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, September 30, 2011

The Only Source of Truth (2)

In one last look at Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we consider finally the Apostles Paul’s broader meaning when He speaks of Truth. Not only is there the Immediate Truth of the Gospel, but second, there is also The Broader Truth of all of God’s revelation, that is, all of His Word. We say this because the message of the Gospel is the center of God’s revelation and everything else flows from that. When we come to Christ, we embrace not only the Truth of the Gospel, but all of God’s Truth.

It is precisely for that reason that we need to recognize that God’s Word is the only source of Absolute Truth (which is actually redundant, because Truth implies an absolute). As we’ve seen, there are many other claims on how to discover Truth, but it is God alone who reveals it in His Word.

Words fail to express the impact this realization has produced in my own life and service. After examining the history of science, philosophy, and religion, it becomes glaringly obvious that Truth is to be discovered only in God and His Word. To argue along the lines of these other things is pointless, fruitless, and, if I may be so bold, borderline blasphemous. We should not argue from any other premise except, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Now, some would object to our whole discussion by saying, “This is all quite silly. After all, I can say, ‘The book is on the table; that is a fact and is therefore true, and the Bible didn’t have anything to do with it.” And to that we say, you are quite right. That is what philosophers call “self-evident fact.” Something that is self-evident does not need to be proved because it shows itself to be true.

This thought immediately prompted me to ask, “Does the Bible have anything to say about self-evident fact?” And I found that It does, indeed. Galatians 3:11 declares, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” The word “evident” translates the Greek dēlos, which refers to “a clear case, out of all dispute.” Writing to the Galatians, who had become entangled in works-oriented religion, Paul is saying that there is nothing more “self-evident” than the fact that man cannot be justified by Law but by faith in Christ alone. There is, indeed, no more obvious and self-evident Truth than that. That is precisely what changed Martin Luther’s life and ignited the Reformation. In Luther’s own words, “If anyone could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been me.” But he finally realized the self-evident Truth of sola fide (faith alone).

My Dear Reader, I would encourage you that if you are looking for Truth, you will never find it unless you come to Christ, Who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). If you are already a Christian, I would challenge you that no matter what the question, no matter what the issue, may your motto be, “What saith the Scripture?” (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30). Why? Because only It is Truth.

Let us close with two other wonderful verses: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32-33). Will science make us free? No, we’re ever learning but never discovering. Will philosophy make us free? No, it drove Nietzsche mad. Will even religion make us free? No, the Law keeps us in bondage. It is only the Gospel of Christ that makes us free, and it is only in His Word that we find Truth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Only Source of Truth (1)

Considering Ephesians 1:13 once again—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we have considered the Meaning of Truth and Inadequate Sources of Truth.

This bring us to a third consideration, The Only Source of Truth. What is true? What is factual? What is absolutely reliable, totally secure, and unchanging? We are left with only one answer—God and His Word.  There are two emphases in the Apostle Paul’s statement

First, The Immediate Truth. Paul speaks of the word of truth, which is best stated and understood as the gospel of your salvation. In other words, it is the Gospel that is the only Truth that brings salvation. The real Truth, which in turn forms the foundation of all other Truth and is the source from which all other Truth flows, is the Gospel.

Word (logos) means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message, to give a discourse. Truth, of course, denotes a thing as it really is. So the phrase the word of truth declares that there is one message that is real and unconcealed, not falsified or changing—the message of the gospel.

In a day when it is considered intolerant and divisive to say that there is only one true religion, that statement invites violent criticism. To call one group a cult or false religion, or call Islam “an evil religion,” as did evangelical leader Franklin Graham after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, brings a storm of protest. But such dissent does not alter the fact that God says that only His Word is Truth. 

The word Gospel has an interesting etymology. The Greek is euaggelion: eu, good; aggel, to proclaim, tell. But the English is even more fascinating. It comes from the Old English gōdspel: gōd, good; spel, tale. Witches were said to cast a spell, that is, say certain words that supposedly had magic powers. To spellbind, is to speak in such a way as to hold people’s attention. To spell a word means to name or write the letters of the word. So the Gospel is, indeed, the good spell, the good tale, the good story, the good message, the good news.

Even more significant, the gospel is the only good tale. In the Greek, the verse literally reads: “The message of the truth, the good news of your salvation.” Paul wants to make it clear that there is only one good news. As he declared in Galatians 1:6-7: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” He makes it clear that a perverted Gospel is not a Gospel (a good news, a good story) at all. It is for that reason that he writes the very pointed, narrow command in the next two verses: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” (anathema) refers to that which is devoted to destruction. We are not to be tolerant of false teaching; rather we are to consider such teaching and teachers as under God’s judgment. God simply will not tolerate a perversion of the Gospel. Why? Because it’s the only Truth. The Apostle Paul preached the only Gospel there is. In contrast, in our day the Gospel is being retold as a new tale, a new story. It’s a story of God’s Universal Fatherhood, Jesus’ life as a good moral example, and a salvation without repentance, Lordship, or even acknowledgment of sin. One today can define the Gospel in whatever terms make him feel good. But that type of Gospel, which is no Gospel at all, must be cursed for what it is—a lie. The only Gospel is trust in Jesus’ blood as the only redemption from sin.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Truth in Religion?

Based upon Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—we ask again: where is Truth? Two of the greatest claims to discovering Truth are made by science and philosophy, but religion is another strong contender.

In a very real sense, what we’ve observed regarding philosophy applies equally to religion, for religion is nothing more than philosophy. Webster defines religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

Of course, in a sense Biblical Christianity is a religion. The Puritans, for example, often referred to it as religion. But it’s interesting that in the five verses where the world “religion” appears in the New Testament, it is always qualified by a modifier. Speaking as a Pharisee, Paul refers to “our religion” in Acts 26:5, that is, the works-oriented religion that Judaism had become. He does so again in Galatians 1:13-14, where he uses the term “the Jew’s religion.” James uses two modifiers, calling one religion “man’s religion” and the other “pure religion” (Jas. 1:26-27).

So there is a difference between “religion” per se and “pure religion.” The word “pure” (katharos) means that which is genuine, or that which is free from any improper mixture. Biblical Christianity is, therefore, the genuine article, in contrast to just religion. “Religion,” therefore, is false religion, in contrast to Biblical Christianity.

Consequently, when one examines religion, he finds that from Cain, through the pagan cults, and right up to today’s countless religions, every one of them has its own belief system, philosophy, and view of Truth. Every religion is simply man’s works-oriented way of getting to God (or enlightenment, nirvana, or whatever). Like philosophy, religion is invention, not revelation. Religion is not Truth.

Perhaps the best example is Judaism. After all, if any “religion” could be called Truth, it would surely be Judaism. God Himself gave the Law, instituted the sacrificial system, and established Temple worship. But the Jews totally perverted all of it and turned it into just another works system. Throughout their history, especially during the Babylonian Exile and the Intertestamental Period, they added thousands of man-made traditions to God’s law and made them equal to God’s law. The rabbis searched Scripture to find various commands and regulations and then added supplemental requirements. As our Lord declared to the scribes and Pharisees, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matt. 15:6).

Just one example of many we could give was the command not to work on the Sabbath. To that law they added the idea that carrying a burden was a form of work, but then they had to answer the question, “What constitutes a burden?” After much discussion, they decided that a burden would be defined as food equal to the weight of a fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put on a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member of the body, water enough to moisten eye salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen, and so on. To carry anything more than those prescribed amounts on the Sabbath was to break the law.

But even such a list could not answer every situation, so a lot of time was spent arguing about such things as if a tailor who went out on the Sabbath with a needle stuck in his robe, or if moving a lamp from one place in a room to another, or if wearing an artificial leg, or if using a crutch, or if a parent lifted a child, or if a doctor healed a patient on the Sabbath was considered carrying a burden and therefore sinful.

Such meaningless works and outward ritual have been repeated millions of times, throughout thousands of years, by hundreds of religions. And religion is all it is, just man-made tradition. And Truth is always forced to give way to religious tradition.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is Truth in Philosophy?

Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—speaks of Truth. But as we’ve been asking, where is Truth today? The greatest claim to discovering Truth is made by science, but another claim is laid by philosophy, a word that directly transliterates the Greek philosophia, literally, “love of wisdom.”

As the 17th Century philosopher Rene Descartes is famous for saying, “I think, therefore I am,” there are those who believe that ultimate knowledge can be found in man’s own thinking. Philosophy, therefore, has historically been man’s attempt to explain the universe around him and the meaning of his own existence.

But as Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer in our own generation has written, man cannot begin with himself and arrive at ultimate reality. Theologian and Christian philosopher Gordon Clark adds that “secular philosophy leaves life without meaning and in utter frustration.”

The 18th Century Scottish empirical philosopher David Hume, for example, who was famous for his rejection of the miraculous, said, “I am first affrighted and confounded with that forlorn solitude, in which I am placed in my philosophy.” The 19th Century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche mocked Christianity as the religion of weaklings, and was one of the first to proclaim that God is dead. But ultimately, Nietzsche could not live with the implications of his philosophy. He wrote later in life, “Grant me madness,” and he did, indeed, get what he asked for, spending the last 11 years of his life in total mental darkness.

Perhaps the most appealing philosophy in our day is Relativism, the theory that there is no objective standard by which truth may be determined, so that truth varies with individuals and circumstance. In other words, whatever is true to you is true, but whatever is true for me is also true.

The absurdity of Relativism, however, appears in an incident that happened to Christian apologist and author Ravi Zacharias. While visiting Ohio State University to speak, his hosts took him to the Wexner Center of the Arts, which happens to be a monument to postmodern architecture. It has stairways leading nowhere, columns that come down but don’t quite reach the floor, beams and galleries that go everywhere but nowhere, and a crazy looking girder system over most of the outside that’s pointless. Like Postmodernism and Relativism, it defies every rule of common sense and every law of rationality. Zacharias looked at the building, cocked his head, grinned, and then said, “I wonder if they used the same techniques when they laid the foundation.” That one comment dismantles the whole idea of Relativism. The designers could talk all they wanted about being independent from reality in their decoration, but when it came to the reality of making the building stand up, they were still dependant on a laying a solid foundation.

In spite of its obvious self-defeating nature, however, Relativism is alive and well. What is the cause of Relativism? The major reason is that Relativism is comfortable; it doesn’t demand anything. In other words, Absolute Truth makes us responsible, so by rejecting absolutes, we can live the way we want to.

Even more tragic, Relativism has taken over the church today. The old adage, “Well, that’s just your interpretation of the Bible,” actually comes from the philosophy of Relativism. We see countless examples of this. Catch phrases such as “seeker sensitive,” “purpose-driven,” “user-friendly,” and “meeting needs” are all built on the foundation of Relativism and its offspring Pragmatism, which says just do what gets results regardless of what the Bible says. If you embrace Pragmatism, you can use any method that works, you can have any kind of “ministry” you want, and you can present the Gospel any way you wish. And if someone dares to discern, question, or “criticize,” they are labeled divisive, intolerant, and “politically incorrect.”

But Scripture is neither relative nor pragmatic. It deals in absolutes; It deals with Truth.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is Truth in Science?

In light of Ephesians 1:13—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.—where is Truth to be found in our day? Last time we considered the first of three principles that carry tremendous significance in our day, The Meaning of Truth.

Second, Inadequate Sources of Truth. Of all the claims to sources of Truth, three stand out: Science, Philosophy, and Religion.

By far the greatest claim to being a source of Truth in our day is made by science. Scientist Karl Pearson, for example, made this obvious when he wrote in his famous book Grammar of Science: “the scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge.”

But let’s take an honest look. Is science really a source of Truth? Is it always reliable, constant, sure, and unchanging? In the Middle Ages, for example, accepted scientific theory concluded that the earth was at the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. It was also believed that gravity was some kind of occult force. But before we call those people ignorant and backward, even today we can’t adequately explain gravity.

In more recent years, it was once accepted fact that light travels in a straight line, but it was then discovered that gravity actually bends light. When the atom was discovered, science asserted that the atom was the smallest indivisible particle of which matter was comprised. That’s why scientists named it “atom,” which is from the Greek atomos, meaning, “that which cannot be divided.” But then, not only did science later discover that the atom can be split (and with incredible results), but it also discovered many other smaller subatomic particles—electrons, neutrons, protons, photons, and quarks.

As the 19th Century drew to a close, scientists around the world were satisfied that they had reached an accurate picture of the universe. As physicist Alastair Rae put it, “By the end of the nineteenth century, it seemed that the basic fundamental principles governing the behavior of the physical universe were known.” Most, in fact, said that the study of physics was mostly completed, except for small details. A few oddities occurred, such as the discovery of X-rays (1895), but most scientists believed such oddities would be later explained by existing theory.

But as the new century dawned, the world was set on its ear. Accepted scientific evidence declared it impossible to fly a plane under it’s own power, but then Orville and Wilbur Wright did it at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Many other things were once said to be impossible, based on prevailing scientific theory: breaking the sound barrier, television, satellite communications, atomic power, atomic microscopes, antibiotics, and much more. But in every case, science was untrue, unreliable, and unsure. Therefore, science never has been and never will be able to discover Truth.

It’s interesting that some honest scientists recognize that science does not discover Truth. Albert Einstein, for example, once remarked concerning how nature works: “We know nothing about it at all. Our knowledge is but the knowledge of school children . . . We shall know a little more than we do now. But the real nature of things—that we shall never know, never.” Einstein was honest enough to admit that science could not discover “the real nature of things,” which is what the word Truth means.

British philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote even more pointedly: “All scientific statements are hypothesis, or guesses, or conjectures, and the vast majority of these conjectures . . . have turned out to be false. Our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; . . . our knowledge, our doctrine, is conjectural; . . . it consists of guesses, of hypothesis, rather than of final and certain truths.”

So is science of any value? Certainly; it is very useful. Thousands of inventions have been made that make life easier. Chemistry, medicine, mechanics, and physics all contribute to making life more comfortable and more productive. But science does not and cannot provide Truth because it changes. Something else that is sure and reliable is needed.

Friday, September 9, 2011

“What Is Truth?”

Before moving on in our exposition of Ephesians, there is something in 1:13 that captures our attention—In whom ye also trusted, after ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. In the next few installments, I would like to share a burden that has been on this pastor’s heart for over a year.

We live in a day when the concept of truth is more and more challenged. Never before has there been such a redefining of Truth. Many, in fact, deny that there is any Truth at all. In stark contrast, however, the Word of God, in no uncertain terms, makes it clear that there is Truth and that Truth is to be found only in God and His Word.

With this in mind, let us look at three principles that carry tremendous significance in our day.

First, the Meaning of Truth. In John 18:37-38, Pontius Pilate asked the Lord Jesus, “Art thou a king?” Our Lord responded, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” What a powerful statement! “If you would have Truth,” He is saying, “you will hear Me.” To that Pilate spoke three words—probably in at least a cynical if not contemptuous tone—that have echoed through the millennia: “What is truth?” Countless philosophers have asked that question, but few have been able to answer it.

The most noteworthy thing about that scene is that while Pilate asked a legitimate and pivotal question, he did not wait for an answer, rather “when he had said this, he went out again.” Think of it—he was standing in front of Truth Incarnate but walked away. And people have been walking away from Truth ever since.

Especially in light of the present day, it is imperative that we look at the meaning of the word Truth. Without going into detail, when one studies the word Truth, both in the English and the Greek (alētheia), he finds that it means what is real, what really is, what is factual. It’s not opinion, it’s not conjecture, it’s not hypothesis or theory. Rather, it is, like the old expression, “telling it like it is.” If something is true, it is absolutely reliable, totally secure. It cannot change because to do so would mean it’s not true, not reliable. Further, Truth refers to that which is absolute, that which is incontrovertible, irrefutable, incontestable, unarguable, and unchanging. If something is true, it is always true and can never be untrue, no matter what the circumstances.

Where, then, can Truth be found today? Is there any source of Truth that matches the definition we just noted? There are numerous claims to Truth in the world, but are they really sources of Truth? Do they offer that which is sure, reliable, and unchanging? In the installments that follow, we’ll take a brief look at three of the world’s best claims of how to discover Truth: Science, Philosophy, and Religion.

If you would like to read the complete study on which these brief installments are based, you can do so online at www.TheScriptureAlone.com.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Our Response To God’s Riches

Having considered Paul’s statement, “to the praise of His glory,” in our last installment, this brings us to the close of Paul’s glorious “song of praise” (vs. 3‑14). We recall once again that this passage is one long sentence in the Greek. Paul was so carried away by the Truth of these words that he could not stop as it all flowed from his heart and right through his pen. Hopefully, we now understand why that was so. Oh, the riches, the glorious wealth we have in Christ!

Commentator William Hendrickson, ends his comments on this passage by writing: “Is it any wonder that when the apostle ponders the fact that he himself and also those addressed had been emancipated from the most dreadful evil and had been restored to the most unimaginable good, and this by the very God against whom they had rebelled, and at such a cost, and that God had even given to them the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of future climatic bliss when they would receive their gull inheritance and would stand forth in dazzling splendor as God’s very own,—in view of all this is it any wonder that he begins his magnificent doxology by saying, ‘blessed (be)’ and that he ends it with ‘to the praise of His glory?’”

That’s how Paul responded to these great truths, but may we each ask ourselves, “How should I respond to the great truths of this passage?” I would encourage you to read the passage often and consider that there should be at least five responses.

First, response should come in our Worship. As we’ve seen, the whole passage speaks of what God has done, and three times Paul exults, “to the praise of His glory.” This should transform and deepen our sense of awe and worship of The One True and Living God. Unlike the typical service of our day, which is based on entertainment and people-centeredness, this passage should drive us to selfless worship.

Second, response should come in our Walk. God’s reason for electing us was to make us holy that we could then live holy. Our entire Christian life and walk then is a life of godliness.

Third, response should come in our Witness. We do not worship or even acknowledge the existence of the dead gods of the pagans or the false gods of science, philosophy, and religion. We worship The One True and Living God, and it is this message that we take to the world.

Fourth, response should come in our Wisdom. Our wisdom is not in or of this world, rather in the Truth of God’s revealed Word. If we respond correctly to this passage, then all that we do will be based on that authority alone. All we need is what God says.

Fifth, response should come in our Watching. While we have received the down payment of our inheritance in the form of the Holy Spirit, the final inheritance and glory is yet future. May we be expectantly waiting and watching for the coming of our Lord in glory.

Friday, September 2, 2011

“To The Praise of His Glory”

There is a phrase that the Apostle Paul uses, in varying forms, three times in Ephesians 1. In verse 6, the phrase is, To the praise of the glory of his grace; in verse 12, it is to the praise of his glory; and finally in verse 14, it is unto the praise of his glory. What is the significance?  No one says it better than Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The first and greatest truth concerning salvation is that it is a revelation of the glory of God.”

Some commentators view these phrases as a Hebraism, that is, simply Paul borrowing a concept from the Hebrew to praise God’s grace in general. But as Greek commentator John Eadie, puts it, this is a “feeble exegesis.” It’s not God’s grace in general that’s being praised, “but this one special element of that grace” that’s being praised.  In other words, Paul is specifically praising the aspect of God’s grace that brings salvation.

The reason for Paul’s repetition is obvious—he wanted to emphasize the significance of this Truth. God did not save us just because He loved us, but He saved us, first and foremost, to bring glory to Himself. This is not “divine arrogance” as some have irreverently suggested, for God is totally worthy of praise. The word glory (doxas) came to mean “brightness, splendor, and majesty.” All that God does is designed to further manifest His brightness, splendor, and majesty.

Modern evangelism is permeated by the idea of telling people what salvation can do for them: it will solve all their problems, make them rich, make them better athletes, and a mountain of other such man-centered nonsense. But rarely do we ever hear a pastor or so-called “evangelist” talk about the glory of God being the ultimate result of salvation.

So, the final result (or goal) of God’s work in salvation (including election, adoption, redemption, sealing, and all else) is that we will praise Him. This is the reason for Paul’s words, To the PRAISE of the GLORY of His GRACE! This is not the praise of the worshipper of a pagan god, who worships to appease his god. Neither is this praise to man, for man can do nothing worthy of praise. Rather this is genuine adoration for what God alone has done. A footnote in the Geneva Bible of 1599 reads: “The uttermost and chiefest final cause is the glory of God the Father, who saves us freely in his Son. That as his bountiful goodness deserves all praise, so also it should be set forth and proclaimed.”

Oh, Dear Reader, do you see this marvelous truth? God did all the work of salvation so that we will praise Him. Are you praising Him? Puritan pastor and commentator Matthew Henry encourages, “We should live and behave ourselves in such a manner that his rich grace might be magnified, and appear glorious, and worthy of the highest praise.” Are we doing this?

Many times during the preparation of these studies, I stopped to meditate on these three phrases. As a result, the Holy Spirit burned them into my heart and mind and forever changed me. I would likewise encourage you to stop here, put the newspaper down, and simply meditate for a few minutes. Let the words ring in your mind, sing to your heart, roll off your tongue, and permeate your life. Praise be to God—our salvation is all of grace.

This prompts us to consider once again one of the most important thoughts of our study of Ephesians, namely, What is God’s ultimate purpose? In short, as verses 3-12 declare, God’s ultimate purpose in human history is to restore the unity be­tween man and God so that man can glorify Him.