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 31, 2012

“Auditing” Christianity

I hope no one minds, but I would again interrupt our exposition for a single post (and I’m quite sure it will happen again). I am just compelled to share a burden with you. We will return to Ephesians 3:8 next time.

Until just a few years ago, I taught computer science, and even a few Bible courses, part-time at a local college for 16 years. At the beginning of each semester I gave each student a syllabus explaining everything about the course. One of the items on the syllabus was the grading option each student had to select. As I would explain in my orientation lecture, the first choice was a “Letter Grade,” which, of course, required them to do all the assigned work. The second choice was “Pass/Fail,” which also meant they would do the work but would receive only a “P” or “F” at the end of the course, a little easier option some chose if they did not plan on perusing a college degree. The third choice, however, was an “Audit.” This meant that they could take the course only for whatever they wanted to get out of it and that no work was required of them.

That well illustrates a very pointed statement the Scripture writer James (the half-brother of Jesus) makes in his epistle: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (Jas. 1:22). The word hearers translates a fascinating Greek word (akroatēs) that was used of people who sat and listened to a singer or speaker simply for the pleasure of doing so with no responsibility attached. In other words, they “audited” the performance.

It is tragic, indeed, that there are some (if not many) in churches today who are simply “auditing” Christianity. Some shop around for a church that will entertain them and give them what they want. Others might actually be in a church that preaches truth, but they take little interest in it. They have no desire to obey it or implement it in their lives. Such an attitude, when it is persistent, indicates that such people are not true Christians at all, rather pretenders. Such people think they belong to God—perhaps because they made some vague, nebulous “profession” of faith at some point in their lives—when in reality they are not true believers. In fact, the two greatest evidences of true conversion to Christ, true Christian faith, are obedience to God’s Word (John 14:15, 23, 24; 1 John 2:1–5) and holiness of life (Eph. 4:24; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7). True Christianity is about transformation of life: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What, then, does James say about such auditors? He bluntly declares they are deceiving [them]selves. The Greek behind deceiving (paralogizomai) means to reason alongside of, that is, to reason incorrectly, often including the idea of deliberate false reasoning for the purpose of deception. So, those who profess to be Christians but then hear the Word of God but persistently choose to disobey it, deliberately deceive themselves into believing they are true Christians when they are not.

I recently came across an old Scottish expression that struck me profoundly. It speaks of such false Christians as “sermon tasters who never tasted the grace of God.” I was immediately reminded of Costco and Sam’s Club, where you can walk along and get free samples of food. Many “do church” the same way. They wander and browse, pick a sample or two, and then mosey along to the next attraction. They might even comment, “Mmm, that’s pretty good,” but nothing changes. They taste a little of God’s goodness, but they are not transformed by His grace.

I pray that you are not such a one. I pray that whatever church you call “home” is one that preaches the unaltered Truth of God’s Word, which you then live and obey.

Monday, December 17, 2012

“Less Than the Least”

In one more look at Paul’s view of “self” in Ephesians 3:8—Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints—I am reminded often how man is always seeking glory. But while seeking glory is a natural trait in us all, it is not a spiritual one. It never ceases to amaze me every day how plain Bible principles and obvious Bible verses are simply ignored. What the Bible says is just simply disregarded, even by Christians and Christian leaders. We give lip service to the Bible, but disregard what It says. Totally ignored, for example, is the clear fact that in the 49 occurrences of the word “pride” and in the 48 occurrences of the word “proud” in Scripture (KJV), not a single one is used in a positive way. Never is pride tolerated, much less praised, as it is today. In spite of that some Christians leaders teach “positive pride” doctrine, and other teachers speak of building up self, but they are wrong—it is as simple as that. They are teaching a philosophy that is the very opposite of what God says. And what does that make them? FALSE TEACHERS. The clear conclusion of Scripture is that “God resisteth the proud” (Jas. 4:6), even if that pride is a supposed “positive pride.” Likewise, does Psalm 16:18 say,  “Pride goeth before exaltation?” No, it says, “Pride goeth before destruction?”

We should also observe that of the 402 occurrences of the word “glory” (KJV), the only acceptable usage is when glory is directed toward God, never to man. As Paul told the arrogant, self-centered, self-sufficient Corinthians, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31) and “let no man glory in men” (3:21). Why? Because we “have nothing to glory of” (9:16). And why is that? As he asked earlier in that letter, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (4:7).

Now, in spite of all that simple, basic, plain Bible Truth, Christians are nevertheless more and more drawn into pride and self-glory, whether it’s in their jobs, in the virtual god of “sports,” or even Church ministry.

I admit to a love of good movies, and one of my all-time favorites is Patton, in which actor George C. Scott plays the enigmatic General George Smith Patton (about whom I’ve also read three biographies). At the end of the movie, just before the closing credits roll, you see Patton walking alone in the countryside and hear a voice-over of the General recounting the glory of ancient soldiers that he so admired. Those words hit me so hard every time I hear them that I committed them to memory:

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians, and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. “The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

Those words truly capture Patton. After his Third Army’s dramatic breakout from Normandy, its headlong armored advance across France, its glorious relieving of besieged Bastogne during The Battle of the Bulge, and finally its key role in the thrust across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany, did Patton die in a blaze of glory on the battlefield as his lead tank exploded upon being hit by a German 88-millimeter round? No. After V-E Day (May 8, 1945), he was relegated to a desk job in Germany, a general of a paper army consisting of a few researchers and clerks.  A few months later his neck was broken in a minor traffic accident; now a quadriplegic, the great George Patton died a few days later.

As Jeremiah so wonderfully declares: “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jer. 9:23-24).

Let us all say with humble Paul, “I am the leaster.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Paul’s View of “Self”

In one of the most dramatic contrasts in all of Scripture, we see that Paul’s attitude of “self” was the polar opposite of man’s view. There are actually several instances in Scripture where Paul views himself. In I Corinthians 15:9 he declares himself to be “the least of the Apostles.” We know, of course, that the very opposite was true; Paul was the greatest of the Apostles; he took the Gospel to virtually all the ancient world, founded numerous churches, taught doctrine to ground those believers in the Truth, and wrote letters to confirm them in that Truth, encourage them, and deal with error that arose. But while Paul accomplished more than all the other Apostles put together, he didn’t act it. He considered himself “the least of the Apostles.” Likewise, in I Timothy 1:15 he considers himself to be, of all the sinners that ever were, “the chief of sinners.” What humility! What a contrast to man’s elevation of himself!

Ephesians 3:8 provides us with the most vivid description of all. What an odd statement Paul makes here: less than the least of all saints. As one commentator writes: “If words mean anything, it is impossible for anyone or anything to be less than the least. This is like saying you are higher than the highest.” Or to put it another way, how can one be less than zero?  Is it possible to be a negative number? But that is exactly Paul’s point. While in his depravity, man thinks he is higher than the highest, better than the best, greater than the greatest, and so on, Paul’s self-evaluation is the exact opposite: lower than the lowest, worse than the worst, less than the least.

This truly flies in the face of the “cult of selfism” that we outlined earlier, into which countless Christians have fallen. May we submit that any such attitude is not only the opposite of the man who is consider the greatest of the Apostles, but also of our Lord Jesus Himself, as He “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Think of it! Our Lord is God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), but He humbled Himself and died crucifixion, the most agonizing and humiliating death, reserved for criminals and slaves, the dregs of society. It so needs to be made clear that the “selfism” of our day could not be further from the New Testament standard of spirituality and holiness.

To create the image he wanted to convey, Paul forms what we would call “a comparative formed on a superlative.” For example, to make a comparative out of the word “small,” we add “‑er,” making “smaller.” If we wanted to make a superlative, we just add “‑est,” making “smallest.” So, in our text, for the sake of good English grammar, two words are used: “less” (the comparative) and “least” (the superlative). But in the Greek there is only one word, which we could literally translate “lower than the lowest,” or “more least,” but still we have multiple words. The most literal idea, then, is “leaster.” The form of the Greek here is “designed to express the deepest abasement.” This was Paul’s view of himself; he saw himself as less than the least, the “leaster,” of all saints. This wasn’t false humility or fake modesty but rather a true, Biblical assessment of himself before God.

In contrast to the self-exaltation of our day, the picture of the true spiritual believer is to consider himself to be “the leaster” of everyone else. We must never forget what we were outside of Christ. One of the greatest tragedies in Christianity today is that very few preachers preach Ephesians 2; no one wants to reflect on the depraved creatures we humans are, and we certainly don’t want to talk about sin and judgment or ever use the “H-word” (“Hell”). Today’s view is that such things are in “poor taste” and  “damage people’s self-esteem.”

Oh, may we grasp Paul’s attitude, Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. Dear Christian, is that your view of self? Are you concerned with “self‑image” or CHRIST‑IMAGE? Whose image do you want to reflect in your life? Do you want people to see you or see Christ? Many parents, at the urging of Christian psychologists, are concerned about their children’s self‑image when what they should be teaching them is that they should constantly be striving for a Christ‑image. The less conscious we are of self, the more Christ‑like we will be.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Man’s View of “Self” (2)

Continuing our thoughts on the Apostle Paul’s view of himself in Ephesians 3:8—Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints—he not only decreased himself, as we've noticed, but he also tells all believers to do the same. As he wrote the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). That sure doesn't sound like we should stand in front of the mirror and “repeat some positive affirmations of things [we] have done.” Likewise, Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly” (Rom. 12:3). Indeed, it isn't sober thinking to glorify “self” because again, “selfhas always been man’s problem. But everyone today is striving to make “self” stronger instead of bringing it more under Spirit control. In fact, whenever the Word of God does mention “self,” It makes it clear that it is something to be denied, not reaffirmed (Mk. 8:34). Our desire must be humility (Prov. 11:2; 15:33; Mk. 8:34; Eph.. 3:8; 4:2; Phil 2:5–8; Jas. 4:6; etc.), and the philosophy of “self” that is rampant today is the very opposite of humility. It is pride and is no less than the glorification, even deification, of man, as Romans 1:25 declares: “[Man] changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”

Instead of embracing the “selfism” of our day, may we embrace the truth of these words spoken by 17th Century Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford: “But alas! that Idol, that whorish creature myself is the master idol we all bow to. What hurried Eve headlong upon the forbidden fruit, by that wretched thing herself? What drew that brother-murderer to kill Abel? That untamed himself . . . Every man blames the devil for his sins; but the great devil . . . that eateth and lieth in every man’s bosom, is that idol that killeth all, himself. Oh! blessed are they who can deny themselves, and put Christ in the room of themselves! Oh sweet word. I live no more, but Christ liveth in me.”

Ponder an illustration. Paul declares in Romans 8:29 that God “did predestinate [the believer] to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be the “image” of something means that we are to “reflect” something. This again brings to mind a mirror  a device designed to show us our image, but this use is quite different from the one mentioned earlier. Would it not be ridiculous for the mirror to try to develop it’s own self‑image? Of course it would; its function is to reflect. Likewise, how ridiculous for a Christian to strive for his a self image, because our function is not to have an image of self but an image of Christ. Countless Christians are concerned with their self-­image when their sole concern should be with their Christ‑image. We will emphasize this again later.

We should all be reminded of that Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who boasted, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30, emphasis added). While the words were still in his mouth, God responded: “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (vs. 31–32).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Man’s View of “Self” (1)

As we've noted before, the word “saint” is not used in the Bible for some special elite group but refers to every Christian. In light of that, the Apostle Paul says something staggering in Ephesians 3:8: Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. Here is a man of unequaled humility, the very opposite or the “selfism” of our day. Paul’s view of “self” was the very opposite of the world’s view, and until Christians realize that and reject the nonsense of today’s “selfism,” we will never have a pure Church that is committed to service and true ministry. How can any of us ever be servants when we hold to a high “self-worth,” which is one of the catchwords of our day?

There is within Christianity a philosophy that is working like a cancer. This philosophy is known by many titles and descriptions: self‑esteem, self‑image, self‑worth, self‑acceptance, self‑awareness, self-improvement, self‑help, and, to cut to the heart of the matter, “secular psychology.” We need to take a moment to show that the basic underlying philosophy of this is, without question, diametrically opposed to Scripture.

Christianity today has become utterly fascinated, captivated, and motivated by the term “self‑esteem.” This term has become a by‑word in Christian circles. Sermons and whole seminars are devoted to it and its application; Christian leaders are teaching it as though it were Biblical doctrine. As we’ll see, the terms “self” and “pride” are NEVER, not one single time, used in Scripture in a positive way. Never, not in a single instance, are we encouraged to glorify self, to elevate self. May I say it one more time, not even one Scripture warrants this popular teaching.

In spite of that Biblical fact, one of the foremost Christian leaders of our day, who majors on the family, abandons that truth by writing: “In a real sense, the health of an entire society depends on the ease with which the individual members gain personal acceptance. Thus, whenever the keys to self‑esteem are seemingly out of reach for a large percentage of the people, as in twentieth century America, then wide‑spread “mental‑illness,” neuroticism, hatred, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, and social disorder will certainly occur.

In other words, low self‑esteem (i.e. thinking lowly of one’s self) is at the root of all the problems of society. But one flaw in this theory is that other psychologists say that the problems in society are caused by other factors. So, this just leaves this man’s statement as one of the many psychological theories of the day.

Even more basic and serious is another flaw, namely, that it’s blatantly contrary to Scripture. All the problems he lists come not as a result of low self-esteem, but because of man’s rebellion against God. The “catalog of sin” in Romans 1:20-32 could not be clearer. As verse 21 declares, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Paul later lists sin after sin that results from man’s rebellion.

What then do the Scriptures say about “self?” In 2 Timothy 3:1‑5 we find Paul’s vivid description of the apostate days prior to Jesus’ return. The very first thing that Paul says of apostate mankind is that man will be “LOVERS OF THEIR OWN SELVES.” Man’s natural inclination is to love himself, but the attitude that the Word of God says to have for self is to deny it, as does Mark 8:34: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” God doesn't tell us to revel in it or build it up; rather He says to deny it. “Self” is our greatest problem.

Moreover, the only men God ever used were humble servants. He didn't use a “self‑assertive” Moses, but a humble Moses. Uniquely, while God called a self‑assertive Peter, He didn't use Peter until the Lord Jesus humbled him in John 21.

Monday, November 19, 2012

An Anecdote on Church Ministry

Please forgive me, but I am interrupting our exposition for a single post. We will pick it up next time by turning to Ephesians 3:8. I am just compelled to share a burden with you.

Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones pastored Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968, first as the associate under the great G. Campbell Morgan until Morgan’s retirement in 1943, and then as the sole pastor. His ministry was one of expository preaching—he spent, for example, five years expositing the book of Ephesians. Many view him, in fact, as the greatest expositor of the 20th–century. He has had an enormous influence on my own life and ministry.

While recently reading volume 2 of Ian Murray's monumental biography of Lloyd-Jones, I came upon an incident early in his tenure at Westminster that caught my attention. Though the incident occurred in 1944 (please remember that), it could have happened in 2012. I hope you will consider it and ponder its implications.

During a Friday night Bible Study and discussion group, the problem of how to increase church attendance arose. There were several who doubted that the “plain services now established, with 45-minute sermons and not even an organ voluntary, would ever bring back the numbers which once crowded the building” prior to the war. Suggestions included (remember, this is 1944): “more music, livelier music, special musical numbers, shorter sermons, sermons not so deep, more variety in the services,” and so forth.

While one dear lady, Mary-Carson Kuschke, was deeply burdened by all this and so felt compelled to raise her hand and interject that she felt that no changes whatsoever were needed to keep her coming, she was nonetheless a lone voice in a sea of modern (and if I may be so bold, fleshly) thinking.

It was at this point that Lloyd-Jones “smilingly thanked [her] for the first kind words [he’d] heard [that] evening!” He then rose and asked the group what they would say if he told them he knew a way to ensure that every seat in the Chapel would be filled on the following Lord’s Day. He confidently assured them, in fact, that he knew exactly how this could be accomplished. “Tell us, tell us,” they said, “Let’s do it.” He replied, “It’s very simple. Simply put a notice in the Saturday edition of The Times that I shall appear in the pulpit the next day wearing a bathing costume!” This was followed, of course, by shocked silence. (I guess the accepted substitute today is faded jeans and a tee shirt, but alas, few are shocked.)

Lloyd-Jones then went on to expound the biblical basis for proper worship, illustrating with the clear error, which was just beginning to be prevalent in his day, of bringing into the church various forms of entertainment as a means of enticing people to come. (Ian Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939–1981 [Banner of Truth Trust, 1990], 111–112).

Now, what was the year again?—1944. And where are we today? Where in Scripture does it say that the church is designed for the "unchurched"? Where does it say we should entertain people to “get them in the door”? Where does it say to “give people what they want” so they will keep coming? I shall not forget the statement I heard one pastor make some 35 years ago; so tainted by the world had he become that he actually said from the pulpit: “Even Jesus gave away fish sandwiches to draw a crowd.”

Thankfully, I have also not forgotten what a true man of God told me around the same time period: “You will keep people with what you get them with. If you get them with what is new, novel, and innovative, you will have to continue being innovative to keep them. But if you get them with the Word of God, you will keep them with that because it never changes.”

One of the clearest, most unambiguous principles in Scripture is that the core of church ministry must be the preaching and teaching of God’s Word (not music, which is by far the major emphasis today). The late J. Sidlow Baxter said it well: “Preaching . . . is the gravity center of the Christian pastorate” (Rethinking Our Priorities, [Zondervan, 1974], 245). While everything under the sun is being used today to replace the pulpit ministry, it is the pulpit that is to be the focal point in the church. Just as John Calvin replaced all the altars in the churches with pulpits, and just as Lloyd-Jones had the pulpit bolted to the floor at Westminster, we should likewise make that the heart and hub of our churches today.

Among many biblical examples we could note, the very last letter the Apostle Paul wrote was to a pastor, and what was the last thing he told that pastor to do? Entertain the people? Be “culturally relevant”? “Appeal to seekers”? Indeed, not. He told him to, “Preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2). What is true preaching? Preaching is the exposition (i.e., detailed explanation) and application of God’s Word from the preacher to the people.

I sincerely pray that the pulpit is the focal point in your church. 

I also pray that you consider forwarding this post on to others.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why Does God Allow His People To Suffer? (4)

Considering that age-old question once again, we take one last look at Job, who illustrates the three reasons for physical infirmity and personal hardship found in II Corinthians 12:7‑10.First, his trials kept him humble, and second, they made him submit to God’s will.

Third, Job’s trials made him dependent on God. May we point out here that Job was not perfect throughout his suffer­ings; he had a few self‑righteous and prideful attitudes. In 42:1‑6, we see Job repent of those and show his complete giving over to God and dependence on His sovereignty: Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

“I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes?” That’s certainly not the common teaching today? No, the teaching today is to glorify self, to “pray the prayer of blessing.” Theologian Charles Ryrie comments on this passage and summarizes the entire book in his Study Bible: “This is the great lesson of the book: If we know God, we do not need to know why He allows us to experience what we do. He is not only in control of the universe and all its facets but also of our lives, and He loves us. Though His ways are sometimes beyond our comprehension, we should not criticize Him for His dealings with us or with others. God is always in control of all things, even when He appears not to be.”

Oh, how wonderful it is to know that God is sovereign! Paul knew this glorious fact. Like Paul, may we rejoice in the trials that come our way.

Former pastor and author Warren Wiersbe recounts the day that a distraught man said to him during a counseling session, “I’ve found the Bible verse that describes my life perfectly.” Turning to Job 5:7, he handed the Bible to Wiersbe and said “Here—read this!” Wiersbe read the verse out loud: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” The man lamented, “I was born in trouble, I live in trouble, and I’ll probably die in trouble. There’s always a new bunch of sparks, and they’re burning me something awful.” In what Wiersbe considered a flash of Divine guidance, he handed the Bible back to the man and said, “There’s another verse that goes along with Job 5:7. It’s I Peter 5:7—read it!” The man did: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” He was silent for a moment, but then said without even looking up, “Yea, but how do I know that God really cares for me.”

What’s the answer to that man’s question? How do we know God really cares? Because He says so. Paul was not lamenting or feeling sorry for himself when he wrote, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:1). He’d already learned the lesson that God loved him and cared enough for him to use Him for great things.

The story is told of a very busy and widely traveled Christian worker who suddenly found himself flat on his back in bed. Frustrated by his forced idleness and tempted to self-pity, he opened his Bible and found himself reading a familiar passage, Psalm 23. As he read the well-known words, “He maketh me to lie down,” it seemed that the Holy Spirit put a period right there. The man didn’t have to go any further, for that was truth he needed. Ultimately, it was not illness that laid him down, rather it was God. God wanted to speak to his servant in such a way that he was too busy to hear in any other way.

Likewise, Paul was certainly a busy man: traveling, preaching, founding churches, and writing letters. We must wonder if this letter to the Ephesians, as well as the other Prison Epistles, would have ever been written if God hadn’t made the time for Paul to do so. He was the prisoner of Jesus Christ for the Gentiles, that is, on their behalf, for their advantage, and what an advantage his Prison Epistles are!

May we ever trust in the sovereignty of God. Why? Because it is for our utmost good and His ultimate glory.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Does God Allow His People To Suffer? (3)

We’ve been considering that age-old enquiry, why does God allow his people to suffer? A proper understanding of 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 is of tremendous help.

May we also consider, however, another part of Scripture that illustrates the first, namely, the Book of Job. The three reasons for physical infirmity and personal hardship are clearly evident in Job’s trials. It’s interesting that while the book of Job was the first book of the Bible to be penned, we find Job illustrating what Paul would outline almost 2,000 years later.

First, his trials kept him humble. Job 1 describes Satan’s first assault. All Job’s oxen and donkeys were stolen and many of his servants killed by a nomadic people called the Sabeans. His sheep and other servants were killed by “fire from God” (possibly lightening). His camels were then stolen and more servants killed by the Chaldeans. And, if all that were not enough, his house was destroyed and his sons and daughters killed by a violent windstorm.

Recall a moment the observation of Job’s so‑called “friends.” The main emphasis of all three was that Job’s suffering was because of his sin. As one reads those “explanations,” he can­not keep from seeing today’s attitudes. Today’s “prosperity teachers” tell us that if we give to God, He’ll return our “in­vestment” and make us rich. As the common teaching goes today, I’m sure that if it had been written yet, one of Job’s friends would have said, “Job, you just need to pray the Jabez prayer!” Likewise, today’s “self‑image” teachers would have told Job that his whole problem was that he had “low self­-esteem.” Their explanation would have been, “Job, if you just improve your self‑image, your problems will be over” (we will look at this subject in greater detail in our study of verse 8).

But how blessed we are be by Job’s humble response to his suffering: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (1:21a). These trials, and later physical and bodily suffering, kept Job humble.

Second, Job’s trials made him submit to God’s will. The rest of Job 1:21 declares: “The Lord gave, and the Lord bath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Then, after Job’s wife suggests he just curse God and die, he replied: “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil [i.e., adversity]?” (2:10). What an attitude! Job was ready to accept anything God gave even though he didn’t understand why. The ultimate submission is recorded in 13:15, one of my favorite verses of Scripture: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” Puritan pastor and commentator Matthew Henry writes this wonderful exposition of this verse, in which he challenges us in a series of six “musts:” “This is a high expression of faith, and what we should all labour to come up to—to trust in God, though he slay us, that is, [1] we must be well pleased with God as a friend even when he seems to come forth against us as an enemy, Job 23:8-10. [2] We must believe that all shall work for good to us even when all seems to make against us, Jer 24:5. [3] We must proceed and persevere in the way of our duty, though it cost us all that is dear to us in this world, even life itself, Heb 11:35. [4] We must depend upon the performance of the promise when all the ways leading to it are shut up, Ro 4:18. [5] We must rejoice in God when we have nothing else to rejoice in, and cleave to him, yea, though we cannot for the present find comfort in him. [6] In a dying hour we must derive from him living comforts; and this is to trust in him though he slay us.”

We’ll conclude next time, but may we each ask ourselves right now, “Am I that trusting of God’s will?”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why Does God Allow His People To Suffer? (2)

Last time, based on Paul suffering as a prisoner (Eph. 3:1) we considered that age-old question, why does God allow his people to suffer? We began by examining the first of three reasons for physical infirmity in II Corinthians 12:7‑10: physical infirmity keeps us humble (verse 7).

Second, physical infirmity makes us submit to God’s will. Verse 8 speaks of prayer, of how Paul asked God three times to take away his ailment, but three times God an­swered, “N0.” Oh, how tragic is the view of prayer that says that God will always give us what we want. If we just “pray through” or “claim the blessing,” He’ll give us what we ask. But here is a very clear statement that God will not always give us what we ask, and to say that He does is the highest form of presumptuousness and arrogance. One reason for physical infirmity, trials, tribulations, heartache, tragedy, and the like is to keep us from being presumptuous in prayer. We don’t go to God and demand anything. All prayer is to be made in accordance with the His will (Matt. 6:10; 26: 39; I Jn. 5:14). How dare we think that we know more than God! God has His plans and purpose, and He knows what is best for us and His purpose.

That statement is easily proven. Romans 8:28 is perhaps the key verse for victorious living: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” It matters not what comes our way, ultimately it is for our good, even though we can’t possibly see it at the time. How many times have asked in the midst of trouble, “What possible good can come out of this? I’m trying, but I just don’t see it.” That is because we are not God. In one way or another, all things work together for our good. As we have also seen in Ephesians, God’s ultimate purpose is His glory. Therefore, everything, whether good or bad, works for our utmost good and God’s ultimate glory. Have you got it? To get that principle, is to know real peace. Consider also one more reason.

Third, physical infirmity makes us dependent upon God (verses 9‑10). Does Paul write, “My understanding is sufficient?” Indeed not. Rather he wrote, “God’s grace is sufficient.” Not only are we submitted to God’s will, but moment by moment we are dependent on Him and Him alone. Isn’t our reaction to trying circumstances usually, “Why, why, why?” Like the five-year-old child who asks why to everything the parent says, we ask a sovereign God why “something bad” is happening. Oh, may we be challenged not to ask why! Why shouldn’t we ask why? Because God’s grace is sufficient, that’s why! God is in control and will take us through whatever may befall. James tells us that trials and tribulations come to teach us patience, that is, waiting on God (Jas. 1:2‑4). When we ask “Why?” we are no longer depending on God, but rather we are depending upon our own understanding, our viewpoint, our understanding. We learn little when all goes well; it is during the difficult times that we grow the most.

Let us summarize thusly: JUST DEPEND ON THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. If, however, we just can’t help ourselves and are forced to ask a question, instead of asking “Why,” let us ask, “How?” How is God going to be glorified in this? How am I going to grow in this? How will the Body of Christ be edified in this?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why Does God Allow His People To Suffer? (1)

Ephesians 3:1 reminds us of something very important about the Apostle Paul: I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles. As Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, he was sitting in a Roman prison awaiting execution. This brings up a question that has plagued people for centuries: why does God allow his people to suffer?

Some ask, “Since God is all powerful, why doesn’t He spare His children from suffering? If God is love, why do we suffer?” Others ask, “Why does God allow in­jury, illness, personal loss, tragedy, and the like to enter the believer’s life?” In confusion, many of us have asked, “Is God punishing me for something? What is God trying to tell me? Why is God doing this?” Many people go so far in their feeling of being a victim that they blame God for their problems. The answer to all this, however, is not as complex as many have viewed it to be. It is answered by careful consideration of two passages of Scripture.

Let’s first consider II Corinthians 12:7‑10: “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.”

Here Paul was reflecting on his “thorn in the flesh.” What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?. Some teachers spiritualize this passage by saying it was a demon, but the plain, normal language that Paul uses, as well as the surrounding context, clearly show this to be a physical infirmity. Others say that Paul’s ailment was failing eyesight brought on by his being temporarily blinded at his conversion (Acts 9:1‑18). Still others say Paul’s problem was recurring malaria, which was common in the region in which Paul ministered.

But may we submit that God doesn’t tell us the ailment for a reason! Why do men always have to theorize and foolishly speculate when the Scripture is silent? Think a moment: with man’s tendency to self‑righteousness, if God told us that Paul’s problem was poor eyesight, many Christians would probably think they were more spiritual if they wore glasses. Or, if Paul’s problem had been malaria, today’s mystical crowd would think being sick makes us closer to God. The same would be true of other opinions of Paul’s thorn, such as epilepsy and migraine headaches.

We need to see that in all our theorizing we have missed the point! The point is that it doesn’t matter what Paul’s physical affliction was. Why? Because ALL physical infirmity is included in this one illustration. This passage reveals three reasons for physical infirmity (excluding chastening). [Note: See a more detailed discussion of this issue on our website in the article “What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?” (http://www.thescripturealone.com/TOTT-49.htm).]

First, physical infirmity keeps us humble (verse 7). Man is, by his very nature, a self‑glorifying creature, and we live in probably the most self‑glorifying age of all time. But physical infirmity keeps us in our proper place; it constantly reminds us that we are finite men, limited in power and ability. We need to be reminded of just how frail and pitiful we are. This certainly isn’t a popular thought in today’s “self‑image” craze, but it’s still the Truth. While we certainly are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), illness can strike us down at any moment. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Minister of the Mystery: How to Become One (2)

Having made it clear that every Christian is in a sense is a minister (Eph. 3:7), there is another use of this term in Scripture, namely, those who God calls to “the ministry” as their vocation, that is, men He calls, trains, qualifies, and ordains who then preach and teach Scripture and lead God’s people as their sole activity. Now, while the Oxford English Dictionary points out that the English term minister in this strict sense of the “full-time minister” came into use in Protestantism in the 16th Century—partly as protest to the term “priest”—other New Testament terms, such as “bishop,” “elder,” and “pastor-teacher” reflect this unique leadership office.

We are going to leave a more detailed look at this subject for our study of Ephesians 4:11, but may we briefly consider this statement made by Martyn-Lloyd Jones several decades ago as he preached on the present text: “That the Church counts for so little in the modern world is largely the result of her failure to realize the origin and character of the ministerial calling. The whole idea of the ministry has become debased. It has often been regard as a profession. The eldest son in a family goes perhaps into the Navy, another son into the Army, another into Parliament; and then the remaining son “goes into” the Christian ministry. Others think of a minister as a man who organizes games and pleasant entertainments for young people; one who visits and has a pleasant cup of tea with older people. Such conceptions of the Christian ministry have become far too current. But they are a travesty. The minister is a herald of the glad tidings, he is a preacher of the gospel. It is largely because the true conception of the work of a minister has become debased that the ministry has lost its authority and counts so little at the present time.”

Decades later the situation is far worse. The minister, or whatever you prefer to call him, today is viewed as part administrator, part manager, part philanthropist, and even part entertainer. He is expected to be, and even desires to be, “well-rounded,” that is, someone who can wear many hats, including: businessman, media figure, psychologist, and philosopher. But there is not one shred of Biblical revelation that even implies any of those so-called “qualities.”

As we’ll study in 4:11, God has called, specially gifted, and then given certain men to the Church as leaders. To adequately study this, we’ll also tie it in with a few specifics from the third chapter of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Why do this in an exposition of Ephesians? Because at the time Paul wrote his letters to Timothy, Timothy was the pastor of the Church at Ephesus. What fascinates me here is that the key to understanding I Timothy 3:1-7 is that that the qualifications Paul lists are set against the backdrop of the unqualified leaders in Ephesus. He places God’s standards against what the Ephesians had allowed the leadership to degenerate into in the approximately six years since he had written the Ephesian letter to them. Some of the leaders were teaching false doctrine (I Tim. 1:3; 4:1–3, 7; 6:3–5), turning aside to “fruitless discussion” (1:6), misusing the law, and misunderstanding the gospel (1:7–11). Some leaders were even women (2:12), which Paul had already shown to be clearly forbidden (1:15-19). Others were guilty of sin and needed public rebuke (5:20).

I am acutely aware that such views are very unpopular in our day, but should we ignore what the Bible says? After years of studying the issues, the evidence is absolutely overwhelming that the problems we see in Christianity today—the redefining of the Gospel, the “seeker-sensitive” movement, the entertainment-orientation of ministry, the Relativism and Pragmatism that rule all aspects of Church life, and so on—all come from the breakdown of leadership, which in-turn, may I add, comes partly from putting people in leadership who Biblically should not be there. To repeat Lloyd-Jones’ words, “It is largely because the true conception of the work of a minister has become debased that the ministry has lost its authority and counts so little at the present time.” 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Minister of the Mystery: How to Become One (1)

Again, the opinion today is that after one goes to college and seminary, he is ordained and becomes a minister. Wrong! Our text tells us how we become a minister: made . . . according to the gift of the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). Whether a preacher or laymen, whether in a pulpit or in a pew, we all are ministers by God’s grace. How marvelous! Once again this glorious theme is in view. Not only does grace save us, but it also makes us servants. As we have seen, we certainly do not deserve salvation. But now we discover that neither do we deserve to serve God. It is His grace, His unmerited favor that enables us to serve Him, that makes us “able ministers” (II Cor. 3:6). Service is a gift, a privilege we do not deserve. To serve the Lord brings a joy we could never know otherwise. While we might enjoy our job and get a certain satisfaction from our accomplishments, we wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much if we didn't get a paycheck, right? But not so with service to God. Just the privilege of serving a holy God is “payment” enough.

There is a mistaken idea today that it is our talents and abilities that qualify us to minister. Many think that just because they can speak well, teach, or sing, then that is what qualifies them to serve the Lord. But that is a humanistic attitude based in self. On the contrary, people who possess no “visible talents” are just as valuable to God as anyone else. Why? Because it’s God’s grace that makes us ministers, not natural abilities. If someone wants to serve God, God will give them the way to do so. It is the gift of His grace.

May we say again, it is a privilege to serve the Lord. Many Christians treat service as a chore, as a burden to be borne. Oh, but how marvelous it is to know that God allows us to serve, to serve the living and true God of the universe!

As I shared when this series began about a year and a half ago, these expositions are based are based on my preaching through Ephesians on consecutive Sunday mornings. After preaching the present message, I received a note from a dear lady in our church who does many small office tasks for me in her home that are a tremendous help to my ministry  Referring to those tasks the note read: “I trust you know it truly is a labor of love for my precious Lord and my dear pastor. As you mentioned this morning, it is a privilege to be a servant. It is a real blessing to me to know He is using me to help further your ministry for Him, even though it seems to me my help is small and insignificant. Of course, I realize it is by God’s grace that I have the desire and that He has made me able. I praise Him for that.”

What pastor wouldn't appreciate a note like that? Yes, many things we do might seem insignificant. In the grand scheme of the universe, what possible significance can cutting the church lawn be? The significance is that it is service to God. As Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Why? Because when you do something only for God’s glory, that is service, that is true ministry.

To emphasize true ministry, we have “sign up sheets” at our church for certain jobs that need to be done, such as lawn work, cleaning the building, and so forth. Instead of lines for signing names, however, the sheet has little tabs on the bottom that can be torn off and used as a reminder. This helps to keep the whole thing anonymous.

After preaching this message, another of the ladies in our church came up to me and said, “You know, Pastor, it really is a joy to serve the Lord. As I was dusting the window sills the other day and just puttering around, I found myself smiling as I realized that even this little thing was service.”

I encourage you to serve the Lord in whatever manner He empowers you to.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Minister of the Mystery: What He Is (2)

As we saw last time in Ephesians 3:7—Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power—a minister is more than just the guy who “makes his living as a minister in the church.” Yes, the word is used of men who were full‑time preachers, but in its primary meaning, it refers to ALL believers being ministers (i.e. being a servant) to the needs of other believers. We quoted Hebrews 6:10, but more pointed is I Peter 4:10‑11, where Peter also  writes to believers as a whole: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

Briefly, God’s Word gives us no less than eleven ways in which God’s people minis­ter to (serve) one another. First, we are to edify (build up) one another (Rom. 14:19). We never say something that tears someone down, rather all that we say and do builds others up in Christ. Second, we are to admonish (warn) one another (Rom. 15:14). “Rebuking” is done only by the pastor (I Tim. 5:20; II Tim. 4:2; Tit. 1:13), but all of us should lovingly and humbly warn others of the consequences of wrong behavior. Third, we are to bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2, 5). If we can’t empathize with another believer, at least we can sympathize and try to ease the burden. Fourth, we are to forgive one another (Eph. 4:32). Yes, there will be times when a Christian brother or sister says or does something that upsets us, but we forgive them and go on. Fifth, we are to comfort one another (I Thes. 4:18); we should all console and encourage other believers. This is not just a pastor’s duty. Sixth, we are to exhort (challenge) one another (Heb. 10:24‑25). We should stir up each other’s spiri­tual affections and challenge one another to be what God wants all of us to be. Seventh, we are to meet each other’s physical needs (Jas. 2:15‑16). Instead of living by today’s philosophies (“Let the government take care of it” or “Let the insurance company cover it”), we should rather take care of physical needs as they arise. The rule is: If you see a need, meet it. Eighth, we are to confess our sins to one another (Jas. 5:16). If we wrong someone, hurt them, or offend them, we must go to them and get it straightened out. Ninth, we are to pray for one another (Jas. 5:16). How important this is! Tenth, we are to promote unity within the body (Eph. 4:1‑3). We are to strive to keep Christ’s Body unified through an emphasis on spiritual things. While we must not unify at the price of doctrine, we must strive to keep the true body unified. Eleventh, we are to love one another (I Jn. 3:11). This encompasses all the others. If we have a “self‑emptying self‑sacrifice” (agapē) for our fellow believers, it is going to show brilliantly.

All of that is true service, true ministry. Many today who “do something for God” want fanfare, they want bells and whistles to go off, they want a trophy, they want some kind of reward for their efforts. But that is not service; it’s remuneration. True service is doing things without thought of compensation or even recognition. May we repeat, the rule is: If you see a need, meet it. The second most important area of local church ministry is the body minis­tering to itself, that is, believers serving believers. In fact, as we’ll see in Ephesians 3: 8b‑9, preaching is the pri­mary ministry in this age. Therefore, the two major areas of Christian ministry are preaching and the body ministering to itself.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Minister of the Mystery: What He IS (1)

Ephesians 3:7—Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power—gives us great insight into one of the views that the Apostle Paul had of himself, namely, that he was a minister.

What is a minister? This word has been violently abused and thrown around for years. It has, in fact, for the most part, lost its Biblical meaning. That’s a strong statement, but it’s true; when we compare how most people use the word today and how God uses it in Scripture, we find a great difference. We need to take the time to study this word and examine some principles that apply to its use. We’ll break our study down into two emphases: what a minister is and how one becomes a minister.

The basic meaning of the Greek for minister (diakonos) in secular usage was “a server of tables, a waiter.” While this meaning is found in the New Testament, the majority of the 29 occurrences of it go much deeper in meaning. Paul especially used this word in deeper ways: a “servant” of the new covenant (II Cor. 3:6); a “servant” of righteousness (II Cor. 11:15); a “servant” of Christ (II Cor. 11:23; Col. 1:7; I Tim. 4:6); a “servant” of God (II Cor. 6:4); a “servant of the Gospel” (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23); a “servant” of the Church (Col. 1:25). In each of these usages, therefore, we see something far more than just “a server of tables.” As he often did, Paul transforms the word to give a deeper, spiritual meaning.

The word minister, however, has been sorely abused and made into something God never intended it to be. It is normally used today exclusively of the pastor or other Church leader. We hear such phrases as, “He’s my minister” or “He’s on of the ministers in town.” In other words, no one else can “minister” except the “minister.” But that is not what this word primarily means. Yes, the word is used of men who were full‑time preachers, but in its primary meaning, it refers to ALL believers being ministers (i.e. being servants) to the needs of other believers. For example, writing to a group of believers, Paul declared: “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).

So, we repeat, ALL believers are to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of other believers.

I never think of the word minister that I don’t think of another Greek word that is translated as such. It is hupēretēs, a fascinating word that means “under rower,” originally indicating the lowest galley slaves, the ones rowing on the bottom tier of a ship, often chained to his oar. They were the most menial, unenvied, and despised of slaves. Paul uses this term of himself in I Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” This certainly doesn’t paint the ministry as something desirable or glamorous, as many view it today. The galley slave was not above anyone; he had the hardest labor, the cruelest punishment, the least appreciation, and in general the most hopeless existence of all slaves. What a picture this paints of the Biblical pastor today who is “chained to his desk,” where he spend the majority of his time in the Word of God so he can feed his people. We’ll continue these thoughts next time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Meaning of “the Mystery”

Ephesians 3:1-12 contain the most com­plete explanation of the mystery of the Church in all the New Testament. Many today do not understand the ministry of the Church because they do not understand the meaning of the Church, and they in-turn don’t understand either one of those because they do not know what these verses say. In the next few installments, we’ll examine three things about this mystery: its meaning, its minister, and its ministry.

What is a mystery? As Webster defines, usually we think of a mystery as “something unexplained or inexplicable,” or “whatever resists or defies explanation [such as] (the mystery of the stone monoliths).” In the New Testament, however, mystery (Greek, musterion) pictures “that which was hidden, but is now Divinely revealed.” A New Testament mystery is not incomprehensible to the human mind, rather it is undiscoverable by the human mind apart from God’s intervention. In other words, a mystery was something hidden from Old Testament saints but now fully revealed and explained in the New Testament. There are several “mysteries” spoken of in the New Testament. One of the most important ones, perhaps even the most dramatic of all, is “the Church,” which Paul deals with here.

First, verse 6 tells us what this mystery is: That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. In short: the previously hidden truth that is now Divinely revealed is that Jew and Gentile are now one in Christ. How marvelous this is! Both Jew and Gentile equally inherit salvation and the blessings it brings; both are equal members in the Body of Christ. Such an idea was so far beyond conception that a Gentile would of thought it laughable and a Jew would have thought it repugnant. But Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate that this is precisely what God has done in Christ. He has brought an unthinkable unity through the Savior’s blood.

Second, verse 5a—Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men—declares that the mystery of the Church was never known before this age, that is, the age of the Church, which began at Pentecost (Acts 2) and continues to today. The Church was hinted at and foreshadowed at various times (such as God’s promise to Abraham [Gen. 12:3] that through him all nations would be blessed), but no one had full knowledge until this age.

Third, Paul was given the most knowledge of the mystery, as verse 3-4, and 5b state: by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) . . . as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Without argument, while other apostles knew of the mystery of the Church, it was Paul who knew more about that mystery than anyone else, more knowledge of the offices, government, ministry, ordinances, discipline, and all else. This thought leads to one other point.

How marvelous is this age in which we live. We now know and experience a reality never known, experienced, or even imagined before this age. While Ephesians 1 shows us the Believer’s Riches In Christ and Ephesians 2 shows us the Believer’s Reconciliation to God, Ephesians 3 shows us the the Believer’s Rank in God’s Program. And what is our rank? We all are of EQUAL RANK; we are all equal members of the Body of Christ. And, once again, it all has been accomplished by the blood of our dear Savior.

Monday, September 3, 2012

One Building in Christ: The Purpose

Once again, all true believers are part of the “one building” in Christ. Not only have do we see the structure and result of this building, but we see a third principle in Ephesians 2:21—In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit—the purpose of this building. Yes, the structure has been built, and it is ever growing, but what is the ultimate purpose, the final goal of the process?

The Greek verb behind builded together (sunoikodomeo) means “to build in company with someone,” and the Greek for habitation (katoiketerion) pictures a dwelling place. Simply stated, the purpose of this joint building project is to form a dwelling place for God’s presence through the Spirit. What a thought!

Of all the churches to which Paul wrote, the church at Corinth had messed up the Church more than any other. Everything they touched, they perverted or misapplied. They are a classic example of what Paul is dealing with here in Ephesians, that the Universal Church, the Body of Christ, is to be a [dwelling place] of God through the Spirit. In turn, the Local Church was designed by God to be a reflec­tion of the Universal Church. Why? Because God want­ed to use a physical entity to minister to a physical world.

So, like the Universal Church, the Local Church which should manifest reverence and worship in the assem­bly. Yes, we most certainly can go too far by revering our stained glassed windows, genuflecting before the altar, and speaking in hushed, pious whispers. But many have gone too far the other way, having no reverence whatsoever when they meet for worship. I doubt that I will ever forget a Sunday morning in one church I was visiting a few years ago when more than once I heard the distinctive sound of a pop can being opened in the middle of the worship service. I was appalled that there could be so little reverence in the place of worship.

I have also observed in the last several years a direct correlation between reverence and entertainment in that the less reverence there is for the place of worship, the more entertainment oriented a church is. A. W. Tozer was conscious of where the church was headed decades ago. He wrote much about the decline of worship and reverence and the increase of entertainment. Here is just one comment:

Fiction, films, fun, frolic, religious entertainment, Hollywood ideals, big business techniques, and cheap, worldly philosophies now overrun the sanctuary. The grieved Holy Spirit broods over the chaos but no light breaks forth. ‘Revivals’ come without rousing the hostility of organized sin and pass without raising the moral level of the community or purifying the lives of professing Christians. Why?

Could it be that too many of God’s true children, and especially the preachers, are sinning against God by guilty silence? When those whose eyes are opened by the touch of Christ become vocal and active God may begin to fight again on the side of truth. I for one am waiting to hear the loud voices of the prophets and reformers sounding once more over a sluggish and drowsy church.

They’ll pay a price for their boldness, but the results will be worth it.

Tozer wrote that more than 40 years ago, but look where we are today. Where are the preachers who are standing up and thundering, “No, that kind of ministry is wrong, worldly, and wretched?” Instead, many have joined the ranks of Pragmatism and Relativism, and would rather please men instead of please God.

I merely submit this: we should treat the place of public worship as more than just an auditorium, for an auditorium can be anything from a lecture hall to a movie theatre. We should treat the place of public worship as what it is—an habitation of God through the Spirit. It grieves my heart when I don’t see reverence among God’s people, when it is more important to us that we are comfortable, entertained, and are having “our needs met” than it is that we have come humbly and reverently before a Holy God. Yes, the Holy Spirit does, indeed, dwell in us, but His being in us also means that He is with us in our public worship. If this thought does not promote reverence and worship, we are in a sad spiritual condition.

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Building in Christ: The Result

As we saw last time, all true believers are part of the “one building” in Christ. We also saw, the first aspect of this building is its structure. Ephesians 2:21—In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord—shows us the result of this building, which is three fold.

First, it produces unity among the parts. The words fitly framed together translate an utterly fascinating single Greek word (sunarmologeo) an architectural metaphor that pictures the intricate process in masonry of fitting stones together to form a structure. The word is actually made up of three words, which when all the literal meanings are put together means “together-joint-choose.” The picture is vivid. We can see the stonemason diligently choosing a stone, carefully chipping away a corner here, an imperfection there, trying it in the wall for fit, and then repeating the process as many times as need until it fits exactly. In so doing he not only makes a strong wall, but one in which every stone compliments the others and the wall as a whole. Consider also that not one stone is exactly like another—each one is unique.

What a beautiful picture of true unity in the Church! Every believer needs to “fit.” The building of the Church is an ongoing process in which each believer is being properly and uniquely cut and trimmed to be useful to the Building, to compliment the whole.

Second, this structure is growing. Talk about mixing your metaphors! We usually think of a building as a static thing; once done, it’s done. But not so this building. The Greek for groweth (auxano) means “to grow or increase, of the growth of that which lives, naturally or spiritually.” The key to understanding this word is that growth comes from a power outside the object. God’s building is a living entity that is ever growing. But it grows not because of its own special abilities, and certainly not because of the talents of any of the stones in it, but only because of God’s power.

This is a significant truth in our success-oriented day. Church ministry in the large percentage of the Church is built on human philosophy, business technique, and worldly methods. It is no longer doctrine that is important, rather entertainment. It is no longer Christ Who is building His Church (Matt. 16:18), rather the so-called “Christian leader” who has the latest pragmatic, people-pleasing approach. To be brutally frank, this has truly prostituted the Church; much of the Church has become a “spiritual harlot” that has sold herself for the sake of gain.

Third, this ongoing construction is producing a “spiritual house,” that is, a holy temple. The Greek here is not the general word for the Temple area as a whole (hieros), rather it is the word naos. Like the Greek behind “household” in verse 19, naos dates back to the Mycenaean period of Greek history (1600-1200 BC). In ancient Greek, it was used of the innermost sanctuary or cell of the pagan temple where the image of gold was placed. Likewise, it refers here to the “inner sanctuary,” the Holy of Holies. This is the word used in Matthew 27:51, for example—“Behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent”—to show that Christ’s death had now given man access to the Holy of Holies.

What then does this construction produce? It produces a holy assembly, a group of believers, living stones, whose hearts and minds are set on spiritual things and spiritual growth. Did you get it? Oh, would that all our local assem­blies today were set upon that!

Monday, August 20, 2012

One Building in Christ: The Structure

The Apostle Paul paints a third picture in Ephesians 2:19-22. Not only are true believers “fellowcitizens with the saints” and “of the household of God,” but they are also parts of one building (vs. 20-22). Here is a truly amazing analogy. We clearly see three very foundational concepts, the first of which is The Structure, which in turn has three parts.

First, Christ is the corner stone, a term rooted in ancient architecture. The Greek here (akrogoniaios) is a compound word made up of akron (“top” or “tip”) and gonia (“an angle or corner”). The literal idea of this word then is, as one commentator puts it, “At the tip of the angle” and refers to “the stone set at the corner of a wall so that its outer angle becomes important.” It was this stone, then, that became the basis for every measurement in the building. It governed every line and angle. It provided no more support to the structure than any other stone; rather its entire value lay in its outer angle.

This is the picture Paul is giving of Christ. In all respects He was the perfect corner stone, strong, perfect in character, and exact in measurement. We, therefore, are to conform to Him in every de­tail, for as we’ll see later, we too are part of the building. What if we do not conform to the corner stone? What if we are not measured according to that standard? What if our placement is not according to that absolute? In answer to that, just think of how noticeable peeling paint is on a house or how an improperly laid brick or stone sticks out. Any such flaw either weakens, or at the very least, disfigures the build­ing. Likewise, we are to conform to Christ lest we weaken or disfigure the building.

Second, the apostles and prophets are part of the foundation. An “Apostle” was one who was personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus and saw Him in His resurrection body. A “Prophet” (as the Greek prophētēs clearly indicates) is one who speaks immediately of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s point, then, is that the apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the Church. A building is only as good as its foundation. It must be horizontally level, vertically plumb, and made of the best materials. This foundation is absolutely essential. A builder can erect the most beautiful edifice in the world, but if it is not a good foundation, it will eventually crumble. That is why God used the apostles and prophets; they were the only adequate foundation.

But what was the foundation that they laid? The answer is most important in light of our day. One expositor rightly answers this question by writing: “Since both the apostles and prophets had a teaching role, the foundation is teaching. Thus the foundation of the new temple is God’s Word, especially the New Testament Scriptures. The Church stands or falls in its regard for the New Testament Scriptures. If we tamper with the foundation, the temple will crumble. That is why Paul ordered Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).” How imperative it is that we understand that Truth! God used these men to build a foundation based on doctrine. If we alter that foundation, if we tamper with it, we will destroy the structure.

Third, individual believers are the remaining parts of the structure. This is a marvelous picture! Verse 19 speaks of individual believers; verse 20 then says that these are built upon the foundation. I Corinthians 12 describes the Church as one Body which is made up of many members. When we consider the individual cells that make up a physical body, we soon realize that there are countless millions of members in the body. So, whether we speak of an arm, a leg, an eye, a finger, “a little toe of the body,” as someone wrote to me once in reference to his position, or just one cell, it matters not because each is equally important, and none is useful by itself.

Likewise, the Church is one Building with countless pieces and parts. Dear Christian, you are useful to the building. Perhaps you are a 4x8 sheet of plywood flooring, a 2x4 stud in a wall, a shingle on the roof, or simply a small finishing nail in a piece baseboard. No matter what piece each of us is, we each have a purpose, a meaning, and a responsibility. The human tendency is to think that a beautiful bay window is more important than a single nail used in the window casing. And we do the same in the church, thinking one member is more important than another. But this is prideful and humanistic. Every part of the building is there for the benefit of the whole. Yes, that bay window is beautiful, but it is there only to compliment the building, and without the window casing and the nails that hold it in, that window would topple out and disfigure the whole structure. Likewise, no Christian is more important than another because each one edifies the whole.

Monday, August 13, 2012

One Household in Christ

In the first part of Ephesians 1:19, the Apostle Paul speaks of the fact that true believers are no longer “strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints.” In his wonderful way, Paul changes his metaphor in the latter part of the verse, and this one is even more significant, that they are of the household of God. There is a much greater intimacy in speaking of membership in a family than in citizenship in a nation. This in no way discounts our heavenly citizen­ship (Phil. 3:20), but even deeper and more personal is the fact that we are now in God’s family.

The depth of this is seen in the Greek for household, oikeios, which means “belonging to the house, member of the household.” The word from which it is derived, oikos (house, dwelling place), is truly ancient. It’s found as early as the Mycenaean period of Greek history (1600-1200 BC). It was also used in the metaphorical sense to denote “the family, the property, and other similar concepts connected with the house itself.”

This word is used exactly the same way in the New Testament. In the literal sense, we find it, for example, in Matthew 2:11, “And when [the wise men] were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him.” We also find it several times in the metaphorical sense, as when Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house” (Matt. 13:57) and when Paul wrote that he had “baptized also the household of Stephanas” (I Cor. 1:16).

This etymology makes Paul’s point in our text marvelously clear—the Christian is a member of the household of God, His family, and enjoys the full fellowship of His house. As we saw in 2:6, we are already “[sitting] together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This is why our Lord said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you;” our place is already made and spiritually we are already there.

As Paul told the Galatian believers, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). But may we submit, there is something to be careful of here. As most Christians have heard at one time or another, “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “father,” or as commonly viewed as “Papa” or “Daddy.” There has, therefore, been the tendency to regard this word too flippantly, the result being an over familiarity with God where He in essence answers to us.

But “Abba” more precisely means, “My father,” “Father, my Father” or, “Dear Father.” The ancient Syriac Version of the New Testament (early second century) translates this term, “By which we call the Father our Father.” One writer well sums up: “At one time it was thought that since children used this term to address their fathers, the nearest equivalent would be the English term “Daddy.” More recently, however, it has been pointed out that Abba was a term not only that small children used to address their fathers; it was also a term that older children and adults used. As a result it is best to understand Abba as the equivalent of “Father” rather than “Daddy” (Robert H. Stein in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, p. 247).

The point then is that intimacy is clearly there, but so is respect for Who the Father is. This was, of course, the expression the Lord Jesus used as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36), so both intimacy and respect are present. Yes, our Lord had an intimate relationship with the Father and made request of Him, but there was still respect and reverence as He came into submission to the Father’s will. This challenges us to be very careful not to barge into God’s presence demanding our desires. Some disagree with this principle and quickly quote Hebrews 4:16 (“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need”), but “boldly” does not mean “presumptuously.” The literal idea of the Greek for “come boldly” (meta parresias) is “draw near with confidence [or] freedom of speech.” What does it mean to come boldly? It means to draw near with the confidence that God will listen, to come to Him and speak freely of our needs and desires, but it never means presumption or demand.

Monday, August 6, 2012

One Citizenship in Christ

As we’ve seen, the nations were divided, and still are, because of their wrong relationship and response to God. Paul mentions this again in Ephesians 2:19—Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints—by using two terms, strangers and foreigners, and there is a true gem of truth in understanding them. While the words are synonymous, there is subtle distinction between them. The word strangers translates the Greek xenos, which in Classical Greek referred to a foreigner who did not belong to the community and was in direct contrast to words such as polites (a “citizen” of the country). It could even refer to a wanderer or a refugee. To the Greeks, a xenos was the same thing as a barbarian. This is, of course, where we get out English word “xenophobia”—a fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

Foreigners then is the Greek paroikos, a compound word made up of para (by or along side) and oikos (house), so therefore, “by the house,” “next to the house,” or “one who has a house along side others.” The idea conveyed by this term was a foreigner who lived beside the people of a country, that is, one who was a neighbor that enjoyed the protection of the community (the natives) but one who had no citizen rights because his citizenship was elsewhere. He was a “resident alien,” a licensed sojourner, one who paid an “alien tax” to live in the area without being naturalized.

Being a Roman citizen and one who had traveled over much of the ancient world, Paul would certainly have understood this subtlety. He was therefore telling the Ephesians that they were no longer either xenos or paroikos, neither passing strangers nor licensed immigrants. Rather he calls them fellowcitizens. The Greek here is sumpolitēs. The root politēs referred to a citizen, an inhabitant of a city, a freeman who had the rights of a citizen. Adding the prefix sum (“together with”) yields the idea of a citizenship with others.

Roman citizenship (Latin civitas) was a much-coveted thing, much like American citizenship is coveted today. It gave rights and privileges that were unobtainable in any other way. A Roman citizen, for example, could own land, could vote, had the right to enter a legal contract, had the right of military service, and was eligible to hold public office (although some of these rights were restricted by property qualifications). Also, a Roman citizen could never be scourged, much less crucified, unless he committed treason.

Putting all this together, Paul tells the Ephesians that they all have a common citizenship in Christ. This would have made a deep impression in their minds. Their thoughts might well have gone something like this, “If a Roman citizen has great privileges, what greater ones we must have in Christ! Indeed, we are citizens of a far greater country than Rome.” May this make a deep impression on us as well.

What a challenge and encouragement this is to the Christian! As wonderful as life is, as blessed as American citizenship is, it all pales to insignificance in light of the fact that we are only temporary residents of this earth. We’re just passing through. Our citizenship is in the Heavenly City. Many preachers today don’t emphasize this truth enough, preferring to put their emphasis on political reform and social change, but thank God for those like seventeenth-century English Churchman Jeremy Taylor, who put it so well: “Faith is the Christian’s foundation, hope is his anchor, death is his harbor, Christ is his pilot, and heaven is his country.” I’ve mentioned it in this study already, but Vance Havener’s words bear repeating: “We are not citizens of this world trying to get to heaven; rather we are citizens of heaven just trying to get through this world.” 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Access to God

Ephesians 2:18—For through him [i.e., Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father—we see an astounding result of the peace God has established through Christ. The Greek word behind access (prosagoge) and is found only in two other places (Eph. 3:12; Rom. 5:2). It literally means “to open a way of access.” A similar word was used in ancient times to describe a person who gave someone else admittance to see the King. Therefore, our text declares that we actually have no “right” to come before God but rather have been granted the “privilege” of doing so knowing we will be welcome. There is a word in French that exactly translates this word—entree, meaning “admission or admittance.” This is the picture in our text; we have been granted “admittance” into the Father’s Presence.” We could also translate the word as “introduction;” we have been properly introduced to the Father by the Word of Christ.

We emphasize this truth for an important reason. Many believers have the mistaken idea that they have a right to come before God. Some theologians even teach that Christ’s blood now gives us this right. This is dreadfully wrong! We do not have a right to come before God; how arrogant to think that we do! Rather, we have been granted the privilege to come before the God of the universe. Oh, how often we take prayer for granted and rush into God’s presence thinking we have a right to be there, demanding this, that, and the other thing. Dear Christian, may we forever cease! May we see that we have no right but a gracious privilege. May we never again rush before Him, but rather may we quietly and humbly come before His throne.

I read one story that beautifully illustrates how we have access to the Father. One day a little boy named Willie stood wistfully at the gates of Buckingham Palace. He longed to go in and see the king. Between him and the king, however, were iron gates, rigid protocol, armed soldiers, and watchful police. What he wanted was quite out of the question. A policeman who was ordering the lad to leave suddenly stiffened and sprang to attention as a well-dressed, confident man approached. A brusque nod from the man and the policeman unlocked the gates and stood aside. “Come with me, sonny,” said the man, taking the little boy’s hand. “We’re going in to see the king.” Into the palace they went. Inside were forty housemaids, fifty footmen (including one man who did nothing but wind clocks all day), and six hundred rooms. Willie and the man walked on and on—to the north wing, up stairs, along endless passages, to the king’s corridor on the main floor, and into the master suite. (They were a quarter of a mile away from the kitchens!) The man seemed to know the way and chatted about the rooms they passed: the magnificent ballroom that contained two majestic thrones on a raised dais; the stamp rooms that housed the world’s most valuable collection; the Belgian suite with its forty-four rooms for the use of state visitors; the royal wardrobe; the music room; the dining room with a table as large as a skating rink; the dazzling green drawing room. Finally they arrived in the king’s presence, and the man spoke. “Hello, Father. Here’s a little boy who wants to meet you. Meet my friend Willie. Willie, this is the king.” The little boy had taken the hand of Edward, Prince of Wales, the king’s son. Through him, Willie gained access to the king. We too have taken the hand—the nail-printed hand—of the King’s Son, the Prince of Peace. Through Him and Him alone, Jews and Gentiles alike have access by one Spirit to the Father.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reconciled to God

Continuing his thoughts on how God has brought about true in Christ, the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:16 that he [i.e., Christ] might reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body by the cross. The term reconciled is truly marvelous! The Greek is apokatallasso. The simple verb is katallasso, which means “to change or exchange as coins for others of equal value.” So, the idea is to ex­change hostility for friendship. In three New Testament references, however, the prefix apo is added (Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20, 21). This Greek preposition adds the idea of “back.” Therefore, apokatallasso means “to bring back to a former state of harmony.” Let us be clear on the fact that Jew and Gentile have not always been divided; before Abraham the human race was all one with no distinctions. So, this reconciliation is a “changing back” to the time of no variance, no distinction.

Even deeper, there was a time when there was no variance between God and man. Think of it! There was a time when there was no enmity, no warfare between us. When was that time? It was, of course, in the Garden of Eden. But sin created a barrier; it brought variance and division. The very moment sin entered, they immediately realized they were naked, immediately tried to hide from God, immediately tired to shift the blame to someone else, and immediately denied responsibility. In that one moment, that one act, variance was introduced. But it was then the blood of Christ “reconciled” us; it was a “changing back” to that time of no variance. What a truth this is! As a believer, each of us is no longer at variance with God; we have returned to that time of walking with Him “in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8), communing with Him in heart and mind.

It is truly fascinating that apokatallassō is not found in Classical Greek. In fact, even the simple verb katallassō was never used in ancient pagan worship. Why? Because the pagans were never reconciled to their gods; they had no concept of a god with whom they could have no variance. The gods of the ancient pagan religions were always angry, always demanding appeasement. Only in the New Testament Epistle do we find this meaning, for never before has man been brought back to a time of no variance. Only the blood of Christ could accomplish that. Even the Old Testament sacrifices were inadequate; they were only an “atonement,” that is, a covering of sin. Only by Christ’s blood could we be reconciled.

All this is intensified when we see that man is not only separated from God, but men are also separated from each other. Men can’t get along with other men, much less with God. Why can’t men get along with each other? Because they can’t get along with God; their response to God and His Word has been negative.

But may we go even further in this picture by seeing that this is also true of the emotional and psychological problems of individuals. Barring physical causes, most, if not all, of these problems are caused by a wrong response to God. And may we be so bold to say that most, if not all, of the psychologists and psychiatrists of to­day would have to look for another line of work if everyone would respond properly to God. Pick any problem, and you will be able to trace it back to a wrong response to God and His revealed Truth. We say all this because recon­ciliation brings us back to the time of no variance, no warfare, no “class struggle.” We now have peace with God, peace with other men, and peace with ourselves. This leads to a second principle.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Creating a New Race

Ephesians 2:15c declares, to make in himself [i.e., Christ] of twain one new man, so making peace. Here is what Paul has been building toward, the beautiful summary of his previous thoughts. The words to make are not the Greek poieō (“to make, form, produce”) but the stronger word ktizō (also used in verse 10), which is the word often used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word bara, “to create from nothing” (Gen. l:l). Paul again emphasizes that God created the believer from nothing.

Further, the word new is kainos and is also extremely important. This word is distinct from another word for “new,” neos, which means “new in time.” An example of neos in our society is when we speak of a new car; a new car is only new in time; it’s not unique since it is just like thousands of others that came off the assembly line. But kainos means “new in nature” and implies that which is “better.” More specifically, it is something that is new in its own way, something unique, never having existed before. Chrysostom, famous preacher of the early Church, says that it is as if one should melt down a statue of silver and a statue of lead, and the two should come out gold. What a picture! Two entirely different things, two things that could not be more different in nature, but God made them one.

That is the picture Paul is painting here. Again, it’s not that the Gentile becomes a Jew or that the Jew becomes a Gentile, but rather both become something uniqueA CHRISTIAN. This distinction, this title has never before existed; it is some­thing totally new. We would never say, for example, “Moses was such a good Christian.” No, because there was at that time no such thing as a Christian. A Christian is something new, something totally unique to this age.

Further still, and even more significant, is the word man. The Greek here is not anēr, “a male person,” rather anthropos, the word that speaks of man as a “species,” man as a race. We can, therefore, say that there is a “new humanity” that is in contrast to the “old humanity.” And what is this “new humanity?” It is the Church. While individuals are meant, for each separate Christian is needed to make up the whole, the deeper meaning is the Church. The Church is the new, the unique thing that has never before existed. Old titles, old distinc­tions are no longer important or even valid; all men have been united into one new humanity by the blood of Christ. When we received Christ as Savior, we were ushered into this new humanity.

How thrilling this is! There has never been a greater enmity in human history than the enmity between Jew and Gentile—nothing testifies to that more than the Holocaust or the continual warfare in the Middle East. But the cross has brought these two warring factions together. In fact, it was only the cross that could bring these together.

This challenges every Christian to treat every other Christian as exactly what he or she is—another part of the body. The cross of Christ has destroyed all barriers, and this challenges us not to build any new ones. There is no longer Jew or Gentile—or any other race for that matter, whether it be Negro, Hispanic, Oriental, or Caucasian. We are all something much better now—A CHRISTIAN. Shame on us if we ever make any brother or sister in Christ feel any different, for it is sin, plain and simple.