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, June 18, 2012

The Demolishing of a Wall

Not only does Ephesians 2:14 declare that [Christ] is our peace, but it also declares He has broken down the middle wall of partition between us. Here is a truly fascinating point! This middle wall has an important historical meaning. Some expositors suggest that this is a parallel term for the tearing of the veil in the temple at Jerusalem during Jesus’ crucifixion. But this cannot be since the tearing of the veil pictured the removal of the barrier of sin between man and God. This is clearly not what is being pictured here. This middle wall actually refers to a literal wall.

Before looking at that literal wall, let us illustrate with another. While the people slept on the night of August 13, 1961, one faction of their government began closing the border between the two halves of the city. By morning, the job was done and the Berlin Wall was born. Streets had been torn up and barbed wire fences took their place. Over the next few years, the wall evolved until the final result was a 66-mile long, 11.8-foot high concrete wall, complete with 302 watchtowers. Over the 28 years that the wall stood, 192 people were killed and approximately 200 more injured by shooting as they tried to get past that wall to freedom. Is it not interesting how many were killed trying to come west, but how few tried to go east?

It was then on June 12, 1987 that then President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech to the people of West Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate, a speech that could also be heard in East Berlin. Near the end he made that dramatic Cold War plea to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev that truly signed the Reagan legacy. Gesturing to the wall behind him, he said: “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Twenty-eight months later the Berlin Wall came down. As part of Mr. Reagan’s legacy, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), the ninth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was commissioned on July 12, 2003. A piece of the wall, adorned with a bronze profile of Reagan by artist Chas Fagan is now displayed aboard that vessel. During a Precommissioning Ceremony, Commanding Officer Captain Bill Goodwin said, “Many of us who served during the Cold War remember what the Berlin Wall represented—oppression, communism, and a lack of trust between two super powers. This piece of the wall honors our namesake, whom many people credit with ending the Cold War.”

What a dramatic picture! The middle wall Paul refers to here, however, was even more daunting, dreaded, and divisive, but it too was eventually destroyed. It was the wall in Jerusalem that separated the court of the Gentiles from the temple area. First Century Jewish historian Josephus records that there was an inscription on the wall in both Greek and Latin “which forbade any foreigner [i.e. Gentile], to go in under pain of death.” Ironically, Paul was wrongfully accused of taking Trophimus (an Ephesian Gentile) past this point (Acts 21:29), and Paul undoubtedly had this incident in mind as he penned this Epistle. Archeological discoveries in 1871 and 1934 confirmed these warning inscriptions, which read, “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the sanctuary and enclosure. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.” These “Death Inscriptions” are now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. So, while that wall fell when Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. (some nine years from when Paul was writing), Paul saw this wall as ALREADY destroyed by Christ on the cross.

All this has a powerful application for today. There was (and still is) an arrogance and bigotry between Jew and Gentile that God never intended. God’s intention was that the Jews use the “court of the Gentiles” as a place to win the Gentiles to Judaism and eventually bring them into the temple, but the Jews used the “dividing wall” to keep the Gentiles restricted, to keep them forever outside God’s favor.

It also challenges us concerning our need today to realize the oneness that should be present in the Body of Christ. We are not advocating a compromise of doctrine, for no church or individual believer should fellowship with the liberals and apostates who deny foundational doctrines such as grace alone, the Deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, or the Inspiration of Scripture. But we should always strive for unity when doctrine allows it. We will deal with this in more detail in Ephesians 4, but unity is not only a PRACTICAL principle (Eph. 4) but it is first a DOCTRINAL principle (Eph. 2). We will never have true “practical unity” unless we understand the doctrinal truth of what made it possible.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Christ Is Our Peace (2)

Once again contemplating Paul’s statement Ephesians 2:14—For [Christ] is our peace—Scripture reveals that there are two major aspects of peace that the believer possesses, the first of which is peace WITH God.

Second, the believer also possesses the peace OF God. Philippians 4:6-7 is one of those truly wonderful and comforting passages. In it Paul proclaims three principles.

He first voices a Warning, “Be careful for nothing.” “Careful” translates merimnao, which speaks of being anxious, full of care, worried, and nervously concerned. The Lord Jesus used this word in Matthew 6:31, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (emphasis added). He then adds in verses 33-34, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (emphasis added). Literally, our Lord is saying, “Be not anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for the things of itself.” This, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t think ahead or plan ahead; if that were true, the farmer would never plant. Rather, you need not worry of the end result because worry won’t change the outcome. Paul, therefore, gives us this warning because worry will defeat us.

Paul secondly offers an Encouragement, “But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Simply put, we don’t worry about anything because we pray about everything.

Paul thirdly adds a Promise, “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The Greek behind “keep” (phroureō) is a military term that pictures protection by a military guard, either to prevent hostile invasion, or to keep the inhabitants of a besieged city from flight. If we pray and leave it there, God will walk around the ramparts and towers of our lives and protect us from invaders and prevents us from leaving the safety of His care.

This peace comes into two areas. It comes first into our “hearts” to prevent the wrong feelings. We live in feelings-oriented age. Most people are conscious of and are always expressing their “felt needs.” But if we may be so bold, if they would simply turn to Christ and trust only Him, they would stop whining, they would know true comfort, and would keep their emotions in check. Second, this peace will keep our “minds” to prevent the wrong thinking. Many Christians today think the same way the world thinks, but with God’s peace in their minds, they will think the way God thinks.

How can we possibly worry and fret when we believe in the sovereignty of God? I would, therefore, offer this definition: The peace of God is not the absence of trial on the OUTSIDE but a quiet confidence in God on the INSIDE no matter what the circumstances.

Coming back to our text, knowing we have peace with God and the peace of God, makes peace possible between men. Again, as the Bible declares, and history illustrates, there is no hatred greater or conflict sharper than Jew verses Gentile. But Paul declares that Christ is OUR peace. That personal pronoun our (hēmon) is all inclusive, meaning all believers—Jew, Gentile, and all flavors of homo sapiens. As we’ll see in another installment, shame on us if we rebuild any walls that God has already torn down.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Christ Is Our Peace (1)

We look again at the wonderful truth of Ephesians 2:14a—For [Christ] is our peace. We first saw this word peace back in 1:2. The Greek (eirēne, which is similar to the Hebrew greeting “Shalom”) means “a state of tranquility; the opposite of rage and war.” But Paul goes still deeper by stating that Christ is actually peace itself. The literal translation of our text is, “For He Himself is our peace.” Again, men hold “peace-talks,” where they try to “achieve,” “promote,” or “enact” peace. But the Word of God declares that the Lord Jesus Christ IS peace. It’s also significant that Paul did not use the Greek word that means “peacemaker” (eirenopoios). What a great Truth! There are a lot of peacemakers today, those who try in vain to bring peace to the world. But the Lord Jesus is far more than a “peacemaker;” He is PEACE. Scripture reveals that there are two major aspects of peace that the believer possesses.

First, there is peace WITH God. Romans 5:1 is the key verse here: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In a day when the Gospel is presented as simply something that fixes all our problems or just makes God available when we need Him, the fact of God’s wrath is ignored.

Pastor and author John MacArthur tells of the day he heard a professional football coach say during a pre-game devotional service for his team, “I don’t know if there is a God, but I like having these chapels, because if there is one I want to be sure he’s on my side.” But Scripture declares that because of man’s sin and rebellion against God and His Law, God is actually at war with man; God is, in fact, never on the side of the unbeliever. Romans 1:18 declares: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” That is an absolute.

It was the cross, however, that reconciled man to God, that “made things right between them.” It was, and is, a perfect peace, not one that God looks at one way and man looks at in another. After World War I, a French statesman pointed out that only two types of peace follow a war: first, the peace imposed upon the defeated by the conqueror, and second, the peace accepted by the defeated through surrender. In other words, there’s a vast difference between the peace one party imposes and the one the other party accepts. That was never truer than it was in that same era with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I. The harsh measures imposed upon Germany by the European allies created a seething resentment and made World War II inevitable. It is, in fact, true, as one writer puts it, “when they created the crazy Treaty of Versailles, they also created Hitler.” Some historians even say that every war since World War I has simply been an extension of that war.

But as our Lord declared in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (emphasis added). Can any of us honestly say that any so-called peace that man has achieved has achieved the promise “let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid?” I certainly can’t find one in any history book. God’s peace is nothing like man’s peace. It is perfect not only for He Who imposed it, but also for those upon whom it is bestowed. As someone has beautifully put it, “As the needle in a compass trembles till it settles in the north point, so the heart of a sinner can get no rest but in Christ.” If I might build upon that, Christ is, indeed, our True North. We’ll continue this thought next time.