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, December 31, 2012

“Auditing” Christianity

I hope no one minds, but I would again interrupt our exposition for a single post (and I’m quite sure it will happen again). I am just compelled to share a burden with you. We will return to Ephesians 3:8 next time.

Until just a few years ago, I taught computer science, and even a few Bible courses, part-time at a local college for 16 years. At the beginning of each semester I gave each student a syllabus explaining everything about the course. One of the items on the syllabus was the grading option each student had to select. As I would explain in my orientation lecture, the first choice was a “Letter Grade,” which, of course, required them to do all the assigned work. The second choice was “Pass/Fail,” which also meant they would do the work but would receive only a “P” or “F” at the end of the course, a little easier option some chose if they did not plan on perusing a college degree. The third choice, however, was an “Audit.” This meant that they could take the course only for whatever they wanted to get out of it and that no work was required of them.

That well illustrates a very pointed statement the Scripture writer James (the half-brother of Jesus) makes in his epistle: But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (Jas. 1:22). The word hearers translates a fascinating Greek word (akroatēs) that was used of people who sat and listened to a singer or speaker simply for the pleasure of doing so with no responsibility attached. In other words, they “audited” the performance.

It is tragic, indeed, that there are some (if not many) in churches today who are simply “auditing” Christianity. Some shop around for a church that will entertain them and give them what they want. Others might actually be in a church that preaches truth, but they take little interest in it. They have no desire to obey it or implement it in their lives. Such an attitude, when it is persistent, indicates that such people are not true Christians at all, rather pretenders. Such people think they belong to God—perhaps because they made some vague, nebulous “profession” of faith at some point in their lives—when in reality they are not true believers. In fact, the two greatest evidences of true conversion to Christ, true Christian faith, are obedience to God’s Word (John 14:15, 23, 24; 1 John 2:1–5) and holiness of life (Eph. 4:24; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7). True Christianity is about transformation of life: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What, then, does James say about such auditors? He bluntly declares they are deceiving [them]selves. The Greek behind deceiving (paralogizomai) means to reason alongside of, that is, to reason incorrectly, often including the idea of deliberate false reasoning for the purpose of deception. So, those who profess to be Christians but then hear the Word of God but persistently choose to disobey it, deliberately deceive themselves into believing they are true Christians when they are not.

I recently came across an old Scottish expression that struck me profoundly. It speaks of such false Christians as “sermon tasters who never tasted the grace of God.” I was immediately reminded of Costco and Sam’s Club, where you can walk along and get free samples of food. Many “do church” the same way. They wander and browse, pick a sample or two, and then mosey along to the next attraction. They might even comment, “Mmm, that’s pretty good,” but nothing changes. They taste a little of God’s goodness, but they are not transformed by His grace.

I pray that you are not such a one. I pray that whatever church you call “home” is one that preaches the unaltered Truth of God’s Word, which you then live and obey.

Monday, December 17, 2012

“Less Than the Least”

In one more look at Paul’s view of “self” in Ephesians 3:8—Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints—I am reminded often how man is always seeking glory. But while seeking glory is a natural trait in us all, it is not a spiritual one. It never ceases to amaze me every day how plain Bible principles and obvious Bible verses are simply ignored. What the Bible says is just simply disregarded, even by Christians and Christian leaders. We give lip service to the Bible, but disregard what It says. Totally ignored, for example, is the clear fact that in the 49 occurrences of the word “pride” and in the 48 occurrences of the word “proud” in Scripture (KJV), not a single one is used in a positive way. Never is pride tolerated, much less praised, as it is today. In spite of that some Christians leaders teach “positive pride” doctrine, and other teachers speak of building up self, but they are wrong—it is as simple as that. They are teaching a philosophy that is the very opposite of what God says. And what does that make them? FALSE TEACHERS. The clear conclusion of Scripture is that “God resisteth the proud” (Jas. 4:6), even if that pride is a supposed “positive pride.” Likewise, does Psalm 16:18 say,  “Pride goeth before exaltation?” No, it says, “Pride goeth before destruction?”

We should also observe that of the 402 occurrences of the word “glory” (KJV), the only acceptable usage is when glory is directed toward God, never to man. As Paul told the arrogant, self-centered, self-sufficient Corinthians, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:31) and “let no man glory in men” (3:21). Why? Because we “have nothing to glory of” (9:16). And why is that? As he asked earlier in that letter, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (4:7).

Now, in spite of all that simple, basic, plain Bible Truth, Christians are nevertheless more and more drawn into pride and self-glory, whether it’s in their jobs, in the virtual god of “sports,” or even Church ministry.

I admit to a love of good movies, and one of my all-time favorites is Patton, in which actor George C. Scott plays the enigmatic General George Smith Patton (about whom I’ve also read three biographies). At the end of the movie, just before the closing credits roll, you see Patton walking alone in the countryside and hear a voice-over of the General recounting the glory of ancient soldiers that he so admired. Those words hit me so hard every time I hear them that I committed them to memory:

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters, musicians, and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. “The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

Those words truly capture Patton. After his Third Army’s dramatic breakout from Normandy, its headlong armored advance across France, its glorious relieving of besieged Bastogne during The Battle of the Bulge, and finally its key role in the thrust across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany, did Patton die in a blaze of glory on the battlefield as his lead tank exploded upon being hit by a German 88-millimeter round? No. After V-E Day (May 8, 1945), he was relegated to a desk job in Germany, a general of a paper army consisting of a few researchers and clerks.  A few months later his neck was broken in a minor traffic accident; now a quadriplegic, the great George Patton died a few days later.

As Jeremiah so wonderfully declares: “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD” (Jer. 9:23-24).

Let us all say with humble Paul, “I am the leaster.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Paul’s View of “Self”

In one of the most dramatic contrasts in all of Scripture, we see that Paul’s attitude of “self” was the polar opposite of man’s view. There are actually several instances in Scripture where Paul views himself. In I Corinthians 15:9 he declares himself to be “the least of the Apostles.” We know, of course, that the very opposite was true; Paul was the greatest of the Apostles; he took the Gospel to virtually all the ancient world, founded numerous churches, taught doctrine to ground those believers in the Truth, and wrote letters to confirm them in that Truth, encourage them, and deal with error that arose. But while Paul accomplished more than all the other Apostles put together, he didn’t act it. He considered himself “the least of the Apostles.” Likewise, in I Timothy 1:15 he considers himself to be, of all the sinners that ever were, “the chief of sinners.” What humility! What a contrast to man’s elevation of himself!

Ephesians 3:8 provides us with the most vivid description of all. What an odd statement Paul makes here: less than the least of all saints. As one commentator writes: “If words mean anything, it is impossible for anyone or anything to be less than the least. This is like saying you are higher than the highest.” Or to put it another way, how can one be less than zero?  Is it possible to be a negative number? But that is exactly Paul’s point. While in his depravity, man thinks he is higher than the highest, better than the best, greater than the greatest, and so on, Paul’s self-evaluation is the exact opposite: lower than the lowest, worse than the worst, less than the least.

This truly flies in the face of the “cult of selfism” that we outlined earlier, into which countless Christians have fallen. May we submit that any such attitude is not only the opposite of the man who is consider the greatest of the Apostles, but also of our Lord Jesus Himself, as He “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Think of it! Our Lord is God, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14), but He humbled Himself and died crucifixion, the most agonizing and humiliating death, reserved for criminals and slaves, the dregs of society. It so needs to be made clear that the “selfism” of our day could not be further from the New Testament standard of spirituality and holiness.

To create the image he wanted to convey, Paul forms what we would call “a comparative formed on a superlative.” For example, to make a comparative out of the word “small,” we add “‑er,” making “smaller.” If we wanted to make a superlative, we just add “‑est,” making “smallest.” So, in our text, for the sake of good English grammar, two words are used: “less” (the comparative) and “least” (the superlative). But in the Greek there is only one word, which we could literally translate “lower than the lowest,” or “more least,” but still we have multiple words. The most literal idea, then, is “leaster.” The form of the Greek here is “designed to express the deepest abasement.” This was Paul’s view of himself; he saw himself as less than the least, the “leaster,” of all saints. This wasn’t false humility or fake modesty but rather a true, Biblical assessment of himself before God.

In contrast to the self-exaltation of our day, the picture of the true spiritual believer is to consider himself to be “the leaster” of everyone else. We must never forget what we were outside of Christ. One of the greatest tragedies in Christianity today is that very few preachers preach Ephesians 2; no one wants to reflect on the depraved creatures we humans are, and we certainly don’t want to talk about sin and judgment or ever use the “H-word” (“Hell”). Today’s view is that such things are in “poor taste” and  “damage people’s self-esteem.”

Oh, may we grasp Paul’s attitude, Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints. Dear Christian, is that your view of self? Are you concerned with “self‑image” or CHRIST‑IMAGE? Whose image do you want to reflect in your life? Do you want people to see you or see Christ? Many parents, at the urging of Christian psychologists, are concerned about their children’s self‑image when what they should be teaching them is that they should constantly be striving for a Christ‑image. The less conscious we are of self, the more Christ‑like we will be.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Man’s View of “Self” (2)

Continuing our thoughts on the Apostle Paul’s view of himself in Ephesians 3:8—Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints—he not only decreased himself, as we've noticed, but he also tells all believers to do the same. As he wrote the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). That sure doesn't sound like we should stand in front of the mirror and “repeat some positive affirmations of things [we] have done.” Likewise, Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly” (Rom. 12:3). Indeed, it isn't sober thinking to glorify “self” because again, “selfhas always been man’s problem. But everyone today is striving to make “self” stronger instead of bringing it more under Spirit control. In fact, whenever the Word of God does mention “self,” It makes it clear that it is something to be denied, not reaffirmed (Mk. 8:34). Our desire must be humility (Prov. 11:2; 15:33; Mk. 8:34; Eph.. 3:8; 4:2; Phil 2:5–8; Jas. 4:6; etc.), and the philosophy of “self” that is rampant today is the very opposite of humility. It is pride and is no less than the glorification, even deification, of man, as Romans 1:25 declares: “[Man] changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.”

Instead of embracing the “selfism” of our day, may we embrace the truth of these words spoken by 17th Century Scottish preacher Samuel Rutherford: “But alas! that Idol, that whorish creature myself is the master idol we all bow to. What hurried Eve headlong upon the forbidden fruit, by that wretched thing herself? What drew that brother-murderer to kill Abel? That untamed himself . . . Every man blames the devil for his sins; but the great devil . . . that eateth and lieth in every man’s bosom, is that idol that killeth all, himself. Oh! blessed are they who can deny themselves, and put Christ in the room of themselves! Oh sweet word. I live no more, but Christ liveth in me.”

Ponder an illustration. Paul declares in Romans 8:29 that God “did predestinate [the believer] to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be the “image” of something means that we are to “reflect” something. This again brings to mind a mirror  a device designed to show us our image, but this use is quite different from the one mentioned earlier. Would it not be ridiculous for the mirror to try to develop it’s own self‑image? Of course it would; its function is to reflect. Likewise, how ridiculous for a Christian to strive for his a self image, because our function is not to have an image of self but an image of Christ. Countless Christians are concerned with their self-­image when their sole concern should be with their Christ‑image. We will emphasize this again later.

We should all be reminded of that Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who boasted, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30, emphasis added). While the words were still in his mouth, God responded: “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will” (vs. 31–32).