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, 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.