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 .

Monday, October 31, 2011

Prayer: Constant Communion

Two words in Ephesians 1:16— [I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers—stand out: cease not.

A second principle we see in Paul’s prayer life is that prayer is constant communion.  Prayer is far more than just “talk­ing to God,” much more than just “telling God our troubles,” and infinitely more than just “asking and receiving.” First and foremost, prayer is constant communion. What does this term mean? Simply this: constant communion with God means a continuous consciousness of God’s presence in which we view everything in life in relation to Him.

For example, if we meet someone, we immediately consider where they stand with the Lord. If we hear of something bad happening, we react by praying for God to act in the situation for His glory and people’s good. If we hear of something good that has happened, we respond with immediate praise to God for it because we know He is glorified. In short, we view everything that comes along from a spiritual perspective. When Paul looked around his world, everything he saw prompted him to prayer in some way. When he thought of or heard about one of his beloved churches, it moved him toward communion with God.

Nehemiah provides a wonderful example of such praying without ceasing. King Artaxerxes noticed that Nehemiah was sad and asked him why, at which time Nehemiah told him of the destruction of Jerusalem. The king then asked Nehemiah to make a request of him that he might grant it. Before replying that the King send him to Judah, Nehemiah prayed a quick, brief prayer (Neh. 2:4). In the midst of a stressful situation, Nehemiah was conscious of God’s purpose. What a contrast that is to today’s popular emphasis on the The Prayer of Jabez, where we are encouraged to pray, “Bless me, God!” That’s not what Nehemiah prayed, or, for that matter, what Paul or our Lord ever prayed. No, Nehemiah was concerned with what God wanted.

May I submit, if we do not view prayer in this way, we will soon view God only as one we call on in time of need; without this attitude, we will lose touch with God. This is what is referred to in I Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” and Luke 18:1, “That men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

Having said that, prayer also demands conscious effort, however. We must have times of specific prayer, times when we consciously and thoughtfully bring things to God. There is a beautiful balance between this and constant communion, for our times of “speci­fic prayer” are actually an outworking of our “constant commu­nion.”

Here is a blessed truth! As we are continuously conscious of God’s presence, He will bring people and needs to our minds so that we may bring them before His throne. If we are not in constant communion with God, He cannot bring things to our minds.

Ponder: When was the last time a certain person came to your mind and you could not dismiss him or her from your thoughts? Perhaps you called them on the telephone and told them that you were just thinking about them, just wondering how they were getting along. What did God just do? As you were weighing your life and other’s lives before the Lord, looking at everything in relation to God, He brought that person to mind.

All this is in view in Paul’s words. As he went about his daily tasks, ever conscious of God, God brought certain ones to his conscious mind—one in Ephe­sus, another in Philippi, two more in Colosse, and countless others in churches he had planted. Later in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (6:18). Oh, may this be true of every pastor and every other Believer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Prayer: Praying for Others

Ephesians 1:16— [I] cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers—and the verses that follow (16-23), reveal something about the Apostle Paul that is most enlightening. We often think of Paul as the great church planter, the great theologian, and the greatest of all the Apostles. While all those are true, we often fail to see him as a great man of prayer. It’s amazing, in fact, to study his Epistles in this light and observe just how often we see him praying. While space prohibits our examining all the principles of prayer found in this passage (you can read them online), let’s look at a few.

First, prayer involves “intercession,” that is, praying for others. The more one studies Paul’s prayer life, the more humbled one becomes because we always see him praying for others, not himself. He not only said he was concerned, he showed he was concerned. Colossians 1:9-14 is another example of Paul’s intercessory prayer. He begins in verse 9 with, “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” Likewise to the Romans he wrote, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.”

How often is our prayer life centered only in ourselves, our needs and wants? As that great exposi­tor Alexander MaClaren challenged: “A man’s prayers for others are a very fair thermometer of his own religious condition . . . There is nothing colder than the intercession of a cold Christian; and, on the other hand, in no part of the fervid Apostle Paul’s writings do his words come more winged and fast, or his spirit glow with greater fervour of affection and holy desire than in his petitions for his friends. “

Indeed, Paul was ever concerned with what other believers needed. As he challenged Timothy, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men [without distinction]” (I Tim. 2:1). Scripture is filled with examples of God’s people praying for one another: Job prayed for his friends (Job 42:10); Moses prayed for Aaron (Deut. 9:20) and Miriam (Num. 12:13); Samuel prayed for Israel (1 Sam. 7:5, 9); David also prayed for Israel (2 Sam. 24:17), as well as Solomon (1 Chron. 29:18-19); Hezekiah prayed for Judah (2 Kings 19:14-19); Isaiah prayed for the people of God (Isa. 63:15–64:12); Daniel prayed for Israel (Dan. 9:3-19), as did Ezekiel (Ezek. 9:8); Nehemiah prayed for Judah (Neh. 1:4-11); Jesus prayed for his disciples (John 17:9-24); The Jerusalem Church prayed for Peter’s release from prison (Acts 12:5ff); Epaphras prayed for the Colossians (Col. 4:12); and on we could go.

This should challenge us to be praying for one another. As Puritan Matthew Henry encourages: “Observe, even the best of Christians need to be prayed for: and, while we hear well of our Christian friends, we should think ourselves obliged to intercede with God for them, that they may abound and increase yet more and more.”

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Tests of Christian Profession (2)

As we saw in our last installment, the word wherefore in Ephesians 1:15—Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints—links what Paul has already said in verses 3‑14 with what he is about to say in verses 15‑23. Based upon all they have in Christ, Paul prays that they will assimilate those truths.

Going deeper, we see that Paul had heard of two specific things, two things that are actually the two ultimate tests of Christian profession. He here condenses true Christian profession into two words: faith and love. We looked at faith last time.

Second, Paul had heard of their love. Put simply: Genuine FAITH in Christ produces genuine LOVE for other believers.

How often have we caught ourselves saying, “Well I love so‑in‑so in the Lord.” Often what we really mean is, “I love him in the Lord (but I can’t stand him in himself).” But true Chris­tian love can be defined as: Treating others as God has treated you. How has God treated you? He has treated you according to grace, mercy, and love. So, we are to treat others in exactly the same way. What we need to do today is get away from our “cop­out” clichĂ©s and our false emotionalism, and get back to true Christian love. This is the real idea in the Greek agape (love). As we mentioned back in study of verses 4 and 5, perhaps the best definition of agape is “self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” If we really love someone, we will disregard self and think of others. That is indeed a test of Christian profession. The Apostle John tells us: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (I Jn. 3:14). There is something drastically wrong with a professing Christian who does not want Christian fellowship or who “snubs” other Christians.

Before leaving these two “acid-tests” of Christian profession, it is noteworthy the order in which Paul presents them: first is faith and then is love. Love comes after faith, not before. This is the opposite of what we see today. Paul always deals with doctrine first and then duty, while false Christianity prattles on about love, ignoring and even denying the Theology behind true love. Paul, however, doesn’t speak of some syrupy sentimentality, rather He first nails down true faith and then says that true love flows out of that.

A wonderful story is told of Philip Henry, the father of the great Puritan preacher and commentator Matthew Henry. Philip had met a young lady and they were very much in love. There was a problem, however; she belonged to a higher social strata then he. While she had become a Christian and such things no longer mattered to her, they mattered nonetheless to her parents. With contempt they asked her, “This man, Philip Henry, where has he come from?” The future Mrs. Henry’s immortal reply was, “I don’t know where he has come from, but I know where he is going.”

Indeed, that is what matters.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please forgive the interruption in postings, but I will be teaching at the Haiti Bible Institute for the next two weeks. Postings will resume, Lord willing, on the October 24.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Tests of Christian Profession (1)

The word wherefore in Ephesians 1:15—Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints—literally means “on this account” or “for this cause.” This word links what Paul has already said in verses 3‑14 with what he is about to say in verses 15‑23. Based upon all they have in Christ, Paul prays that they will assimilate those truths.

To go deeper, we see here that Paul had heard of two specific things, two things that are actually the two ultimate tests of Christian profession. As John Calvin put it: “Observe here, that under faith and love Paul sums up the whole perfection of Christians.” What a wonderful statement! Paul here condenses true Christian profession into two words: faith and love.

First, Paul had heard of their faith. The first test of Christian profession is faith in Christ. This is evident from the context. With verses 3‑14 still in mind, Paul rejoices that these people had truly received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This is the real “acid‑test” of Christian profession. Many today claim to be “Christian,” but at the same time they deny such truths as the Deity of Christ, His sinless perfection, His blood atonement for our redemption, and His literal, bodily resurrection. The acid‑test of Chris­tian profession is whether or not there has been faith in Jesus Christ, that is, faith in what He was and in what He did. Without that faith, there is no salvation.

We should take careful note of the object of faith that Paul emphasizes. He specifically mentions their faith in the Lord Jesus. Any definition of faith is incomplete without a consideration of its object.Faith is a verb, so without an object, the entire concept is incomplete. In contrast to today’s meaningless “faith in faith” concept, saving faith has as its object “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Notice that Paul here uses the simple title Lord Jesus. As one studies verses 1-14, he finds that this is the first time Paul uses this title. Yes, he uses “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” “Lord Jesus Christ,” and just “Christ,” but never does he use Lord Jesus until now. He specifically says faith in the Lord Jesus, not faith in “Jesus Christ” or any other of the previous terms. Why? Because the title Lord Jesus is the bare essentials, the absolute bare minimum concerning the object of saving faith. In short, by using this title, Paul emphasizes not only the person of JESUS, but also His position as LORD, and these are the essentials. Without the person of Jesus and His position as Lord, a person cannot be saved. This is a vitally important and tremendously profound principle. Yes, there are countless people today who talk much about the person of Jesus but reject His position as Lord. In contrast, Paul is quite specific, recognizing that the Ephesians embraced both truths.

A common teaching of our day is that salvation entails just “believing in Jesus.”  Some teach that no repentance is necessary, no change of life is expected, and no responsibility is demanded. But such teaching is foreign to Scripture. True salvation results in an automatic change in the person who believes, as II Corinthians 5:17 makes clear: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Further, the word Greek word behind “believe” (pisteuo) actually carries the idea “to obey.” As one Greek scholar writes: “Heb. 11 stresses that to believe is to obey . . . Paul in Rom. 1:8 [and] I Thes. 1:8 (cf. Rom. 15:18; 16:19 [II Thes. 1:7-8]) shows, too, that believing means obeying. He speaks about the obedience of faith in Rom. 1:5 [6:17; 16:26], and cf. 10:3; II Cor. 9:1.”

Believing (or faith) and obedience are so inseparable, in fact, we often find them used synonymously. Hebrews 5:9, for example, declares: “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (cf. 11:8). What’s more, as another leading Greek scholar points out, to have faith means to “entrust or commit oneself” and “entails obedience.” Good works never save (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5), but good works and obedience to God’s Word are always a result, an evidence of salvation (Eph. 2:10; Jas. 2:14-26; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; I Pet. 1:2).