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, December 26, 2011

Is Love Enough?

The word love in Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved)—should cause us to ask a question. We hear much about God’s love today. We hear such clichés as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and other such sentimental saying. But is love actually enough to save us?

The beloved preacher and “radio pastor” J. Vernon McGee, who went to be with the Lord on December 1, 1988, recounts an incident that dramatically illustrates this. Back in the hippie days, he led a Bible class in San Diego. One day a young man approached McGee to talk. The young fellow was quite a sight. He had the word love written all over his clothes, his hat, his coat, down both legs of his pants, and even on his shoes. McGee asked him, “Why in the world do you have love written all over you?” He replied, “Man, God is love.” “Well,” McGee said, “I agree with you. Nothing could be truer than that.” But then the young man added, “God saves us by His love,” to which McGee said, “I don’t agree with that. God doesn’t save us by His love. Can you give me a verse that says He does?” The young fellow scratched his head and thought a while, admitted he couldn’t think of one, and then asked, “Well, if God doesn’t save us by love, then how does He save us?” McGee answered, “Very frankly, I’m glad you asked me that question because the Bible says, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.’ God saves us by His grace.” Then the young man wanted to know the difference. This is how McGee explained it to him:

“God cannot, on the basis of His love, open the back door of heaven and slip us in under cover of darkness. He can’t let down the bars of heaven at the front door and bring us in because of His love. God is also light. God is the moral ruler of this universe. God is righteousness. He is holy and He is good. That adds up to one thing: God cannot do things that are wrong—that is, wrong according to His own standard. So God couldn’t save us by love. Love had God strapped—we could say it put Him in a bind. He could love without being able to save. I thought you would quote John 3:16 to me. Let’s look at what that verse says: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Does it say God so loved the world that He saved the world? No, that’s exactly what it doesn’t say. God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son. You see, God couldn’t save the world by love because He goes on to say, ‘that whosoever believeth in him should not perish.’ You and I are going to perish. We’re lost sinners, and God still loves us, but the love of God can’t bring us into heaven. God had to provide a salvation, and He paid the penalty for our sins. Now a God of love can reach out His hands to a lost world and say, ‘If you will believe in My Son, because He died for you—if you will come on that basis—I can save you.’ God doesn’t save us by His love. God saves us by His grace.”

Oh, we do thank God for His great love, but as great as that love was, it was not enough. The so-called “Gospel of Love” being preached today is a false Gospel (Gal. 1:8-9). While God’s “love is the groundwork of our salvation,” something else is needed to build the structure. And that “structure” leads us to the third word that details our reconciliation to God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

God’s Love

In Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved)—Paul mentions the second of three words that details our reconciliation to God—love.

We have seen love mentioned before in Ephesians, but let us go deeper. Perhaps the best way to define the Greek word agapē is “a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” God’s love is often viewed today as some sort of shallow senti­mentality, but God’s love is deeper than we can ever comprehend. When the average person today says “love,” they do not even know what they are saying because they do not mean “a self-emptying self‑sacrifice.” Love today is more “self‑gratifying” than “self‑emptying.”

To go deeper, it is interesting to note that in secular Greek  agapē was actually rather colorless. As one Greek authority explains, agapē originally carried an element of sympathy and spoke of the love of a person of higher rank for one of a lower rank; it even went so far as to speak of a love that was not self‑seeking. But the Lord Jesus transformed the word; it took on the much deeper meaning of being TOTALLY SACRIFICIAL. As the same authority says, “[It] thus creates a new people who will tread the way of self-sacrificing love that [Christ] took.” We, therefore, humbly offer the following definition of God’s love: “A self‑emptying self‑sacrifice in which God gave of Himself in the form of His only begotten Son Who gave His life for us.”

Every time I think of that definition I immediately think of Scripture references that illustrate it, such as, “But God commendeth His [self‑emptying self‑sacri­fice] toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8) and, “For God [had such a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice for] the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
One cannot help but notice that “ultimate contrast” in these verses. We were sinners, But God loved us. Oh, here is real love!

As if it were not enough to speak of God’s love, Paul adds more; he points out God’s great love. The basic meaning of the Greek (polus) is “much or great.” But when used figuratively, as it is here, it conveys the idea of intensity. In other words, Paul is not speaking so much of the volume of God’s love as much as he is its passion. Many of us enjoy do­ing certain things in life; at times we all pursue a hobby or other interest “intensely.” But if we could multiply this by infinity, we would even then only scratch the surface of the love of God.

Further, notice the word for (dia), which literally means “because of” or “on account of.” Putting it all together it reads, “But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His intense love. . .” Mercy is the result of God’s love. Think of it! God’s love is so intense that He had mercy on us who did not deserve it. God has shown mercy because He loves us.

This Truth immediately begs the question, “Why does God love us?” In all my years of ministry, the only answer I have ever come to is this: I don’t know. When we look at verses 1‑3 from the human perspective, there is no reason God should or would love us, but He does.

Monday, December 12, 2011

God’s Mercy

Ephesians 2:4-5 declare: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ,  (by grace ye are saved). Someone has rightly said that if you want to understand salvation as it is presented in Scripture, read these verses a thousand times. How profound that is! One cannot understand salvation unless he grasps the meaning of these verses. They do, indeed, present the very essence of salvation, which is God’s intervention into the plight of man to reconcile him. How has God brought about our salvation? How has He reconciled us? Reconciliation means “to restore to friendship, compatibility, or harmony.” We recall that God’s ultimate purpose is to restore the unity between man and Him­self so man can glorify Him. So, with the dramatic contrast of But God firmly entrenched in our minds and hearts, we are now ready to see the three pivotal words in this passage that detail our reconciliation to God: mercy, love, and grace.

The first word that captures our attention is mercy. A simple definition of mercy is “the withholding of deserved punishment and relieving distress.” The Greek is eleos, which speaks of “compassion, pity.” One Greek lexicon tells us, “Kindness or good will towards the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them.” So, mercy is obviously always to the helpless. Moreover, in light of verses 1‑3, we deserve the affliction, but God relieves it. We deserve all the affliction, misery, distress, depression, and heart­ache that comes our way; we deserve the domination of the world, Satan, and the flesh; we deserve God’s wrath. But God is merciful; He relieves us.

Not only do we see the word mercy, but there is an adjective attached to it—rich. The Greek is plousios (the adjective form of the noun ploutos) and is the source of English words such as “plutonic.” In the technical sense the word refers to material riches. But in the general sense the word speaks of wealth or abundance in a particular area. For example, one might be “rich in wisdom,” that is, having an abun­dance of wisdom. It is significant that Paul never used plousios in the material sense of the word; he was no interested in riches as man thinks of them. He always used the word to speak of God, Christ, or even the believer. Many teachers today teach their “prosperity doctrines” and say that God has promised to bless his people with monetary riches. Such teachings, however, do not plumb with Scripture. The New Testament makes it clear that coming to Christ might cost us everything. Paul never spoke of such shallow and worldly things; rather, he spoke of spiri­tual riches.

So, God shows mercy in true abundance. The New Testament word for mercy is quite similar to the Old Testament word hesed, which carries the idea of “free acts of rescue or deliverance.” Furthermore, as we read in Psalm 103:8, “God is plenteous in mercy.” Oh, how marvelous is God’s mercy! Again, we de­serve our afflictions, But God relieves them.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“But God”

BUT GOD (Eph. 2:4a). What marvelous words! As commentator William MacDonald observes: “The words, But God, form one of the most significant, eloquent, and inspiring transitions in all literature. They indicate that a stupendous change has taken place. It is a change from the doom and despair of the valley of death to the unspeakable delights of the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.” We should especially appreciate MacDonald’s comment about eloquence. We usually think of eloquence being found in a long or dramatic speech or sermon, but MacDonald views just these two words as the ultimate in eloquent speech.

Another expositor writes, “The most astounding interruption in human history is the word ‘but’ in this passage.” Another observes, “But God! Here is where the beauty and wonder of the Christian gospel comes in…If you understand those two words—’But God!—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” And still another adds, “The hinge point between gloom and gladness…are these two little words, ‘But God.’”

In the shadow of the sinfulness outlined in verses 1-3, Paul then declares the light of the Gospel: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;). In a sense, these two words contain the entire Gospel message. Why? Because they show THE ULTIMATE CONTRAST: They show man’s plight but God’s provision; they picture man’s impotence but God’s intervention; they describe man’s helplessness but God’s hope.

In general, the Greek word for But (de) shows “distinc­tion.” However, it also serves to mark a transition to some­thing new. Therefore, as God is the subject of the sentence, He then is the distinction; He is the transition; He is the One Who marks the ultimate contrast between what we were and what we are! Without God’s provision, intervention, and hope, we would still be dead in our trespasses and sins, doomed for­ever.

Think of it! Once we were dead, now we are alive (Rom. 6:13; I Cor. 15:22); once we were enemies of God, now we are friends (Col. 1:21; cf. Lk. 7:34); once we were aliens, now citizens (Eph. 2:12-13); once we were lost, now found (Lk. 15:6,9,24,32); once we were far off, now near (Eph. 2:13); once we were cut off from God, now have access to Him (Rom. 5:2); once we were at war with God, now at peace with Him (Rom. 5:1); and once we were condemned, now justified (Rom. 5:9).

All that because of—But God. As the Psalmist declares: “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me” (Ps. 49:14-15). And as Paul echoes in Romans 5:7-8: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

That is the contrast of salvation. That is what Paul contrasts between verses 1-3. where we were corpses in the grave, and verses 4-10, where are given life by His grace.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Results of Sin

As I shared with my congregation the Sunday mornings I preached on Ephesians 2:1-3, the Truth in these verses is not very uplifting. After reading them, you won’t be “floating on air” or “feeling good about yourself.” Paul’s message is about the depravity man, his absolute and total sinfulness. The Truth here is not hard to understand, for Paul’s language is quite clear; rather it is hard to accept. It’s hard for all of us to face the stark reality of our sinfulness. Paul declares that there are three results of our sin.

First, there is the positional result, which is that we are dead in trespasses and sins (v. 1). Just as medical students can do anything to a cadaver that they want and that cadaver does not respond in any way because it’s dead to any physical stimulus, likewise, apart from Christ we were “spiritual cadavers.” We could not respond to any spiritual stimulus. We were not “sick in a fever,” “incapacitated,” or even “hopelessly crippled” by sin. We were dead.

Second, there are the practical results of [walking] according to the course of this world (the values, pleasures, inclinations, philosophies, goals, drives, purposes, attitudes, and actions of society), according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan’s control of the world), and according to our own lusts (the desires to satisfy natural drives in ways God forbids, such as sex outside of marriage).

Third, and most significant, however, is the permanent result of sin, namely, the wrath of God (v. 3). Unless we turn to Christ as Savior and Lord, every one of us is under the wrath of God. To speak of God’s wrath is unthinkable in most circles today. It simply is not politically correct or even prudent for ministry. “We should never speak of such a thing,” it is argued, “rather we should speak of love, mercy, and forgiveness and just talk about Jesus can do for you.”

But while Scripture says much about love, mercy, and forgiveness, It also says much about God’s wrath. As God declared right before commanding Noah to build a lifeboat, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). God is not “infinitely merciful” as many teach today. There will come a time when He will pour out His wrath upon those who reject Him. Our Lord Himself made this very clear. While people love to quote John 3:16, they ignore or overlook 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Instead of opening our “evangelistic campaigns” with such platitudes as “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” we should begin as Paul does in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [i.e., suppress] the truth in unrighteousness.” Paul writes a chapter later that God’s wrath is His “righteous judgment” (2:5). We see this principle, in fact, throughout the Word of God.

Isn’t it interesting that men accept the wrath of God when it comes to gravity and therefore tall buildings, but rebel at His wrath when it comes to moral behavior? Man thinks he should be allowed to break God’s laws with impunity. But just as there is a consequence of breaking the physical law of gravity by jumping off a building, there is likewise a consequence to breaking God’s “moral law of gravity.” Promiscuous sex, a lifetime of gluttony, an abuse of alcohol or drugs will kill you just as dead as a ten-story plunge.

While the sin issue is frequently dealt with in Scripture, it is avoided in our day at all cost. It’s just not stylish to preach about sin; it’s not prudent. But sin is, indeed, the issue. Salvation is not some vague experience that “makes life better,” rather it is repentance from sin that saves the soul from God’s eternal wrath.