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, November 28, 2011

God’s View of Sin

One of the major reasons, if not the major reason, for any wrong conception of salvation is an inadequate conception of sin. There are two words in Ephesians 2:1— And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins—that require careful study, for in these two words we find God’s view of sin.
First, the Apostle Paul calls sin trespasses. The Greek here (paraptoma) pictures a deviation to one side or the other. It was used at times by the ancient Greeks to describe an error, a mistake in judgment or a blunder. But this idea is never even implied in the New Testament. Rather the New Testament usage strongly emphasizes a deliberate act with its serious consequences. In fact, the key to understanding this is to realize that trespasses speaks of a willful deviation from God’s requirement.

Romans 5:15‑20 uses the word “offence” (paraptoma) several times to describe clearly Adam’s sin as a willful deviation from God’s command: “…through the offence of one many be dead…by one man’s offence death reigned by one…by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”

There is a similar word used in the Old Testament Hebrew that speaks of a conscious act of treachery. A vivid example appears in Joshua 7:1, where it is used of Achan’s sin: “Did not Achan, the son of Zerah, commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on the congregation of Israel?” Again, we see here a deliberate act along with its consequences. The same is true with Saul (I Chron. 10:13), as well as many other illustrations (Lev. 6:2; 26:40; Num. 5:6; II Chron. 12:2; Ezek. 14:13; 20:27; 39:23, 26; etc.).

What then is the application of all this? Simply that we are all willful sinners. We, just as Adam, Achan, and Saul deliberately disobey God’s commands. We do not just make mistakes; we do not just commit indiscretions; we do not just “trip up;” we are willful sinners. We don’t sin because “the Devil made us do it,” not because it’s our spouse’s fault, not because we had a bad childhood; we sin because we choose to sin, we deviate from the commands of God.

Second, as if trespasses were not enough, Paul uses the term sins. The graphic idea in the Greek here is “to miss the mark.” The verb form was used in ancient Greek of a spearman missing the target at which he aimed and threw his spear. It then came to be used in the ethical sense of not measuring up to a standard or falling short of a purpose or standard. The pivotal verse on this principle is Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” What is sin? Missing the mark. What then is the mark for which we shoot? The glory of God; that is, the mark we shoot for is to be worthy of glory, but we miss it every time

Commentator William Barclay offers these fitting words: “We commonly have a wrong idea of sin. We would readily agree that the robber, murderer, the razor-slasher, the drunkard, the gangster are sinners, but, since most of us are respectable citizens, in our heart of hearts we think that sin has not very much to do with us. We would probably rather resent being called hell-deserving sinners. But ‘sin’ brings us face to face with what sin is, the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.”

Man’s view of sin is indeed distorted, and rightly so; his sinfulness distorts his view of his sinfulness and guilt. But God’s view is clear—man has willfully deviated from God’s law and has fallen far short of God’s standard of holiness. The outlook truly is bleak, but we shall soon see the answer to this problem of sin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Man’s View of Sin

What is sin? That is a question with which many struggle, and many answers have been offered.

First, some, of course, don’t really recognize a “sin problem” at all. This view says that man is pretty much okay the way he is. While he certainly isn’t perfect, he is evolving, and since he’s been around for so long and has been learning along the way, he’s in pretty good shape. But such a view is a little hard to swallow as you watch the evening news.

Second, some who do recognize that there is a problem, view sin as an accident, mistake, or indiscretion. It’s not really a person’s fault when he does wrong, rather it’s because of his background and upbringing. But Romans 5:12 declares: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This verse, as well as the Genesis 3 account of the fall, clear­ly shows that sin was a result of deliberate disobedience. Sin is never accidental; we sin because we choose to sin.

Third, sin is merely an “amiable weakness.” This means that sin is merely a minor, unfortunate weakness but one which does not really hurt anyone. Man is a little “unhealthy,” perhaps even morally sick, but he’s not a hopeless case. But notice Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and des­perately wicked.” Does that sound like an “amiable weakness” or simply an unhealthy condition? Man is, indeed, in a desperate condition. As we’ll see, he is actually spiritually dead.

Fourth, sin is merely “immaturity.” In this view sin is only a lack of personal growth that will improve as we develop as human beings. Is it not interesting that we do not see peo­ple growing out of this “immaturity?” I John 3:4 tells us that sin is “the transgression of the law,” not immaturity.

Fifth, Liberal Theology says sin is “selfishness” or a “low self‑esteem.”

In addition to the above approaches to sin, there is also a general sense of flippancy about sin today. This attitude is clearly seen in a poll taken by People Magazine a few years ago. It took what it called a “sin poll,” which gave a scale of 1‑10 to judge various “sins.” A “1” represented no feeling of regret; a “5” showed some guilt; a “10” (which no sin received) represented heinous sin. Here are just a few examples.

“Premarital sex” rated only 3.70 while “parking in a handicapped zone” rated 5.53 and “cutting into lines” rated 4.91. “Living together without marriage” (3.74) is just a little more serious than “not voting” (3.25). Perhaps the most telling example, however, is that while “murder” rated high­est at 9.84 (why not 10?) “abortion” ra­ted only 5.78! The world today sees no similarity between the two!

All this, indeed, reveals just how flippant man is about his sin and guilt. Worse is the fact that in modern preaching today, even among most evangelicals, sin is not dealt with at all. The subjects of today’s “preaching” are God’s love, man’s felt needs, how God will help you with your problems, and so on. Preaching about sin is, no pun intended, the greatest sin of all. If you talk about sin, you’ll make people uncomfortable and cause division. You must rather entertain them and build them up. But that is not the Gospel.

While Ephesians 1 tells us what God has done for us, Ephesians 2 gives us details of how God did it. And where does Paul start? He starts with the reality of sin. In contrast to man’s view of sin, in our next installment, we’ll see how God defines sin.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Power for Living

Of all the many verses that round out Ephesians 1, let us consider only one, verse 19: And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.

The great Roman general and statesman Pompey, who was at first the colleague and then rival of Julius Caesar, boasted that, with one stamp of his foot, he could rouse all Italy to arms. But as one expositor writes, “But God by one word of His mouth, nay, by a wish of His mind alone, can summon the inhabitants of heaven, earth, and the undiscovered worlds, to His aid, or bring new creatures into being to do His will.”

Paul, therefore, prays here that we might know just how much power we possess through Christ. It is tragic, indeed, that the average Christian today lives in utter defeat and powerlessness. Many live a life that is made up of “ups and downs.” Many have no consistency, no faithful­ness, and no power for living or for witnessing. What we see today is at best mediocre Christianity; we see Christians who are just going through the motions and doing what they must to “get by.” But Paul prays that we will know the incredible power we have in Christ.

The language Paul uses here is truly amazing. As he did back in verses 3-14, he heaps one word upon another to express the Truth. When we examine the language carefully, we find that the full idea in Paul’s words are: “That we may know the surpassing, super abounding greatness of His inherent, overcoming power, a power which is in action showing the strength of His might.” This is the kind of power for living that God wants us to claim.

One of the main reasons for medio­cre Christianity is because it has become theoretical instead of practical. Now, what’s interesting is that many say they are practical. They shun doctrine and seek “more practical methods.” But in reality, they don’t want something truly practical, rather something entertaining. If something is truly practical, it tells us specifically how to live. Much of today’s church is not practical, but theoretical. It has become philosophical and psycho­logical and is no longer really practical and authoritative for daily living. There is very little authoritative truth from God’s Word coming from pulpits today. Oh, how we should despise man’s (even preach­er’s) theories, ideas, and methods. More than ever before we need the unabridged, plain, and practical Truth from God’s authoritative Word.

Most of us have heard of Samuel Morse, the 19th Century inventor of the telegraph, and whose “Morse Code” is still in use today. But not many of us know that Morse was a devout Christian. He was once asked if during his research and development of his invention he ever came to the place of not knowing where to got next. He replied: “Oh, many times. Whenever I was baffled and frustrated, I went to my knees and asked God for light and understanding. He showed me the way. I believe God wanted the telegraph to be invented because He know what if would means to mankind. After the invention, I received many honors—but I feel undeserving of honors. I have made a valuable application of electricity not because of superior gifts and abilities, but because God pleased to answer my prayers and reveal to me a few of the wonderful secrets of His universe.”

What humility! How unlike so many of us today who revel in worldly honor, who seek glory to feed our pride. But not Morse. His testimony was, “I didn’t do this; God did.” In fact, the very first message Morse tapped out on his invention on the Washington-Baltimore line on May 24, 1844 was, “What hath God wrought!” Indeed, through Samuel Morse, God introduced the great power of electrical communication. Today we marvel at the worldwide telecommunications that we enjoy, but how many of us give God all the glory? Thank God Samuel Morse did. And God, likewise, gives each of us power for living when we seek His guidance and, most of all, His glory.

Monday, November 14, 2011

True Enlightenment

We hear a lot about “enlightenment” these days, but what is true enlightenment? As one who almost went into medicine, I am fascinated by anatomy and became very intrigued by Paul’s words the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know (Eph. 1:18.) Enlightened is photizo (English “photo”) and means “to give light, to shine.” It speaks here then of giving understanding. As the Psalmist declares, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), and nowhere is this truer than the eye. Let’s consider some parallels.

Sight begins when light, in varying wavelengths, travels through the dime-­sized, transparent cornea, passes through the iris, which controls the amount of light that enters the eye, and then strikes the lens, which bends the light and focuses it on the retina. Our “spiritual eye” likewise controls the amount of information that enters and puts it into focus. This gives us the idea of discernment, the ability to distinguish one thing from another, Truth from error.

The retina, the innermost layer of the eye wall, lines the rear two‑thirds of the eye and is extremely sensitive to light. It converts the energy of light waves into nerve impulses, which are then transmitted along the optic nerve to the brain. In the same way our “spiritual eye” is extremely sensitive to light or the absence of it.

Although it covers less than a square inch, the retina contains 137 million light ­sensitive receptor cells, 130 million of which are rods for black‑and­-white vision, night vision, and motion detection, and the remaining seven million are cones for color vision. The rods, which are scattered all over the retina, react to even the smallest ray of light. Light bleaches a colored pigment in the rods called rhodopsin. This bleaching action generates an electrical response (a few millionths of a volt) that in turn is fed into the straw‑sized optic nerve and carried to the brain. The entire complex electrochemi­cal process takes about two thousandths of a second. Even more intricate is the process whereby the cones sort out color. The prevailing theory is that the cones have red, green, and blue bleachable pigments and that these colors are blended to make all the other hues.

The analogy of this to our “spiritual eye” is dramatic. There are millions more rods than cones, showing us how important black-and-white is. In a day when Relativism rules, how we need black-and-white absolutes! Color is wonderful, but it’s the rod’s reaction to even the smallest ray of light that we need so desperately. Additionally, a “spiritual eye” does all this virtually instantaneously, immediately discerning Truth from error.

Again, the optic nerve takes all this information to the brain for processing. One of the most fascinating aspects of this is that because light travels through the single lens of the eye, the image that it projects on the retina is actually inverted. The brain is, therefore, programmed to flip the image so we see it right side up. Binoculars and refractor telescopes, for example, have two lens, which flip the image twice so we can see it right side up. The brain does this and many other things so we can understand what we see. Likewise, our spiritual mind understands what we see.

Still another miracle of sight is our stereoscopic vision, what is called “depth perception.” We see depth because we have two eyes. This is achieved when the optic nerves from the two eyes fuse at the optic chiasma, a major nerve junction near the brain. When the image reaches the brain, the right half of a field of vision “crosses over” and registers in the left brain, and the left half of a field registers in the right brain. The brain is, therefore, able to superimpose the “left” picture on the “right” picture and we see depth. What a thrilling parallel this is to our spiritual sight! With two “spiritual eyes” we can see the depth of God’s Truth.

Indeed, Paul’s use of the phrase the eyes of your understanding being enlightened is full of significance. It is through our “spiritual eyes” that we are enlightened and know God’s truth. Dear Christian, you might not have the physical eyes of legendary fighter and test pilot Chuck Yeager, who could see enemy planes fifty miles away, but God has given you perfect spiritual sight if you but use it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Knowing God (2)

I once had the joy of meeting Tennessee Ernie Ford, who was actually a dear Christian man. I was able to talk to him about his testimony that he had just shared on stage a few minutes before. But while I met him, I could never say that I knew him.

In contrast, however, every Christian can know God personally. Paul speaks of our knowledge of [God] in Ephesians 1:17. The Greek word behind knowledge (epignosis) is a powerful one that speaks of an experiential, personal know­ledge that is full and thorough, a knowledge that is precise and correct. How vital it is that we have full, precise, thorough, and correct knowledge of God.

A driving force in my own life and ministry is a passion for precision, not the ambiguity and Relativism that rule our day. Paul speaks of precise doctrine, exact knowledge, not something vague and relative to each person’s experience. The modern notions of “open mindedness” and “tolerance” were foreign to Paul’s thinking and they should be expunged from the thinking of Christians today. What is needed in the Church is an epignosis—a deeper, fuller, more precise knowledge of God.

I was thoroughly shocked and appalled the day I heard a fundamental preacher say, “Well, we really come to the place in the Christian life where we pretty much know all there is to know; from there on the Christian life is just review and constant revival.” Depending upon his attitude, that is either incredibly ignorant or blatantly arrogant. May Paul’s words ring in our ears, “That I may know Him” (Phil. 3:10). Even after 30 years of ministry, Paul was constantly growing and deepening in knowledge and intimacy, learning more and more and more. Who are we to do any less?

As one commentator writes, “Here Paul puts his emphasis on the great need of the Church. The wisdom and focus of the world is summed up in two words: ‘know yourself,’ and the focus of many, perhaps most, Christians is very often the same. They are occupied with getting a knowledge of self, improving their Gestalt, rather than knowing Christ! As a result they are stunted in their growth.” How right he is! The norm today is pop-psychology and shallow sermonizing. The Gospel has been reinvented and ministry redefined. A deep knowledge of Christ and His Word, attained primarily through doctrinal preaching, is shunned.

In contrast, Harry Ironside recounts an incident in his life when as a young preacher he met an old, godly Irishman, Andrew Fraser, who was dying of tuberculosis. With lungs almost gone, he could speak only in a whisper, but asked Ironside, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ; are you not?” Ironside replied, “Yes, I am.” “Well,” Fraser whispered, “sit down a little, and let us talk about the Word of God.” Opening his well-worn Bible, the man spoke about one great Biblical truth after another until his strength was gone. Ironside was amazed as he heard various passages expounded in ways that had never occurred to him, and before he realized it, tears were streaming down his face. He finally asked the old gentleman, “Where did you get these things? Could you tell me where I could find a book that would open them up to me? Did you learn these things in some seminary or college?” “My dear, young man,” he answered, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the North of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time, and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart, and He taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.” Not long after, Fraser went to be with the Lord, but Ironside never forgot what he’d said.

I don’t think I’ll forget it either. I would not trade my formal theological training for anything; it was necessary, valuable, and foundational. But I’ve learned far more since those days, and it’s been through decades of study and prayer. I must admit, instead of a mud floor, it was a comfortable office, but wherever it is, God gives His Truth to those who diligently seek it (Heb. 11:6).

Oh, how we need this in our churches today! May we each ask ourselves a few diagnostic questions. Is my spiritual knowledge greater today than this time last year? Is my grasp of spiritual Truth greater now than then? Am I growing just a little more each day? Am I applying that knowledge in my practical living? That is what Paul was praying for the Ephesians and is what a true godly pastor is praying for his people.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Knowing God (1)

In light of Paul’s prayer life in general, we are prepared to look specifically at that for which he pray­ed (Eph. 1:17-23). Generally speaking, Paul wanted his readers to understand the significance of the truths he expounded in his “song of praise.”

As I read this passage many times during my study of it, the very first thing that struck me was Paul’s “pastor’s heart.” Unlike today, where we see a pastor’s heart defined as being some syrupy sentimentality that often coddles, and even indulges, Christians more than challenging them, the desire of Paul’s heart was to see God’s people grow deeper in doctrine, to understand theological Truth. More than anything else, Paul wanted God’s people to know God—That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (v. 17).

What is the only way we can know God? Many people today profess to “know God” and to “be in touch with God,” but are merely religious, professing something but knowing nothing. As Job asked: “Canst thou by searching find out God?” (Job 11:7). In himself man can never know God. That is exactly what Paul declared to the philosophically‑minded Corinthians: “The world by wisdom [or, philosophy] knew not God” (I Cor. 1:21). All the gospel was to many in Corinth was just another philosophy to debate. But Paul did not come to “philosophize” or “psychologize” as many do today; rather he came to preach the Word of God plain­ly and boldly (2:1-5).

Likewise, that is what Jesus meant when He said of the people: “They seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (Matt. 13:13). Even with the truth right in front of them, they  could not see it. So the only way we can know God is by possessing the Spirit of wisdom and reve­lation, and that comes only by saving faith is Jesus Christ.

Not only des the Holy Spirit impart wisdom, which we examined back in verse 8, but He also imparts revelation, which means the uncovering or disclosure of previously hidden things. The most obvious example of this is the disclosure of the “mystery” of our salvation in verses 3‑14. In other words, God has revealed His mysteries through His Spirit and has made them known to us. That is what Paul was praying for.

There are those today who are looking for “new revelation.” But God has already revealed to us all that He is going to reveal in His Word and through His Spirit who energizes that Word. If we would just concentrate on that, we will be so busy studying the depth of it that we will have no time to “seek other revelations.”

The story is told of the famous newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst, who invested a literal fortune collecting art treasures from around the world. One day Mr. Hearst found a description of some valuable items that he felt he must own, so he sent his agent abroad to find them. After months of searching, the agent reported that he had finally found the treasures. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had been searching frantically for treasures he already owned! Had he read the catalog of his treasures, he would have saved himself a great deal of money and trouble.

That graphically illustrates many Christians today, some of whom resemble the old Gnostics. Gnosticism, which came to full bloom in the 2nd Century and remains today under a new title, The New Age Movement, boasted of a deeper, superior knowledge that only certain people could acquire. Many today seek some supposed “deeper life” or “higher blessing.” Some go so far as to go back to the rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament, thinking that they hold some deeper significance than the simple truths of the New Testament. But how foolish they are. Like William Randolph Hearst, they are clueless of what they already own. And what is the “catalog” of our treasures? The Word of God. If people will only search that, they will find all the treasures God has given.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Prayer: Chiefly Spiritual

Ephesians 1:17— That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him—reveals a third of many principles of prayer in verses 16-23, namely: prayer should be chiefly spiritual.

This point might seem odd to the reader. Isn’t prayer always spiritual? We submit, No! Most of our prayer, in fact, is temporal and physical. Think a moment, for what do we usually pray? Do we not usually pray for the sick and injured and pray for temporal and financial needs? Now, there is nothing wrong in praying for these. God expects us to bring such needs to Him.

But notice that Paul’s main concern was for spiritual needs. As expositor John Phillips observes: “Paul rarely prayed for the things that loom so large in our prayers—better health, more money, job conditions, family problems, world crises. Paul prayed that people might know God better, that they might become better acquainted with Jesus.”

We find this attitude throughout Paul’s letters. To the Colossians he wrote (1:9): “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.” As here in Ephesians, he prayed for spiritual realities in their lives. He also wrote to the Philippians (1:9), “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” He told the Corinthians that he was praying for their right conduct: “Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest” (II Cor. 13:7).

He also wrote these tremendously encouraging words to the Thessalonians: “We pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:11-12). We should likewise be praying this way for one another.

Paul also asked others to pray for him. He asked the Thessalonians to “pray,” not for his temporal needs, but “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (II Thes. 3:1). Likewise, he asked the Hebrews to, “Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” (Heb. 13:18). Oh, may we ever keep in mind that our prayers should ultimately have a spiritual end!

Verse 17 and the verses that follow show Paul’s spir­itual prayer. This fact is one of the most fascinating things about Paul’s prayer life. Whenever we see him praying, either he is praying for some spiritual reality, or he is pray­ing for a temporal need that will ultimately have a spiritual result. How often do our prayers for temporal matters have a spiritual result in view?

Oh, Dear Christian, is our prayer life like Paul’s? There are some Bible teachers who lift the Apostle Paul so high that he is almost deified. Indeed, Paul was a great preacher, a great church planter, and a great Christian. But he was a man like any other, and the same Holy Spirit who indwelled and em­powered him is the same Holy Spirit that indwells and empowers us. Each one of us can and must have the same kind of prayer life that Paul had.