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 .

Friday, July 29, 2011

Adopted In Christ

Ephesians 1:4 not only declares the second of eight great riches we have in Christ, but also the third: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. Here is one of the most thrilling truths concerning our salvation: we have been adopted into the family of God by the good pleasure, that is, the good intent, the benevolence, the love, and the gracious purpose of God’s will.

The Eastern concept of adoption goes deeper than our Western concept. Only Paul uses this word in the New Testament. He undoubtedly borrowed it from Roman culture since the Jews knew nothing of it.

The Greek (huiothesia) literally means “son-placing.” Under Roman law a father had patria potestas (Latin, the father’s power) over his children, and that power was absolute. He could make a child a slave, scourge him, even kill him. A child possessed nothing. All he had or received became the father’s property. Any inheritance willed to him, or even any gift given to him, became the property of his father. It did not matter how old the son was, or to what honours and responsibility he had risen, he was absolutely in his father’s power. This certainly does not infer that all Roman fathers were evil monsters, rather it simply reveals the position of a child.

During the teenage years, however, there was a public ceremony declaring a child to be an official member of the family.

After this “son-placing,” he had full privileges and responsibilities. The important truth here is that this was not necessarily a change in relationship, for a Roman father could be just as loving as any other father, and no doubt many fathers had a close relationship with their children. Rather what we see here is a change in position. He was no longer a child; he was a son.

This adoption also occurred between a man and a child who was not his by birth. Christian author William Barkley describes this ritual: “The ritual of adoption must have been very impressive. It was carried out by a symbolic sale in which copper and scales were used. Twice the real father sold his son, and twice he symbolically bought him back; finally he sold him a third time, and at the third sale he did not buy him back. After this the adopting father had to go to the praetor, one of the principal Roman magistrates, and plead the case for the adoption. Only after all this had been gone through was the adoption complete. When the adoption was complete it was complete indeed. The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and completely lost all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they had never existed.”

That is the picture of the adopted child of God. We were of our father the devil (Rom. 8:44; I Jn. 3:8-10). Under him we were, indeed, slaves, slaves to sin, under a sentence of death. But we have been adopted into the family of God. We are members of a new family, all the old debts are paid, and we are new people.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Predestinated In Christ

Ephesians 1:4 declares the second of eight great riches we have in Christ: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. Part of our wealth as true Christians is that God has “predestinated” us to something.

The word “predestination” has probably caused more trouble than the word “election.” But the word is actually a very simple one. The Greek proorizo simply means “to designate before.” The real depth of it, however, is in the fact that it’s a compound word. Pro, of course, means “beforehand,” but horizo speaks of a “boundary or limit,” and is actually where our English word “horizon” comes from. So, just as the horizon marks a limit between what we can and can’t see, God has placed us within a certain limit, a certain “horizon.” He has put us in a place where we can see and comprehend many things but where many other things are hidden from our sight and comprehension, many things that are beyond our horizon. Further, even if we walk closer to the horizon, discovering new things as we go, a new horizon appears before us. This word graphically demonstrates that God has marked out something for each of His elect; He has marked out a destiny. Much of this destiny is hidden from us; it is beyond the horizon. But, praise be to God, he reveals more of it with each new step we take towards it, but the horizon is still ahead. What a wonderful God we worship!

What, then, is that destiny? The primary purpose in God’s predestination is, “that [Christ] might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), that is, that Christ might be made preeminent. Scripture reveals that the firstborn always had preeminence. God’s ultimate object, therefore, is to glorify His Son. As we’ll see in our next installment, Ephesians 1:5 also tells us that God predestined us to “adoption,” making the true Christian Christ’s sibling. Think of it! Each of us is either a brother or sister to our dear Savior and “elder brother.” In Ephesians 1:11, we read that we are also predestined to an inheritance, that is, spiritual riches, in Christ.

So, may I submit that, like the doctrine of election, no controversy is warranted on the subject of predestination. Predestination is simply God’s marking out a destiny befitting His elected people. And, as we’ll see in our next installment, all this comes because of the good pleasure of His will; it flows from His love, His good will, His good intent, His benevolence, and His gracious purpose.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chosen In Christ

Ephesians 1:4 declares the first of eight great riches we have in Christ: According as [God] hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love.

The doctrine of “election” is a subject that has caused great debate, but that’s the last thing it should do. It is actually one of the most soothing doctrines of the Bible. The Greek word behind chosen (eklego) is a wonderful word, indeed. It means “to pick or choose out for one’s self.” It’s also in the Past Tense, yielding the idea “once for all.” The full meaning in this verse is that we have been chosen once-for-all out of the world to be God’s own as His special treasure. And why has He chosen us? So we can be holy. It is God’s election of us that is the beginning of our salvation. As the prophet Jonah declares, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). From beginning to end, salvation is the work of God, and that work begins with Him electing us in Christ before He even created the building blocks of the universe.

A fascinating conversation took place on December 20, 1784 between Charles Simeon and John Wesley. These two men were on opposite ends of the controversy about election; Simeon was what has been called a Calvinist, and Wesley was an Arminian. The conversation went like this.

Simeon:       Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have sometimes been called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions . . . Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Wesley:       Yes, I do indeed.
Simeon:       And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Wesley:       Yes, solely through Christ.
Simeon:       But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
Wesley:       No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.
Simeon:       Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
Wesley:       No.
Simeon:       What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
Wesley:       Yes, altogether.
Simeon:       And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Wesley:       Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
Simeon:       Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

Why is there such a debate over election? Instead of arguing over terms and phrases, let us all unite over one Truth: Salvation is of the Lord.

That beloved preacher, J. Vernon McGee, who is now in glory with the Lord, tells this story: “A black boy in Memphis, Tennessee, wanted to join a conservative, fundamental church, and the deacons were examining him. They asked him, ‘How did you get saved?’ He answered, ‘I did my part, and God did His part’ The deacons thought they had him, so they asked him what was his part and what was God’s part. He said, ‘My part was the sinning. I ran from God as fast as these rebellious legs would take me and my sinful heart would lead me. I ran from Him. But you know, He done took out after me ‘til He done run me down.’ My friend, there is nothing in a theology book that tells it as well as that. God is the One who did the saving. Our part was the sinning.”

When questions arise over this doctrine, consider Harry Ironside’s illustration. That dear pastor of Moody Church in Chicago from 1930 to 1948, had a way of making difficult truths easier to understand. He described a door where the sinner is standing outside the door and reads above it, “Whosoever will, let him come.” The sinner believes God’s promise, steps through the door, and is saved. He then turns around and reads above the inside of the door, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

True Riches (2)

Ephesians 1:3—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ—contains the first of five occurrences of the term in the heavenlies (literal translation), which we mentioned in an earlier installment. And what a beautiful term it is! Its meaning is obvious. Many Greek authorities agree that it refers to “the abode of God.” So, then, where are these spiritual blessings? They come from heaven. Why? Because they come from God Who is the source and Who dwells in heaven. But what is the significance of all this right now?

First, many spiritual riches that are found in heaven have been given to us here and now. Just one example of many is that we have been adopt­ed into God’s family (v. 6). God is the Father, He is in heaven, and our family membership is, therefore, in heaven. But also notice 2:6: “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together [in the heavenlies] in Christ Jesus.” So, the truth is that even though we are physically situated on earth, we are still spiritually seated in heaven.

Second, we are to live for what is heavenly, not earthly. Since God has heaped upon us spiri­tual blessings in the heavenlies, we should now live accordingly. There is nothing wrong with possessions, but we must not “live to have things.”

Peter exhorts in I Peter 2:11: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” Tragically, many Christians today act like earth is their home. But Peter declares that we are pilgrims who are just passing through this world on our way to heaven. We see this vividly in the nation of Israel. God promised them a land, and they, therefore, were (and are today) strangers anywhere else. Likewise, the Christian belongs nowhere else but heaven. Our true citizenship is in heaven. All that we do on earth is to prepare us for heaven. May the words of Paul in Colossians 3:2 ever ring in our ears: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”

Ponder something else, however. How is such spiritual wealth acquired? The answer is in Christ. Without Christ as the means of bestowing these riches, they can­not possibly be ours. It’s interesting that the riches of verses 4‑14 are not found in the Old Testament because they come only in Christ. It’s true that all men enjoy God’s blessings to a limited extent, what theologians call “common grace.” For example, God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But only to the true Christian does He bestow His special grace and spiritual wealth.

Oh, how hard men try to be rich, but the best they will ever do is produce “counterfeit riches.” And, to take the analogy one step further, as one who produces coun­terfeit currency will get caught and go to jail, those who are not in Christ will end up in hell; their counterfeit riches will lead them to destruction (Rev. 21:8; etc).

As I share this truth, I am reminded of the terrorists who, on September 11, 2001, flew airplanes into The World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They were told a lie that by doing so they would receive 72 virgins and unimaginable spiritual blessings. Without doubt they soon realized the error. Many others in the world believe and teach that there are “many ways to God” and many ways to “be spiritual.” A common phrase is, “I’m not really religious, but I feel like I’m spiritual.” What a deadly deception! The Biblical truth is that that spiritual riches, and spirituality itself, are found and bestowed only in Christ. As Jesus Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Oh, what riches, what wealth, we have in Christ!

Monday, July 11, 2011

True Riches (1)

As one reads Ephesians 1:3—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ—he is reminded of what most of us consider to be riches: oil wells, real estate, diamonds, gold, silver, stocks, bonds, and the like. Now, there is certainly nothing at all wrong with those things in themselves, but when they become our priority, our source of riches, then we have a problem. Why? Because these are not real riches; they are arti­ficial riches or substitute riches. Man is in need of riches, but he rejects true riches and substitutes these false riches.

How tragic it is that many Christians today have gotten caught up in this philosophy. Many have gotten caught up in all sorts of “prosperity teaching,” the latest version of which is, as one author calls it in the title of his book, “The Cult of Jabez.” In very strong but no less true words, that author exposes the popular book, The Prayer of Jabez, as “the most mesmerizing deception to be launched on American Christianity in the modern era.” Why? Because the basic, underlying error of the book is that the repetition of a prayer, any prayer, even a Biblical prayer, unlocks the power of God in our lives. The whole thrust of the book is that by repeating this obscure Old Testament prayer (mentioned only once in I Chron. 4:10 and a clear violation of the prohibition of “vain repletion” in Matt. 6:8), the Christian can unlock blessing and miracles. This is, indeed, the philosophy of the day: God is at our disposal, at our beckoning call, to give us whatever we want.

On the contrary, in all their efforts to “get blessed,” such people ignore the declaration of our text that true riches are spiritual. The word spiritual is pneumatikos, which is the word used to de­scribe the work of the Holy Spirit. This word is used in speak­ing of “spiritual gifts,” that is, gifts which come from the Spirit (Rom. 1:11; I Cor. 12:1; etc.). This is also used in reference to “spiritual men”, that is, men who are controlled by the Spirit (I Cor. 2:13—literal translation of “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” is “explaining spiritual things to spiritual men”—and 15). Therefore, since these blessings are connected with the Holy Spirit, they are spiritual in nature and content.

How many spiritual blessings are there? When we look at verse 3, we might be inclined to think that it merely intro­duces the set number of blessings listed in verses 4‑14. But it goes far deeper than this. The word blessings is actually singular in the Greek (“with every spiritual blessing”). So, it’s not so much that God gives many riches (though this is how it appears to us); rather, He gives true wealth, one continuous flow of blessing and wealth. We all know the hymn that admonishes us to, ”Count your many blessings; name them one by one.” While we certainly do that, may we also see the greater picture; may we not only see the individual blessings, but may we recog­nize the one continuous flow of wealth that comes from God.

As we look at the individual riches in verses 4‑14, may we think of them as this continuous flow. While we’ll look at each in a little more detail, it would be of value to look at them now as a group. What is our spiritual [wealth]? Paul mentions eight aspects our wealth: Election (v. 4), Predestination (v. 5), Adoption, (vs. 5-6), Redemption (v. 7), Forgiveness (v. 7), Revelation (vs. 8-10), Inheritance vs. 11-12), and Sealing (vs. 13-14). Each one of these is wealth beyond any dreams of earthly avarice we could image. Oh, what wealth we have in Christ!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Christian’s First Priority (2)

As we mentioned last time, in view of Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:3—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—we see that the first priority of the true Christian is to worship.

It’s vitally important in our day to reemphasize that Scripture is dominated by the principle of worship, both in the Old Testament and the New.

First, in the Old Testament we see that the First Commandment commands us to worship God and God alone (Ex. 20:2-6). The establishment of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25) was for worship. The encampment around the Tabernacle (Num. 1:52-2:2) was designed to facilitate worship. The example of the Seraphim (Is. 6:1-2) is one of the most beautiful and powerful pictures of worship in Scripture. The many exhortations of the Psalmist make worship the central function of God’s people. Just one example is Ps. 95:6-7a: “Oh, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker. For He is our God.” This is not the attitude in most contemporary worship services. With hands raised high, the catch phrase of most “worship leaders” is, “I’m going to lead you into God’s presence.” Such attitudes should frighten us, for even if such words are said with the purest of motives, the concept is still flawed. Many have the wrong method of worship because they don’t know who God is.

Second, the New Testament is just as strong in its emphasis on worship. The Magi came for the express purpose to worship (Matthew 2:2). Satan’s ultimate attack on our Lord was a matter of the object of worship, to whom our Lord answered, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:8-10). John 4:20-24 is perhaps the most important New Testament passage on worship, where the word “worship” is mentioned 10 times showing its priority and proper manner. Additionally, there are many other challenges to proper worship (Acts 17:23; Phil. 3:3; Heb. 1:6; I Peter 2:5; Rev. 4:10-11).

I am reminded often of pastor and author A. W. Tozer (1897-1963), and have read everything he wrote. In his day, over 40 years ago, he wrote much about worship and its demise. In words that could have been penned today, he wrote, for example: “Within the last quarter of a century we have actually seen a major shift in the beliefs and practices of the evangelical wing of the church so radical as to amount to a complete sellout; and all this behind the cloak of fervent orthodoxy. With Bibles under their arms and bundles of tracts in their pockets, religious persons now meet to carry on “services” so carnal, so pagan, that they can hardly be distinguished from the old vaudeville shows of earlier days. And for a preacher or a writer to challenge this heresy is to invite ridicule and abuse from every quarter” (Of God and Men, pp. 17-18).

Indeed, with today’s emphasis on drama, comedy, and other entertainment, “old vaudeville shows” is an accurate summary. People today want entertainment instead of truth. Elsewhere Tozer writes: “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” (Whatever Happened to Worship?, p. 13). And once again, “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 vanload of equipment to keep them happy” (The Tozer Pulpit, I.2.40). Yes, today we need multimedia presentations, slideshows, live bands, and much to “minister to people’s needs.” But may we ask ourselves, What is heaven going to be like? Well, not one of the Biblical descriptions implies that we are going to be entertained throughout eternity. Heaven will be a place of worship—and many today are not preparing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Christian’s First Priority (1)

As we saw in our last installment, Paul begins his doctrinal thesis by praising God with the words, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He starts with God.

The Greek word behind blessed is interesting and most significant. It is the word eulogetos, which literally means “to speak well of, worthy of praise.” It is from this word that we get out English word “eulogize,” the common practice of speaking good words about a person at their funeral (whether or not the words are true). But this word, as it is used in the New Testament, is used only of God (Lk. 1:68; Rom. 1:25; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3). Why? Be­cause only God can be “spoken well of, worthy of praise.” There is no reason to eulogize man, for he has nothing good of which to speak. Yes, a man or woman may have been a Christian, lived a holy life, and raised a Godly family, but ultimately the glory, the “eulogy,” belongs to God.

So, in view of Paul’s words, we see that the first priority of the true Christian is to worship. Oh, may we see this! As the Book of Acts and other references make crystal clear, it is vitally important that we attend God’s house, the local church, but the question arises, “Why do we go?”

In our day, most people go to church for what they can get. That is, in fact, what most so-called church ministry is built on. The very idea of church programs is built on the idea of “giving people a blessing,” “meeting their needs,” and “keeping them entertained.” And the cardinal “sin” in such an approach is preaching doctrine or presenting absolutes. As mentioned in the “Introduction,” many people go to church like they’re looking for 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. The trend today is to shop for a church to join based on what that church can offer the churchgoer. 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 primary reason for our church attendance is to praise and adore our God. The music and the sermon are not ends in themselves. They are means of worshipping God.

Biblically, 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. Granted, if we offer to Him the praise due His name, we will receive at His hand. 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 our primary motive is to give, not get. We’ll continue this thought next time.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Everything Begins with God

Ephesians 1:3—Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ—contains five wonderful truths about true spiritual riches: the Source (“God and Father”), the Recipients (“us”), the Content (“spiritual”) the Location (“in the heavenlies”), and the Means (“in Christ”). This verse is, in fact, Paul’s primary concern in verses 3-14; everything else in the passage flows from that premise and supports it.

The first and most important thought this should impress upon us is that everything begins with God. Ephesians presents doctrine for doctrine’s sake; it expresses the basic doctrines of Christianity in language unequalled anywhere else. So where does Paul start? He starts with God.

We cannot emphasize this strongly enough, for it is the very opposite of what we see in the vast majority of the Church today, where everything begins and ends with man. We are totally man centered in our theology, worship, and evangelism. We want to talk about our experience and our needs instead of who God is and what He alone has done in Christ. But the only way we will ever discover, view, and understand truth is to begin with God. Why is truth relative in our day? Why can man not find answers to life’s questions? Because man does not begin with God. If you start with a subjective premise, you can only arrive at a subjective conclusion. We must start with the absolutes of God and His Word.

To say this in another way, while it’s quite true that Paul lists the riches and blessings that God gives us in Christ, that is only secondary to the fact that he first insists that we begin with God.

We can easily illustrate this by thinking about if we tried to barge into the oval office at the White House insisting that the President hear us and give us what we demand. “After all,” we would argue, “I’m an American; I pay my taxes; I have a right to talk to my president.” Well, assuming we made it past the Secret Service, such an approach would be utterly disrespectful and unconscionable. Yet, that is exactly what we do with God. We barge into His Throne Room and demand blessing. How blasphemous that is! Paul, therefore, insists that we first approach Him for Who He is.

This leads us to a second thought that should be impressed upon us, namely the importance of doctrine. As the late pastor and expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “The most foolish of all Christians are those who dislike and decry the importance of Theology and teaching. Does not that explain why they fail in practice?”

Why are many Christians weak and shallow? Why do many fall to any new trend that comes along? Why do many fail to discern false teaching? Why do many fail to be consistent and faithful? Why do many fall to temptation? Why do many collapse when someone challenges their faith? Because they do not know doctrine—they are not being taught doctrine by their pastors; they are not being taught that God’s Word alone is Truth. People are being taught that truth is relative and can be found in many other places. And that is why they fail.

As we’ve mentioned before, the first half of this Epistle (as most of Paul’s Epistles) deals with doctrine and the second half deals with practice. Why?—because without right doctrine we will not have right practice. No matter what the issue, the question, or the problem, there is a doctrinal principle in God’s Word to answer it. This fact is at the very heart of the doctrine of the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture. To deny it is to deny it is to deny Scripture Itself.

So Paul begins his doctrinal thesis by praising God. He starts with God.