the basis of his own distorted perception of reality. Sinful men easily and readily identify with his mindset and motivation, but Christians must reject it for the evil it is. And when Christians act like their Master, Satan is mystified and angered. He cannot fathom why anyone would submit to God and worship him.

(5) Satan is a defeated foe, but his complete demise is yet future. We have already alluded to Satan’s defeat at the cross of Calvary. Nevertheless, we shall say it once again. Satan’s demise is certain.

(6) Satan’s present opposition to the people and purposes of God appears to be detrimental to the church, but in reality Satan is actually furthering God’s purpose and plan for creation. God has purposed to delay casting Satan into the lake of fire because in his freedom to operate as the “god of this world” he is unwittingly fulfilling God’s purposes. He is thus bringing glory to God and producing that which God uses for our good. While Satan inspired Judas to betray our Lord, this was necessary to accomplish our salvation. And although Satan’s messenger may have afflicted Paul with a thorn in the flesh, this was for Paul’s good (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Satan is always on a chain, God’s chain. While he carries on his work with evil intent, God uses him for our good, and for His glory. There is not one thing which Satan is allowed to do which does not promote God’s purposes, His glory, and our good. The outcome of the spiritual war between Satan and God is certain. The struggle is a part of God’s eternal plan. And standing against his attacks in the strength of the full armor of God is our duty.

Conclusion

There is a war going on. It is not a war that is like the wars which are currently going on between nations today (although such wars may be a part of the bigger war). It is a spiritual war. It is a war between Satan and his fallen celestial allies and Christ and His church. It is an invisible war in that we fight against unseen forces. It is therefore a war which must be waged by faith, and not by sight. It is a war that we cannot fight in our own strength, but only in the strength which God Himself supplies.

The war is not being waged to see which side will win. God has already won the war by the death of His Son on the cross of Calvary (see John 12:31; 16:11). The war is for our good, and for God’s glory. The war is a part of God’s instruction to the angelic hosts (see Ephesians 3:8-11). The war is a part of God’s eternal plan and purpose for his creation.

The great question is not, “Who will win?,” but “Who will stand?” The question is not whether God is on our side as much as whether or not we are on His side. I remember this fascinating event in the Old Testament:

13 Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 And the captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (Joshua 5:13-15).

Joshua initially failed to recognize the captain of the Lord’s host. And so, when he approached him, Joshua asked this “man” if he was for or against Israel. The angel identified himself as the captain of the Lord’s host, making it clear that Israel was to follow him. We are sometimes too interested in getting God on our side, rather than getting on His side. He is the commander. His is the battle. David understood this even as he single-handedly opposed Goliath in the name of the Lord:

44 The Philistine also said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.” 45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. 46 “This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:44-47).

And so I must ask you this simple question, my friend. In this great spiritual war, whose side are you on? If you are still “dead in your transgressions and sins,” you are unknowingly under Satan’s control, serving him and in rebellion against God (Ephesians 2;1-3). You are at war with God. If, by faith in Jesus Christ, you acknowledge your sin and trust in the victory which Jesus has already won on the cross, then you shall be saved, in which case you shall wage war for God. How great is the difference between those who fight with God and those who fight for Him. Whose side are you on in the spiritual war?

We are in great danger, not when the enemy is great and powerful, but when we think that we can stand in our own strength, rather than in the strength which God pro