This book was originally published in 1957 by Loizeaux Brothers and is no longer in print. His written materials are used by permission.
Paul was one of a long list of godly men and women, beginning with Joseph in Egypt, whose prison experience was used by God to bring forth His praises. Here is solid evidence that God makes the wrath of men to praise Him. So testified Asaph in Psalm 76:10.
W. M. Taylor has written what he calls The Prison Literature of the Christian Church. Beginning with the era immediately preceding the Reformation, Taylor cites such worthies as Savonarola who, during his month of imprisonment before his execution, wrote his commentaries on the Thirty-first and Fifty-first Psalms; and gentle Anne Askew who, holding that in the Lord’s Supper the bread, after consecration, remained bread, wrote on the night before she was burned at Smithfield:
Like as an armed knight Appointed to the field, With this world will I fight, And faith shall be my shield.
Faith is that weapon strong Which will not fail at need; My foes therefore among Therewith will I proceed.
I now rejoice in heart, And hope bids me do so, That Christ will take my part And ease me of my woe.
William Tyndale, to whom perhaps our English Bible is owed more than to any other one man, while imprisoned at Vilvorde, requested his Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary. Defying the Pope and all his laws, he said: “If God spare my life, ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Thus Tyndale became known as “the man who hath translated the New Testament into English.”
Lady Jane Grey, on the eve of her execution, sent her Greek Testament to her sister with the prayer that God would give her sister grace to live in His fear and die in the true Christian faith.
Some of us cannot forget Pilgrim’s Progress, the fruit of John Bunyan’s labors while in the Bedford Jail; nor the letters of Samuel Rutherford, written from his confinement in Aberdeen; nor the hymns of Madame Guyon, written in similar circumstances, of which the following lines are but a sample:
My cage confines me round,
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of my soul.
These saints of God and countless others, like Paul, had learned to be content in whatever state they found themselves (Phil. 4:11). They proved that the grace of God is sufficient in every circumstance (2 Cor. 12:9). Realizing what God in grace had done for him, Paul accepted his long hours of confinement as an opportunity for a wider ministry for Him through the written word.
The city of Ephesus was the seacoast capital of proconsular Asia, and was one of Asia’s great religious, political, and commercial centers. The famous temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was situated in Ephesus. This mighty structure had taken more than 200 years to build and was the center of Diana-worship, concerning which we read in Acts 19:23-41. As a huge temple it served as a fitting illustration to Paul, when he wrote his Epistle to the Ephesians, of the true Church of Jesus Christ, the abode of the Holy Spirit. The substance of the epistle is, indeed, the calling and conduct of the Church. When Paul wrote from his prison in Rome, he would show the saints that in the invisible Church they had a temple, not made with human hands, infinitely more glorious than Diana’s. Worshipers of Diana gathered in Ephesus from all over the Roman Empire, believing that their image of Diana had fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35).
Such was Ephesus, a religious center; and, as is every great religious center, it was a hotbed of cults and superstitions. Silver images of various sorts were made and sold at a profit. Magical arts were practiced, even the Jews erecting a synagogue in that place (Acts 18:19; 19:8). But one day something of supernatural origin happened in that great seaport city. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached and a smashing blow was dealt the pagan metropolis. From this it never recovered.
We cannot be dogmatic on all of the details as to just when and by whom the church in Ephesus was founded. Several possibilities exist. First, on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended in power, seventeen nationalities were represented, among them men from Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital (Acts 2:9). Possibly these men were the first to carry the gospel back to the region round about Ephesus. In the second place, there is a possibility that Paul’s visit to Ephesus, on his return from Europe during his second missionary journey, was the occasion for the founding of the church there. We do know that at that time he entered into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and, while he did not remain for any extended length of time, he left Priscilla and Aquila, well-taught Christians, to carry on there. A third contribution of Christian truth made to Ephesus was through Apollos, a converted Jew of Alexandria, who visited the city, speaking and teaching diligently the things of the Lord (Acts 18:24-26). How or when the seed of God’s Word was first sown at Ephesus we cannot tell, but we may be certain that Paul’s three years’ stay there (Acts 20:3 1) made deep and abiding impressions upon the inhabitants. It was during the great apostle’s extended visit to that wicked city that the mighty power of the gospel was demonstrated through his life and ministry.
When Paul arrived at Ephesus, he found “certain disciples” (Acts 19:1), professed followers of Christ who had received the teaching of John the Baptist but who were ignorant of the full message of the gospel and the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. These men were about twelve in number. Paul was quick to discern their lack of understanding and propounded two questions to them.
His first query was: “Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?” (Acts 19:2). I have quoted the American Standard Version here, since Paul’s question was not, as the King James Version would suggest, whether at some time after their belief they had received the Holy Spirit. Actually Paul wanted to know if they had been born again. The answer was a sure indication that Paul had proper discernment in the matter, for they replied: “We did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given.” Again I have used the American Standard Version because the word “given” is added, and that word is necessary to complete the sense.
This small group had missed the real meaning of Pentecost. The condition of the Ephesian “believers” was akin to that of many church members today. They had a belief that was not unto salvation, since it lacked the genuine supernatural experience of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Some of my readers may want to differ with me here and tell me that these “disciples” were saved but, like the Jews today, they were out of date. Indeed the basis of their faith and baptism was not in the Redeemer who had already come and died on Calvary’s cross for the remission of sins and had come forth from death and the grave. They did not know the true gospel, and that the Holy Spirit was the one who saves a man the moment that man trusts the Saviour.
Paul realized that he could not build a church at Ephesus on such flimsy material. Nor can we! The presence of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart is the test of true Christianity, for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9).A fragmentary gospel is a spurious and dangerous gospel of another kind. If a man, upon his believing, does not receive the Holy Spirit, he has not believed unto salvation at all.
Eager to help the Ephesians, Paul asked his second question: “Unto what then were ye baptized?” (Acts 19:3). They answered: “Unto John’s baptism.” Notice, he did not ask if they had been baptized. He took that for granted. The unsatisfactory answer to his first question raised suspicion in his mind about their baptism. What might have prompted his question concerning baptism? I see an answer that is highly probable. Paul could not conceive of any one receiving true Christian baptism and yet being so ignorant about the new birth. If they had received the true believer’s baptism, they should have known something about the gospel and its power to save.
Now we are not to hold these disciples responsible for their ignorance. They were doubtless willing to learn but had been taught by Apollos who, while an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:24, 25). With all of this man’s knowledge, all of his eloquence, all of his fervency, and all of his boldness, he was sadly lacking in the truth of the finished work of our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord.
Apollos taught a preparatory baptism unto repentance, which looked forward to the coming of the King. Christian baptism looks back to His coming and sees the accomplishments of our salvation in Christ’s virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection, and visible ascension to the Father’s right hand. Christian baptism is the identification of the true child of God with his Lord in death, burial, and resurrection.
The result of Paul’s kind and straightforward approach is disclosed in these words: “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:5). At first thought I was inclined not to comment upon this verse at this point. But as I pondered it more I was impressed with the many who have been robbed of the truth of the gospel, yet who have submitted to certain rites such as infant baptism, confirmation, and the like. Perhaps it might help someone who reads these lines and who has come to a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, but who was baptized before conversion, to look further into this matter. Many persons have asked if they should be re-baptized. I shall quote from J. C. Macaulay who has written well on The Acts: “I doubt the validity!? of an ordinance administered apart from personal, living faith. Therefore, while I cannot lay down a law of procedure, I should point to this incident and encourage a following of the impulse of the renewed heart.” This has been well said and it expresses fully the mind of the present writer.
Paul’s next move at Ephesus found him in the synagogue where he spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). Here he witnessed to his Jewish brethren but they only hardened their hearts and refused to believe. His action at this point is of interest. Luke says: “He departed from them, and separated the disciples” (verse 9). Paul refused to linger where Christ was denied. Any true servant of Christ would hesitate in fear and trembling before dividing a church, but light can have no communion with darkness (2 Cor. 6:14), hence the only action remaining is to come out from among those in darkness and be separate. Personally, I believe it quite likely that this might have been the formation of the local assembly at Ephesus. Many local evangelical churches that are greatly blessed of God today exist as the result of some such movement. When men are determined to oppose the teaching of God’s Word, it is useless to continue with them.
The church at Ephesus continued for two years in a schoolhouse (Acts 19:9, 10), of which one Tyrannus was the headmaster. Many a rural church in our own country had its beginning in a public schoolroom. God wanted Asia to hear the gospel and the matter of a meeting place was no problem with Him. A man like Paul needs no fancy edifice in which to preach. For two years the ministry of teaching and preaching God’s Word flowed ceaselessly to all Asia from the local schoolhouse. Mighty spiritual movements need not emanate from great cathedrals. A Spirit-filled man may be the instrument of revival, no matter the environment in which you place him. Such was Paul.
The seal of God’s approval was obviously upon this zealous apostle in the notable miracles which were performed through him (Acts 19:11, 12). The very handkerchiefs which he touched brought healing to the sick. From other victims demons were cast. Observe please that these are called “special miracles” and that “God wrought” them. This was not God’s usual method but rather a special demonstration in a transition period before the Bible was completed, and the Jews were neither on legal ground nor on full New Testament ground.
Not until “divers were hardened, and believed not …” did Paul begin to feel satanic resistance. After that, some who heard Paul speak the gospel “spake evil of that way before the multitude” (Acts 19:9).
Before examining more closely the conflict in Ephesus, recall Paul’s mention of it in the following descriptive words: “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:8, 9). Later, in his second epistle, he adds: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8).
Two antithetical reactions to the preaching of the Word in Asia appear. Be assured that God’s Word did not return unto Him fruitless. It never does. When we come to examine the conquests in Asia we shall see, then, how the Word of God grew and prevailed. But the sword of the Spirit is two-edged (Heb. 4:12), affecting those who will not accept it as well as those who do. The antagonism between light and darkness, truth and error, is always sharp wherever and whenever a man preaches the whole council of God. Because he preached only a half-truth, the ministry of Apollos never created a stir, although he spoke boldly. But when Paul came among them they heard the Word of the Lord Jesus in all its fullness, and the struggle between the force of righteousness and sin became more open.
In the city an attempt to imitate the work of God was begun by one of the evil priests and his seven wicked sons. “Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (Acts 19:13). Little did those imitators, dealing in sorcery and witchcraft, know how terrible is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ against those who misuse that holy name. They thought they imitated the ministry of Paul, but they were ignorant of the fact that Paul did nothing of himself. God wrought the miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit. God did not tolerate those blasphemous imitators but dealt a hard blow to Satan’s emissaries and their sinister practice of the black arts. Paul had many adversaries, not the least of these being “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12).
The apostle faced opposition in still another form. Professional sculptors made silver images of the goddess Diana and sold them for profit in Ephesus. The leader of the silversmiths’ “union” was Demetrius, who seemed to have the power to call together those workmen of like occupation (Acts 19:24, 25). When Paul went throughout Asia teaching that “they be no gods, which are made with hands” (verse 26), sales for the silver shrines dropped and a trade riot broke out. Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s companions in travel, were dragged to the public theatre to be made a spectacle of (verse 29). Since the preaching of Paul had not only hurt the sale of images but had challenged the right of the Ephesians to worship Diana, wild excitement continued for the space of two hours amidst the shout of the natives of Ephesus: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (verse 34). Note their chief concern. When Demetrius spoke to his fellow-craftsmen, he said: “Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth” (verse 25). The honor of their goddess Diana was a secondary interest; financial gain was their main concern. Pious and religious shouts were but a cover-up for their real interests. Into the midst of this frenzied mob Paul would have gone to defend his companions, but some of his friends, who resided in Asia, restrained him (verses 30, 31).
Such are the conflicts where the true gospel is preached. Unfair and illegal business enterprises cannot survive where the Word of God goes out in power. As A. B. Simpson has said: “A gospel that goes down to the heart of Wall Street and turns business upside down must have some power in it.” The incident with the tradesmen and the public demonstration climaxed the conflict in Ephesus.
We will conclude our introductory study to the Book of Ephesians by glancing briefly at the extent of the victory wrought by God through Paul in Asia. First, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles]” (Acts 19:10). The conquest reached far beyond the city limits of Ephesus. Even Demetrius testified that “not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people” (verse 26). Such geographical gains are not appreciated until one realizes that it was to those seven churches in Asia, Ephesus being one of the seven, that the ascended Lord sent those last letters through John in the Book of The Revelation. To witness to Ephesus alone would never satisfy the heart of the Apostle Paul. This aggressive missionary of the early Church would not rest until all within reach of the gospel had heard. The noteworthy advance of the gospel in a pagan land was a remarkable stride in the founding of the church at Ephesus. The Church in our day cannot boast of such an accomplishment. Multitudes have not yet heard.
The measure of the conquest is seen in a demonstration of supernatural power in the performing of miracles. This was brought to our attention earlier in this chapter when we considered the conflict, namely, Satan’s attempt to imitate the work of the Lord (Acts 19:13).
Through Paul, God had wrought special miracles in healing the diseased and casting out evil spirits. All miracles are the exercise of the direct power of God, performed sometimes through various instruments, and at other times apart from any instrument. In the case before us, God wanted to bear witness to both His messenger and His message, so He worked the miracles of healing through His servant. Thereby He authenticated the message in a special way. Any attempt on man’s part to duplicate these miracles is a poor imitation indeed.
The people at Ephesus had been held in superstition and trickery for many years, so God exhibited His might in a manner that would both confirm Paul’s ministry and condemn as preposterous the work of the exorcists and the evil powers of darkness. This was a mighty victory for the gospel. The victory is seen still further in the punishment which had fallen upon the wicked sons of Sceva.
A final glance at the extent of the conquest brings us to the great consecration service where “many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:18, 19). Thus these new converts showed the sincerity of their confession. The gospel had triumphed and they got right with God without weighing the cost. “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed” (verse 20).
It was with genuine believers, such as some of these, with whom Paul had the joy of working in the day of the church’s beginning in Ephesus. Oh, that a mighty wave of conviction of sin might sweep through our congregations today, and that men and women might destroy openly their tools of sin and vice!
The Epistle to the Ephesians, along with those letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon, is a Christological Epistle. Careful examination unfolds the grandeur and the glory of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that this book of six chapters is a treatment of the design and destiny of the Church, we must be careful to observe that the Church has her calling and consummation “in Christ.” All of her blessings are in Him. All of the purposes of God toward the Church are related to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that the Church, in its calling as an organism and in its conduct as an organization, is seen from the Christocentric standpoint. The most significant phrase in the epistle is made up of the two words, “in Christ.” If one is not “in Christ” he can know nothing experientially of these “spiritual blessings.” R. W. Dale has said: “The doctrinal teaching of this epistle is very little more than a development of the single expression, ‘in Christ.’” Except a man be “in Christ,” he can claim none of the blessings of God as his redemption rights. We cannot by-pass Jesus Christ to get to God.
The first three chapters of the epistle deal with doctrine; the last three chapters, with duty. In the first half Paul explains the riches of God’s grace; in the last half he exhorts the recipients of God’s grace.
Two verses give Paul’s usual method of opening a letter. In this, the salutation, the writer designates the author and the addressee: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1).
There are no serious doubts among commentators concerning the Pauline authorship of this epistle. Confined in a prison in Rome, well stricken in years, Paul writes a letter different from his other epistles. Controversy is absent. Warning against any particular error of doctrine is missing. Yet this particular difference causes no concern, for both the external and internal evidence are convincingly strong.
Paul designates himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He was alike Christ’s possession and His representative. The risen Lord having both saved and sent him, Paul became God’s minister to the Gentiles. Having completely surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, his learning, zeal, and teaching ability were all consecrated to the service of his Master. He was truly an apostle “by the will of God.”
“By the will of God” gives additional authority to Paul’s position as an apostle. When a man is sent by the will of God, then his hearers will do well to heed his message. Right here we might notice that the will of God is mentioned four times in this first chapter (verses 1, 5, 9, 11). The will of God reaches far back into eternity past, long before the foundations of the earth were laid. What a blessed privilege every servant of God has when he is called to make this known to others! Let us exercise the greatest care lest we interpose anything between the will of God and ourselves while we are here on earth. The human will has no place or function in redemption or in active service apart from the divine will. Every exercise of the spirit, mind and body reaches its loftiest position only when it is motivated by God’s will.
The letter is addressed “to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The word for “saint” is hagios, and it means a holy one. Paul usually applied this term to the true child of God. The primary meaning of the word is separated or set apart.
The Roman Catholic Church has tainted the word “saint” with so much superstition that it is almost impossible to restore it to its original and intended use. Today its application is to any who exhibit an exceptional, artificial type of piousness, or to those whose own works merit the Pope’s canonization. According to the Bible, all Christians are saints (Heb. 10:10, 14). The temple was at one time holy, not because of its materials and magnitude, but because it was a set-apart place for the service of Jehovah. The altars were holy, the vessels were holy, the sacrifices were holy, the priests were holy, all because they were divinely chosen to discharge the function of holy service to the Lord. People in their ignorance call theirs the “All Saints Church,” and refer to the apostles as “Saint Peter” and “Saint Paul,” but God calls all who have been washed in the blood of the Lord Jesus and born again by the Holy Spirit “saints” (I Cor. 1:2).
It is God who sanctifies us. He sets us apart; we do not consecrate ourselves. “Saint” suggests no personal merit on man’s part, but a condescending act of Almighty God in setting apart those who believe in His Son. H. A. Ironside has said: “We do not become saints by saintliness, but we should be characterized by saintliness because we are saints.”
The letter, moreover, is intended for “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” The “faithful” are not mere professors but those who demonstrate their sainthood by their saintliness. Faithfulness to Him whose name is held, bears witness to others of God’s calling. Faith in Christ is much more than intellectual assent; it includes a surrender of the intellect, the heart, and the will to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The name and fame of a church and its testimony will remain only so long as its members are “faithful in Christ Jesus.” When a man truly has faith in Christ he will keep faith with Christ. If one is not true to Christ, then he has exercised no faith in Christ.
The typical Pauline salutation continues with the words: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). Paul combined the two forms of salutation used by the Greeks and the Hebrews to send his Christian greeting. Here is a twofold blessing from two persons. The Father sends His grace and peace; the Son says: “Give them Mine, also.” It could not be otherwise, since the Son shares the exalted position with the Father “in the heavenlies.” God and Christ are One, thus they are the one source of “grace and peace.” The gospel that Paul preached is always known as the gospel of grace, the gospel of the unmerited favor of God.
Notice that God will not offer peace apart from grace. Nor can any man have peace before he accepts God’s grace. These two words form no mere conventional courtesy, as the Greeks and Hebrews might use them, but rather are they a rich Christian blessing.
Are we saints? Then let us receive and appropriate what is ours, for what is sent to us we have a right to possess. All through the pages of the New Testament the grace and peace of God in Christ shine gloriously forth. To accept His grace is to know His peace--peace not only with Him but with others also. Ephesians will unfold for us “the riches of His grace” (1:7). Twelve times in this one epistle Paul uses the word “grace.” May each of us lay claim to our possessions.
All of the following blessings are ours because of grace:
There are doubtless many more, but these will suffice to show us the greatness of our need in appropriating God’s grace.
The next verse is the key verse in the first half of the epistle, since it introduces us to the source of our wealth in Christ. It is definitely a word of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (1:3).
The adjective translated “blessed” means to celebrate with praises. At the very outset Paul magnifies the grace of God toward the Ephesians so that they, too, might be filled to overflowing with praise. God is said to bless us when He bestows upon us every provision for our spiritual peace and prosperity. We are said to bless God when we offer praise and thanksgiving for His provision.
More than twenty-five years had passed since Paul met the Lord Jesus Christ near Damascus. Still he was counting his blessings and praising God for them. Paul is not praising God because God desires to bless him, nor because God has determined to bless him at some future time, but because God “hath” blessed him. Yes, and “us”! God is the Blesser, and the blessed are those, and those only, who have received His Son as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “us” here are the “saints,” and as God’s set-apart ones we are eligible for the blessings.
The nature of the blessings is said to be “spiritual.” There is possibly more than one explanation of this. First, Paul might have intended to distinguish the blessings from those mercies of God that are material, physical, and temporal, that are intended particularly for the body. Second, Paul possibly meant by “spiritual blessings” those blessings pertaining to the Holy Spirit and intended to minister to the human spirit. The saint’s citizenship is in heaven, hence he no longer sets his affection on things in the earth. Moreover, his principal needs are spiritual so that he must be “strengthened with might by His [God’s] Spirit in the inner man” (3:16).
Too many of us place the emphasis upon those things that are temporal and transient while we neglect the values that are spiritual and eternal. The Father designed every spiritual blessing for the Church. They are ours “in Christ,” and are delivered to us by the Holy Spirit. The lasting joy that God bestows upon us is not in the things of this world, but rather in “heavenly places” or, better still, “in the heavenlies.” Ours are heavenly experiences and heavenly privileges conferred upon us by God in Christ. They originate among the eternal and unseen things.
The first of the believer’s possessions for which Paul praises God follows: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (1:4). We must see at the outset that all that God had done for us in Christ is “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). In eternity past, God had certain settled purposes which He accomplished at various times during the dispensations of human history, and here we are carried back into the remotest ages of past eternity where, says Paul, God was loving us and planning that all who are “in Christ . . . should be holy and without blame before Him.” God’s eternal choice, then, was that all who are in Christ should be a holy people.
The phrase “chosen us in Him” could be rendered “chose us for Himself.” Chose us for what? Not to everlasting life, but that we should be spotless for Himself! The election in the divine Mind was that all those in Christ should be “holy ones,” free from every defilement of sin.
It is not difficult to see how God should purpose in His heart, before the world came into existence, that He was going to have a holy people who would be to the praise of His glory and grace. To that end God created Adam, and in spite of the fall of man, God is still going to carry out His purpose in Christ. The divine choice will find its consummation when Christ returns for His bride “to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Temporarily we are in this world, but not of it. We were chosen to be holy before its foundations were laid; we are merely passing through it to another world. We might fail to practice holiness here, but the eternal purpose of God will be fulfilled when our Lord Returns and “we shall be like Him” (I John 3:2).
God has selected a people to be His holy habitation. Are you in that company, my friend? You are, if you are “in Christ.” If you are not, you may this very day join that holy band by trusting Him as your Saviour. Then you, too, will be a part of the true Church of God’s creation and design which, on the great presentation day, will be presented a glorious Church, “holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
The ultimate purpose of God’s choice is not salvation but sanctification. John Calvin stated that it is wrong to say that any of us may attain perfection in this life; nevertheless, this is the goal to which the whole course of our lives must be directed, even though we cannot reach it till we have finished our course. Let us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, saying with Paul: “. . . neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). And let us praise God that we have been chosen to be a part of the completed structure, a perfect Church throughout all eternity.
When God designed His Church in eternity past He “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (1:5). The American Standard Version makes it clear that the verb translated “predestinated” is “foreordained.” It means to appoint, or to determine beforehand.
To what have we been predestinated? Neither this verse nor any other verse in the Bible teaches that God decrees that some men are foreordained to everlasting life while others are foreordained to everlasting death. Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), and “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. 2:3, 4).
Notice, please, that we have been foreordained unto adoption as sons. The word “adoption” is used only by Paul. To understand its meaning, you must lay aside the idea of the word as used today when, by a legal act, an adult person takes a minor, not his own, into the relation as his child. The adoption of the believer is still future, being a divine act whereby God sets a goal for the believer. Paul states clearly that our adoption is something for which the believer is “waiting” (Rom. 8:23), having been foreordained “unto” adoption. Although we do have here and now the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15), His Presence in us is merely the seal, or guarantee of a future act of son-placing. Adoption does not mean son-making, for in eternity we shall be sons no more than we are now but, rather, at that time, we shall be properly placed in God’s show-case and displayed as sons. God has predestinated us unto the adoption--it is future. Therefore, His sovereign act of adoption can have nothing whatever to do with His choice of us.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul explains how Jesus Christ secured our adoption for us by His death at Calvary in order that “we might receive” it (Gal. 4:5). Our present standing is that of sons; for, “beloved, now are we the sons of God.” And how wonderful this is! But, adds the Apostle John: “It doth not yet appear what we shall be” (I John 3:2). The fact of our present son-making and our future son-placing were all “according to the good pleasure of His will.” Our future position, which was God’s choice, was not only His will but His enjoyment. The mightiest angel in heaven will not share in the glory of the believer’s future position.
If you, dear reader, are not a son of God, your future is dark indeed. But even now there is time. If you trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour, God will make you His son now and place you in an exalted position as His son in eternity. Then you, too, will join in praise to God for His goodness.
Verse six teaches us that every true believer has been foreordained to be such a trophy of the grace of God as to cause men to praise the glory of His grace. Paul writes: “To the Praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (1:6). These words, not to be considered by themselves, are just a link in a golden chain of thoughts beginning with verse 3.
God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing because He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, one day to place us on display as His glorified sons. Then His holy and unblemished Church will cause men and angels to acknowledge the wonders of His infinite love and grace toward sinners.
God has foreordained that men shall extol and praise His grace in all its eternal glory. This is the terminus of His kindness toward sinners. Today this is demonstrated only meagerly in the lives of His true followers, but in the end of the age “He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (II Thess. 1:10).
The Lord of heaven and earth will be wondered at by all when the Church Age has run its course and the last member has been added to the Church. With mingled surprise and admiration, the spectators of earth and hell will marvel at the monument of divine grace. All who have put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ are certain to be present and a part of that magnificent exhibition, for, adds the apostle: “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” We are already accepted in the Father’s presence because we are in Christ. What condescending love and grace! We are accepted, but only because the Father has “made us” so. Let us continue to praise God, not only for what we have been saved from, but for what we are saved to.
These verses (1:3-14) are referred to by Charles R. Erdman as a hymn of praise consisting of three stanzas. He says that the first relates to the past: God the Father is the subject, and the refrain closes with the words, “To the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:6). The second stanza relates to the present: God the Son is the subject, and it concludes “to the praise of His glory” (1:12). The third stanza relates to the future: God the Holy Spirit is the subject, and it concludes “unto the praise of His glory” (1:14). And then Dr. Erdman shows that the three stanzas are bound into a harmonious unity by recurring references to Christ: “In the Beloved,” “In Christ,” “In Whom.”
We have come now to the second stanza of Paul’s wonderful hymn of praise (1:7-12). The first stanza makes clear the work of God in grace in eternity past. The second shows God’s grace manifested toward us now in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Paul continues: “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (1:7). Before the sinner becomes saved he is a captive in the slave-market of sin. He is sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil. As a slave in bondage he needs to be freed. Someone must purchase him and take him out of the market of sin. Christians, once bondmen, now have redemption.
The word “redemption” appears three times in Ephesians, and it means to set free by the payment of a ransom. The ransom price of the slave is the blood of Jesus Christ, and if any man is to be released from the power and penalty of sin it must be “through His blood.” The penalty for sin is death (Gen. 2:17). Death is sin’s wages (Rom. 6:23). Only a substitute life will satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11), and the Son of man gave His life a “ransom” (Matt. 20:28), all who trust in Him are assured of release from sin’s power and penalty, but only “through His blood.” In the first stanza, the Father plans our redemption (1:4-6); in the second, the Son provides it. We shall never be able to overestimate the worth and power of the death of Jesus Christ. God displayed His wisdom and power in creation, but only in the death of His Son do we see a manifestation of divine compassion for sinners, and the only responsibility imposed upon sinners is that of believing. Redemption is a present fact: “we have redemption.”
Paul includes in the same sentence, “the forgiveness of sins.” To “forgive” is to release from guilt. God holds resentment against the unbeliever, the resentment being justly provoked by a violation of His holiness; but when the sinner comes to Christ, guilt is removed and resentment ceases. A man may forgive a friend who has wronged him, but the forgiveness cannot cancel the guilt. But when God forgives a sinner He actually remits the sin and removes the guilt. Forgiveness for the believing sinner is an act of God whereby He sets aside absolutely and eternally, by judicial decree, all condemnation and guilt. Judicial forgiveness, in contradistinction to the Father’s forgiveness of His sinning child (I John 1:9), covers all sin, and by it the believing sinner is pardoned forever. It forever absolves and acquits the sinner. But forgiveness was dear to the Forgiver. It cost the life of God’s Son.
Observe the measureless abundance of divine forgiveness--“according to the riches of His Grace” (1:7). No adequate explanation of divine forgiveness can be made apart from those beautiful and precious words. Only the view of the depth and degradation of our sin will cause us to appreciate in any degree the limitless ill-merited favor of God. The word “according” shows the measure of God’s grace in forgiveness. “Riches” suggests the inexhaustible springs of liberality. Have you ever tried to estimate how rich God is in grace? He has grace enough for every sinner and riches to spare. And to think He gives liberally to all in proportion to His riches!
That we might know the eternal purpose of God provided for us in His Son, “He hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (1:8). God makes His purpose known and then gives His children the capacity to understand and appreciate it. The truths of God are deep truths, but “God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Cor. 2:10). The desire in the Father’s heart is that His Church should know the secret things of His divine plan. The Word of God is the revelation of His counsels, and all who search the Word may have an intelligent understanding of His wonderful plan. We, as the redeemed saints of God, “have the mind of Christ” and can foresee the ultimate destiny of the whole creation.
How does God abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence? The answer comes to us in the next verses: “Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him” (1:9-10). This is the manner in which He made His grace to abound toward us in all wisdom and intelligent understanding. He made known unto us the mystery.
A mystery is a truth once hidden but now revealed. A mystery is not mysterious in the present connotative meaning of the word but a secret now revealed by God. There are a number of mysteries in the New Testament, the true meaning of which God disclosed to Paul. In confidence God has much to tell His own concerning His plan for Israel, the Church, and the world. All of the purposes of God find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This present dispensation began with the revelation of God in the virgin birth and virtuous life of His Son. The revelation reached its climax at Calvary. And He continued to reveal Himself in His bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven.
At this moment the authority of Jesus Christ is not fully acknowledged in the earth, but in the end of the age all things in heaven and in earth will find their headship in Christ. In Colossians, Christ is seen as “the Head of the body, the Church,” but when He comes again, by Him God will reconcile all things unto Himself, whether they be things in the earth or things in heaven. God will head up all things in Christ. Many military leaders have dreamed of world empires, but God has “highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
The “times,” or seasons, suggest that God is developing His plan through a series of definite and successive stages, the fullness of which has not yet come. However, it is God’s intention in the final important season to send His Son to earth again to sum up all things in Him. This divine intention was at one time unknown, even to the prophets, but according to God’s good pleasure He has made it known to us now. Our Lord’s first coming was in the fullness of time. However, in that day He will not merely offer Himself but will establish His throne and rule with a rod of iron.
When speaking of the future glory of Christ, the apostle is reminded again of the believer’s position, for in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (1:11). The real meaning of this verse is missed entirely if we hold to the King James Version. Let us see it in the American Standard Version--“In whom also we were made a heritage . . .” (1:11, A.S.V.). We just saw in verse 10 how that everything in heaven and earth will be unified in Christ. Now Paul adds that, in Christ, the believer is God’s chosen portion or private possession. The saints are predestinated to be His inheritance. Of Israel it was said: “Yet they are Thy people and Thine inheritance”; “For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance” (Deut. 9:29; 32:9). When Christ returns in glory to establish His kingdom, all history and creation will be combined in a glorious and harmonious consummation as His inheritance, but the apex of His inheritance will be those whom He has redeemed with His own blood along with regathered Israel. This is God’s eternal purpose and He works all things after the counsel of His own will. What majestic beauty and simplicity in the purpose of God! It is not merely that Christ shall receive the earth and all that is in it, but that we have been made His heritage.
Only as we are “in Christ” are we God’s inheritance, and the reason He made us His inheritance is “That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ” (1:12). Though now we are the objects of His love and mercy, eventually we shall be the subjects of His glory.
Speaking through the Prophet Malachi, God said: “And they shall be Mine . . . in that day when I make up My jewels” (Mal. 3:17). Here the word “jewels” means special treasure, and it is used first of David who, upon setting his affection on the house of the Lord, stored away his treasure of gold and silver for the building of the temple. Even so God is storing away His special treasure, building a holy temple, “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21). As God looks down upon this sinful earth He sees a company of despised followers of His Son, and He says: “They shall be Mine when I make up My special treasure.”
We are of greater worth to God than angels. We are His costly treasure! Someone has said: “When God found me, I was no better than a cobblestone--not worth picking up. But He took me into His laboratory of grace, and by the chemistry of atoning blood He processed me, and I came out as His jewel--a bit rough, I’ll admit, but after a few years of cutting, buffing, and polishing, He will present me at last before His throne absolutely flawless.” How wonderful it all is! Thus the second stanza of this wonderful hymn of praise concludes “to the praise of His [Christ’s] glory.”
We come now to the third and last stanza of Paul’s hymn of praise (1:13-14). In the first stanza (1:3-6), we saw the plan of the Father wherein we were chosen, predestinated, and adopted that we might be to the praise of His glory. In the second stanza (1:7-12), we saw the provision of the Son wherein we were redeemed and forgiven that we might be to the praise of His glory. Now we are to look at the last stanza (1:13-14), wherein we see the pledge of the Spirit unto the praise of His glory. The Father finished His plan. The Son finished the work which the Father gave Him to do. Now the Holy Spirit is in the world fulfilling His pledge.
Verse 13 contains three prominent words, each essential to the other. They are “heard,” “believed,” and “sealed.” Here we shall see the work of the Holy Spirit in the divine plan. All three Persons in the Godhead have had a pertinent part in man’s redemption.
What is the Spirit’s work? All men being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, man needs new life. Since the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2), He quickens us from spiritual death.
How does the Spirit accomplish this quickening? The instrument He uses is the Word of God. In Ephesians it is called “the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Elsewhere we are reminded that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Paul says: “Ye heard,” and “ye believed.” It is through the Word that men are born again, “For the Word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, A.S.V.). Only when we hear the gospel are we born again by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5), “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Pet. 1:23). The written Word of God is the living, active, sharp, penetrating, discerning sword of the Spirit by which men are brought face to face with God’s plan of salvation. The duty of the sword of the Spirit is to bring life, but all who refuse it are slain by it. We cannot adequately explain our salvation apart from the Spirit’s ministry through the Word.
Upon “hearing” and “believing” the Word, immediately “ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). When we hear the gospel our part is to believe; it is God’s part to seal. We are not sealed by the Spirit but, rather, with the Spirit. Better still, the Spirit is the seal. It is “God who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (I Cor. 1:21-22).
A seal is a mark of authenticity or genuineness. “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (II Cor. 3:3). True believers are the credentials of Christ, His letters of recommendation to a lost world. A letter is the written expression of the writer; hence the children of God are not those whose names are written in ink or engraved in stone, but those upon whose hearts the Holy Spirit has written the evidence of the power of God’s Word. The distinguishing mark between the false professor and the true Christian is the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, a seal is the mark of ownership. God knows us by His seal. Jesus said: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine” (John 10:14). As livestock are distinguished by the owner’s brand, even so God has His own special brand whereby we are marked out as His possession, and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). The stamp of validity is God’s seal, the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the sign that we are His people and members of the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Then, too, the seal is the mark of security, for the Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (1:14). Here is the answer to the problem some men have regarding the preservation of the believer. Wherein does our security lie? The word “earnest” denotes a down payment, or a pledge that an agreement will be kept. Now God has offered us eternal life upon belief on His Son. But can we be certain that we shall enter into that life after we die? Yes, indeed! The earnest bound the bargain, and the deposit will not be returned until the remainder of our redemption, which is the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23) is fully realized. The Holy Spirit is in the earth as God’s deposit, or guarantee, until Jesus Christ comes again to receive His own unto Himself. The indwelling Holy Spirit is our guarantee of a finished transaction and a safe delivery of spirit, soul, and body to heaven. Our future inheritance of glory is assured, for the sealing with the Spirit is designed to give us certainty that the future will bring a completed redemption, and that “unto the praise of His glory.”
The epistles of Paul are noted for their prayers offered to God in the interest of the saints. W. H. Griffith Thomas has said that there are few more precious subjects for meditation and imitation than the prayers and intercessions of the great apostle. The greatness of the man and his ministry can be attributed in a large part to his prayer life.
There are two prayers of Paul recorded in Ephesians. The first prayer is before us; the second is to be found in 3:14-19. If prayer for others is a test of one’s own spiritual life, then Paul ranks high among the godly leaders in the history of the Church. Most of our prayers are taken up with ourselves or with those nearest and dearest to us. Needs of others occupy a small place in our prayer life. Paul’s prayers are included by the Holy Spirit as a corporate part of the epistle.
First, consider the occasion of the prayer. It commences with the word “wherefore,” which literally means on account of this. In the preceding verses Paul has issued, by the Holy Spirit, some profound teaching on the work of the triune God in making plans for the completed redemption of all believers. Now, because of this, he desires that they should possess an experiential knowledge, having the doctrine transmitted into actual experience. He would have them enjoy the full scope of their inheritance in Christ.
Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for the saints at Ephesus, for, says he: “I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints” (1:15). Two things about the Ephesian Christians were controversial pieces: (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love to all the saints.
The object of their faith was the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not ashamed of Him, for obviously others were hearing of their faith. Paul says: “I heard.” Where people are soundly saved they will not hide their light under a bushel, but will proclaim the joys of salvation found in Christ. Then, too, where faith is genuine, love will be in evidence. One of the unmistakable signs of the new birth is one’s conduct toward “all the saints.” True Christian love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Where He is in control, there must be love to all the saints. Love is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, for “We know that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14). While true love embraces all men, it reaches out in a particular way to those who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 6:10). Faith begets love.
Let us consider further the objectives of the prayer. Paul’s earnestness made his prayers intelligent and specific. He knew that general prayers could expect general answers, so why pray if there was nothing to pray about? But he did pray, and the Holy Spirit has preserved for us one of the most profound petitions in all of the apostle’s writings.
The prayer is addressed to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory” (1:17). This suggests to us that the Christian’s God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the Father to whom glory belongs, for He is “the God of glory” (Acts 7:2). And to think that the Father to whom glory belongs, who is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), the “Father of [our] Spirits” (Heb. 12:9), and the “Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17), is our Father! O Christian, rejoice! How can a Christian ever think of calling any man his holy father, as Romanists do, when he has God as his Father? Our heavenly Father is the source of every blessing. To Him be all glory! The first request in the prayer is for “wisdom and revelation” (1:17). When Paul requests for the saints “the spirit of wisdom and revelation,” he is not praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit’s Presence. They have already received the Holy Spirit as the divine seal (1:13). Paul desires for them that heavenly wisdom and revelation which is imparted by the Holy Spirit.
“Revelation” is the important word here, for revelation is the key to all knowledge. The ministry and office work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to the Christian the meaning of all truth, whether historical or prophetical (John 14:26; 16:12-15). The Christian has no excuse for ignorance, since the Holy Spirit was given to reveal even “the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2:10). Some men are wise in Hebrew and Greek grammar and the mechanics of Bible interpretation, but Paul is not praying for the tools of knowledge. He covets for them a wise and understanding spirit that none can impart but the Holy Spirit Himself.
Why do Christians not have a wise and understanding spirit in things pertaining to God’s Word? The answer lies, in part, in the last phrase of verse 17, namely, “in the knowledge of Him.” Christ is true wisdom and true knowledge. Three other translations of this verse make the deeper meaning clear:
That the God of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Father glory-clad, may, in bestowing the full knowledge of Himself, bestow on you the Spirit which is manifested in divine illumination and insight into the mysteries of God (Way).
For I always beseech the God of our Lord Jesus Christ--the Father most glorious--to give you the spirit of wisdom and penetration through an intimate knowledge of Him (Weymouth).
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may grant you the Spirit to give wisdom and revelation which come through a growing knowledge of Him (Williams).
Surely you have caught the force of Paul’s statement. Wisdom and revelation come to us only by intimate associations with our Lord. A growing knowledge of the Author of the Bible guarantees a wise and understanding spirit in discernment of His Word. Paul would have us seek to know God, for then we shall have a Spirit-given knowledge which is accurate and thorough (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9), not merely an intellectual knowledge. Human philosophy says: “Know thyself.” Our Lord said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou has sent” (John 17:3). Ordinary knowledge may be acquired; spiritual insight into the deep things of God is a gift (Jas. 1:5).
The prayer continues: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (1:18). The American Standard Version reads: “the eyes of your heart,” not mind. The “heart” is the inner man, including the emotion and will; it is the whole self, man’s inward being. This marvelous faculty of spiritual sight is lacking in the unregenerated man. He is powerless to apprehend spiritual things. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Now the eyes of the believer’s heart must be continually taken up with his Lord in order that his knowledge of spiritual truth might increase.
Paul requests for the saints the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ that they might know three things:
(1) “The hope of His calling.” God has called us, but to what purpose? He has called us to perfection in the likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; I John 3:1-2). He has called us to a completed righteousness and to the completed redemption of our bodies. He does not call a believer to hope for the forgiveness of his sins: they are gone. The hope of His calling is to see Him and be one with Him. One day our Lord will come again, and we shall all be changed to see Him as He is and to be like Him. Such a glorious hope inspires to holy living and to a hatred of all that is of this world. “Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3). All Christians have the same hope. It is Christ’s coming to take His own to be with Himself.
(2) “The riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Here Paul prays that we might have a full appreciation of our worth to God. Already we have noted that God made us His heritage that we should be to the praise of His glory (1:11-12). God has an inheritance. His inheritance is in His saints. The gold and the silver and all the universes are His. He has riches untold. But His riches are not in the universes that He possesses, nor in the substance of the earth that is His, but in the saints that He purchased at infinite cost, namely, the precious blood of His only begotten Son (I Pet. 1:19). Beloved Christian, think not of what you can get from God but, rather, think of what you mean to God. The Christian Church is precious to God. He purchased it and paid for it with the blood of His Son. Paul would have us appreciate our dignity. I cannot understand how this can be, but I know that God has an inheritance even in me.
(3) “And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (1:19). What an objective in prayer! That men might know the measure of God’s power. The Christian needs supernatural power, and God would have us see how great is His power to accomplish His purposes in us. How much spiritual strength is available for me in my daily life? How much divine energy is at my disposal? The power that God has made available to the believer is “according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (1:19-21). Here is the inexhaustible strength of God in taking His crucified Son who was dead and buried, and raising Him from among the dead to His present majestic position in heaven. What power! The same continuous current of His mighty power stands available to the faithful, to all who will believe.
Can you conceive this? The power which raised Christ from the grave, lifted Him to heaven, put all things under His feet and made Him the Head over all to the Church, is to us-ward who believe. How can we fail with Him as our Head and with such power at our disposal?
Now consider the last phrase. God “gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (1:22-23). Jesus Christ has been exalted to absolute authority over His Church, hence through His sovereign Person and exalted position the Church takes her orders. He is the exalted Head over all. The order of the Church must be His will and every activity must exalt Him, since it is in the capacity of Head over all that God gave Him to the Church. When the members of the Church recognize this, then there will be no lack, for the Church will receive its fullness from Him. As the recognized Head He imparts the needed strength to accomplish every task. When the visible body of Christ on earth recognizes the invisible Head in heaven, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Popes, cardinals, and bishops are merely men; and when any man sets himself up as the head of Christ’s Church, it is sacrilege of the basest sort. Beloved, let us take our position in subjection to our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may enjoy victory all along the way, for we cannot be complete without Him (Col. 2:9-10).
The theme of Ephesians is Christ and His Church. In chapter one, the Church is likened to a body of which Christ is the Head. The Head is in heaven, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world, the Body, which is Christ’s purchased possession, is being formed. The Head without the Body is incomplete. When the Body is complete, the Head will come to unite the Body to Himself, never to be separated.
The symbolism is beautiful. In chapter two, the Church is likened to a building. Paul speaks of its foundation as being “the apostles and prophets,” its chief Corner-Stone is “Jesus Christ Himself,” and believers fitly framed together form “an holy temple in the Lord . . . for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (2:19-22). Such is the creation and design of the Church.
Ephesians is the thrilling story of how God creates anew the man that He created originally in His own image and likeness, but who, through disobedience, fell from his lofty position. The plan involved a perfect Head for the Body and a perfect Head-Stone for the Building. So in the fullness of time God sent His Son in a human body, and through His virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection, and visible return, He is restoring to the Father His fallen creature.
In our present chapter Paul shows the need for being made a new creation by reviewing the believer’s past history before he became saved. He shows the unregenerated man to be separated from God both by death and distance. It is a portrait of what every unsaved man is, and what every saved person was before trusting in Christ.
These verses are marked by a series of triplets. The three’s of the Bible make for interesting and instructive teaching. Bible triads represent strength and completeness. The Scripture says that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12). The verses before us contain a triad of evil and a triad of good: (a) the three ravaging forces are the world, the flesh, and the devil (verses 1-3); (b) the three redeeming facts are mercy, love, and grace (verses 4-6); and (c) the three resulting features are that the saints are made alive together with Christ, raised up together with Christ, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ.
The believer’s past position in the world was that of every unsaved man, “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1). The clearer the picture of our destitute condition before we were saved, the greater is our appreciation of what God has undertaken to do for us. The natural man is dead, a state into which he has come through trespasses and sins. “Man is separated from God because the life-cord has been severed.”
God had warned Adam: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Our first parents ignored the warning, and “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Sin and death came through Adam. In Adam’s sin all sinned; therefore in Adam’s sin all die. Because of the solidarity of the human race, no man has escaped sin. Therefore, death is universal.
Never in Scripture does death mean annihilation. H. S. Miller defines death as the separation of a person from the purpose or use for which he was intended. There are three kinds of death: (1) physical, the separation of the soul, or life, from the body (I Cor. 15:21-22; Heb. 9:27); (2) spiritual, the separation of the spirit from God (2:1; 4:18; I John 5:12); and (3) eternal, the everlasting banishment from the Presence of God (I Cor. 6:9, 10; II Thess. 1:9).
In Ephesians Paul speaks of spiritual death. The unsaved man may be physically and mentally alive to all of the pleasures of this world but dead spiritually (I Tim. 5:6). How foolish for someone who is spiritually dead to try to live the Christian life! It cannot be done. Suppose a person allows himself every indulgence and says to himself: “Ah, this is the life.” Then he comes to church occasionally to imitate the Christian life. Such effort is futile. You see, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men until we are made partakers of the life of God. Someone has said: “You cannot live a life for God until you receive life from God.” In physical death, the function of the body ceases; in spiritual death, there is no function of man’s spirit toward God. As far as the relation of the nations of the earth toward God is concerned, we live in a world of dead men. There is a state of intense physical activity, but until a man passes from death unto life (John 5:24), he remains alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18).
Three opposing forces of evil are responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death. The first of these is the world: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world . . .” (2:2). Here the word “world” should be translated “age.” The course of this age Paul describes in Galatians as “this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). The nature of the unregenerate man responds to the direction of the age, and the god of this age is Satan (II Cor. 4:4). This vile world is no friend to grace to help us on to God. Be not conformed to this age (Rom. 12:2) nor court its friendship (Jas. 4:4). Certainly “love not the world” (I John 2:15). The unsaved will follow the course and traditions of this world, but the Christian never! The world may answer the requirements of the unregenerate heart, but God’s true children seek those things which are above.
The second of the opposing forces responsible for holding man in the state of spiritual death is the devi1. Paul said that in times past we walked “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (2:2). It has been pointed out already that a personal devil is the god of this age. The saints who have been born again were born into God’s kingdom (John 3:3), having been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). The unsaved man is still in Satan’s kingdom and therefore is Satan’s slave. Satan separates men from God by blinding their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (II Cor. 4:4). Of course their blindness is self-chosen. They refused to believe. By rejecting their Deliverer, they fell into the clutches of Satan.
The great spiritual struggle in the world is the control of the soul of man--the God of light and life versus the god of darkness and death. If you are a rebel against God, then you are ruled by Satan, and he will continue his evil work in you to keep you separated from God. I shrink from the horror of my past, but I praise God for His remarkable delivering power.
The spiritually dead are held in separation from God, not only by the world and the devil but also by the flesh: “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (2:3). With our sin-controlled nature we formerly behaved ourselves according to our sensual appetites. Beloved Christian, this was our past. When I look at the pleasure-mad, lust-craving throngs today, I see myself as I was before God saved me by His power. And all Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, yielded to the desires of the flesh and the cravings after those things that were not good for them. I was a corpse in the cesspool of corruption when the Lord Jesus found me, but, praise God, He has given me His life and now my desires are toward Him. I was worthy to be judged, but now I am justified in Christ.
After Paul shows how three ravaging forces of evil separated us from God, he lists three redeeming facts: the fact of God’s mercy, the fact of His love, and the fact of His grace. The transition is marked with the words, “but God” (2:4). These words mark the turning point of man’s destiny. We were separated from God by the world, the devil, and the flesh, “but God!” God intervened and, were it not for His divine intervention, we would still be dead in our sins and separated from Him. Against the dark picture of human ruin we see divine redemption. Doomed to wrath, but God!
There is the fact of His mercy: “But God, who is rich in mercy . . .” (2:4). Praise God for His mercy, for it was mercy we needed. What is mercy? It is God’s exercise of pity and compassion upon the sinner with a forbearance he does not deserve. The whole of our salvation is ascribed to the mercy of God, and He is “rich in mercy.” Indeed, the Lord is merciful, full of mercy (Psalm 103:8). When the holy and eternal God who hates sin, loves and saves the sinner, that is mercy. He is the “Father of mercies” (II Cor. 1:3), and we need only come to His throne of grace to obtain mercy (Heb. 4:16). In chapter one we saw “the riches of His grace” (1:7) and “the riches of His glory” (1:18), and here we read that He is rich in mercy. Let us say with the Apostle Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3).
Then, too, there is the fact of His love: “. . . for His great love wherewith He loved us” (2:4). Abundant mercy and great love! Oh, the love of God! Who can fathom it? Who can explain it? We can do nothing better than ponder His own Word: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16); “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8); “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9).
Could I with ink the ocean fill,
Were the whole sky of parchment made,
Were every blade of grass a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though spread from sky to sky.
Finally, there is the fact of His grace: “By grace ye are saved” (2:5, 8). Grace is everything for nothing. It is helping the helpless, going to those who cannot come in their own strength. Grace sets aside my unrighteousness and demerit and gives me a righteousness I do not merit. God owes me nothing but He offers me complete salvation. That is grace. Man could do nothing whatever to plan his own salvation. It was planned by God before the foundation of the world. The world, the devil, and the flesh separated me from God; but by His mercy, love, and grace, He saved me.
We are to see now, in part, what God’s mercy, love, and grace accomplished for us. First, with Christ we were made alive--“quickened together” (2:5). We were spiritually dead; now we have been made spiritually alive. The believer passes through the same experience spiritually that the Lord Jesus did physically. We were crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). We died with Christ (Rom. 6:8); we were buried with Christ (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12); we have been made alive with Christ. Since He died our death, we died with Him. When you were saved, a dead man became alive, and to you was given a life you never possessed before. The same life-giving power that was demonstrated when our Lord gave life to the dead, when He Himself came forth from the dead, and when He will yet call forth from the graves all who have died, is the power at work in giving new life to the sinner who is spiritually dead. Our Lord Jesus said: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). That is the power at work when one is born again. The voice of God is the voice of power, and when a man hears and believes the Word of God, he “is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
Men do not get life through baptism, or the Lord’s supper, or church membership, but through hearing and believing the Word of God. And if the Word of life goes unheeded, the same God who offers new life to the sinner will one day banish the unbeliever from His presence forever. “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). Spiritual life, if it comes at all, must come from God. God wants to put new life in man, His own life, and this He will do only by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit. The receiving of this life is instantaneous the moment we, by the Spirit, believe the Word. Christ died and came forth from the grave alive; thus the believing sinner receives the life of the Son of God which is both spiritual and eternal.
The second miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “hath raised us up together . . . in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Dr. A. C. Gaebelein has pointed out that quickening and resurrection are not one and the same thing. Quickening means the giving of life. Resurrection, however, is the placing of that given life into the proper sphere. Having been quickened, or made alive, God has given to us a new position in the world.
When our Lord called Lazarus from death and the grave, “he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:43-44). In contrast to the condition of Lazarus when he received life, John and Peter, upon looking into Christ’s tomb, found both the linen clothes and the napkin that was about his head still lying in the tomb (John 20:4-7).
Too many professing Christians are like Lazarus who, while testifying to the fact of having received new life, know nothing of the blessed liberty that accompanies the new life. Many professing Christians are still bound by the grave-clothes of tradition and law and unbelief. You see, the unloosing of the grave-clothes was the condition of exercising the life in its proper sphere. Moreover, if the grave-clothes had not been removed, Lazarus would have sunk back into the tomb. When our Lord imparts new life, He delivers the sinner from the grave-clothes, which speak of the bondage of the law and sin. How sad to find so many in our churches cumbered with the death wrappings of those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins! “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). The believer’s resurrection with Christ is an escape from the bondage of sin, for he is “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Our spiritual resurrection is to effect a walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
Romans 6 explains how God deals with sin in the believer’s nature. The believer’s old nature, with its sinful possibilities, is never eradicated in this present life. Instead of the false teaching of eradication of sin, the Scriptures affirm the truth of the believer’s identification with Christ. Our Lord not only died for our sins (I Cor. 15:3), but “He died unto sin” (Rom. 6:10), and in the divine reckoning we died with Christ to sin. However, Christ did not remain in the grave; He was raised from the dead henceforth to walk in a new kind of life. Now “if we [believers] have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). No one can share Christ’s resurrection life who has not died with Him and who has not been made alive with Him. Judicially, Christ did not die His own death but ours. Likewise, when He was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him.
It is an essential fact that the saved man has been made alive with Christ. By an amazing and mighty act of God He reached down through human history and made His Holy Son one with the entire human race, thereby bringing into a perfect and mysterious union and oneness the life of the perfect Son of God and that of the sin-scarred posterity of Adam. The persons, then, who stand fused in this remarkable coalescence are Jesus Christ and the believing sinner. While some professing believers do not break completely from the fetters of the old life, there is a glorious future awaiting the redeemed. Paul wrote: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4).
Dear reader, do you say that you are a Christian? “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1, 2).
The third miracle of God’s mercy, love, and grace is that He “made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (2:6). Not only was our Lord made alive and raised from the dead, but He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10-11), even “on high” (Eph. 4:8) where God has highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:9). So it is with the Christian. He has been delivered from hell to heaven itself. This experience is not perfected in this present life, but it is very definitely so in a spiritual sense. As resurrection and quickening are not one and the same, even so ascension. In Old Testament times none but the high priest could enter into the holy place and, when he did, he represented all Israel; for he had their names upon the breast and shoulders of his garments. Christ is our “merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17), even Jesus the Son of God who is passed into the heavens. He is both understanding and compassionate (Heb. 4:14-15) as He intercedes in our behalf.
Now the wonder and glory of it all is that, when the eternal Son left heaven’s heights and descended to man’s lowest depths (Phil. 2:5-8), He paid our debt, delivering us from death and hell, and took us back with Himself. Here is the amazing outreach of God’s grace and the height of Christian position. Not only did Christ love us and wash us from our sins, but He “hath made us kings and priests unto God” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). We are as royalty in the presence of Royalty, since we are both a “holy priesthood” and a “royal priesthood” (I Pet. 2:5, 9). Each member of Christ’s true Church is a holy and royal priest called to the ministry of intercession and of offering up spiritual sacrifices to God. The saints not only comprise a spiritual house but the priesthood of that house. Priests were those who carried on the worship; thus any vested priesthood ordained of men is contrary to the plain teaching of God’s Word, since the saints comprise the only true priesthood.
Are we truly serving as priests, drawing near to God to offer up sacrifices of praise and intercession? Under the old covenant no individual ever held the offices of priest and king simultaneously. Such an honor was reserved for our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom Zechariah prophesied: “He shall be a Priest upon His throne” (Zech. 6:13). Now, as priests, we enter into the Holiest where our great High Priest has gone, and when He comes again to reign we, too, shall reign with Him. And while we wait for that day, let us exercise our priestly privilege. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15).
We come now to an important question, namely: “Why has God bestowed upon us the fruits of His mercy, love and grace?” Paul answers: “That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (2:7). Through all the millenniums to come in eternity, God will exhibit His glory and grace in those whom He has redeemed. The great purpose of God in redemption is not merely the safety and happiness of the redeemed, but His own glory. What a monument it will be! Angels and demons will see and know that God has triumphed through His Son. We look into eternity past and see the divine plan of the Church before the foundation of the world; we look into eternity future and see the perfected Church on exhibition as a trophy of the mercy, love, and grace of God, and that to the praise of His glory. Indeed, the remembrance of such kindness must be hallowed throughout eternity.
And oh, the certainty of it here and now! Not that we hope to be saved eventually, but “by grace are ye saved” (2:8). The entire transaction has been signed, sealed, and delivered, for “by grace have ye been saved.” The only appropriating agency in salvation is “faith,” and even that is not of ourselves: “it is the gift of God.” No works of man could put him in right standing with God, for then would he have whereof to boast. But God has justified us by His grace in order that not any one should glory. From start to finish salvation is the gift of God. Faith is the instrument by which we receive the gift, but even faith is a gift which comes to man by the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). God’s plan of salvation for the soul of man is finished, and redemption is free. Therefore you have only to believe, and God will save you for eternity. Praise Him for salvation.
Good works, nevertheless, have an important place in the life of every Christian: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (2:10). The “good works” spoken of here constitute one of the purposes of God in saving us, and these can be performed only by those who have been saved by grace. The word rendered “ordained” may be translated “prepared,” suggesting that God has cut out for each of us a special work of his own preparation. There must be an exhibition of the fruits of grace in this life as well as in the ages to come.
Notice, please, that the “good works” assigned to us are not our good works but His. These gifts our ascended Lord distributes to His own, and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we are able to use them. We are His workmanship doing His works. We may gaze upon the sun, the moon, the stars, the snow-capped mountains, or the beautiful flowers of every season, but these are not the best workmanship of God. The Church is God’s masterpiece, and it is the loftiest conception of beauty, unity, and usefulness--above everything else in the earth. God takes rough, crude sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, and produces vessels meet for the Master’s use. Sin-marred, defective material is transformed by God into useful instruments of righteousness. Now that we know this, life should be sacred to each of us.
The general theme in the verses before us differs little, if at all, from that contained in the preceding verses of this chapter. Here are listed more characteristics of the natural man, proving the need of regeneration. However, the message here seems to be directed in a peculiar way to the Gentiles alone. Before the day of Pentecost, which day was the birthday of the Church, the Gentiles included all people in the earth who were not Jews. Since Pentecost God sees a threefold division of the human race: the Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God (I Cor. 10:32), the last being made up of Jew and Gentile who have been saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s usage of the pronouns “we” and “ye” shows that he had in mind the condition of man in general in verses 1-3, and the condition of the Gentile in particular in verses 11-13.
The key phrase in this portion of our study is “far off” (2:13), suggesting separation by distance. Before the Gentile was saved he was separated from God by a great gulf. We were “Gentiles in the flesh . . . called uncircumcision” (2:11). Circumcision was originally a rite enjoined by God upon Abraham as a sign of the covenant God made with him. Later it took on a definite religious and moral significance. Hence the Jews became known as “the circumcision” and looked with reproach upon the Gentiles to whom they referred as “the uncircumcised” (I Sam. 17:26, 36; II Sam. 1:20).
Actually the Gentiles were inferior to the Jews in that they were separated from the sacrifices and religious privileges that united Jewish believers to God. Of course there were those who were Jews in name only; and while they proudly called themselves “the circumcision,” they were Jews outwardly and not inwardly, for they lacked that real circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). The Gentile at that time stood condemned before God. After the flood God’s covenants were all made to Israel, giving Israel hope which the Gentiles lacked.
Then, too, the Gentiles were “without Christ” (2:12). While every unsaved man, both Jew and Gentile, is without Christ, the Gentiles were separated by a greater distance, since the Jew had the types, symbols, and prophecies that pointed to the coming Person and work of the Messiah. When Paul referred to God’s dealings with Israel, he said: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [or types]” (I Cor. 10:11). In the Old Testament every hope of the Jew centered in the Messiah, for in Him their every expectation was to be fulfilled. All of the pre-incarnate appearances of Christ were to the Jews and, as we shall see later, it was not until His death at Calvary that He became the world’s Saviour.
Now when one is “without Christ” he has “no hope.” Even as the Gentiles were without hope before Christ came, so is every man today who has not trusted in Christ. There is no hope for the world or for the individual apart from Christ, but in Him God has given “everlasting consolation and good hope” (II Thess. 2:16). The “blessed hope” of the believer is the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). He is Israel’s hope and the only hope of the world.
Paul pictures the Gentiles finally as being “without God in the world” (2:12). While they had “gods many, and lords many” (I Cor. 8:5), they were in a true sense of the word atheists, since they were alienated from any contact with God. No sadder plight can befall a man than that of being in the world without God.
Again divine intervention marks a transition. When Paul pointed out the sad past of both Jew and Gentile, he contrasted the bright side of the picture by using the conjunction “but”-- “But God . . .” (2:4). Here the contrast between the unsaved Gentile and the saved Gentile is marked with the connecting words, “But now . . .” (2:13). From the distressing scene of what the Gentiles had been, Paul turns in vivid phrases to show what had been accomplished for them in Christ. They were “far off . . . but now . . . made nigh.” Once distance had separated them from Christ; now they are enjoying blessed union with Christ.
In antithesis to the Gentile being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger from the covenants of promise, he is created a new unity with the believing Jew. Christ became peace, having made both Jew and Gentile one by breaking down the middle wall of partition (2:14). The outer court in the temple for Gentiles was separated from the inner court for Jews, but when Christ came He broke down the partition. At the same time He abolished the enmity, which was the ordinances of the law, the rites, and ceremonies. These unobserved laws had caused the Jews to despise them (2:15). But now “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:4), by which (faith) He has created a union of Jew and Gentile. This new creation does not make a Jew into a Gentile, nor a Gentile into a Jew. Rather did our Lord “make in Himself of twain one new man” (2:15). Here is the true Church, a new organism in which the believing Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in “one body” (2:16). Thus the whole world is blessed in Abraham according to promise, “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:14). Now the believing Gentile has received every spiritual privilege that Israel has, including spiritual circumcision (Col. 2:11).
Sin separated man not only from God but also from man. Man needed to be reconciled to God, but there had to be a conciliation between man and man also. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that Conciliator to abolish enmity and make peace, and we know of no other meeting-place where man can be at peace with man. You see, both Jew and Gentile had to be at peace with God before they could be at peace with each other, and only in Christ can the Jew forget that he is a Jew and the Gentile that he is a Gentile. Thank God that neither Jew nor Gentile can boast of one having had a better patch-up job than the other. This new man is not the result of any mere outward putting on, but is a “new creation” (II Cor. 5:17) in Christ Jesus.
Now “through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (2:18). There can be no boast as to which man’s religion or church gives him access to God. There are no advantages in being a Jew or a Gentile now. Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant and only “through Him” can there be access to the Father. The Lord Jesus said: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me” (John 14:6), and that through the present ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one household: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (2:19). We are both in one family, hence we are no longer strangers, no longer unknown to one another. There is now the intimate association of family life; we are brothers in Christ. We possess the same citizenship, not living as neighbors but as the saints and sons of God in the same house with God.
The believing Jew and Gentile constitute one holy temple: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (2:20-21). Paul adds that the Church is a building, a holy temple, the New Testament prophets and apostles forming the foundation and Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. It is Christ Himself who holds together the foundation and the superstructure. Think of it, dear Christian, we are the habitation of God (2:22), His dwelling place on earth. Does your heart enter into this blessed truth? God has taken up His residence in the Church, in each believer. The true Church is of perfect and harmonious design, its beauty and holiness surpassing any shrine or building made with human hands. The most sacred spot on earth is no towering cathedral with stained glass windows, but the believer’s heart where God has come to dwell. While the building is not now complete, it will be one day, and then all creation will view its splendor and give praise and glory to its Creator and Designer.
Before we conclude our meditation on these verses we would do well to ponder the method whereby our awful past has been blotted out and our present position made possible. In Christ alone we find the basis of reconciliation to God and man. “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the Blood of Christ” (2:13). Reconciliation could be accomplished only by the finished work of God’s Son on the cross. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God . . .” (I Peter 3:18). Aaron made an atonement once a year with blood which he offered to God for the people. Even so Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, entered into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb. 9:11-12). “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19, 22).
“In His flesh” He made peace, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Christ Himself is our peace, and he who has the Son of God enjoys peace with God and with all them that are in Christ. Let us thank God for accomplishing redemption and making our peace through the blood of His cross, for apart from His substitutionary death we would still be at enmity with God and man. It was at the cross where Jew and Gentile were condemned as sinners and united to God through faith in the blood of His Son. At the cross every enmity was slain and every provision made for redemption and reconciliation. The shedding of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is the plea of the sinner and the praise of the saint. In heaven we shall sing: “Thou west slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
If you are reading these lines and you are yet in your sins, Christ has removed the enmity between God and you by His propitiatory sacrifice at Calvary. You have only to acknowledge that your sin nailed Him there, and then receive Him as your Substitute and Saviour. You need not remain afar off, for even “now” you can be made nigh, as near to God as Christ Himself, by trusting in His blood.
In our approach to a new chapter of any book in the Bible we need to take care lest we lose the thought in the preceding chapter. There is sometimes the danger of missing the continuity of some particular idea or even a doctrine when we break up our reading and study-periods by chapters. If we keep in mind that the first three chapters in Ephesians have to do with the creation and design of the Church, we can look for the progress of thought in that connection as we begin our study of chapter three.
Chapter one describes the Church under the imagery of “His body” (1:23). In chapter two, the Church is seen as “the building” (2:21). The body is possessed of His life; the building is inhabited by His very Presence. Under the Old Covenant, God met with man in a temporary temple specially designed for such a meeting; under the New Covenant the body of the believer is that temple (I Cor. 6:19).
Chapter two depicts the mystical body of Christ, the building, as made up of both believing Jew and Gentile. The position of Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ is here referred to as a “mystery.” The divine plan and purpose are revealed in the magnificent scope of uniting Jew and Gentile to Christ in the Church. Now the building is in process, and for the completed project God has a definite purpose. It is our prospective place in God’s future plan that is before us.
Paul, the converted Hebrew, informs his readers that for their sakes he is the Lord’s prisoner: “For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” (3:1). The reference to his imprisonment leads to a subject which, to Paul, was of greatest import. He went as God’s witness to the uncircumcised knowing what would befall him (Act 9:15-16). Later he testified of this as his experience (Acts 22:21-22). Paul was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” He had been imprisoned at least three times before; therefore this was not new to him. Yet he knew the blessing and comfort of his Lord’s fellowship. If Christ wants a man in prison with Himself, that lends dignity to the occasion. A point not to be overlooked, however, is that the great apostle had been imprisoned because he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. His countrymen hated him because he affirmed that the Gentile had equal privileges in Christ with the Jew. Every Gentile believer should pause to give thanks to God for this fearless missionary to the Gentiles.
To Paul were entrusted in a special way hitherto unrevealed truths of this “mystery.” He speaks of it as “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (3:2). Here the word “dispensation” means the management, or stewardship of a household. The grace of God had now reached out beyond the limit of the Jew to the Gentile, and this trusteeship had been given to Paul in order that he might dispense it to the Gentiles. The household of God must be managed according to a particular plan; therefore it was a high honor bestowed upon Paul when God entrusted His plan to him. The apostle was a steward, holding something in trust for another. In this case he held in trust the divine bestowal of saving grace to the Gentiles. The prime requisite of a steward is “that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1-2), hence the Apostle Peter writes: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (I Pet. 4:10). Every gift is a trust from God and must be exercised according to divine plan. Thus Paul recognized the source and character of his mission as well as the responsibility to faithfulness.
Under what circumstances did the apostle receive this truth? Paul himself says: “. . . by revelation He made known unto me the mystery” (3:3). A special dispensation had been arranged by God which included Paul. It was planned in past eternity, and Paul writes: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16).
A “mystery” (hitherto unrevealed truth) cannot be found out by the searching of men. God alone must reveal it. Human wisdom never stumbled on such a plan. A veil of secrecy had covered the truth of the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles until God revealed it in Paul’s day. The apostle reminds them that he mentioned the mystery “afore in few words,” referring, I take it, to his words in 1:9. The subject received only a passing notice in the early part of the epistle but, because of its source (revelation from God) and Paul’s stewardship, he will now plead its cause the more earnestly. He felt that God had highly honored him in the divine appointment and special commission to preach His grace to the heathen.
This revelation was not vouchsafed to Paul that he might merely ponder it in His own heart but, he continues: “Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (3:4). What earnest watchfulness Paul displayed over the saints of God! The body of truth in his possession must be passed on to others; the world must know. There was no time to be lost. Others must not read it merely but understand it as well. May God give unto the ministers and teachers of His Word such earnestness and fervency of spirit that none will rest until every eager listener has a clear understanding of the divine message. The message is “the mystery of Christ,” which means that it all centers in the Person and work of the risen and ascended Lord. It is Christ Himself who composes the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. To prepare Paul for this ministry God had given to him a supernatural revelation, and now he must not rest until men hear and understand its meaning. When we will not allow anything to overshadow the blessed work of God, then are we His servants indeed. The writer of these lines has been guilty of repeating truth when he himself did not understand, much less was able to make it plain to others; but when Paul preached and wrote, he did it as a divinely-inspired man who comprehended the subject under discussion and had a right to be heard.
This mystery “in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (3:5). Here the word “ages” suggests the idea of generations, so that Paul is emphasizing the fact that the mystery was given to him by revelation and was not the subject of any of God’s previous servants. One searches in vain in the early Scriptures to find this distinctive truth “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (3:6). From Moses to Malachi there is nothing to be found on the subject. It was “hid in God,” to be passed on through the New Testament apostles and prophets, Paul having himself received it “by the Spirit.”
In this mystery there are no vagaries which savor of the mysterious, but the glorious revelation that in Christ both Jew and Gentile “should be fellow heirs.” God had said to Abraham: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Before Christ came, the Gentile depended on the Jew for his spiritual blessing. Now that Christ has come, who is Abraham’s Seed (Gal. 3:16), the believing Gentile becomes a fellow-heir with the Jew.
It probably would have astounded any Old Testament prophet were he told that there would be one day a special dispensation of grace in which the Jew and Gentile would be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of the promises of God. And yet this is the mystery. Certainly Abraham, who believed God, knew that in his Seed all families of the earth would receive the blessing of the promise; but what he and the rest of the Old Testament saints did not know was that God purposed and planned to create this “new man” out of Jew and Gentile, thus constituting them one body, the Gentile being co-equal with the Jew in every respect. Certainly God must despite with holy hatred not only the anti-Semitism among Gentile-Christians but also the Hebrew-Christian cliques which shut out the Gentile believer. The distinctive feature of the gospel in this dispensation is found in the words of the angel of the Lord, who announced: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Gentiles as well as Jews are to receive this good news. Remember, the mystery is not that the Gentiles should be saved. Rather it is that a thorough and entire change wrought by the creating of a new entity would make the believing Gentiles co-heirs and co-sharers with the Jews. Such is the power of “the Gospel.”
Of this gospel, Paul continues: “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (3:7). The greatness of his task and the sublimity of the trust must have humbled Paul. His divinely given ministry he calls “the gift of the grace of God.” He marveled that God would choose him and make him a messenger of so deep a mystery. There was no other way of explaining it; it was given to him by the unmerited kindness of God. That such a persecutor and blasphemer as Paul was entrusted with so lofty a mission is a clear demonstration of divine grace.
Some men in the ministry speak of having “earned” certain degrees and diplomas which qualify them for the ministry. God save us from such pride! As famous as Paul became as an able and honored servant of God, he never forgot for a moment that the ministry was a gracious gift from God. It is not unusual for us to comment on the sacrifice of money, energy, and time that we spend in preparation for some work for God. Yet this humble messenger of the mystery looked upon it all as a gift of grace. Paul made no claims for himself.
Add to this the fact that the discharge of his ministry was “by the effectual working of His [God’s] power.” To make a saint out of a sinner shows the effectual working of His power. To make a divine messenger out of a deliberate murderer shows the effectual working of His power. The arrogant Pharisee had become a witness of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The secret of his success lay in the effectual working of the power of God in him. He could testify: “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (I Cor. 2:4). When will some of us learn this lesson?
In the study so far, we have finished the first half of this great epistle with its clear and blessed revelation of the calling and design of the Church. We have learned something of how God planned the Church before the foundation of the world, how that, in the fullness of time, the Son of God purchased it with His own blood, and finally, how the Holy Spirit came as the deposit, or pledge, that the whole transaction will be satisfactorily completed.
The first part of the epistle is doctrinal. The fact of God’s love to us ere we were ever born is propounded. The great doctrines of salvation are set forth in the first three chapters. Now Paul is ready to enumerate the duties of the Christian.
Proper conduct springs from a correct understanding of one’s calling; duty springs from doctrine. Dr. N. B. Harrison writes: “To harangue people into better living is one thing; to root our appeal in a relationship we sustain to Christ through the eternal purposes of grace is quite another.” A babe in Christ must lay hold of some God-given revelation as to the dignity of his calling before he will lay hold of his duty as a Christian.
This order we expect in Paul’s epistles: it is typical of his writings. He teaches doctrine before deportment, calling before conduct, wealth before walk, position before practice, revelation before responsibility. The believer, having realized his high calling, is now ready to be led into a life of holy conduct. If you believe in doctrinal Christianity, you will desire practical Christianity. If your heart said, “Amen” (3:21), to the doctrine, you will yield as readily to the deportment. The way God sees us in Christ in the heavenlies is the way men should see us in action on the earth.
Two great truths stand out in this part of the epistle: the believer’s walk, and the believer’s warfare. The teaching deals at length with these two thoughts, referred to by some as conduct and conflict. The larger part of the last three chapters has to do with the former (4:1-6:9).
Certain distinguishing traits of character mark the believer in Christ. Having set forth the believer’s position doctrinally, Paul now calls upon him to prove the reality of his calling through right conduct: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (4:1).
The “therefore’s” of Paul are significant. Here the “therefore” stands as a signboard to tell us that there is no divorcement of Christian doctrine from Christian duty. Wherever there is faith, there will works be found also.
For the second time Paul mentions the fact that he is “the prisoner of the Lord” (see 3:1). This is not a plea for sympathy. The man who was about to expound the walk and warfare of the believer knew whereof he spoke. It was for their sakes that he was a made a prisoner; and if his bonds did anything at all, they added dignity to his position. True he was the prisoner of the Roman state, but more exactly he was “the prisoner of the Lord.”
On the ground of the believer’s calling, Paul would “beseech” him--not scold or command. Doubtless the Ephesians were touched by such an earnest entreaty from one who was suffering for their sakes. While his bondage was permitted by Christ, it was the direct result of his having preached Christ’s Gospel to them, as well as to others. These “beseechings” were not human commands but divine compulsions. Having received the authority of apostleship from God, Paul had a right to command, but he had a heart to beseech. To command is law; to beseech is grace. Elsewhere Paul wrote: “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin [command] thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee … “ (Philem. 8-10). This humble servant of God chose to entreat them, to desire God’s best for them, to pray for them.
Paul besought them to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called. One’s vocation is one’s calling. Paul is saying: “I entreat you to live your life worthy of the call you have received.” The saint’s calling is described in Scripture as high (Phil. 3:14), holy (2 Tim. 1:9), and heavenly (Heb. 3:1). Recipients of God’s mercies, resulting in a miraculous change in heart, should deport themselves consistent with their high position. Beware lest the term “walk” lose its meaning to you. I know that it is a familiar figure of speech. But do not forget that it suggests a course of life; hence we have here solemn exhortations to live in obedience to God’s Word lest the steps we take create false impressions in men’s minds regarding the Christian life.
“All lowliness” suggests the idea of perfect humility. Genuine humility becomes the Christian at all times under every circumstance. We dare not pretend on the outside that we are lowly while on the inside we are deceitful and haughty. Lowliness might be despised by the world, but it is esteemed by God. Humility is the first step to unity.
“Meekness” is next mentioned as a characteristic virtue of the believer’s walk. The incarnation and earthly life of our Lord echoed “lowliness and meekness.” He said: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek, and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). And “he that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6).Meekness in heart is that fruit of the Spirit that esteems the brethren higher than one’s self. In meekness, envy, malice, or an underestimate of another’s gifts and ability finds no place. Meekness is the next step to unity.
“Longsuffering” follows. This is a gracious tolerance that never desires revenge. Pride and self-seeking, with a revengeful spirit, show that one has never taken one’s rightful place before God. Are: you long-tempered or short-tempered? Do you get in a heat easily or do you remain calm and serene under fire? Longsuffering is another step toward unity.
“Forbearing one another in love.” This expression appears also in Colossians 3:13 and signifies to bear with, to endure—an extraordinary patience, with restraint of one’s feelings. One of the early lessons we learn as Christians is how to get along with one another. Mutual forbearance among us means that we pray one for the other in each other’s weaknesses and offenses, and while we are called upon to forbear it is to forbear in love.
All of these virtues contribute toward keeping “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Notice, please, what we are not asked to do here. We are not asked to make unity. God Himself has made unity already, both of the Spirit and of the body of Christ created by God. When we were born again the Holy Spirit united us to that body, and nothing can ever sever us from it. Believing Jews and believing Gentiles have been made a new unity by God, thus forming the body in its unity. This was explained in the first part of the epistle.
Within the Church, differences in wealth, education, race, color, and social standing create the temptation to deny that unity. But God warns His people to guard the unity which He provided. Dr. A. C. Gaebelein has said: “We keep the unity of the Spirit when we recognize in every true believer a member of the same body.” Preservation of an ecclesiastical or organizational unity is not implied. This plea of the apostle does not apply to any ecumenical movement in church history, present or past.
Commenting on “the unity of the Spirit,” Dr. H. J. Ockenga wrote: “But this spiritual unity is more difficult to keep than organizational unity. It is easy to exercise authority, to discipline, to rule, to excommunicate those who agree not with us, but it is difficult to preserve love, respect, faith, humility, mutual honor one of another, which is necessary in a spiritual unity. The latter becomes a matter of self-discipline, in which most of us are lacking. We are always willing to discipline others, but very unwilling to discipline ourselves. For this reason the indwelling Spirit is the principle of unity among Christians, and this may be promoted or disturbed.” Hence the need to walk worthily with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love as the Scriptures enjoin.
The basis of spiritual unity in the Church follows in verses 4-6. It is sevenfold. Observe the seven “one’s.”
(a) “One body.” Here is the oneness of the Church itself. This mystical body of Christ (the Church) already exists. It originated on the day of Pentecost and answered the Lord’s prayer when He prayed: “That they all may be one: as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me” (John 17:21 ) . There are many denominations, many churches, many forms of administration, many gifts, but only one body, one true Church. The members of this body differ in color, nationality, ability, mentality, and outlook; but through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, “are we all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). Beloved Christian, we are one body. Therefore our lives must be lived in the light of our vital relationship with other fellow Christians.
(b) “One Spirit.” Doubtless Paul means the Holy Spirit. The unity is of His begetting. It is called “the unity of the Spirit.” By His operation men are born again and added to the body. The individual member who is led by the Holy Spirit is thereby preserving the unity. Beware of other spirits. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Watch out for “the spirit of error” (1 John 4:15). None but the Holy Spirit is the activating power in the body; hence, a sin against the body is a sin against the. Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came down on the day of Pentecost 1.0 form that body, the disciples “were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). Such is the unity of the Spirit.
(c) “One hope.” In Chapter 1:18, Paul wrote about “the hope of His calling”; here it is “one hope of your calling.” It has been mentioned that the believer’s calling is high, holy, and heavenly. The hope of such a calling is our final glorification when we shall be like the Lord and be forever with Him. The saints have a rich inheritance in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. While we will not enter fully into our inheritance until Christ returns, we have the earnest of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our hope. He keeps that hope alive. There is no hope like it in all the world, and in this one hope all Christians share. Think of it: millions having the same hope! This one thing in itself is a bond of unity. One body, one Spirit, one hope—what is powerful incentive to keep the unity of the Spirit!
(d) “One Lord.” The one Lord is God’s eternal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jude speaks of ungodly men who deny Him (Jude 4). The believer owns Him and walks in obedience to His will. Jesus Christ is our Saviour; but He is more: He is our Lord. It is the recognition of His Lordship that preserves the unity of the Spirit. When each individual Christian acknowledges Jesus Christ as his sovereign Head, there can be no schism in the Church. Elsewhere Paul writes: (‘And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord” (1 Cor. 12:5). There are many gifts but one Giver. There are many ways of exercising and administering those gifts, but the same Sovereignty owns and rules over all.
The Lord spoke these solemn words: “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name have cast out devils [demons]? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). How fitting a climax to the Sermon on the Mount! The day of judgment will bring to light some unusual things. Some profess His Lordship but do not practice submission to Him. Sad will be the day of reckoning for all such! In that day ‘‘every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11), but then there will be neither joy nor reward.
(e) “One faith.” There is only one system of truth; it is “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). One may possess the right attitude of faith but the wrong object of faith. It matters not how one believes if he does not embrace the one saving object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul testified that he preached “the faith” (Gal. 1:23). Christian faith has the Word of God as a standard; hence it recognizes one access to God, and that through believing on the Lord Jesus Christ. When anyone embraces the faith, he immediately is made a part of the body, thereby becoming a contributing factor in keeping the unity of the Spirit.
(f) “One baptism.” Because of the existence of various schools of thought on the subject of baptism, we can expect divergent interpretations on the “one baptism” mentioned here. I do not believe that baptism in the Spirit is meant in this verse. Baptism in the Spirit has already been dealt with in the preceding verse. Here the apostle refers to water baptism. It is that ordinance which, according to the New Testament, should follow one’s acceptance of the “one faith” and one’s embracing of the “one Lord.” It is sad to meet those who have submitted to the rite of Christian baptism but who have not been born again through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is but one outward rite whereby the believer declares his faith in, and union with, Jesus Christ; it is the “one baptism.”
(g) “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (4:6). The message of this verse recognizes the Trinity actively engaged in forming the unity.
Looking back from verse six, we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The triune God is sovereign in the Church. His Presence is all that we need and all that we should desire. He is the Father of all of us who have accepted Christ; hence we believers bear the same relation to Him and to one another. As we recognize Him as “above all,” we preserve the unity of the Spirit. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Unity is a pre-requisite to usefulness, especially in the Church, where one finds the widest variety of personalities and the greatest diversity of gifts. But no matter how striking and winsome the personality, or how capable one might be in the exercise of gifts, grace is needed. And so, writes Paul: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (4:7).
In the verses before us attention is drawn to the gifts that our ascended Lord has bestowed upon the members of His Church which is His body.
Before examining the various gifts and the contribution that each member makes to the whole, Paul tells us that every one has been the recipient of the gift of grace. Each gift is a bestowment of grace, each comes from the same divine source, and each is in proportion as the Lord Himself is pleased to bestow. The gifts are given by measure, each member receiving his gift from the same Person. As we shall see later, there is a difference in gifts (Rom. 12:6) as well as a difference in the ministration of them, but each member functions to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the body.
In support of his statement that the ascended Christ gives gifts unto men, the apostle dips back into the Old Testament and brings forward, with some alterations, a quotation from Psalm 68:18. Paul writes: “Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (4:8). Upon examining the words of the Psalmist it is apparent that when Paul quotes the words, he introduces some changes. The quotation from the Psalm reads:
Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captivity captive; Thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them (Psalm 68:18).
Apparently David writes in this Psalm of an historic incident during his own reign as king over Israel, perhaps of the conquests over his enemies when he led as captives those who had attacked his people. Which of the battles David had in mind we cannot be certain of, but it would seem that, upon the conquering: king’s return from battle, the giving of gifts was a part of the celebration. We are not here attempting to show whether the king gave gifts to his subjects, or the subjects gifts to the king. The point for us to observe is that Paul saw in this Old Testament Scripture our Lord Jesus Christ, the Antitype of the story, in His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (4:9, 10). In the conquest of the Old Testament king,, Paul saw our Lord’s triumph over death as well as over him that had the power of death, even Satan (Heb. 2:14). Upon His triumphant return to His Father’s house, He distributes gifts to His subjects. All of this Peter must have understood when he said at Pentecost: “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Pentecost was the first great display of the exercise of gifts. The main thought in these four verses (7-10), then, is the bestowal of gifts by the ascended Christ.
The mighty victories which God wrought for Israel were noble triumphs. But, says Calvin: “The noblest triumph which God ever gained was when Christ, after subduing sin, conquering death, and putting Satan to flight, rose majestically to heaven, that He might exercise His glorious reign over the Church.” Vow the Church on earth has a goal toward which she moves, and Christ as the Church’s Head determines her actions. The duty of the Church is to evangelize the world, to preach the gospel to every creature. The enablement and equipment for the task is supplied by the Head, for, says Paul: He “gave gifts unto men” (4:5). The proper exercise of the gifts will preserve unity and promote usefulness in the Church.
“And He gave some, apostles” (4:11). To some He gave the gift of the apostolate. No individual could choose or decide to become an apostle. The choosing of the man and the bestowal of the gift were of God. I consider this to be of extreme importance, for God did not merely confer upon a man the name of “apostle”; He endowed him with the gift and enabled him to discharge the office. This office of an apostle was a highly exalted one appointed directly by Christ. These specially-called spokesmen for God were missionaries in a peculiar sense in that they had to see the risen Lord and be sent by Him. Because of the very nature of the qualifications, this office could not be passed on to others. Some sects claim “apostolic succession.” In the very beginning of the Christian Church some claimed to be apostles but, under trial, were found to be liars (Rev. 2:2 ).
“And some, prophets.” The New Testament prophets were men who received revelation from God for the time, and announced the same in power for the edifying of the body of Christ. Sometimes the prophet was a fore-teller of predictive prophecy; at other times he was a forthteller (preacher) of a divinely-revealed truth for the present, pertaining to doctrinal instruction (1 Cor. 14:3). There are neither apostles nor prophets today. Their work was to lay the foundation for the Church (Eph. 2:20).
“And some, evangelists.” The evangelist is the bearer of the glad tidings of the gospel to a lost world. The gift of evangelism is a remarkable thing indeed, since evangelism is essential to the growth of the Church. Philip was a successful evangelist in the early Church (Acts 8:26-40). Paul must have recognized in Timothy this gift, for he wrote: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Teaching the Word of God and building up the saints is an important phase of Christian service, but the taking of the gospel to those who have not heard is an unique privilege.
“And some, pastors and teachers.” Not some as pastors and some as teachers, but rather the combined office of pastor-teacher. He is a ruler and feeder of the flock. The pastor needs a heart to shepherd the sheep as well as a mind to teach them. This dual function he performs as minister of a particular congregation. His gift is divinely bestowed; so no Bible school, or seminary, or college can make a man a pastor-teacher.
The purpose of the gifts is “for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (4:12). Special gifts were bestowed to equip the saints to do the service, and the intent of this service is the building up of the body of Christ. Each gift is a contribution to the whole body. From these special gifts responsibility passes to each member.
This service continues “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (4:13). Our blessed Lord gave these gifts that each of His followers should serve Him, and that service must continue as long as the Church remains on the earth.
When Christ returns to take us home to heaven, we shall see the full expression of unity and possess complete knowledge of Him. There will be no need for the apostle, the prophet, the evangelist, the teacher, or the pastor, because we will have attained perfection in unity and knowledge. The members of the Church will not be as many members in that day, but as “a perfect [fullgrown] man.” We shall be like our Lord, having attained that standard of perfection of Christ Himself, “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” This is God’s goal for the Church.
A. C. Gaebelein writes: “The measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ will be reached when the body is joined to the Head.” Until the Head returns He will continue to give gifts to His own. Faithfulness in the proper exercise of these gifts will result in others being added to the body and trained to carry on Christ’s work on earth till He comes.
Furthermore, the purpose of the gifts is “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (4:14). False doctrine abounds. Satan has his sleight-of-hand men who, with cunning craftiness, prey upon babes in Christ. These spiritual babes are sometimes powerless to resist and are tossed about by varying winds of doctrine. Hence the need for Christians to walk in unity and usefulness. Lack of unity and laxity in usefulness reveal a condition of spiritual infancy and immaturity. We must grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do this we need to be established in the great doctrinal teachings of God’s Word. God has chosen to edify and instruct His people with special gifts. There is no substitute for a careful study of the Word.
Having said that we ought not to remain children, immature and untaught, Paul now exhorts the believer to grow up: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (4:15). The gifts were given by the ascended Christ to edify the body so that believers might manifest the truth in love. It is not enough to know and speak the truth; it must be manifested in love. While we insist upon a good confession we must live the truth in love. One can be fearless in standing for the truth and at the same time gentle and kind. Truth declared in a cold, contentious manner will neither preserve unity nor promote usefulness.
An aid to perfecting the positive purpose of the gifts is doing (living) the truth in love. Truth must be spoken but never harshly or bitterly. No amount of loyalty to the truth, however eloquently and forcefully expressed, signifies spiritual maturity unless spoken in charitable sincerity. It is not enough that our tongues hold to the truth; the truth must hold our tongues in love.
Elsewhere in the epistle the Church is called “His body” (1:23), “the body of Christ” (4:12), of which He is “the Head” (4:15). When each member functions in its proper order “according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,” nourishment is added to the body, and “maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (4:16). As each member looks to the Head, he finds there are no giftless and useless parts, but that each part is a gifted and useful member in a relation of interdependence to every other part. As the incapacitation of one member of the human body robs strength and limits the usefulness of the whole body, even so a believer who is dwarfed spiritually holds down the increase of the body of Christ unto the edifying of itself in love. Each member receives grace and gifts from the Lord, and all members are so constructed to join together fitly. God planned this to be so in the human body and, as it is in the human body, so it is with the body of Christ.
In conclusion, I refer you to a phrase used by Paul in verse 12, namely, “for the perfecting of the saints.” Sometimes the word from which “perfecting” is derived is used to mean to mend. Such is the case in Matthew 4:21, where James and John are seen in a ship with their father “mending their nets.” The saints are saved to engage in harmonious and happy service with the other members of the body. Some of the saints are like broken nets that need mending, or like fallen brothers needing to be “restored” (Gal. 6:1). At some time we all have been acquainted with some Christian (perhaps you were that Christian) who, like a net torn and full of holes, had lapsed into a state of disrepair in need of mending. Christ’s gifts to the individual believer, and to the Church as a body, are the media through which He works to mend the saints. When the saints are mended they are fit for the work of the ministry.
They edify the body of Christ, they preserve Christian unity, they promote maturity, and they speak the truth in love.
Beloved Christian, do you need some repair or adjustment? Is your net torn or full of holes so that you are no longer a fisher of men? God in His mercy has saved you, to be sure, but He also has made wondrous provision for any adjustments that are necessary in Christian experience. Let Him mend you and cast you out upon life’s sea where souls wait to be rescued.
Sometimes a believer’s acts and his profession are in discord. A man may testify to certain beliefs and purposes and yet be incongruous in his life, his speech and his deeds not fitting well together. He is inconsistent. Such incompatibility should not be found in a child of God. The Christian is to walk differently, in outward manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The spiritual garments of the “new man” must be worn in exchange for the natural clothing of the “old man.” This teaching is now before us.
Paul turns now to warn his readers against returning to any form of the old pagan mode of life. If they were truly saved, then they should be living as those having a true knowledge and clear understanding of God’s way of salvation in Jesus Christ. If they continued in the practices of the unsaved, they were only giving evidence that their understanding was still darkened.
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind” (4:17). The Scriptures do not waste words. Paul is not merely talking; he is testifying, that is, making a solemn appeal in the name of Jesus Christ. As followers of Christ they would at once recognize the mark of divine authority in his speech and would, therefore, heed what he had to say. They would give proof by a consistent walk. They would not walk as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind. The life of the Christian, no longer regarded as a Gentile or a Jew, is in contrast to the life of Gentiles or Jews who are not Christians.
C. R. Erdman emphasizes the fact that Paul is not comparing his readers with “other Gentiles.” Paul indicates that his readers are now fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of Gold. They were surrounded by pagan associates and heathen customs, hence they would be tempted and even enticed to fall back into those sinful practices of the past. But if their minds were not empty of the truth, like the minds of the “other Gentiles,” and if they were no longer vain in their imaginations (Rom. 1:21), their lives would conform to their Christian profession.
A reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28) may hear the gospel, but such a mind is unreceptive. Now an unreceptive mind may give assent to the truth, yet it never can result in a changed life. By the consistent walk of the Ephesian believers they would prove that they understood and received the truth of God. A consistent walk in righteousness is the only outward evidence that one has been born again. To this end God had sent Paul to the Gentiles, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me” (Acts 26:17, 18). So testified the mighty apostle to Agrippa. How disappointing to Paul if the walk of the Ephesians was no different from that of other Gentiles!
The condition of the unconverted Gentiles is expressed further as “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (4:18). There is not so much as a spark of divine life in an unregenerated man. He is the natural man and, as such, he cannot understand, or discern, spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14). The unsaved man may boast of his knowledge and understanding of the things of this world, but he is unable of himself to discover spiritual truth. His mind is irresponsive to the things of God. Before a man sees his lost condition and exercises heart faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, his powers of thought are darkened so that he cannot receive divine truth but remains in mental darkness.
Next, unsaved persons are in a state of spiritual death, “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” Sin has both a blinding and deadening effect upon people. The marginal rendering for “blindness” is “hardness.” It really means a dullness as though one were drugged. Such willful blindness has produced an impotence whereby the sinner can continue in sin with little sense of shame or need. Because of ignorance and the hardness of their hearts, the unsaved are cut off from the life of God. When a man continues in this state the blame is all his own. God has given His Word and His Spirit to deliver from death and darkness, but so long as one resists the truth, one chooses to remain spiritually blind and spiritually dead. The knowledge of God is true light and life. God never refuses it to the believing heart which casts itself on His mercy. Only a consistent walk in righteousness would prove that the Ephesians no longer had their understanding darkened.
This condition of mental darkness and spiritual death leaves the sinner in a state of awful degradation. Such are described as those “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (4:19). What an awful condition to be in! “Past feeling”-a calloused heart, a seared conscience; abandoned to wallow in gross sensuality and to indulge greedily in all sorts of uncleanness. There are those in the world for whom there is little hope of ever refining their feelings or raising their moral standards. Certainly such a state is not true of every unsaved person, but it is of many unsaved, and it shows just how far one can go if he resists the truth. Let us not dull the senses of our hearts lest we drift into indulgence of the pleasures of sin without restraint. How sad when one’s conscience is past feeling! How awful to be delivered up to all manner of uncleanness!
When one walks consistently in righteousness, he proves that he has understood spiritual truth. When Paul labored among the Ephesians he taught and preached Christ. In the apostle’s life and labors they “learned Christ,” “heard Him,” and were “taught by Him.” All that the Ephesians knew about God they learned in and through His Son. Paul had preached Christ to them and they had learned that to become a Christian one had to receive Christ. Paul here contrasts the inconsistent life of an unsaved man with the consistent character of the man in Christ. The Gentiles walked in darkness but the Ephesian Christians had learned Christ and were therefore different.
To be “in Christ” means that the believer is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), in a new order of things, with a new standard for living. This calls for a laying aside of the old ways and a putting on of the new. Since the Ephesians had been taught as the truth is in Jesus, they are exhorted to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (4:22). The new life calls for the laying aside of the old garments which label the unbeliever. The “old man” is the unregenerate, natural man, and his manner of life is corrupt, deceitful, and lustful.
Just as the coming of light dispels darkness, so the presence of Jesus Christ in one’s heart dismisses corruption. At no time did our Lord ever call upon the “old man” to put off his manner of life. The old man has neither the desire nor the power to lay aside his polluted garments of self-righteousness. Trying to get the “old man” to lay aside his corrupt garments and replace them with the garments of righteousness is like sewing a new patch on a worn-out garment, or like pouring new wine into an old wine skin about to burst (Luke 5:36-38). Christianity cannot be comprehended, much less apprehended, by the “old man.” He does not want the new life. The Lord Jesus read this in the heart of the Pharisee, when He said: “No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better” (Luke 5:39). To the worldling, the Christian is a kill-joy; the former has no desire to do the things that the Christian does. Like the Pharisee who would go away saying, “We do not want the new wine; the old is better,” even so the worldling is content to enjoy the pleasures of sin, though they be but for a season.
The demand upon the “new man” continues: “and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (4:23). The spirit of man is that part of him that is born anew (John 3:6) and which worships God (John 4:24). When man’s spirit is regenerated it feeds the mind with pure desires and motives. As we surrender moment by moment to the Holy Spirit and feed on God’s Word, He renews our spirit and enables us to do those things that please God.
Now, in contrast to putting off “the old man” we are urged to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (4:24). The words “righteousness” and “holiness” sum up the believer’s walk before man and God. “.Righteousness” expresses the right behavior of the Christian before men; “holiness,” his behavior before God. The former is an outward attitude expressed in words and deeds; the latter is the attitude of heart and mind toward God. Since we are a new creation we are to wear the garments of the “new man,” a new conversation, and a new conduct. The desire of every Christian should be like that of Zacharias, who said: “That He would grant unto us, that we … might serve Him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74, 75).
Have you put off the old man and put on the new? Have you exchanged your old life for the new? God wants to make you a new creation now. Further proof that one has been renewed in the spirit of his mind is seen in the putting off the garments of the “old man,” some of which are mentioned in the closing verses of our present chapter. The first of these is the garment of un-truthfulness: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” (4:25). The garment of falsehood must be put away, since it does not become the new man in Christ. Since we are all members of the same body we are exhorted to give expression to truth when dealing with one another. Honest dealing in word and deed, and not deceit and hypocrisy, should characterize every saint. Let sincerity mark every form of communication among us. Misrepresentation, half-truth, pretense, and deceit are practices of the “old man.” They are characteristic of the devil and his children (John 8:44). Since lying is a part of the deeds of the “old man,” Paul writes: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col. 3:9). Dr. Erdman wrote: “Nothing so divides and separates Christians as falsehood, misrepresentations, suspicion, and unscrupulous partisanship. Mutual confidence is the essential bond of Christian fellowship.”
The second exhortation follows: “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil” (4:26, 27). Verse 26 might be translated: “If you do get angry, you must not sin in your anger.” This verse suggests that one can be angry apart from sinning. There is a righteous anger that is not sinful, referred to sometimes as “righteous indignation” or “righteous resentment.”
Our Lord was angry at different times and always apart from sinning. He showed a deep, moral resentment against those who turned the temple into a house of merchandise (John 2:13-16). He spoke in strong language against all who neglect the spiritual needs of children, thereby causing the little ones to stumble (Matt. 113:6; see also Mark 3:15).
But Paul is exhorting against sinful anger particularly among Gad’s children. He is warning against permitting a hidden malice or a smouldering resentment to remain in the heart of any one of us. Anger, when allowed to linger in the heart, is a mighty weapon in Satan’s hands. It is a dangerous state of mind and becomes a wedge for more open and damaging forms of sin. When I am wrong, I must show patience. I accept with literalness the words, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Resentment must not be cherished beyond the sunset, “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Let us never retire to our beds angry; let us kneel first and confess to God the sin in the anger.
“Neither give place to the devil” (4:27). These words, along with those of verse 26, are all a part of one sentence. Satan works through that heart which cherishes anger. It is a part of his scheme to get Christians to act in malice against other believers. Elsewhere Paul said that we were to forgive one another “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us” (2 Cor. 2:10, 11). Oh, that we Christians might learn the strategy of Satan in his evil work among the saints of God! The devil has no place in the life of a Christian, so let us beware lest we give him something to lay hold of.
Paul turns now from the sin of anger to the sin of theft: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (4:28). The present form is suggested in the translation of J. N. Darby: “Let the stealer steal no more.” It is addressed to those in the church at Ephesus, or any church, who may yet be guilty of this sin. The Christians in Paul’s day were new converts from a heathenism that practiced such sins. Their knowledge of God’s Word was limited; they might yield, therefore, to the temptation to obtain something dishonestly, or at the expense of another.
There are various forms of stealing. One may steal time from his employer. Another may steal someone’s good name and reputation. The misuse of another’s funds, even when practiced with the intention of replacing the “borrowed” money, is accounted stealing in a court of law. Gambling, unpaid debts, deception in some business transaction, misrepresentation of facts on one’s income tax return, withholding from God that which should have been given to Him, graft in politics, pleading want--these all are forms of stealing.
Opposed to the vice of stealing is the virtue of service to others: “Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” It is not enough that we engage in honest labor merely to satisfy our own needs and wants, but we are to toil diligently so that we might render service to others. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to minister and not to be ministered unto, and if I have accepted Him as Saviour and Lord, then His standard of life should be my highest aim. The “new man” expresses himself most genuinely when he ministers to him who has need. Dr. Ironside has said: “I could live up to the righteousness that is in the Law if I refrained from taking what is another’s, but I cannot live up to the holiness of grace except I share with others what God in His kindness gives to me.” The joy of the giver is far deeper and richer than that of the receiver. It is more blessed to give than to receive. “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Unholy speech is dealt with next: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (4:29). Worthless thoughts ought never to be expressed. ‘We need to pray with David: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). The wise man makes God the Doorkeeper of his mouth (Prov. 4:24) that he might be preserved from lip sins. “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6). When our speech is seasoned with salt, our words have a gracious flavor; and when we have salt in ourselves, we have peace one with another (Mark 9:50). Wrong words reveal a wrong heart. Bitter water comes from a bitter fountain. Worthless conversation is a misrepresentation of true Christianity.
Over against the vice of corrupt communication Paul presents the virtue of “that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.” How delightful to be in the presence of one whose words are helpful to others according to the need of the occasion! How refreshing to see the x-ray of a pure heart in the words that emanate therefrom! “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). As the Word of Christ dwells in us richly (Col. 3:16), our words will be guided by His Word, and this will build up the body of Christ, bringing to others the blessing of grace.
“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (4:30). Perhaps there is no passage so worthy of being lifted out of its context as this. It is an established fact, attested by both Scripture and experience, that at the time of the new birth the Holy Spirit enters the believing sinner to take up permanent residence. The initial work of the Spirit, after having wrought conviction to the heart, is to create a new nature within. His full title is the Holy Spirit, and His divine nature grieves when any wrong thought, word, or deed occupies the mind or body of the believer. He abhors those sins just mentioned by Paul: lying, anger, stealing, and evil speaking. The Holy Spirit is a Person with personal feelings. Hence He may be grieved. We cannot now enter into a study of the many phases of His ministry, but since He has made secure our eternal redemption, we will be most ungrateful if we cause Him to grieve. His Presence with us should make us want to lay aside all that is ungodlike. Sin wounds and pains the Holy Spirit. Grieving Him is synonymous with backsliding. Only when we give the Holy Spirit His rightful place can we expect a revival in the body of Christ. As we yield our human spirit to Him, He makes us holy.
The blessed assurance is here added that the believers “are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Paul had said: “Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Eph. 1:13, 14). Here again, in chapter four, he tells us how long we are sealed-”unto the day of redemption.” The day of redemption is not the day Christ died to redeem us. Christ’s death was the payment for our redemption and His finished work at Calvary paid in full the penalty of our sins. But the believers’ redemption will not be fully experienced until Christ comes back for His own and redeems our bodies. We are “waiting … for the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22, 23).
When our Lord returns He will recognize all of the redeemed, since God has impressed His Spirit upon us as the seal and mark of ownership. There is not the slightest danger of a single true believer being left behind at the rapture of the Church. Jesus gave certain signs whereby the saved on earth could know that His appearing would not be far hence, and then He added: “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 2 1:28). The seal of the Spirit is the stamp of divine likeness upon the heart of the believer and is, thereby, the mark of ownership and security.
In view of the Spirit’s sensitiveness to sin and the approaching day of redemption, a list of sins follows which should be put away from us: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you with all malice” (4:31). Bitterness is the opposite of sweetness. Bitterness suggests the acrid, sharp, severe, sarcastic. Bitter words and actions show that the heart is not right, for only the mouth of the unrighteous is full of bitterness (Rom. 3:14), Believers must take heed “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15). No fountain can send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter. Therefore, if we have bitter envying and strife in our hearts, it is earthly, sensual and devilish (James 3:11-15).
We are to put away “clamour.” Clamour is the audible expression of anger, wrath, and bitterness in the heart. It is the cry of one’s passions in railing against others while asserting one’s own rights. All evil speaking must be put away, with all malice. “Speak not evil one of another, brethren” (James 4:11). Yes, dear Christian, let it all be put away from you. Put away bitterness. Put away wrath. Put away anger. Put away clamour. Put away evil speaking. Put away all malice. These things defile the believer even as commercialism defiled the temple in our Lord’s day, so that He said to them that sold doves: “Take these things hence” (John 2:16).
Our chapter concludes with an exhortation to a virtue which, if cultivated, will drive out those sins that grieve the Spirit: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (4:32). Kindness should characterize believers in their relationships with one another. Kindness is that gentle, gracious, easy-to-be-entreated manner that permits others to be at ease in our presence. The word “kind” comes from such words as “kin” and “kindred,” so that to deal kindly with others is to deal with them as our own kin. And after all, believers are brethren. Kindness and tender-heartedness go together. They express a warm sympathy and love for all men, both the righteous and evil doers. I fear that sometimes we are not very pitiful and compassionate toward others.
Kindness and compassion find expression in forgiveness: “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Divine forgiveness is our greatest example: sin is the only ugly, hateful thing that separates man from God. And still God forgives all our sins when we come to Him for salvation because Christ, the sinner’s Substitute, paid our penalty. This is the example we are to follow. Perhaps the one who wronged you does not deserve your forgiveness. Neither did you deserve God’s forgiveness.
No one could ever wrong us as much as we have wronged God. Still He loves us and forgives us all our sins. This, beloved, should be the measure of our forgiveness.
The division of chapters at this point seems unfortunate, for the exhortation at the beginning of the fifth chapter is inseparably linked with that of the preceding verses. The words, “Be ye therefore …” show the close relation between 4:32 and 5:1, 2. Having exhorted believers to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving of one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us, Paul adds: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children” (5:1).
The word, “followers,” is most generally translated “imitators.” To imitate is to duplicate, to mimic, to impersonate. Children learn by imitation. Since God is the best educator, He used the method of imitation to teach His creatures.
The exhortation to imitate God is addressed to Christians only. It is useless to plead with an unregenerate man to follow “in His steps.” To walk in His steps is not the means of our redemption but the result of our having been redeemed. Until one becomes a partaker of the divine nature through being born again, any attempt on the part of a lost sinner to imitate God is futile. It is only as “dear children” that we can begin a true imitation of Him. The children of the devil find it quite natural to imitate their father. Our Lord said as much (John 8:44). We have often heard it said: “Like father, like son.” We have seen in our own children how they love to imitate their parents. Now when God saved us He gave to each believing sinner His own life and nature; therefore He expects that we will pattern our habits and manner of life after His. It is expected that children will resemble their parents.
God Himself is the standard of every thought, word, and act of His children. This was so in the life of Israel. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:1, 2). The object of the whole ceremonial and moral law under the Old Covenant was the same as the purpose of Christ’s coming under the New, namely, to make men like God. The Apostle Peter wrote: “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:14-16). This mandate of God seems an impossibility, as far as our producing holiness is concerned.
The practice of holiness does not happen all at once. As we read the Word of God, and pray, and exercise ourselves to obey His will, we are conformed to His image. The eternally productive seed of holiness, which is God’s very nature, is in us as believers (1 Pet. 1:4). As we behold our blessed Lord in the mirror of God’s Word, the seed develops, and we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). Since God commands us to be holy, we may be certain that He is ready to minister the needed grace and strength. God intends every believer to be like Himself, so He has given us His nature to get us started, and in this one sense the Christian is perfectly sanctified positionally now (1 Cor. 1:2). But in a more practical sense holiness is progressive. Therefore, we are exhorted to “become holy.”
The whole plan of redemption has this for its ultimate purpose. “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7); “[He] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). Holiness is the property of God, but He has placed it within our reach. As He possesses the whole man, the transformation takes place.
Does the command to be holy, as God is holy, appear unfair since we are asked to imitate Him whom we have never seen? The satisfying answer to such reasoning is found in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to reveal the Father (John 1:18), and in His holy life He demonstrated in a practical way how we should walk. Christ is God, “for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9). His flawless life was a demonstration of divine holiness. Now when a man receives Jesus Christ, it is not merely that he is brought into relationship with the Holy One but also into participation in His holiness. Once we accept the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, we are empowered by the divine Presence in us to imitate Him. There follows next in Paul’s teaching three ways by which we are to imitate God. It is done by our “walk.” We are to walk in love (5:2), walk in light (5:8) and walk circumspectly (5:15). First, we are exhorted to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (5:2). Before one can walk in the sphere of love he must get into that sphere. Do we know the love of Christ? We were poor, wretched sinners, and “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:5). One of the attributes of God is love. That love reached us at Calvary, and the moment we believed, the love of God was shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). Since Pentecost, God’s love has been reaching out to others through those of His children who walk in love. Here is one of the strongest evidences of our regeneration:
By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death (1 John 3:14). Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love (1 John 4:7, 8).
The true believer will imitate God in love, and God in love is God in action: “As Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us … “We are to walk in love. “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). We can never give ourselves as Christ gave Himself, but we can imitate Him in self-sacrificing love for the good of our brethren. Such love is unto God “a sweetsmelling savour.” Such sacrifice, described in terms of the Old Testament ritual in the whole burnt offering, is “at sweet savour [smell] unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:9). It indicates something well pleasing to God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great Burnt Offering, a sacrifice of a sweet odor to God. And since we have been redeemed, we too can be “unto God a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15).
If we are to walk in love, there are those things that must not be a part of us in any way. There is “fornication.” He who is not walking in love might readily succumb to this degrading and corrupt form of lust. In the circle of the unsaved, “fornication” and “uncleanness” are regarded as common practices without scruple. The old nature, which is present in every believer, is subject to every form of impurity. Added to these is covetousness,” seen in either an unlawful desire for gain or in that vile greed for sensual gratification. Unmentionable vileness is prevalent all around us, on newsstands, on billboards, on the cinema screen; yes, the very air we breathe is polluted with it. Of all such Paul adds: “Let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” It as not enough that we do not engage in such vile things; they should not even be talked about among saints. Obscenity and indecency are not becoming to “saints,” hence they should not even be mentioned. Beloved, let us guard against lust of every form and description, and let us not so much as indulge our thinking in them. Saints should remain free from every appearance of evil.
“Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks” (5:4). We are to shun “filthiness,” which is everything inconsistent with the modesty of a saint. Filthy words and filthy deeds bring dishonor and shame. Next the apostle deals with “foolish talking” and “jesting.” Paul is not here condemning a sense of humor. I have always been quite careful not to become too intimate with these very pious folks who are too holy to engage in laughter. H. A. Ironside said: “God meant man to laugh. That is the one thing that distinguishes him from all the other creatures. Until scientists can find a monkey who can laugh, they will never find the missing link.”
Notice that filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting are linked together. I believe we are being warned here against taking any part in the telling of or listening to “dirty jokes.” People who engage in such buffoonery act like fools. It is a sign of degeneracy when one must take part in immoral pleasantry in order to laugh. Laughter at the expense of decency is sinful. Some persons cannot be witty without using double talk and suggestive phrases. Many a Christian has spoiled his testimony with such low frivolity. It is never “convenient” (befitting) to make light of sin. Instead of using our speech in a scurrilous way, we should exercise ourselves in “giving of thanks.” Walking in love and talking in lust are incompatible. If we are grateful to God for saving us, then we should use our lips to honor and glorify Him.
Paul reminds his readers that he is not telling them anything new: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (5:5). The words and deeds of the vile man are just as empty as his heart is of the grace and love of God. The dwellers in darkness are doomed to spend eternity with the devil and his own. Some church members and some professing Christians feel that they will get to heaven in spite of their sinful words and deeds. To all such Paul would add: “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (5:6). Where there is genuine faith in Christ, fruit follows. “The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:1’?). Society is corrupted by immorality, and the end of every immoral person is the wrath of God. “Be ye not therefore partakers with them” (5:7). You cannot afford to be deceived in this all-important matter.
“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (5:8). Here Paul again contrasts the believer’s past with his present. Earlier in the epistle the contrast was between death and life (2:1); here the contrast is between darkness and light. The appeal is made to what we now are in contrast to what we once were. We were darkness but now are we light in the Lord; hence we are not to be partakers with the children of disobedience.
There are two great kingdoms, in one of which every man is to be found. There is the kingdom of Satan, which is the kingdom of darkness; and there is the kingdom of our Lord, which is the kingdom of light. The unsaved man is by choice under the dominion of the rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph. 6:12). He prefers the darkness to the light because his deeds are evil (John 3:19). He is not merely in the dark, but he is darkness. Darkness is ignorance, and every unsaved man is ignorant of the things of God. They are foolishness to him, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). He practices the works of darkness by choice, since that is all he knows.
Every Christian was at one time in darkness. But when Christ, who is the Light of the world (John 8:12), came into our hearts, we were immediately delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). Now since “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6), we walk as children of light, no longer practicing those things of which we are now ashamed. The coming of the Light has dispelled the darkness, so that engaging in those things for which the wrath of God now cometh upon the children of disobedience has long since passed. The actions of the believer should differ widely from those of the unbeliever; hence Paul refreshes the remembrance of the Christians by contrasting their former position with the present: “Ye were darkness; ye are light.”
Our Lord said to His disciples: “Ye are the light of the world … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16). Many kinds of darkness abound in the world—sin, suffering, and sorrow. Instead of complaining that we must live in the midst of such darkness, we should thank God that He has placed us here as the light of the world, to shine in the midst of such conditions and circumstances.
The light must be securely fixed in a conspicuous place, not under a bushel, “but on a candlestick,” or lampstand (Matt. 5:15). We will need to be kept filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit and kept trimmed, not that we should be looked at, but that He might be seen and the Father glorified. It was the glory of the Father that Christ ever had in mind all during His earthly life. Guy H. King has said: “The shining of our light is not to say ‘Look at me!’ but ‘Look at Him!’” Never allow the bushel of cowardice or compromise or carelessness to hide the light, for “if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” (2 Cor. 4:3). Of John the Baptist our Lord said: “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35).
Do you want to shine? If so, you must be willing to burn.
Shining calls for sacrifice. What a blessed privilege is ours as Christians! He who said, “I am the Light of the world,” said to His own, “Ye are the light of the world.” In His absence we arc to shine for Him as lights, “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). The wise man has said: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).
The apostle gives three features of a walk in the light which he calls, “The fruit of the light” (A.S.V.). They are “goodness and righteousness and truth” (5:9). Goodness is kindness in action, beneficence. This grace should characterize the children of the light. It is a fruit whereby believers are distinguished from those who dwell in darkness. Active goodness is the natural result of light. Let something come between you and the Light of the world, and your life will no longer be controlled by selflessness.
The fruit of the light is in righteousness. Here the word “righteousness” is the same as that in 4:24, and is simply thinking right and doing right. Moral uprightness is a scarce commodity among the children of darkness, in spite of wishful thinking among theologians and statesmen. More and more the selfishness of the unregenerate heart shows itself. In the world today the rule of life seems to be “every man for himself.” But where men are walking in the light they have fellowship (communion) one with another (1 John 1:7). They share things commonly.
Finally, this verse reveals that the fruit of life is in truth. This is truth in “the inward parts” (Psa. 51:6) as opposed to sham and hypocrisy. The fruit of the light permits no secret compromise with evil. Moreover, there is abstinence from every appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).
He who walks in the light is daily “proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” (5:10). To prove is to test by experience, not before the eyes of man but before God. We dare not test our conduct by the standards of certain denominations and churches, nor by the things everyone does. The test of the light is that “ye may prove [test] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). If our words, thoughts, and acts are “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), we may be certain that we are walking in the light.
Then, too, we are to “have no fellowship with the un-fruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (5:11).
The Christian cannot have fellowship with those in darkness and expect to escape the pollution of evil. Paul’s epistles sound the warning repeatedly against Christians keeping company with unbelievers. “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators” (1 Cor. 5:9); ‘(Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). The unequal yoke in marriage, business, lodges, secret societies, or even churches, is forbidden God’s children, for “God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:5, 6). Our negative action is to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; the positive action is that we must “reprove them” both by our lives and our lips. We are not to deal lightly with sin. The appearance of our Lord exposed the darkness in men’s thoughts and deeds. It must be so with His own. “For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (5:12). Dr. Erdman warns against Christians acting as moral detectives to spy out the sins of their fellow men. A further warning is given against making public such sins.
Verses 13 and 14 teach us that when the light is turned on, the vices of those who walk in darkness are revealed in their odious character. All things, when they are discovered, are made manifest by the Light, for whatsoever doth make manifest is light (5:13). Light is the very nature of God, and when we let the light shine by a Christlike life, the sinner sees himself in the pure light of God’s holiness.
Dear Christian, do our lives expose the foulness of the evil in others? Are the unsaved being transformed by the illumination of our words and actions? If not, we are not worthy of the name Christian. May God use us to make sin appear sinful.
There follows next a strong exhortation: “Awake thou that deepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (5:14). Paul quotes in part from Isaiah 60:1, 2, applying it to the Church. In view of the sin all about the people of God, through the Prophet Isaiah He called upon His own to put on the light of Jehovah’s glory in the midst of the surrounding darkness. Israel’s light had not been shining, so that they were as those who were dead; hence the call to arise and stand out as lights in the midst of those who were dead.
Many Christians today are as those who are still in death and darkness. Some of you have not been letting your light shine. You are scarcely discernible from the unsaved. If you will arise from your slumber, Christ will bless you and cause It is light to shine through you to others.
This is the last appearance of the word “walk” in this epistle, and it is not without significance. Paul writes: “See then ,that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (5:15). The consistent walk of the believer, that is, his daily deportment, is with full knowledge of the temptations that :surround him. Still he is not as the unwise but as the wise. He looks carefully how he walks, not ignorant of Satan’s devices. The wise Christian is strict with himself about his .walk. He watches each step as he goes, certain where the next step will lead him. Strictest consistency is essential lest one wrong step prove fatal. The unwise person is the unthinking person who follows the line of least resistance and very often surrenders his convictions.
Christian, you are not to go along with the crowd; you are not to do something because every one else is doing it. Be careful where you walk. Look about you before you put down your feet. The word “circumspectly” carries the idea of strictness and exactness based on careful observation. He is a wise man who looks all around him as he walks. The reason for walking in wisdom is expressed in the following words: “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (5:16). Paul lived in evil days when there was bitter opposition to the gospel, but the days in which we live are no less evil. This whole present age is evil (Gal. 1:4), the one difference, I believe, being the increase of wickedness as the age nears its end. With evil waxing worse, the opportunities to do good become less. Therefore, we are to be “redeeming the time,” which means simply that we are to seize upon every opportunity and avail ourselves of every means to spread the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a wise shopper would go bargain-hunting to buy up every scarce commodity, so must the Christian lay hold of every fleeting moment of time to advance Christ’s cause in the earth. The doors in some countries are closing to the gospel. Communism and Romanism are suppressing the spread of the Truth. It is quite possible some of us may live to see the day when opportunities to preach the gospel, apart from persecution and even death, will be scarce. Beloved, make every moment count for God and for lost souls.
Because the days are evil, Paul adds: “Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (5:17). We are not to allow the evil days to cause us to become foolish. Too often the Christian acts without intelligence in the face of sin. He needs true wisdom to discern between right and wrong as well as knowledge to deal with the wrong-doers.
A walk in wisdom is defined as “understanding what the will of the Lord is.” When God asks us to walk wisely, it means that He has made provision for such a walk. We can know what His will is, and the wise and thoughtful Christian will give prayerful attention daily to “the will of the Lord.”
The only way that we can be delivered from the foolishness of the natural mind is to be divinely enlightened. Let us not make the foolish mistake of becoming worldly-wise, “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. 3:19). “This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish … But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (Jas. 3:15, 17). “The wisdom that is from above” is “the will of the Lord” and it is given to those who earnestly seek it. Prayer and the ‘careful reading of the Bible will make clear to any Christian what the will of the Lord is. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (Jas. 1:5).
The shame of the Christian church is the sad and tragic neglect of thoughtful Bible reading on the part of its members. Quite often we are faced with decisions. What shall we do about such and such a thing? Beloved, if we use the Bible aright, we can turn to God’s Word to see what He says about it. The Word of the Lord reveals the will of the Lord. The Bible is the Christian’s rule of faith and practice, so that “he is no superficial optimist nor is he a despairing pessimist but a confirmed Biblicist.” Acquaintance with the Book and its Author is the secret to a knowledge and understanding of God’s will. But basic to all else is the matter of my heart. Am I willing and ready to obey God’s will?
The thought in verse 18 is connected with that in verse 17 by use of the word “and.” “Be ye not unwise … and be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” An unwise and senseless man will become drunk with wine, but a wise and sensible Christian will be filled with the Spirit. The worldly man and woman seek exhilaration in excess indulgences of various forms, but the Christian reaches the height of safe and divinely-guided exhilaration by being filled with the Holy Spirit. To be under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that one walks wisely in the will of God, is not an exceptional experience for any one Christian or any one special group of believers; it is the normal experience for all who know our Lord Jesus Christ.
While the evil of intemperance is surely before us in verse 18, the weightier matter is the positive command to all Christians to allow the Spirit of God to have full control of their lives. However, let a solemn warning be sounded. It is an easy thing to mistake a fleshly enthusiasm for the filling of the Spirit. Of the disciples on the day of Pentecost the Scripture says: “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). However, the unbelievers said of the Spirit-filled followers of Christ: “These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13).
Beware of the false intoxication of Satan! He has his counterfeit in many of the so-called “holiness” movements. The command to be filled with the Spirit does not mean that we are to pray for the baptism of the Spirit to seek some kind of experience. Every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, hence he is indwelt by the blessed Third Person in the Godhead. Our being “filled with the Spirit” means that the Holy Spirit has complete control of our whole being. It is possible that some Christians who read these lines have never reached that crisis in life where the whole personality was surrendered to God. When a man is drunk, he is completely given over to the influence of liquor and has no self-control; when a Christian is filled with the Spirit, he is completely given over to the Spirit and makes no attempt to please self. The fruit (of walking in wisdom is a heart overflowing with praise to the Lord: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19). The song of a man reflects his soul. Let me hear a man sing and I will be guided somewhat in determining where his devotion lies. Please do not misunderstand me. Mere vocalizing in itself may determine nothing. Every Sunday there are hypocrites who sing praises to God with their lips while their hearts are not right before Him. It is true that we sing together to praise God in unison and to encourage one another, but such singing glorifies God only when we are singing and making melody in our hearts “to the Lord.” Such singing begets vocalizing that honors God.
Not all of us can sing well with our voices. Some of us cannot make melody on a musical instrument, but every child of God can make melody in his heart to the Lord. The secret of the singing heart is to be Spirit-filled, and when we are controlled by the Holy Spirit we will not be singing to entertain ourselves or others, but to please the Lord. When the believing sinner receives a new heart, he should be able to say with David: “And He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God” (Psa. 40:3). Only the Spirit can cause us to sing songs that are in harmony with the purposes of God. Is there a song in your heart just for the Lord?
Further evidence of walking in wisdom is the giving of “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). Thankfulness goes along with spirituality and godliness. Would you understand what the will of the Lord is? Listen to the Scriptures:
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18); “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). As we surrender to the Holy Spirit, He causes us to see that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28). Do we thank God for all things? Do we thank Him for the sobs as well as for the songs? We all can thank God for some things! But for “all things,” and “always”—let it be to our shame that we have grumbled and complained about our little ailments. God has wonderfully provided for us in this life and in the next, and He has willed that we praise Him for all things. “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15). We may not know now why all the difficult things of life come our way, but we do know that all things are for our good. God sees the end from the beginning and He will not permit us to be tested beyond that which we are able to bear. May God deliver us from the thankless spirit.
The Spirit-filled Christian is submissive: “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” (5:21). Mutual subjection is sorely lacking among us. When it is too hard to admit our wrong, or when it is too difficult to give place to another, we may be certain we are not filled with the Spirit. In a church whose members are Spirit-controlled, one sees no dissension, no quarreling, no selfishness, no jealousy. Loving submission to our Lord will make us subject to one another. Let us seek to cultivate that genuine lowliness that esteems others better than ourselves. When the wills of two persons are yielded to the will of God, there will be mutual subjection. The Spirit-filled believer, then, is joyful (verse 19), thankful (verse 20), and submissive (verse 21). Indeed, this is the test of spirituality. A profession which lacks these things is false.
The apostle has just finished stating that we are to submit ourselves one to another in the fear of God. Here he presents/some concrete, down-to-earth teaching about reciprocal relations in the home. He begins with the relationship between husband and wife. Let it be said here that submission in the home is not something enjoined upon the woman only; it is a mutual relationship.
Paul begins: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (5:22). This is a subject which, in our day, is not easy to teach. Woman suffrage groups and woman’s rights leagues are opposed to the plain teaching of Scripture on the subject of female submission. Some educated women have been quite vociferous in their rebellion against the headship of the man. But let every woman keep her mind and heart open to the plain teaching of Scripture on this subject as well as any other. God has spoken. To Eve He said: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16). Eve overstepped her bounds when she yielded to Satan, thereby giving evidence that she should not be free but instead subject to her husband and dependent upon him. This divinely-instituted subordination of the woman was the result of her display of her own weakness. Paul states elsewhere: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in child-bearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety (1 Tim. 2:11-14). Paul insists upon the subjection of the woman on Scriptural grounds. Adam ate the forbidden fruit by his own choice, with his eyes open; on the other hand, Eve was deceived. There is not the slightest inference here that man is, or ever was, mentally, morally, or spiritually superior to woman; but the woman, because of her greater trustfulness, is controlled by her heart more than her head.
Women enjoy the highest happiness in Christian communities and in Christian homes where the Bible, with its Christian principles, is accepted and obeyed. The subjection of a wife to her husband is “as unto the Lord.” There is nothing here that would suggest the husband’s authority to be equal to Christ’s authority, but that in subjecting themselves to their husbands wives are subjecting themselves to the Lord, since the command to do so came first from Him. In another place Paul writes: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). The submission here is not always, but the submission of loyalty and obedience to a God-given arrangement. Such submission of a wife to her husband is part of her obedience to the Lord.
There is a reason why such a command is given to women: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing” (5:23, 24).
At once it becomes obvious that the Apostle Paul has drawn an analogy between the relationship of Christ and the Church on the one hand, and the marriage relationship of husband and wife on the other. Frequently in the Old Testament we see the relationship between Jehovah and Israel discussed in a similar way. Israel is referred to as “the wife of Jehovah.” Isaiah wrote: “as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee” (Isa. 62:5). And in the New Testament, speaking of his own relationship to the Lord, John the Baptist referred to himself as “the friend of the Bridegroom” (John 3:29). Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2).
It is quite clear, then, that the people of God in every dispensation stand to Him in the relation analogous to that of a husband and wife. Whenever His people transferred their love and allegiance to another, He was moved with deep displeasure. The marriage relation is exclusive, hence all violators of the marriage vow, such as fornicators and adulterers, will be judged by God. Even as our loyalty and allegiance can be sustained to one God only, so with every wife to her own husband. So sacred and binding is the marriage union between a husband and wife that Paul uses it as a fit symbol of the blessed relation between Christ and His Church. Christ is the Saviour of the body. The right of responsibility and leadership of the Church is Christ’s; the right of responsibility and leadership of the wife is the husband’s. ‘The union of husband and wife is a vital and enduring one, like the union between Christ and the believer. The sinner is in bondage until he comes to Christ, but, said the Lord Jesus: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’’ (John 8:36). The subjection of a wife to her husband is not that of force and fear and slavery, but of loving subjection which comes from freedom. “Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” A body with two heads is a monstrosity; a Church with two heads cannot prosper; a house with two heads cannot stand. Wife, be subject to your husband in a sweet spirit of reasonableness, and do it “as unto the Lord.’’
Now in the verses that follow we have the reciprocal relationship brought out in the duties of the husband. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (5:25). Just as Paul used Christ and the Church to illustrate the submission of the wife to her husband, here again Christ and the Church are mentioned, this time to illustrate the responsibility of the husband to the wife. Christ loved the Church enough to die for it, and when a husband manifests such love for his wife, submission on her part will be a joy and delight. The Christian husband who bears the image of Christ will be like his Lord in the exercise of sacrificial love. No Christian wife can dispute the ruling place in the home when her husband displays such love. Every right of husbands to headship in the home must be exercised in love toward their wives, “and be not bitter against them” (Col. 3:19). The wife is not told to submit to “bitterness”; on the other hand, she will readily submit to love. Husband, does your action in the home give expression of the redeeming love of Christ? Is yours a selfless, sympathetic, sacrificial care of your wife?
Christ gave Himself for the Church “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word” (5:26). His redeeming love precludes the ultimate holiness of the Church to the end “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (5:27). A dirty bride is unthinkable. The purpose of Christ for His own, as expressed in verse 26, is to be accomplished in the present. As we read and study the Bible carefully we are kept cleansed of the defilements we are apt to gather day by day. This verse does not mean that the cleansing is effected by water baptism, but by the “Word,” of which the water here is but a symbol. The holy Bridegroom must have a holy bride; so, as her Head, He must provide everything for her now as well as prepare her for the marriage feast when she will be presented to Him at His return. By His love He saved her; by His Word He sanctifies her; at His coming He will glorify her. He took the form of a Servant for her and become obedient unto the death of the cross, and until now He continues to serve her from His position in heaven so that the Church, His bride, gladly yields in willing submission to Him. When a husband’s love toward his wife is expressed in sacrificial service in her behalf, “giving honour unto the wife, an unto the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7), then will she willingly become subject to her godly and Christlike husband.
Already in Ephesians we have seen that the Church is Christ’s body (1:23) as well as His bride. Even so a man’s wife is both his bride and his body. After vividly describing how God made woman from the side of man, Moses adds: “Therefore [because of this conjugal relation] shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So Paul writes: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself” (5:28). A man who would injure his wife is as one who would injure himself. While Adam slept God removed a bone from his body and, from it, made woman, so that Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh’’ (Gen. 2:23). Let every husband and wife learn the truth that both are one flesh. Then will they experience the joy and blessing of kneeling together to bring their problems to the Lord in prayer and of walking together in mutual love and subjection. The mind of the modern world is opposed to this teaching from God’s Word, but the sacred relationship between husband and wife, and Christian doctrine concerning it, still stand. Adulterers and adulteresses are strangers to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, for while the state may sanction immorality, God will judge it.
By nature every man loves himself. In both the Old and New Testaments we read: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’: (Lev. 19:18; cf. Matt. 19:19; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14). Now no man in his right mind will do or say anything to hurt himself. If he did he would be a monster at heart. Between a man and his wife there is a oneness by the bond of marriage illustrated by the weighty example of Christ and His Church. By becoming partakers of the divine nature, believers “are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (5:30). Christ is the Head of His own body; therefore He cherishes and nourishes it with tender love. He will do nothing to injure it. Since the husband is the head of the wife, she is as his own body; therefore he cherishes and nourishes her with tender love. Our Lord supplies everything for our comfort and happiness; so does the husband care for his wife.
When the soldiers pierced the side of our Lord “and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34), the bride of Christ was being taken from His side, for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). Beloved, that was the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen, or ever will see. When God pierced the side of Adam, He did it to take Adam’s bride from his side. Thus she became bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Adam “is the figure of Him [Christ] that was to come” (Rom. 5:14). Eve is a type of the Church. Let every Christian husband be to his wife what Christ is to His own. Marriage is a union for life between one man and one woman. Therefore let the husband be the complement of the wife, and the wife the complement of her husband, for “they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6). “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh” (5:31). What can be added to this? Certainly we can conclude that the husband-wife relationship is more intimate than any other earthly union, even than that between parents and children. As the Son of God left His Father’s house to claim and care for His bride, even so the husband his wife. Beloved, Christ will never cast off His Church. Husband, take good care of the wife God has given you.
Perhaps more has been left unsaid about these verses than what we have written. But Paul himself realized and declared the fact of the mystical union between Christ and His Church to be a great mystery: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (5:32). The relationship between Christ and His Church, and its analogy, namely, the relationship between husband and wife, have hidden meaning, the import of which is beyond human knowledge. For my own part I am overwhelmed at the depth of revelation and I acknowledge that in my own life there is room for improvement. I readily accept Paul’s closing word of admonition to husbands: Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself …” (5:33). In every way, I am far below par, yet I have thought well of myself and have put up with myself quite nicely. I know my wife is far from perfect, but I desire to do equally as well, and perhaps better, in caring for her than I have for myself. The whole context presents challenging truth to both husband and wife, so let “the wife see that she reverence her husband.” When people see these truths practiced by us in our homes, they may begin to realize the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Christian home is the most sacred institution on earth. Let us guard it with the greatest of care.
The main thought in the last part of the preceding chapter, namely, submission, continues in the first part of chapter six. Paul has been dealing with the thought of submission on the part of the Christian. In chapter 5:22-33 the apostle showed that when the child of God is walking carefully, the relationship between husband and wife is one of love and subjection. Now he applies the same lessons in parent-children relationships (6:l-4).
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right” (6:1). The command to children is to obedience. To obey means to submit to, or to comply with, a command. There is an obedience which comes not by willing submission to authority but as a result of force. Examples of this are recorded in Scripture. When a great tempest arose while our Lord and His disciples were in a ship, He rebuked the winds and the sea and they obeyed Him (Matt. 8:27). Natural elements are forced to obey their Creator. Elsewhere demons are forced by Christ into submission: “for with authority commandeth He even the unclean spirits, and they do obey Him” (Mark 1:27). Such submission will characterize man and beasts during the Millennium.
However, the obedience of which Paul speaks in Ephesians is the glad and ready willingness to hearken to and heed the divine commands. According to the Word of God, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). Obedience is the first law between the Creator and His creation. The whole world is regulated by the law of * obedience. The millions of stars, the seasons—all are under this law. Man must exercise obedience in every sphere of life, beginning as a child in the home, then as a citizen of the state, as an employee at work, and as a member of the church. We are subject to the laws of life.
The first lessons in obedience must be learned in child-hood. The home is where basic training begins and, if there is to be harmony in the home, submission must be practiced. Before ever the child is born the wife learns subjection to her husband and the husband loves his wife as himself. Then as the children follow, they too must learn obedience. Perhaps there never has been such a day as ours for lawlessness on the part of children and a reckless disregard for parental instruction. In too many houses the children’s word is law. There is little respect for parents. The revolt of American youth has caused the breakdown of many homes. Since the family is the strength of the church and of the state, a fresh study of respective rights and reciprocal responsibilities in the home demands the attention of Christians everywhere.
Here the command is to “children.” When applied to the human race the child is regarded as such from birth to maturity. Children are the fruit of marriage, and in a certain sense they are held responsible to their parents. Every child should learn from its parents by instruction and by parental example that children will become the parents of the next generation. Obedience is one of the first lessons a child must learn. In two lists of sins, one list describing the godless pagan world of the past (Rom. 1:29-31) and the other predicting the perilous times of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2), Paul mentions the sin of “disobedience to parents.”
Is it not significant that the Holy Spirit should mention this sin in such a striking manner? Evolution teaches the moral and spiritual ascent of man. God shows the heart of the natural man in the end of the age to be no better than it was among the heathen. As we read the Bible we might imagine ourselves reading the newspaper or standing in a juvenile court. There is scarcely room to house the juvenile delinquents in the reformatories and prisons of our country. A child honoring its parents in obedience is a rare sight these days. And yet the command is clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.”
The basis for Paul’s teaching on the parent-child relationship is found in the words, “in the Lord.” He is addressing his remarks to Christians, not to the unsaved. We cannot hope to see Christian principles practiced in a home if its members are not Christians. The manner of obedience is “in the Lord,” and before a child can obey in the Lord, he or she must be in the Lord.
While a child might not be mature enough to understand his need for salvation and how one becomes saved, he must see the Lord in the lives of his parents before he will learn to obey the Lord. The children’s obedience should arise out of the conviction that such submission is the will of God. The family altar, where the Bible is read together and prayer is offered for each other, will be a daily reminder of our responsibilities in the Lord. Happy the family that worships together day by day! Obedience to parents, then, is one of the ways in which children can glorify God.
Two reasons are given in Scripture for this command. First, it is the right thing to do: “for this is right.” Second, children are to obey their parents “in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Col. 3:20). Children, recognize parental authority in your own home. If you have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, be subject to your mother and father and in loving-kindness obey them. The greatest example of this was our blessed Lord Himself, of whom it is written concerning His relationship to His mother Mary and Joseph, his foster-father: “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” (Luke 2:51). Let every young person reading these lines be quick to hear and willing to heed the counsel of parents. Do it, not merely to please your parents but because in God’s sight “this is right.” Since it is right to obey, it is wrong not to obey.
The command to obey is followed by that to honor: “Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (6:2, 3). To honor means to esteem with deference or respect. The estimate of parents in the mind of a child should be the very highest, for this “is the first commandment with promise.” God gave to Moses ten commandments, and the offer of a reward is peculiar to the fifth one (Exod. 20:12). Obviously God attaches much importance to children honoring their parents. To those children who obey this command He assures prosperity, good health, and length of days. This promise is to be taken literally. Children, respect the judgment of your parents and pay them deference because it is the right thing to do. For it you will receive a rich reward. To reverence our parents stands at the top of the list of social duties.
Children need to learn that, in their parents, God has made wonderful provision for the child. How grateful we should be for the gift of parenthood! The experience and superior knowledge of parents over children must be recognized by the child. And if a child persists in pursuing a wrong course in spite of parental guidance, disciplinary measures should be taken. Following is a word of wisdom to parents: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24.) Let parents pattern their discipline in the home after the divine order, as taught in Hebrews 12:5-11. Then esteem and respect from children will be forthcoming in a larger measure.
We have an example of the tragic end of the sons of Eli and of God’s judgment upon Eli’s house “because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Sam. 3:12, 13). Here is a case where both the children and parents failed, the children refusing to obey and honor their parents (1 Samuel ;!:22-25), and the parents failing to chasten the children.
The apostle continues with a word to parents. “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (6:4). While we parents must insist upon obedience and honor from our children, we must guard against treating them harshly and burdening them needlessly. Parents must rule the home well under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, so that even when firmness and chastening are necessary, it will be with a loving desire for the welfare of the children.
Some parents are known for their harsh and hasty judgment of their children. One father I know repeatedly strikes his child in heated anger. Certainly God never chastens that man in such a way. This father has been a stumbling block to his child, so much so that the child has lost heart and has become discouraged. Elsewhere Paul warns parents against irritating their children by unreasonable severity “lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21). Never quarrel with a child and lose your temper; never give a command unless it is given in loving consideration of the child’s good; do not chafe your child by needless fault-finding, for if you do these things you will only arouse resentment. In the exercise of parental authority there is great need for an understanding of the child.
There is also the positive command in verse 4: “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Let us parents remember that we were children once. Patience was needed to instruct and educate us in the way we ought to go. And what problem-children some of us were! We needed nursing, fostering, training, and the repeated exhorting and warnings of parents. Our children need it too. We must pray for them, exercise watchful care daily, admonish and correct them. Fathers should take time to sit down with their sons, and mothers with their daughters, to counsel them regarding the temptations of life, the books they read, the hobbies they choose, and the friendships they form. In all that we seek to do for them, it must be “of the Lord.” In other words, parents are to give their children Christian education, and for this there is no substitute. Point the child to what the Bible teaches about conduct. Certainly do not leave this sacred task to the Sunday school or church. Plant the seed of God’s Word in that tender heart, and ere many years are passed you will have the joy of seeing your children decide for Jesus Christ. Any earthly inheritance we leave our children is worthless if we have failed to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Our Lord said: “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14); “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).
We have an excellent example of the fruit of Christian education in the home in the person of Timothy. Paul wrote: “But continue thou in the things which thou has learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15). As a child Timothy had learned obedience and honor from the Scriptures at the knees of his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5). Having been equipped for life and service when he was but a child, Timothy needed to have no fear of the evil men and seducers. Timothy’s parents had brought him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He was taught the Holy Scriptures in the home: therefore he was well furnished and fortified against evil temptations. I feel certain that Timothy’s parents and grandparents will be richly rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ.
Paul’s teaching on submission continues. However, in the five verses before us he deals with the duties involved in the relation between servants and masters, or between employee and employer. Here is truth which, if applied, can solve some of the industrial problems today. The relations between labor and management are very often bitter, and in some instances open hostility has resulted. Paul’s problem in the Orient was quite different from ours. In the apostle’s day there were servants in the household, and while the servant was counted a part of the household in which he served, he was a slave nevertheless. The abolition of slavery in most countries has become effective since Paul’s day. However, we are all servants to some extent.
In our day, when social “thinkers” are stirring up the masses to rethink their relationships to management and to the state, and inciting them to demand equality and security, the teaching of Scripture on the subject must be brought to the attention of the Christian. Bear in mind the fact that the servants and masters here exhorted are Christians, members of one body in which there is neither bond nor free. Moreover, verse eight makes it clear that Paul is not thinking merely of those slaves purchased in the slave market, for he says: “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” Dr. Ironside has well written: “The instruction which of old was given to slaves now applies to all employees. Slaves were purchased with the money of a master, or born into the house and raised up by the master, but today we enter into an agreement, we sell our labor, and in that way enter into a certain relationship which makes us just as responsible to heed the admonition given here.”
Of course we are not attempting here to apply this admonition to the unsaved. We agree with Dr. A. C. Gaebelein, who has pointed out that the slavery existing throughout the Roman Empire when this epistle was written was never attacked by Paul, not even in his beautifully written and courteous letter to Philemon, which letter was all about Onesimus, the runaway slave. Reforming the world and improving social conditions is nowhere included in the Biblical definitions of the gospel. We are not to preach social reform to the unsaved. Here is the message for Christians.
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (6:5). A man who hires himself out for a stipulated wage has a responsibility to his employer. Certain rules and regulations issued by the employer are to be obeyed. Each employee should go about his daily work “with fear and trembling,” which means, of course, the fear of willfully neglecting his responsibility, which not only robs his employer but makes him chargeable to God. It was “in fear and in much trembling” that Paul came among the Corinthians as the servant of Christ (1 Cor. 2:3), lest he fail both them and his Lord. Thus all true believers are called upon to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Christianity is not something we work for but something we work out. Whether in a factory, coal mine, field, office, classroom, or pulpit, the Christian renders proper service, fearing nought but God.
Because we are already saved we demonstrate in every phase of our labors the Christian life by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Your pastor, your church, or your wife cannot be a Christian for you. If you are truly saved, you will fear God and render faithful, obedient service to your employer. Let every man do his work “in singleness of heart,” which means without duplicity, no tricky doubleness, not pretending to be a friend of the “boss” to his face while speaking ill of him behind his back. There must be no hypocrisy or pretense. True, those who are over us, whether in domestic, civil, industrial, or legal relationships, are “masters according to the flesh” as distinct from our Master in heaven; nevertheless obedience to them is rendered by the Christian “as unto Christ.” In other words, when we obey those in authority over us, we obey our Lord Jesus Christ. When Christians are consistent in doing what is right, more unsaved persons will be won to Jesus Christ.
Paul continues: “Not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (6:6). “Eyeservice” is service done when the boss is watching. Those who slow down their pace when not under the eye of the foreman or manager, but who work well when being watched, are guilty of seeking favor that they do not deserve. All such Paul calls “men-pleasers,” those who seek to curry favor with men in authority. Such standards not only rob labor of its dignity but are far beneath the dignity of the Christian. The Christian worker does not go to his daily task in a spirit of bitterness, but “with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (6:7). When a saved person goes to his job “doing the will of God from the heart,” he has his employer’s interest at heart; hence he will seek to do him good.
When you return home from your day’s work, do you merit the approbation of your Lord? If my employment is digging ditches, I am to dig ditches from my heart as unto the Lord. When the ditch-digger sets to work with his pick and shovel, and digs as unto God, he need not be concerned as to whether or not his employer is recognizing him. Since I am the servant of Christ, my desire is to please. Him. This makes my obedience a matter of the heart.
There is encouragement and consolation for all who heed this teaching of Scripture: “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free” (6:8). The promise given here applies to all that Paul has been teaching about the servant-master relationship. The Christian who obeys those in authority over him has the assurance that God keeps an accurate record of all faithful service and that no act of service done as unto Him will go unrewarded. If my employer does not appreciate my sincerity and faithfulness, I know that God does. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
The Christian stands or falls before God, and no matter what his status in the world, he will receive his reward both in this life and in the life to come. In this world some men are rich and some are poor, some men are masters and some are servants, some men are honest and some are dishonest; in the next world there will be no such distinctions. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). The question then will not be whether you were servant or master, foreman or laborer. In that day the commonest slave may hear the Lord Jesus Christ say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt. 25:23). When our Lord spoke the parable in which we read these words, He likened it unto the kingdom of heaven. Let the poor but faithful servant be comforted. However ungrateful your master down here may be, God will not allow your faithfulness to go unrecognized and unrewarded. You may even be blamed and punished unjustly, as was Joseph (Gen. 39)) but God will reward you if you are faithful (Matt. 6:1-4).
In bringing to a close this section on The Christian Family (5:22-6:9) with its admonition to submission and obedience, Paul is consistent in that he teaches mutual and reciprocal responsibility in each case. In the wife-husband relationship, submission is required of the wife, and self-sacrificing love on the part of the husband. In the child-parent relationship, obedience is enjoined upon children, and tender, loving care is required of parents. And now, in the servant-master relationship, obedience and loyalty are expected of the servant and kindly consideration of the master.
“And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him” (6:9). The Lord to whom the servant must answer is the same Lord before whom the master must stand. Both will reap reward or suffer loss before a common Master. The same Lord who owns the employee owns the employer. False promises or threatenings ought never to be engaged in by Christian employers. Charles
R. Erdman has said: “The obligation of right conduct and fair dealing rests upon the master quite as truly as upon the slave, and upon the employer as well as upon the employee.” Masters are exhorted to act upon the same Christian principles as are the servants: “Ye, masters, do the same things unto them.” This means that masters are to rule their servants as unto the Lord, with regard to the will of God. If loyalty and fairness are enjoined upon servants, such virtues are required of masters in a greater measure, since masters and employers are in a position of greater privilege and authority.
The key to this entire section is verse 9. As the servant serves his master looking after his master’s interest, so the master serves the servant in looking after his welfare. A master must never seek to rule his servant by threatening but by kindness. When Boaz came to the fields to meet with his employees, he greeted them in the morning with the words: “The Lord be with you”; and they answered: “The Lord bless thee” (Ruth 2:4). When Christ comes into a man’s heart, such an attitude should prevail. Then the perplexing problem between capital and labor will be solved.
Let every one of us who is in a position of authority be reminded that he has a Master in heaven, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and let us perform graciously toward those under us even as we are ministered unto by Him. If those under us are placed under our authority, by the same law we are under the authority of our Master in heaven. As we insist upon those under us rendering an account to us, so must we give an account at the judgment seat of Christ. Our rank on earth will not influence Him at the day of judgment. He will condemn the inconsiderate and unkind master as severely as He will the disloyal servant. These truths need to be brought to our attention with regularity, lest we cause those outside of Christ to stumble.
In the last two chapters, the main burden of Paul’s message has been the believer’s walk. Now he is to deal with the Christian’s warfare. It is a subject sadly neglected in the pulpit ministry today. The silence concerning the continual conflict in the Christian life is responsible for a passive acceptance of the depressions and defeats which are so prevalent in the majority of professing believers. There are those who have confessed Christ and yet have no knowledge of the continual spiritual warfare that is relentlessly being pressed against the children of God.
When one reads through Ephesians at one sitting he is jolted somewhat as he meets the sudden change in chapter 6:10. The first half of the epistle portrays vividly the wonders of predestinating grace in the divine selection of hell-deserving sinners. We were held in ecstasy as we beheld our present possessions in Christ, our past position in the world, and our prospective place in heaven. With what rapture we read of the creation and design of the Church. Then we moved into the practical side of the epistle. Knowing we were reading one of Paul’s letters, we fully expected Christian responsibility to be set before us. We were not surprised to learn of the conduct and duty of the Church. But here is a call to arms, and we learn that we are not only saved and the servants of Christ, but soldiers as well. From the calm of Christian home life, where wives and husbands, children and parents, and servants and masters live together in Christ, we are removed to the battlefield where we are brought face to face with our infernal foe.
Although the redemption that is ours in Christ is complete and free, our inheritance, which we receive here and now, is contested by the enemy. Satan does not want to see the Christian possessing his possessions. The moment we begin to appropriate our blessings in Christ, we discover at once how hostile Satan is toward Christ’s own. When the Israelites entered Canaan, they discovered the enemy in the land and, before they could possess the land, they had to conquer it. The experiences of Israel in Canaan have their counterpart in the spiritual experiences of every Christian. With Israel, the land had been entered, but the enemy was there to contest them: with the believer, the new life has been entered into, but the enemy seeks to keep from us those precious experiences and spiritual blessings that await the redeemed in this life; hence, the Christian’s walk merges into a warfare.
We are not caught unawares. As Paul put it, we are warned “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). Having no hope of salvation for themselves, Satan and his fallen angels seek to render man’s redemption ineffective in individuals. But where men are being saved, there Satan intensifies his warfare in the heavenlies against the newly-begotten children of God. Satan has so shaped his present program to include a furious onslaught against all true believers. He has become the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). Now that God’s plan of salvation has been perfected and consummated, and Satan knows his certain forthcoming doom, he carries on an uninterrupted warfare of spoiling men and women by seducing them to neglect the necessary spiritual exercises of prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers, while he spreads the table of the world’s “dainties” to attract and to appeal to the children of God. Satan knows that he can never remove a child of God from the nail-pierced hands of Jesus Christ (John 10:28-30), but he continues to wage his warfare in the heavenlies against God’s own. If he can weaken our allegiance to Christ, he has gained an advantage. Hence the need for Paul’s message in the closing part of Ephesians.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (6:10). The word “finally” suggests both the conclusion and a commencement. While the word itself means the remainder, the rest, it introduces something new in this epistle. The balance of the message will discuss the struggle which, to many believers, will be something new. The struggle is certain, however. None who is Christ’s can escape it. The apostle addresses it to “my brethren,” an all-inclusive term which included the saints of Paul’s day and ours. Satan aims his darts at the whole body of Christ, so that all brethren are conscripted for the battle. Walking, working, and witnessing do not make up the sum total of Christian activity. As brothers, we are called to the battle to stand side by side against our common foe. We are warriors.
Now it is common knowledge that the best of the “brethren” are ill-fitted to face the foe in their own strength, so Paul exhorts all to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” Weapons must be taken up, and this will call for strength. No weaklings can stand against our infernal foe. The warfare is not “a mere moral conflict between reason and conscience on the one side, and evil passions on the other” (Hodge), but between the devil himself and the saints. Since the enemy possesses supernatural strength, our source of strength is not in nature. It is “in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” Thank God, victory is not dependent upon our own strength, else we would fall; but we are assured of conquest by His mighty power.
It is good for us when we recognize our deficiency and His sufficiency. We need to be endued with His strength, and such is available if we are “in” the Lord. It is our position “in” the Lord which makes us strong, just as the vigor of an arm is its position in the body. For His strength there is no substitute.
Paul was always cognizant of his own weakness. He wrote: “I was with you in weakness” (1 Cor. 2:3). But he added: “when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). When we are conscious of human weakness and emptied of self, then it is that God endues us with His mighty power.
When Paul said, “When I am weak, then am I strong,” he was speaking, of a time of great suffering and physical infirmity in his own body. There was no question about the reality of the thorn in his flesh, but his attitude of heart toward God in the hour of his suffering was the secret to his strength. He accepted God’s will for his life, and he discovered that the infirmity was, in the divine plan, to be the medium of strength. Strength in weakness is one of the paradoxes of Christian experience.
Paul testified to the Philippians that, in spite of his own weakness, he had strength for all things. Said he: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). If Paul attempted to withstand Satan in his own strength, he failed utterly. But he knew better than to try. He had learned that strength for spiritual battles lay in Christ’s presence within him. Our Lord does not defer us from the battle, but He does make Himself responsible to equip us with His strength to fight. His presence in us is the secret of victory. We need not be spiritual weaklings. If we are “in the Lord” we can be strong.
The exhortation to be strong in the Lord is followed by another, namely: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (6:11). Here our adversary is named. He is the “devil,” and his weapons are referred to as “wiles.” He wages his warfare with cunning and deception; therefore the believer must put on all of the armor which God supplies.
In chapter four we are told to put on clothing suited to the saint; here we are told to put on clothing suited to the soldier. God knows the stratagems of Satan, and He alone can provide a panoply to protect His own. Satan can easily outwit us but never God. So the wise Christian will put on God’s armor and keep it on.
In the verses that follow, Paul explains the armor piece by piece, but here he calls all saints to see their need of armor of God’s providing. If we clothe ourselves with God’s full armor we will “be able” (dunamai), be powerful to stand and not fall. Many a young believer who has failed to heed this command to put on the whole armor of God has fallen “by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (4:14). Satan and his emissaries are too clever for us. He beguiles young believers from the simplicity of the gospel (2 Cor. 11:2, 3), transforms himself into an angel of light when it serves his purpose (2 Cor. 11:14, 15), and deceives with all power, signs, and lying wonders (2 Thess. 2:9). Thus we are told to “resist” him (James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9).
By submitting to God and clothing ourselves with the divine armor, we are able to resist the devil. The only safe protection against Satan’s methods is God’s armor. Our enemy is a master in the art of deceit. If our adversary was a man possessing nothing more than human strength, then we might attempt to face him and defend ourselves by human means. But since we are dealing, not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, “we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds)” (2 Cor. 10:3, 4). While we walk in a body of flesh we do not war after the flesh, that is, we do not rely on the principles of the unsaved. We are compelled to live as men live, by sight and sound and strength; but when we are fighting spiritual battles, the weak weapons of the flesh will not suffice. How foolish to turn from heaven’s arsenal to the puny, ineffectual weapons of the flesh! Only God’s weapons can batter down the bulwarks of hell.
(‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (6:12). Here it is obvious why carnal weapons are useless in this warfare. Who our enemies are and where they are is given as the reason for needing God’s armor. We are not contending with mortal men but against superhuman authorities who rule the sphere of the world’s moral darkness. These forces of evil have access to where we are. The believer is in the “heavenlies” where Christ and His Church are, and into this sphere Satan comes to attack the children of God. Christian, our difficulties are far greater than if we were merely fighting men like Hitler and Stalin. On the battlefields of earth we can match the enemy man for man and plane for plane, for here we resist human strength. But the struggle against Satan is not a physical one; it is against wicked spirits and darkness, against a superhuman foe we cannot see. No soldier has ever entered a more difficult and dangerous war. To be ignorant of the nature of the conflict and the enemy is to invite calamity in our spiritual lives. Satan and his kingdom are arrayed against us. If you have not realized it before, learn it now.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (6:13). The repetition of this twofold injunction to put on the whole armor of God, and to stand, is significant. God expects us to heed it. Our day is evil and, as the age nears its end, evil will wax worse. But no matter what the extent of the evil or the fierceness of Satan’s attacks, the Christian must stand. We are not to flee but to stand; we are not to hide but to stand.
The days are becoming increasingly perilous, so that the whole armor of God must therefore be put on. Then, too, an evil day may dawn upon any one of us individually, a day of fierce persecution, a day of severe testing resulting from some crisis in our lives, a day of moral peril. Unless we are properly protected with God’s panoply, we may fall instead of stand. So to the least and the lowliest, Paul says: “Stand.” Never retreat! The battle is not ours but the Lord’s. If we fully equip ourselves according to divine direction, we shall be standing firm after the smoke of battle has cleared away. If the enemy returns to attack again, keep on standing. Remember, there is no standing in the strength of the flesh; so then, “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” It is in Christ that we maintain our position. There seems to be a promise here that, if we will put on the whole armor of God, we shall be able to stand and there will be no attack of the enemy that we shall not be able to meet successfully by the power of God.
Since we are engaged in warfare, equipment for both defensive and offensive purposes is essential. Paul calls the equipment “armor,” a metaphor he uses on other occasions. In Romans he writes: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Rom. 13:12). The thought here is that of a change of dress. The believer not only casts off the garments of darkness (which is sin) but he puts on the armor of light, the idea being that he is now engaged in offensive warfare against the powers of darkness which are evil. Elsewhere Paul writes that we approve “ourselves as the ministers of God … by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” (2 Cor. 6:4, 7). In this latter Scripture he has in mind the armor of right living and right doing, the practical rectitude and uprightness which should result when we are justified through faith in Christ, having had God’s righteousness in Him imputed unto us.
Here in Ephesians the different pieces of the armor are explained in greater detail. There is, first, the girdle of truth: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” (6:14). In the dress of the oriental, the belt or girdle was used to strengthen and support the body, as well as to hold in place other pieces of apparel. The girdle is therefore mentioned first, and it is called the girdle of truth.
The “truth” here is not alone perfect sincerity and truthfulness; for one may be perfectly sincere and truthful, yet still be wrong. But it means truth subjectively considered; that is, the knowledge and belief of the truth revealed in God’s written Word. Of course, such knowledge and belief result in perfect sincerity and truthfulness. The girdle of truth is something, then, that the believer is exhorted to “put on.” The loin-cloth of truth must be girt about us so that our progress is not impeded and our vital parts are not exposed to the enemy.
A careful reading and study of the Bible, therefore, are essential to victory over the devil and his wiles. Peter writes: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet. 1:13). This means simply that we are to have our minds girt about with the truth of God’s Word. The mind of the Christian must be clear and discerning, unhampered by selfish, sinful thoughts, guarding against error and the making of wrong decisions. The believer’s warfare is dangerous and strenuous and will not permit of mental sluggishness. We need to have controlled minds girt firmly about with the Scriptures of truth.
Beloved, do some hard, calm, deliberate thinking on the ways of Gold as revealed in the Word of God. Bible study is essential to victory over Satan. Novels and magazines may have their place, but far too little time is being given to studying the truths of God’s Word. As the girdle on one’s body lends strength to vital organs, so the study of the Word of God girds and strengtlhens the inner man. In the warfare against Satan we cannot afford to become entangled with the affairs of this life; therefore we need God’s Word to govern our conduct and guide our course of life. Many professing Christians are “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (4:14), simply because they fail to appropriate and comprehend the “truth.” When our Lord was tempted of the devil, He answered the enemy with the truth of Scripture: “It is written …” (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). So let us give first place to the “truth.” “Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth,” the truth of Bible doctrine, even the Word of truth (1:13).
The second piece of the Christian’s armor follows: “and having on the breastplate of righteousness” (6:14). This piece of defensive armor covered the body, both front and back, from the neck to the thighs. It offered special protection for the heart. A warrior without his breastplate was dangerously exposed to the thrust of the enemy.
Now we can think of no better protection for the heart than a walk in righteousness consistent with our position in Christ. Paul is not referring alone to that imputed positional righteousness which is the possession of all true believers, but the practical righteousness which results from the positional. It is the righteousness of both standing and state. It is not enough that we have the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ; our walk must be consistent with our position. Most certainly no man can live righteously who has not had the righteousness of God in Christ communicated unto him. All the righteousnesses of the natural man are as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), so that we must say with Paul: “That I may … be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8, 9).
The righteous ones are the redeemed ones, and to all such God says: “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13). If we are not living righteously we are easy targets for the enemy’s darts. Sinning saints cannot stand in the day of adversity when Satan attacks. Right living is wound-proof; therefore, “we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). I[f we fall instead of stand when Satan attacks, it is because we have not been living right. Let every one with unconfessed sin in his life confess it here and now, lest the devil gain an advantage over any one of us.
Dr. Charles R. Erdman writes: “One who binds himself about with a determined loyalty to the holy will and law of God is secure against the deadly thrusts of the tempter. A man who is; conscious of being in the wrong is usually a coward; a man who knows that he is right can withstand a multitude arid enters the conflict without fear.” Righteousness is a matter of the heart continually; it is not something we piously and fraudulently parade one day a week. Strictest integrity must be maintained at all times, the heart being kept purged of every lustful desire and the mind clear of every unholy thought. Notice the words, “having on.” Christians are expected to be ethical and righteous. None but the righteous can stand. Righteousness is Jehovah’s breastplate (Isa. 59:17). Make it yours.
Next, there is something for our feet: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (6:15). In any warfare, ancient or modern, messengers who are swift of foot, as well as soldiers who can stand firmly, are needed.
Two ideas are suggested in this verse. First, the believer must stand firmly confirmed in the gospel. Second, he must be ready to carry the good news of salvation with speed. Paul bore witness to this twofold experience in his own life. He stood firmly for the gospel when he testified: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16), and he expressed a readiness to spread the gospel to the Greeks, the Barbarians, and even to those at Rome also (Rom. 1:14, 15). Paul’s feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Are yours? Are you resting firmly with confidence in the gospel, in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection? Here, beloved, is a good standing-place where we can rest undisturbed amid the battles and storms of life. The gospel of Christ is the gospel of peace, and it makes possible a calm in the midst of the storm.
Blessed quietness, holy quietness,
Blest assurance in my soul!
On the stormy sea Jesus speaks to me,
And the billows cease to roll.
Many a (Christian warrior has been fearful and restless until he has learned to stand in the gospel shoes. Allow me to refer you to the Israelites eating their first passover. The hard and bitter attacks of Pharaoh had the people fearful and well-nigh exhausted. He was their enemy, bent on their destruction. But on the night the death angel appeared over Egypt, the Israelites who were behind blood-sheltered doors were safe. There was no need for any one to be fearful or restless. God had promised protection to all who applied the blood, so that the people could enjoy eating the passover in peace. God had said: “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet …” (Exod. 12:11). They were to enjoy perfect peace in spite of the worst the enemy could attempt. Let us rest securely and serenely in the good news of our reconciliation to God by the death of His Son, thereby making peace for us.
The gospel shoes not only provide for our security but they also prepare us for active service as well. They speak not only of steadfastness in warfare but swiftness in witnessing. The word “preparation” suggests the idea of “promptness and readiness.” There are unsaved men and women who are held in the fear and bondage of Satan and who need our help. Satan holds them as his prisoners. As we “preach the gospel,” we “preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). Quoting the prophets Isaiah and Nahum, Paul writes: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10:15) ! Beautiful feet in God’s sight are those feet swift to carry the gospel message of deliverance and peace to those held captive by Satan.
Bringing the good news of salvation to the sinner is a vital move in the warfare against evil. Too many Christians are not in a state of preparedness to witness to the lost. They are unshod. Little wonder they become foot-sore, lame and weary! Some of you who read these words may need a new pair of shoes. YOU have not that joyful readiness to talk to sinners “bout the Lord. The soldier’s shoes are not the dancing slippers of this world or the lounging slippers of the slothful, but the shoes of the Christian warrior who knows Christ and makes Him known. Readiness to speak a word for the Saviour is one of the noble virtues of every child of God. Put on the gospel shoes. “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that I, asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). Be prepared for war or witnessing.
One word further about the gospel shoes. Reference was made to the Israelites eating the first passover. They were told to eat lit with their shoes on their feet in readiness for the pilgrim journey. In this connection there is an interesting statement from the Lord, recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy: “And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot” (29:5). God had taken care of their shoes so that they lasted throughout the entire journey. The burning desert sands and the sharp stones could not wear them out. Beloved, the gospel has not lost any of its old-time power. Nor will it ever! As we stand firmly for the truth and speak it to others, we shall witness the same mighty victories such as the apostles won in the early Church. Only be thou ready!
Ready to go, ready to stay, Ready my place to fill; Ready for service, lowly or great, Ready to do His will. Verse 16 adds to the list of the Christian’s armor: “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” The words “above all” are often translated “in addition to.” The girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the gospel shoes are necessary pieces of equipment; but, in addition, to these and possibly more important, the Christian warrior must take up the “shield of faith.” The design of Satan is to destroy the children of God; hence our need for the kind of armor that will withstand the devil’s forces. His weapon is here referred to as “fiery darts,” those burning missiles of evil, ablaze with the Rames of destruction. There are a thousand and more perils that would burn themselves into our lives to render us helpless in the battles of life. Against these satanic, fiery darts of pride, envy, jealousy, covetousness, worry, unbelief, impurity, and many others, we need a sure defense. Paul calls that defense “the shield of faith.”
A question arises as to the identity of the shield. The symbolism of the shield is used in the New Testament in Ephesians alone, so that we must of necessity look at its more frequent use in the Old Testament for clearer understanding. It seems to this writer that, in the metaphorical language of the Bible, the shield generally represents the Person of God in His protecting care over His children. In other words, God Himself is the shield of His people.
The first mention of the shield came from God to Abraham at the close of the patriarch’s struggle against the unbelieving kings who attacked the king of Sodom and his allies. Moses writing,, says: “After these things,” that is, after the events recorded in Genesis 14, “the Word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). This new revelation of God was appropriate to the need of the moment, for the struggle recorded in the previous chapter is the first war mentioned in the Bible. Undoubtedly there was a measure of fear in Abraham’s heart, else God would not have told him not to fear. Over against that fear God assured His child that He was Abraham’s protection. If Abraham was alarmed and apprehensive about any further attacks of Chedorlaomer, he could now quiet his troubled heart in the assurance that God would be his shield and defense. You see, beloved, if we have God for our shield, we need not fear the worst that man or demons can do to us; for our Shield and Defender will never suffer His trusting child to be a loser.
The next time the word “shield” is used is in Moses’s song of praise to God for His majesty and excellency in Israel. It is used in connection with words familiar to us all: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also His heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places” (Deut. 33:27-29). Again the context makes it obvious that God is revealed as the shield to defend His children against their “enemies.” Israel is to be delivered from all her enemies and in that day she will say with the psalmist: “He is our help and our shield” (Psa. 33:20) ; “O God, our shield” (Psa. 59:11 ; 84:9) ; “For the Lord God is a sun and shield” (Psa. 84:11). In all of these passages God Himself is the shield of His people, their sufficient covering and strong tower in the day of trouble (cf. Psa. 61:3).
Now notice that Paul says: “Taking,” or “Taking hold of” the shield of faith. God is our shield, but only as we lay hold of Him in faith does He become our protection against the fiery darts of the enemy. The shield is our sovereign God; faith is the human responsibility. The “faith” here is not that system of Christian teaching “which was once delivered unto the saints,” and for which we “should earnestly contend” (Jude 3). It is, as Dr. Ironside has said, not what you believe but how you believe. And to this we might add that it is also whom you believe. Faith here is confidence, complete reliance in the Person, purposes, and power of God. Implicit trust in Him alone can quench the enemy’s darts.
Flying missiles have always been a weapon of war to destroy or disable the forces of opposition, and Satan has his. These must be staved off and quenched before they can strike us. If we put confidence in the flesh, we can never hope to ward off the devil’s darts. Only as we look to our blessed Lord and draw continually upon His strength can we expect to come forth triumphantly. The believer’s mighty bulwark is his confidence in almighty God. No arrow of fear, no dart of temptation can penetrate the soul that lays hold of the shield of faith. God has provided for us a shield in the Person and finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ, but you and I must believe.
“And take the helmet of salvation” (6:17). A number of teacher: of Greek have pointed out that the word for “take” here is not the same as that used in reference to the shield, but that it means to accept from the hand of another, as a gift. God has prepared salvation for all, and He offers it to all as His gift. We need only to accept it in order to possess it.
Now the head is prominent and vulnerable, and it needs plenty (of protection. For this protection God has provided a helmet of salvation. A covering for the head is not a modern invention in warfare. Some form of headgear for soldiers dates back to ancient Egypt and Assyria, and replicas of these, as well as some originals, can be seen in many museums. But the helmet of salvation in the Epistle to the Ephesians is God’s gift of salvation to man. Unless that salvation is received, man cannot hope to escape the fiery darts of Satan.
The helmet of salvation for the believer is first the knowledge arid assurance of salvation. The experience of salvation is not an emotional one merely: it is reasonable and rational as well. The saved man has intelligent understanding and assuring knowledge that God has saved him. He knows whom he has believed. He may not always be able to answer the questions and criticisms of skeptics, yet no one, man or devil, will ever be able to get him away from the fact of his experience of salvation. The knowledge of sins forgiven is a mighty fortress against the attacks of modernism, atheism, communism, and every other ism. If you have the knowledge and assurance of salvation, you have the protection against many of Satan’s darts and the solution to many of life’s problems. When a man receives the helmet of salvation he can hold up his head with confidence and face the most potent foe.
To be saved and know it can make us “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). After the man born blind had been given sight by our Lord, the Pharisees, by their questions, sought to get the man to renounce Jesus. To most of their questions, he could only repeat: “I know not”; but they could never tear from him one thing he did know. He said: “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). The Apostle Paul likewise did not know a lot of things, for there were times when he had to acknowledge that “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12); but at no time were the enemies of the gospel able to put Paul to shame, for he could always testify: “I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Salvation was Paul’s helmet. Is it yours? If you have any doubt as to your being saved, you will not be able to stand with real confidence when facing the foe. An experiential knowledge of salvation removes all sense of doubt and all fear of condemnation, giving to the believer a sense of security in his Lord.
In one other passage Paul mentions the helmet. “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). Salvation is not only the beginning of hope for man, it is future also. Salvation touches the past, the present, and the future, saving from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and the presence of sin. The Scriptures teach that we ore saved (Eph. 2:8), that we are being saved (2 Cor. 1:10), and that we shall be saved (Rom. 5:10). The helmet of salvation must be worn at all times for every circumstance and occasion. Every Christian can stand in the calm confidence that the death of Christ has saved him, the resurrected Christ is keeping him, and the coming Christ will preserve him safely throughout eternity. “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
Beloved, if you have trusted Christ, you can fight, knowing without any doubt whatever that you are saved. As you wear the helmet of salvation, no power in heaven or on earth can rob you of confidence and boldness in battle. The professing Christian, without the helmet of salvation, is an easy target $or the (devil. If you have any doubt that you are saved now, or if you’ll fear that you might not be saved in the next life, you cannot confidently meet the enemy of your soul from day to day. Assurance of salvation that is based upon the Bible protects the believer from false doctrine, doubt, and fear. Take the helmet. It is God’s gift to you. What an anchor for our thinking;!
Every warrior needs a weapon for offensive warfare, and the divinely-provided weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’’ (6:17). The sword here is not the Spirit but the Word spoken by the Spirit, the Bible. When the Christian warrior is thoroughly acquainted with the Word and has acquired skill and ability in its use, he can ward off every attack of the enemy.
This is not the only place in Scripture where the Word of the Lord is referred to in a militant manner. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read: “For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Sword is quick (living), for the words God speaks are spirit and life (John 6:63). The Sword is active (energetic), for as it pierces the heart it compels men to retreat. The Sword is sharp to pierce, to divide, and to discern. There is no amount of satanic subtlety, there are none of hell’s barriers that the Word of God cannot break through when wielded aright. The Word of God is, in the highest sense, the most dreaded weapon we can use against the foe. No doubt the double-edged bronze Roman sword appeared to Paul a fierce and formidable weapon. But how much sharper is the Word of God than weapons of men and demons!
When, writing of our ascended Lord, the Apostle John said: “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword’’ (Rev. 1:16). The Sword of the Almighty Conqueror is His own resistless ‘Word. He speaks and it is done. One word from Him and His enemies fall back powerless. More than seven hundred years before His birth the prophecy was written: “He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa. 49:2).
The Sword is the Word of the Lord. How wonderfully this Book has vindicated itself through the centuries! How marvelously this Book has met the needs of men in every age! How great has been the triumph of the Word wherever it has gone! The Word was the weapon the apostles used when facing the bitter opposition of pagan powers. The prophets in the old dispensation and the saints in the new make up a mighty army of glorious conquerors because they had ready access to the Sword. They were good swordsmen for God. The Word was in their heads and hearts, and they knew how to use it. These faithful warriors for Christ met the enemy in exactly the same way as did our Lord Himself, by the sword-thrusts of His own Word. There was never a time when God’s people had greater need for studying and spreading the Scriptures.
As we anticipate our Lord’s return, we know that with His coming to the earth to rule, “He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth” (Isa. 11:4). Until we see Him, let us wield the Sword of the Spirit, meeting every temptation with a “Thus saith the Lord.” The last victory to be won will be won by the Sword of the Spirit. The rider on the white horse will come forth; “His name is called The Word of God … and out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations” (Rev. 19:13, 15). With this same Sword we, too, can conquer, for the Word of God is the Sword that the Spirit gives and uses.
We have come to the end of the divinely-provided equipment for the Christian’s warfare. Last, but not least, the child of God must have recourse to prayer: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (6:18). Some teachers do not regard prayer as a part of the equipment but, rather, that exercise of soul that takes us into the realm of the believer’s resource where the whole armor is rendered effective.
Such all interpretation may be right. However, the important truth for us to learn is the absolute necessity of earnest, constant prayer if we are to live triumphantly as Christians. It is not the possession of the armor and the weapons that makes a great warrior. No resource of strength or strategy lies within ourselves. Rather do we need to look to the One who is superior to the enemy’s greatest strength and who can outwit his every maneuver. It is by prayer that we come boldly to God’s throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Every conquering Christian in every generation has been a prayer warrior. The one necessity of every good soldier of Jesus Christ is to keep in constant touch with his great Captain and Commander.
We must ever keep in mind that the battle is not ours but God’s. If we break contact with Him, we have severed ourselves from the One who orders the battle and who alone can empower us to win. Study the wars in the Old Testament in which Israel fought against her enemies, and in every instance you will find the principle of God’s working to be the same. When Israel fought in her own strength, she suffered defeat; when she cast herself upon God’s mercy and trusted in His might, victory followed. Abraham took his trained servants, numbering only 318, and conquered the coalition of kings that fought against the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 14). Gideon, his army reduced from 32,000 to 300, delivered Israel from the yoke of Midianitish slavery (Judg. 7 and 8). Joshua, with the odds against him, led Israel to a mighty conquest over Jericho (Josh. 6).In his first battle, Joshua was much less experienced in warfare, but certainly no less trustful in the power of God to defeat the Amalekites (Exod. 17). These all, along with King Hezekiah who conquered the Assyrians, could testify: “With us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles” (2 Chron. 32:8).
The Old Testament saints were often outnumbered and ill-equipped when compared with the armies and weapons of their enemies, but when they were on God’s side, when they trusted and obeyed Him, they could not lose. We, too, must meet the enemy of the Church and of our souls in the strength and wisdom of Almighty God. It is through prayer that we receive a never-ending supply of strength and wisdom for the battle.
There must be constancy in prayer: “Praying always.” At no time dare we break contact with God. The enemy watches for prayerlessness in our lives and then takes advantage of us. We must be constantly in prayer because we are constantly in danger. Do not stop praying when you have health and prosperity, for such neglect will only expose you to Satan’s darts. Vigilance in prayer must be maintained at all times, whether the day be an ordinary one or a day of crisis. God is not asking us to do the impossible when He commands us to pray always.
Our contact with God should be just as natural as our breathing. We breathe always. Physically, we could not survive without breathing; spiritually, we cannot survive without praying. Certainly we are not expected to be constantly on our knees or in some church, but we are expected to be constantly in contact with God. Prayer will release a power from heaven on our behalf greater than the power of all those which are against us. Daniel prayed for three weeks and learned afterwards that his prayer prevailed over the demon spirits that were against him. Elsewhere Paul exhorts to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Our Lord commanded: “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
Then, too, we are to pray “with all prayer and supplication.” This suggests that we must avail ourselves of every method and approach in prayer. There is private prayer, family prayer, silent prayer, audible prayer, mealtime prayer, church meeting prayer, the set time for prayer, the emergency prayer. A constant sense of God’s nearness and a consciousness of our need of Him will make us versatile in our prayer life. At times our prayer will take on one mode; again it will assume a different appeal altogether. There are prayers of commission, prayers of thanksgiving, prayers of intercession, prayers of supplication, and prayers of petition, and the true soldier of Jesus Christ will practice them all from time to time. We should pray at all times, in all places, and under every circumstance.
Third, we are directed to pray “in the Spirit.” The opposite to praying in the Spirit is praying in the flesh, the latter being a form of prayer without power. We saw earlier in our study that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. Even our prayers must be guided by the Spirit of God, “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). There are times when we cannot collect our thoughts or express ourselves in words, and yet we desire to pray. Thank God, we may be assured that the Holy Spirit sees the battlefield and knows the position of the enemy, and He will pray for us. If we are not praying “in the Spirit,” we had better not pray at all. To pray in the Spirit one must be born of the Spirit and led by the Spirit. There is a lot of spirited praying that is not praying in the Spirit. Those who pray in the Spirit never pray selfishly but always in the will of God; therefore, they get answers to their prayers and they know the blessings of victory over the foe. Praying in the Spirit glorifies God, and where God is glorified victory is assured.
Fourth, we are to pray “watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication.” There must be wakefulness and watchfullness in prayer, never weariness. The disciples slept when they should have been praying, and our Lord said: “What, could ye not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:40, 41). Spiritual drowsiness opens the gates to the enemy, so let us attend to our praying, “continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
Finally, we are to pray “for all saints.” All true believers in Christ, who make up His body, are Satan’s targets, so that we should pray for all saints. We are not alone in the struggle against wickedness. Christ has His soldiers in almost every part of the earth; therefore, we should be making supplication for the whole army of the Lord. Every day is “All Saints Day” for the believer in Christ, for we should pray daily for one another. If you do not have a prayer interest in the saints in India, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the islands of the seas, you are omitting from your prayer life a necessary and vital phase of the ministry of prayer. The devil’s victories in other lands are sometimes caused by our prayerlessness here at home.
The importance that Paul attached to intercessory prayer is all the more obvious in his words that follow. Having exhorted his readers to pray for all saints, he adds: “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (6:19, 20). Paul was a prisoner in Rome when he spoke of himself as “an ambassador in bonds”; nevertheless he was in the thick of the fray and felt the need for the prayers of other Christians. He was in a prison cell; still he was God’s soldier and servant in Rome. If anything, Paul was in the forefront of the battle. What he wanted the Ephesians to pray for, was not for his release from Nero’s chains but for liberty and boldness to speak the claims of Christ. He was asking the saints to pray that he would have God’s help in preaching. “Keep on praying for me,” he writes to his battle-weary friends. He would have the Romans, as well as others, know the glorious revelation of the gospel. No preacher stands above the need of being prayed for. The critics in some of our churches would render a service if they would pray more for the preacher and criticize him less. Dear friend, all of God’s servants need help from heaven. None of us has strength and wisdom of his own to carry the battle to the enemy; so pray always, in the Spirit, with all perseverance, for all saints, and please include the writer of these lines.
Having completed the message, Paul sent it to Asia by the hand of “Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (6:21). Tychicus might have been looked upon by some as Paul’s errand boy, but he was more than that. This faithful messenger had the high honor of bearing this inspired and priceless epistle to the Church at Ephesus and to all the saints of succeeding generations. Suppose Tychicus had failed! Have you ever given thought to what a great loss the Church would have suffered? But he did not fail. God bless you, dear brother. You have fulfilled your mission and our hearts have been comforted (6:22). You not only have relieved the anxiety of the Ephesians concerning Paul, but you have brought from Paul the inspired Word that has lifted our burdens.
In closing, Paul turns to the Lord to invoke a twofold benediction upon the saints:
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
Brown, Charles. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. London: Religious Tract Society of London.
Calvin, John. Commentary on Galatians and Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. The Ephesian Letter Doctrinally Considered. New York, N.Y.: Loizeaux, 1935.
Dale, R. W. Lectures on Ephesians. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1883.
Erdman, Charles R. Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press.
Gaebelein, A. C. Unsearchable Riches. Our Hope, 1928.
Gurnall, William. The Christian in Complete Armor. Glasgow, Scotland: Blackie and Son, 1865.
Harrison, Norman B. His Very Own. Chicago, Illinois: Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1930.
Hodge, Charles. Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans.
Hughes, Albert. The Whole Armor of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1939.
Ironside, H. A. In the Heavenlies. New York, N. Y.: Loizeaux Brothers.
Lincoln, William. Lectures on Ephesians. Scotland: Ritchie.
Miller, H. S. Ephesians. Houghton, New York: Word-Bearer Press, 1931.
Moule, H. C. G. Ephesian Studies. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1900.
Meyer, F. B. Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1953.
Parker, Joseph. The People’s Bible. Ephesians to Revelation. New York, N. Y.: Funk and Wagnalls.
Paxson, Ruth. The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian. New York, N. Y.: Revell, 1939.
Riley, W. B. The Bible of the Expositor and the Evangelist. New Testament. Vol. 12. Cleveland, Ohio: Union Gospel Press, 1928.
Sadler, M. F. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians with Notes. London and New York: George Bell and Sons, 1892.
Seiss, Joseph A. Lectures on the Epistles. Philadelphia, Pa.: United Lutheran Publishing House, 1885.
Seume, Richard H. Studies in Ephesians. 1952.
Simpson, A. B. Christ in the Bible. Galatians and Ephesians. Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1886.
Stevens, George Barker. The Messages of Paul. New York, N. Y.: Charles Scribner’s, 1900.
Talbot, Louis T. Ephesians, An Exposition. Wheaton, Illinois: Van Kampen Press, 1937.
Tucker, Leon. “With Him.” Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Missionary Alliance Publishing Company, 1928.
Williams, Charles B. A Commentary on the Pauline Epistles. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1953.
Wilson, Walter L. Messages on Ephesians. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1940.