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, 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.”