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, 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.