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, April 30, 2012

Is Peace Truly Possible? (1)

Ephesians 2:14a makes a staggering claim: For [Christ] is our peace. Why is that staggering? Because when has man ever known real peace?

The cost of war in human life is mind-numbing. In World War I alone, the cost was almost eight and a half million. But that almost pales in significance to World War II, the most costly of all, in which the total number of fatalities, including battle deaths and civilians of all countries, is estimated to have been fifty-five million, plus another six million in the Holocaust.

The monetary cost of WW II is also staggering. It can only be roughly estimated at one trillion dollars. To put a trillion in perspective, if you typed a trillion dollar signs on your typewriter, it would take about 3,500 to fill a sheet of paper and then 285,714,286 sheets of paper to hold them all. How long would that take? If you could type non-stop, if would take you about 50 years to type a trillion dollar signs.

True peace has always appeared to be an elusive dream. Men have talked about it, coveted it, and striven for it for millennia. According to the Canadian Army Journal, a former president of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences, aided by historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India came up with some startling facts and figures. Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this period there have been 14,531 wars, large and small, in which 3,640,000,000 people have been killed. The monetary value of the destruction would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles in width and about 33 feet thick.

Similar calculations were made by Gustave Valbert in the The Moscow Gazette in 1861, but he added that from the year 1500 BC to AD 1860 (3,360 years) more than 8,000 treaties of peace, each meant to remain in force forever, were concluded. The average time they remained in force was two years.

Since 1919 alone, the nations of Europe have signed more than 200 peace treaties, each of which in turn was broken. Since the signing of the Armistice of November 11, 1918, which ended World War I, for every year of war there have been only two minutes of peace. In that same year, in an address to the United States Senate, President Woodrow Wilson made the ridiculous statement, “The League of Nations [the predecessor of the United Nations] is the only hope of mankind.” Interestingly enough, many are still saying that today.

Even more foolish was the statement the Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, made in September 1938 after meeting with Hitler in Munich and then returning home, “I believe it is peace for our time . . . peace with honor.” He had just signed the Munich Pact, which gave most of Western Czechoslovakia to Germany in exchange for Hitler’s promise not to take the rest and hopefully avert war. Of course, less than six months later, he did take the rest, followed by Poland a few months later, which forced Chamberlain’s resignation, made Churchill Prime Minister, and ignited World War II. The foolishness of that statement has been repeatedly demonstrated ever since, and political liberalism is still making the same disastrous mistake today.

Much wiser was a statement made by Summer Wells, US diplomat and one-time U.S. Undersecretary of State under FDR and obviously a student of history. He wrote: “History does not record any example of a military alliance between great nations which has endured. The result of such alliances has invariably been that the partners have jockeyed for individual influence and for selfish advantage. At best they have given rise to only a temporary and precarious balance of power.”

I have yet to find a better example of the truth of that statement than the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed on the night of August 23, 1939, which agreed that neither country would launch war on the other. It shocked the world because Adolf Hitler had clearly outlined in Mein Kampf that conquering the Soviet Union was the key to ruling Europe, which was always his goal. The sole purpose of that pact was to give him free reign to invade Poland, which he did nine days later on September 1. But less than two years after that, on June 22, 1941, Hitler broke that pact and invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, the largest attack in the history of warfare, with three and a half million men advancing along a thousand mile front.

Is peace truly possible? We’ll continue next time.

NOTE: Our next installment will be delayed until May 21st.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Drawing Near To God (2)

Continuing our thoughts on Ephesians 2:13—But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ—and Hebrews 10:22— “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water”—we saw last time that the first and foremost principle of what it means Biblically to draw near to God is having a sincere desire for Truth.

Second, drawing near to God means having absolute confidence in God. The words “full assurance” translate a Greek word (plerophoria) that means “entire confidence, full assurance.” To be near to God, then, means that we have total confidence in His promises, absolute assurance of His provision, and full trust in His sovereignty. The more we doubt Him, the more we question Him, the further away from Him we drift.

Third, drawing near to God means having a desire for holiness. The imagery in the words “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience” is distinctly Old Testament, referring to the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice for the cleansing of sin. But not only are we saved by this blood, but we are constantly brought back to it for daily cleansing. As the Apostle John declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9). We are forever coming back to the Cross, for it is there that our sin was dealt with and our conscience cleared.

Fourth, drawing near to God means having a desire for His Word. The first principle was one of attitude, while what we see here is the action. Some interpreters view the words “our bodies washed with pure water” as a reference to baptism. But this is clearly incorrect because baptism is not a washing away of sin, rather a symbol of identification, a public testimony of what has occurred in the heart. What this phrase means is that God’s Word is the commodity that is going to keep us clean by our constant “bathing” in it. Paul meant this when he wrote later in Ephesians: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (5:25-26). Drawing near to God means that we are constantly involved with His Word, to be constantly “immersed” in It.

So, Jews and Gentiles are on the same ground in this age. As Paul goes into more detail in the passage that follows, there is no distinction. Jews in the early church had a problem with this and Jews today still do; they believe man can come to God only through Judaism. But any division or distinction that exists is man-made. God has made all of us near in Christ. All men now come to God on exactly the same basis—the blood of Christ.

The story is told of a preacher who was one day approached by a man who had heard him preach. The man said, “I don’t like your theology at all—it’s too bloody. It’s all blood, blood, blood. I like a pleasanter gospel.” The preacher replied, “My theology is bloody, I allow; it recognizes as its foundation a very sanguinary scene—the death of Christ, with bleeding hands and feet and side. And I am quite content that it should be bloody, for God hath said, ‘that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins’ [Heb. 9:22].” The same is true today. Most people want a sentimental gospel or a feel-good gospel, something that appeals to their “felt needs.” While they don’t like “a bloody Gospel,” that is, indeed, the only Gospel, the only good news. As Paul writes in Galatians 1, any other “gospel” is not a gospel (good news) at all and must be cursed. The only good news is the blood of Christ. As one poet puts it: “So near, so very near to God / Nearer I cannot be; / For in the Person of His Son / I am as near as He.”

This sets the stage for verses 14-18. How can a person come near to God? Can he come through philosophy or logic? Can he come through apologetics or argumentation? Can he come through works, religion, or sacraments? Can he come by mysticism? No, and he can’t even come by Judaism or even the teachings of Christ. The only way to God is through the blood of Christ. Augustus Toplady, the author of the old hymn “Rock of Ages,” realized this the day he was converted while listening to a message on Ephesians 2:13. And as Paul proclaimed back in 1:7: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

Drawing Near To God (1)

A well-known Bible fact is that Jesus was a Jew, and it was therefore through the Jews that He came into world. Historically, the Jews had many advantages that the Gentiles did not have. Ephesians 2:11 paints a bleak picture of the Gentile: That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. In other words, as commentator William Hendrickson summarizes, the Gentiles were Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless, and Godless. But verse 13 changes all that: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

As we vividly recall, back in verses 1-3 Paul paints a bleak picture of man, but then writes in verse 4, “But God.” He does the same thing in verses 11-12. He paints another bleak picture—a picture of the Gentiles by position and the whole world by extension—but then says, But now. Once far off, the Gentiles, not to mention the whole world, is now made nigh by the blood of Christ.

To put it simply: The blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has changed everything. The words far off comprise an old term in Rabbinical writings that was used to describe Gentiles. But Gentiles are now made nigh, that is brought near, by the blood of Christ. The words made nigh (or “to come near”) also comprised a “technical expression in Rabbinical Judaism” that referred to “the recruiting of a proselyte.” The Jewish Rabbinic writers, for example, tell how a Gentile woman came to Rabbi Eliezer. She confessed that she was a sinner and asked to be admitted to the Jewish faith. “Rabbi,” she said, “bring me near.” The Rabbi refused and shut door in her face. But now the door is open. Those who had been far from God were brought near; the door was shut to no one. We each have, indeed, been “made a proselyte,” not by religion or works, but by the Savior’s blood. Where once there was this great division between Jew and Gentile, there is now unity in Christ.

As I meditated on this verse, another verse came to mind, James 4:8: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” Let’s ponder a moment what it means to be near to God. In the Old Testament the term “drawing near to God” was a general expression for one who sincerely approached God in humility and repentance. Hebrews 10:22, also written in the light of the Old Testament, is a verse we should examine closely: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” We find here four principles of what it means Biblically to draw near to God.

First, and foremost, drawing near to God means having a sincere desire for Truth. The words “true heart” are alethines kardias. As we saw 1:13, both the English word “truth” and the Greek behind it speak of that which is absolute, that which is incontrovertible, irrefutable, incontestable, unarguable, and unchanging. If something is true, it is always true and can never be untrue, no matter what the circumstances. The specific form of the Greek used here also refers to “sincerity.” Kardia (“heart”) refers not just to the emotional nature, but also to the reason and faculty of intelligence.

In syrupy sentimentality and with a sweet little lilt in their voice, many today say such things as, “I want to be near God” or “I want to get close to God,” but when confronted with the absolutes of God’s Word, they rebel. That is a staggering contradiction. They don’t want to draw near to God at all. They are like the Israelites, of whom Isaiah wrote, “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (29:13). Yes, they say the words but when it comes down to real Truth, they reject it and live according to their own ways. The most important thing that drawing near to God means is that we sincerely want to hear, receive, and obey His Truth. We’ll continue next time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

God’s Work Through Us (2)

Last time we left a question hanging in the air. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes that the Christian has been created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them, but which works are good works?

The answer is summed up right here in Ephesians: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (4:24). We will, of course, more closely examine this verse later in our study, but the thrust of it is a good work is whatever is right and holy according to the Word of God. God has defined good works and these good works are to be the rule of life for the believer. We do not run about saying, “Oh, what can I do today that is good? What shall be my good deed for the day?” No, good works are the rule of life; we do them automatically because they have become part of our na­ture through the Spirit of God. We help others, we minister to one another, we live holy, and much more because it has become “reflex” to do so.

A sure way to know what works are good works is to examine the principle of “God’s will.” A question that is often asked is, “What is God’s will in a given situation?” Or, “How do I know what God’s will is?” Or, “What is God’s will for my life?” To answer such questions, some interpreters teach some magic formula for “finding God’s will” or advocate “putting out a fleece.” But what we find in Scripture is that it is actually Scripture that reveals the bulk of God’s will. We see no less than seven principles in Scripture that specifically tell us what God’s will is for our lives. Space doesn’t permit us to examine them, but at least we can list them.

First, it is God’s will that you are a Spirit-filled (5:17-18). Second, it is God’s will that you be morally pure (I Thes. 4:3-7). Third, it is God’s will that you are constantly being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2). Fourth, it is God’s will that you thank Him in all things, that is, you are submissive to the sovereignty of God (I Thes. 5:18). Fifth, it is God’s will that you pray (I Tim. 2:8). Sixth, it is God’s will that you submit to authority (I Pet. 2:13-15). Seventh, it is God’s will that you be willing to suffer for Christ (I Pet. 3:17; 4:19; II Tim. 3:12).

All these are good works, works that are God’s revealed will. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life in this specific situation?” Well, when we are doing these principles of His will, we will be able to see the rest easily. God’s not going to lead in any area unless we are first obeying His already revealed will. First and foremost, God’s will is found in God’s Word.

May we each ask ourselves a series of questions. Am I allowing God to work in me? Am I allowing Him to have constant control? Am I allowing Him to mold and fashion me according to His sovereign will? Do I really desire growth that is only produced by a constant involvement with the Word of God? Do I live right and holy as revealed in the Scriptures?

It is also a well-known fact that Michelangelo personally went to the quarry to select the marble block on which he would work, allowing no one else to touch it lest they mar it in some way. Likewise, God, the Great Sculptor, who brought all things into existence with a thought, chose us and is now molding us and then using us to glorify Him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

God’s Work Through Us (1)

Ephesians 2:10—For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them—not only speaks of God working in use but also of His working through us. And how is God working through us? By good works.

Once again, there is a great difference between works for salvation and works as a result of salvation. This difference is made all the more clear by the fact that both thoughts are in this context. As we’ve seen, verses 7‑9 say that we are saved by grace without works; verse 10 says salvation is followed by good works.

Any theology that mixes grace with works or faith with merit is heresy, plain and simple, and is to be cursed (Gal. 1:8-9). But may we add that a theology that eliminates works altogether and says that a person can be a Christian but show no evidence of it in his life, a person can do anything he wants to do, is equally heretical. Works most certainly are involved in the Christian life; while they are not the cause, they most assuredly are the result. Or to put it another way: We are saved by grace without works, and we now live through grace, which produces good works. As commentator William MacDonald puts it, “Good works are not the root but the fruit.”

It is also extremely significant that the works in verse 9 are not called good. This truth alone should obliterate any thought of salvation by works. Why? Because they are not good in God’s sight. Before Christ, there were no good works, not matter how good we might view them. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” that is, as the Hebrew word literally means, a “menstrual cloth” (Jer. 64:6). At best our works are self-serving, but not God-honoring. Yes, we can “boast” in them, but they are not good.  The works in verse 10, however, are good in God’s sight.

Perhaps the most thrilling thought about living the Christian life is that these good works have already been ordained by God…that we should walk in them. In other words, the good works that the sovereign God is doing in me today have already been prepared.

Why are these works “good?” Because God has dictated them; that is, we do not produce them. God has already marked out what works are good and what works are not good. The reason the works of verse 9 are not called good is because they are man‑made instead of God‑ordained. Moreover, any works that man produces are “works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11; Rom. 13:12).

All this is proven by the words before ordained (proetoimazo), which means “to prepare before, to make ready beforehand.” One Greek authority sums it up well: “God prearranged a sphere of moral action for us to walk in. Not only are works the necessary outcome of faith, but the character and direction of the works are made ready by God.”

Many Christians walk around like “Christian boy‑scouts,” looking for good deeds to do in order to receive their “merit badge” (crown) when they get to heaven. But the main problem with that approach is that it leaves man to decide which works are good. This attitude is precisely what has caused much of the pragmatic ministry of our day, where we think that any ministry is okay. It is this attitude that has created the seeker-sensitive “mega-churches” that have become so popular to masses. We have decided what ministry is and how to conduct it. Instead of looking at Scripture alone, we think it up as we go along. But God never leaves man to decide anything. Rather, God has defined what is good. This, then, leads to the question: Which works are good? We’ll answer that next time.