Welcome to Expositing Ephesians

THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED to one of the chief passions of my life and ministry, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians. I believe this epistle is at the very core of the Christian life. I spent years in the study of it and then three and one half years expositing it from my pulpit. I hope this blog will be a blessing to you as I share that exposition. I also hope you will tell others about this blog. Please check for new posts each Monday .

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Manifestations of Spirit-Filling: Worship (1)

There are at least eight manifestations of Spirit-filling in the New Testament, four of which are in our text. The first is music (Eph. 5:19a). Second, there is worship—in your in your heart to the Lord; (5:19a).

In our day, many people go to church for what they can get. That is, in fact, what most so-called church ministry is built on. The whole point of church programs is built on the idea of “giving people what they want,” “giving them a blessing” or “meeting their felt needs.” Some people go to church like they’re going to a movie—they check out the church page in their newspaper to see what’s playing and go to the church whose program appeals to them. Many shop for a church to join based on what that church can offer them. But if you go to church for what you can get out of the music, or what you can get out of the sermon, or just to get blessed, you’ve missed the point. The music and the sermon are not ends in themselves. They are means of worshiping God.

In stark contrast, when we look at Scripture alone, we are to go to church to worship God, and that’s done by giving, not getting. We go to offer something to Him, not to receive from Him. Yes, if we offer the praise He deserves, we will receive blessing from Him; there is blessing in giving, for the Lord is quoted as saying, It is more blessed to give than to receive(Acts 20:35b). But getting is not our motive or purpose. True worship is giving to God, not getting.

It is sad beyond words that as much as 90% of the church today is based on entertainment. And anyone who dares criticize it is labeled “divisive.” This trend started as far back as the 1950s. In those days A. W. Tozer wrote much about worship and its demise: I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven. . . . You know, the church started out with a Bible, then it got a hymnbook, and for years that was it—a Bible and a hymnbook. The average church now certainly wouldn’t be able to operate on just a hymnbook and the Bible. Now we have to have all kinds of truck. A lot of people couldn’t serve God at all without at least a van load of equipment to keep them happy.”

Many today don’t think they can worship without a “praise band,” a PowerPoint presentation, or an entertainer leading the “worship service.” We have abandoned the true meaning of worship. Ponder a moment: what is heaven going to be like? Well, not one of the Biblical descriptions implies that we are going to be entertained. Heaven will be a place of worship—and many today are not preparing.

Oh, how we need an attitude of worship in our churches today! How much music there is that is sung without a worshipful attitude! How many church services there are that are flippant and frivolous, having no spirit of worship! How many people today talk of Spirit-filling but never realize that true worship is an evidence! In fact, worship is one of the most misunderstood doctrines of Scripture.

Each of us needs to ask ourselves, Why do I come to Church? Do I come to worship? Is that my sole concern? Am I eager to worship God? Do I prepare my heart for worship? Do I worship in spirit and in Truth? We each need to realize that their number one responsibility is to worship and praise God. We’ll consider this further next time.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Manifestations of Spirit-Filling: Music (2)

What a grand gift music is! It is indeed just one more of the many gifts God has given by His grace. But why did God give us music? What are the purposes of music? God’s Word reveals three purposes of music.

First, music is for the worship of God, as Paul declares with the words “making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

It needs to be strongly emphasized today that Christian music is not for the purpose of entertainment. This, of course, does not mean we are not to enjoy music. On the contrary, as we’ll see in a moment, music is something to be greatly enjoyed.

But Christian music today is often used to entertain, to draw attention to the artist, to solicit applause for the performer. Some Christian artists add so much to a piano or vocal arrangement that the melody is obscured. This often brings more praise to the talent of the artist than praise to God! Johann Sebastian Bach, the great music master himself, who truly loved the Lord, once said, “The aim of all music is the glory of God.” Whether we are singing a solo, in an ensemble, in a choir, or in a congregation, our thoughts are to be on the Lord.

As we’ll also see in a moment, music is being used today simply to appeal to specific audiences, which is really just another form of entertainment. Countless people today look for a church based upon “the music program” and the style of music that the church uses.

Second, music is to be used as a restatement of Truth. At the very core of all three types of singing—psalms and hymns and spiritual songs—is the Truth about God.

Now, we say this with great concern because what we see today is that music has become the very heart of worship to the exclusion of most everything else, especially preaching. It is commonly taught, “Where preaching cannot be effective, we will use music instead.” Such statements are nowhere substantiated in Scripture. Nothing, not even music, should be allowed to replace the preaching and teaching of the Word of God from the pulpit.  Not one single time is music allowed to do so in the Scripture record. Rather, music is to prepare for and complement the preaching of the Word. It is to be a restatement and reemphasis of the Truth.

Third, music is for the edification of believers. Notice the words speaking to yourselves. This translation could give us the idea that each of us should go off in a corner and sing to ourselves. Of course, in a sense we do that each time we sing because it’s first of all a personal act, and we also do that by singing or whistling to ourselves as we go about work or play.

Paul’s point, however, is deeper than that. Another translation would be “speaking among yourselves” or “speaking to each other.” Paul is writing to a church and is, therefore, speaking of corporate worship. “Corporate” is from the Latin corpus, which means “body,” so it is the Body of Christ that comes together for worship. One of the ways, then, that we edify, uplift, encourage, and challenge one another is through song. Music is indeed a naturally uplifting force. We all have heard the old saying, “Music can soothe the savage beast,” but it can also “uplift the downtrodden spirit.”

It is tragic indeed when our desire for a preferred style of music overshadows our desire for the edification of the Body. Tragically, however, that is exactly what is happening today. People are being divided over music, and even church splits have occurred. Sadly, many churches actually have two services: one with traditional music using hymns and another with contemporary music, mostly praise choruses. Where in the world did we get the appalling idea of splitting up the church based on styles of music? It doesn’t come from Scripture.

Historically, we have step-by-step drifted further and further away from quality music in the Church. What once was theologically strong, structurally sound, and musically stable, is now just shallow, popular, and sometimes just down right fleshly. Should we not strive for excellence? One preacher says it well: “Music in worship serves the singing of the redeemed to the Redeemer about the Redemption.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Manifestations of Spirit-Filling: Music (1)

How can we know that we are filled with the Spirit? There are at least eight manifestations of Spirit-filling in the New Testament. Four of the seven are right here in our text. The first is musicSpeaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody (Eph. 5:19a).

Here is a truly amazing principle! There is nothing more indicative of the Spirit-filled life than the expression of song. Whether a person has an angelic voice or can’t “carry a tune in a bucket,” the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Whether a person has a college degree in music or doesn’t know the difference between a music stand and a sixteenth note, the Spirit-filled Christian loves music.

I spent a great deal of time on this point when I preached on it, but space allows only a brief mention. Paul speaks here of three different types of church music.

First, there are psalms. A Psalm is, “A sacred, inspired poem of praise.” Psalms were actually designed to be sung with the accompaniment of a stringed musical instrument, such as the harp, the lute, or the lyre (all of which are in the guitar family). In fact, the word psalms is merely a transliteration of the Greek title of the book of Psalms—psalmoi—which originally meant plucking the stings of a musical instrument. So the first type of Christian music is the Psalm, a sacred, inspired poem of praise. May we also point out that new Psalms are not being written today; no inspired writings are being produced. However, some hymn writers have adapted certain Psalms. Robert Grant (1785-1838), for example, adapted Psalm 104 into that great hymn “O Worship The King.” Likewise, Martin Luther adapted his glorious hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” from Psalm 46.

Second, there are hymns. While a gospel song is “a religious exhortation to fellow man,” and a carol is “a simple narrative in verse of some outstanding biblical event,” a hymn is “an ode of praise to Almighty God.” The word hymns is a transliteration of the Greek humnos. While its origin in uncertain, the word goes as far back as in secular Greek as Homer (8th Century B.C. Greek poet) and was a general word used to include the most varied poetical forms. Also in general, it referred to songs to the gods, particularly a song in praise of the divinity. It’s interesting that because of that origin, the word “hymn” nowhere occurs in the writings of the apostolic fathers because it was used as a praise of heathen deities and thus the early Christians instinctively shrank from it.”

All that, however, still does not change the fact that Paul used the word hymnos for a reason., namely, to show that instead of hymns being dedicated to pagan gods, Christians sing hymns to the one true God. According to Augustine, a hymn has three characteristics: It must be sung; it must be praise; it must be to God.

Third, there are spiritual songs. The word songs is the Greek ōdē (English “ode”), which in ancient times referred to “any kind of song, as of battle, harvest, [or] festal.” Paul, therefore, qualifies it here with the word spiritual. He didn’t have to say “spiritual psalm” or “spiritual hymn” because these are already spiritual in content, but he had to qualify songs as being spiritual songs.

What are the differences between a “hymn” and a “spiritual song?” There are actually several subtle differences. (1) A hymn is a direct praise of God while a spiritual song is an expression to other people, as is illustrated in the song, “In My Heart There Rings A Melody.” (2) A hymn is objective and presents objective facts, while a spiritual song is more subjective in expressing personal feelings. A good example of this is found in the song, “It Is Well With My Soul.” (3) A hymn focuses on the attributes and majesty of God while a spiritual song is often evangelistic as is the song, “Have You Any Room For Jesus?” (4) The tune (or melody) of a hymn is more staid, sober, and sedate while a spiritual song often has a catchy melody or lifted rhythm as in the songs, “He Lives” and “Are You Washed In The Blood?” (5) A hymn usually does not have a chorus while a spiritual song usually does.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Meaning of Being Filled With the Spirit (2)

To understand fully Spirit-filling, we must see the contrast between two things in Ephesians 5:18. First, Be not drunk with wine in wherein is excess.

Second, Be filled with the Spirit. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t use methuskō here to say, “Be drunk with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit is not to lose control and be mindless, as is taught by some groups. Paul’s uses the marvelous word pleroo (filled), which speaks of filling a container. It means “to influence fully, to control.” As one Greek authority adds, “To fill up, to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally, to flood, to diffuse throughout.” It’s used, for example, in Matthew 13:48 to refer to a full fishing net. The chief idea then is that we are to be permeated with, and therefore controlled by, the Spirit.

Now, all this is fine in theory, but what does it mean in practice?  Preachers often say that “filling” means “control,” but what exactly does that mean? One Bible teacher puts it very well when he says that it’s not a matter of our getting more of the Spirit, but of the Spirit getting all of us. It means that we are influenced by Him and nothing else. The put it succinctly: To be filled with the Spirit is to have our thoughts, desires, values, motives, goals, priorities, and all else set on spiritual things and spiritual growth. When that statement is true of a Christian’s life, all other things will fall neatly into place.

It’s interesting that since some people in the New Testament are referred to as being full of the Holy Spirit, such as the “deacons” of Acts 6:3, there must have been something about them that was recognizable as evidence of Spirit filling. In other words, if people could see that they were spirit-filled, then obviously there were signs that indicated it. What, then, did they see? Can there be any doubt that it was Christ-likeness of character? That is the very essence of Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” When these are present in our lives, people will be able to see the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. They don’t have to see some emotional outburst or ecstatic experience, rather they will see Christ-like behavior.

Further, the tense of the Greek verb is all-important. One of the most prominent misconceptions about Spirit-filling is that it involves some “crisis experience,” some “dramatic event,” some so-called “second blessing,” and is something we only get because we “agonize over it in prayer” for a long period of time. But these ideas could not be further from the Truth; the language of Scripture says none of that. On the contrary, we need not struggle for it, rather simply claim it. The verb here is in the present tense, which clearly indicates a continuing action. In other words, Spirit-filling is designed to be a continuing reality. A literal translation of the Greek here is, “Be being filled.” We are to be in the state of constantly being filled with the Spirit. Again, we need not struggle for it, rather simply claim it.

The beloved pastor and commentator Harry Ironside made an observation about Spirit-filling that we do well to ponder. In the sister book to Ephesians, we read, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16). We should notice here the effect of the Word of God dwelling richly in the soul. When we then turn back to Ephesians, we notice that we get the exact same results in Colossians when the Word of God dwells in us as we get in Ephesians when we are filled with the Spirit. What’s the correlation? Ironside writes: “It should be clear that Word-filled Christian is the Spirit-filled Christian. As the Word of Christ dwells in us richly, controls all our ways, as we walk in obedience to the Word, the Spirit of God fills, dominates, controls to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That is Spirit-filling. When the Word of God permeates us, the Spirit of God controls us. Once again, we see that the Word of God is everything, the key to living the Christian life.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Meaning of Being Filled With the Spirit (1)

To understand fully Spirit-filling, we must see the contrast between two things in Ephesians 5:18.

First, Be not drunk with wine in wherein is excess.

Why mention something like this when speaking of such the grand subject of Spirit-filling? One reason is because nothing in Paul’s day (or ours) was more characteristic of the old man than drunkenness. As one commentator puts it bluntly, “It is perhaps the best example of stupidity. The drunk can’t think straight.” No one is more idiotic, more embarrassing to himself and others than a drunk. Further, in some respects there’s a similarity between drunkenness and Spirit-filling—both speak of control. While the drunk is controlled by alcohol and has lost control, the Spirit-filled person is controlled by the Spirit and retains control.

One commentator says it well: “The filling of the Spirit is contrasted with drunkenness (Ac 2:13). Both wine and the Spirit do their work deep in the human psyche. They affect people below the level of consciousness, down at the foundations of personality. The Spirit is not merely with God’s people but in them. The meaning of the present text is: let all the church, therefore, cooperate with the Spirit who lives down deep in their hearts so they will spontaneously overflow with orderly and joyous worship of God.” While the drunk is stupid and without control, the Spirit-filled Believer is sensible and in control.

Notice first the word drunk. A curious use of the of  Greek word here (methuskō) occurs in Homer, where he describes the stretching of a bull’s hide, which in order to make it more elastic, is soaked with fat. So the translation could be, “Do not be soaked with wine.”

Paul further adds, drunk in excess. The Greek here (asotia) is an interesting word and refers to more than just the amount consumed; it means having no safety or deliverance, having no preservation from danger, loss, and destruction. This word is used of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:13) who wasted “his substance in riotous living.” Peter used it to describe the old life, “when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (I Pet. 4:4). What a picture! And drunkenness is right in the middle of it. So the idea of this phrase is, “Do not be soaked with wine which leads to riotous living, wastefulness, and destruction.”

Historically, the Ephesians immediately knew precisely what Paul meant when he used these words because they were familiar with a particular Greek myth. Greek mythology taught that Zeus was the supreme god of the universe. The myth says that he gave birth to a son in a rather unique fashion. His wife Semele, who was actually a mortal, made Zeus appear before her in his divine splendor, but she was consumed by his lightening when he did so. Zeus took the child-god she was carrying and thrust it into his thigh until it was time for it to be born. The infant was then cared for by a band of nymphs. One version of the legend says that the child was kidnapped and murdered by the Titans. Zeus salvaged the heart and the child was soon reborn (“resurrected”) as Dionysus. Dionysus became the god of vegetation and especially the god of wine. Supposedly, he actually invented wine. The worship of this god was characterized by frenzied orgies that were associated with intoxication. The use of phallic symbols, the tearing of wild animals into pieces, the eating of raw flesh, and savage dancing were also practiced, especially in Thrace and Asia Minor (the location of Ephesus). Dionysus later became known as Bacchus, the name by which he was known to the Romans.

Additionally, in the month of Poseidon, there was a festival in honor of Dionysus in Athens. During the three-day spring festival, everybody was more or less drunk and there was a competition in wine drinking. Alexander the Great held such a contest in which 30 competitors died. I was reminded here of today’s New Year’s Eve parties as well as the deaths of college students during drinking binges.

Drunkenness became the key to the worship of Dionysus, as well as most other pagan gods we might add. Why? For one reason it dulled the senses enough to subdue any guilt which might be felt as a result of sin. Likewise, people today use alcohol, drugs, sex, even a vocation to deaden and even bury their consciousness of God. Drunkenness also gave the worshippers a false exhilaration that counterfeited true joy, just as people today think that if they are drunk, they are happy. Many try to stay “high” all the time because when they come down, things look worse than they did before.

Paul therefore uses this term drunk to show the contrast between the orgies of evil and the sweetness of Spirit-filling. The Ephesians understood the imagery. Of course, they would not get drunk and identify themselves with such pagans. Neither should we ever “lose ourselves” in drink or drugs, rather we immerse ourselves in the Holy Spirit. This leads us to the next phrase, which we’ll examine next time.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Introduction to the Christian Home (2)

Last time we began our study of the most important passage in God’s Word concerning the Christian home. We began by considering two introductory thoughts. First, there is a “revolution” going on in America today.

Second, we need to consider that if we want a home that is Biblical and one that God will bless, we must turn to Scripture alone as our guide. Much of what is taught today concerning the home, and each member of the home, comes from the world. Frankly, many “Christian” books on the home are quite inadequate because they are either completely topical in their approach instead of expositional, or they are clouded by the world’s philosophies, or both. That statement is not meant to be over-critical, but it is unfortunate that most books are clouded with worldly philosophy. Instead of simply dealing with what God says about the roles of husbands, wives, and children, such books repackage Freudianism or other psychological philosophy. A book we would recommend is The Family by John MacArthur (Moody Press). Another book we would recommend for its insight into the real meaning and depth of the marriage relationship is Marriage, Divorce, And Remarriage by Jay Adams (Baker Books House, 1980).

Our goal here, then, is to be thoroughly biblical in our study.

It is vitally important that Christians become aware that the family is the first and the primary of the three institutions God has created on earth: the family, the church, and human government. This world, however, with its humanistic, man-centered philosophy is trying to destroy all three of those institutions. God has ordained and designed human government to be characterized by freedom and liberty, but liberalism, socialism, communism, despotism, and other philosophies strive to tear down Biblical ethics. The Church is being torn down by the de-emphasizing of the Word of God and by substituting apostasy, religious ritual, and worldly programs. But it is the family that is being attacked with the most violence. This is the most tragic of all because it is the foundational institution of God. It is being attacked by adultery, fornication, permissiveness, homosexuality, abortion, women’s liberation, juvenile delinquency, and humanistic state education. Some Christian leaders teach that the Church is the most important of God’s institutions, but that is not true! If we do not have strong families, we will not have strong churches. The same is also true of our nation. God created the home first; He created it to be the foundation of all else.

The institution of the family is in serious trouble today, and may we say, Christians are not immune. There are many Christian homes today that have serious problems. Why? Because the Word of God is not the authority in that home. It is with those thoughts in mind that we begin our study of what God has designed for the Christian home.
Before we deal with the responsibilities of each family member, we must first look at something that at first seems quite unrelated. But it is this one thought that forms the entire foundation of a Godly home. This thought is, Spirit-filling, that is, as we’ll see, Spirit-control.

“Spirit-filling” is a much misunderstood subject; there is much false and confusing teaching on this subject. In fact, an entire theology has been built on false teaching concerning this passage and others. It is also quite significant that one of the strongest passages (if not the strongest passage) on Spirit-filling is found within the context of the Christian home. Paul is telling us that without Holy Spirit control we will not have a home, only a house with people in it.

In the posts to follow, we will note three things about “Spirit-filling”: the meaning, the manifestations, and the method of being filled.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Introduction to the Christian Home (1)

As we’ve noted, Ephesians chapters 4-6 reveal seven ways in which we are to walk, each of which in-turn is based on related doctrine in chapters 1-3. The first reality of our Christian walk is to walk in unity (4:1-16), the second is to walk in purity (4:17-32), the third is to walk in love (5:1-7), the fourth is to walk in light (5:8-14), and the fifth is to walk in wisdom (5:15-17). This brings us to the sixth—walk in submission (5:18-6:9). As we’ll see, submission is not just for wives (v. 22) but for everyone (v. 21).

Ephesians 5:18 actually begins the context on the Christian home—And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. Some Bible teachers begin a study of the Christian home in verse 22, that well-known verse about the submission of the wife to the husband. But to do so is serious error, an error not only in doctrinal exposition, but in practical application as well. Beginning in verse 22 will do little but create rebellious wives. Further, not beginning in verse 18 will bring about a warped family life in general. Verse 18 lays the foundation of each family member first being Spirit-filled and then seeing our roles as husbands and wives.

We can go still further to say that the entire book of Ephesians is essential to the proper family life. Is not unity an essential element in the home? Is not purity an essential element of marriage? Is not love essential? Is it not necessary that each family member be walking according to light? Is not the same fact true of walking in wisdom? May we say again, how foundational the Epistle to the Ephesians is!

As we begin our study of the most important passage in God’s Word concerning the Christian home, let us consider two introductory thoughts.

First, there is a “revolution” going on in America today. The word “revolt” means “an uprising against authority, a rebellion, protest, or insurrection.” The revolution going on today is against the authority of the Word of God, and there is truly no better example of this uprising than when it comes to the home. It is common knowledge that one out of two marriages ends in divorce. A little research on this is truly enlightening and saddening. Looking at it on a per capita or percentage basis, the U.S. divorce rate for 2000 was 41% per capita per year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This is made even more significant, however, by the fact that this rate is only for the states that keep track of the number of divorces—California, Colorado, Indiana and Louisiana do not. In contrast to this rate, the Census Bureau consistently reports that the rate is closer to 50%.

Looking at the raw numbers is even more dramatic. The total number of marriages in the year 2000, for example, was 2,355,005—including the states that don’t report divorce numbers. Out of that number, there were 957,200 divorces, which is 40.6%—but again, excluding the states that don’t report divorce numbers. Another interesting statistic I found was that as of the year 2000, 18.5 percent of the US population is divorced (11,317,572). By gender, it’s: 8,572,000 males (8.3%) and 11,309,000 females (10.2%).

One other statistic, which actually is not about divorce specifically, but is another indication of America’s moral decline is that as of the year 2000, there were 3.8 million couples cohabiting outside of marriage, which obviously translates to 7.6 million people living in open sin outside of marriage.

Still further, however, only God knows how many couples are divorced in mind even though they occupy the same house. Why is that true? Some give answers such as, “They just need to better communicate with one another,” or, “They just need to understand and tolerate each other’s unique qualities,” or other such statements.

Now while such statements certainly have an element of truth in them, they all still miss the point. The reason why marriages fail and homes are in turmoil is because people are not governed by the Word of God. Whether the marital problem comes in the form of money, communication, sexual dysfunction, or any number of other things, these are only symptoms of the real problem. The Word of God is NOT the final authority for home life in America, and sad to say, this is true of many Christians.

This leads us to the second statement we need to consider, which we’ll examine next time.