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 30, 2013

The Foundation of a Church: Leadership

Leadership is the unconditional key to building God’s work on earth. It is the breakdown of Biblical leadership, in fact, that is the chief problem today. Leadership, such as those mentioned in the last installment, is the major contributor to the secular direction the Church has taken. I do not wish to sound unkind or divisive, but I want to be totally, absolutely, exclusively Biblical in building God’s Church, and the fact is that that is not the approach of the majority of Church leadership today. We are not attacking anyone here, we are not being personal, rather we are discerning truth from error according to the Word of God alone.

The foundation for building God’s work revolves around what Scripture calls “spiritual gifts,” and specifically the “office gifts” as declared in Ephesians 4:8 and 11: When [Christ] ascended up on high, he . . . gave gifts unto men . . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. Spiritual gifts are essential to all earthly ministry. Without them, in fact, the Church can not possibly function. Without the gift of teaching (Rom. 12:7), for example, there would be no one to teach and preach the Word so people could grow. Without the gift of ministry (service), nothing would ever get done within the Body. Paul deals first with gifted leadership because it is the key to building and maintaining the Church.

The words He gave are pivotal. The Greek here includes an “intensive pronoun” (autos edoken) that yields the literal idea “He Himself gave,” that is, He and no one else. In other words, these offices are God-given only, not by the Church, not by a school, not even by the person who wants to fill an office. The common attitude today is that someone can just say, “I want to teach,” and are then qualified to teach. While such willingness is commendable, it doesn’t qualify. As none of the Apostles appointed themselves but were chosen by Christ, neither does any man appoint himself to any of these offices. As one commentator aptly puts it, “The Jesus Who ascended—this, and none other, is the sovereign donor. The provider and bestower are one in the same.” As we’ll see in a later installment, it is Christ alone Who calls to ministry.

So, these “office gifts” consist of specially gifted men which God has given to the Church as leaders. There can be no doubt whatsoever that the reason for the state of the Church today lies at the doorstep of its leaders. As mentioned earlier, it has been poor leadership that has lead people down the road of secularism, Pragmatism, and Relativism.

Mark it down: the Church will rise or fall based on its leadership. One illustration should suffice. Can we imagine the consequences of sending an army into battle without leadership? What would be the result of the battle if there were no squad leaders, no company captains, no division generals, or any other commanding officers? What would be the magnitude of disaster if we just sent the army into battle with words, “Just do the best you can?” But that is exactly what the church is doing today because of weak and sometimes non-existent leadership. We have neglected the strict qualifications for leadership, abandoned proper training for ministry, and have discarded the entire concepts of the call and ordination.

Monday, December 23, 2013

How to Build a Church

Since the 1970s there has been a massive amount of writing on how to build the Church. As one studies the historical data, however, he discovers that the methods get progressively more modern and secular as the years unfold. This came to final fruition in the mid-1990s with the total abandonment of Biblical methods for building the Church. The method used by a major contributor in the early-1980s was an appeal to every person’s need for self-esteem; he proceeded to build his entire Theology and Church ministry on that so-called “human need.”

From there things got even worse. One of the most prominent figures today in Church building decided that, instead of self-esteem, “personal fulfillment” is the greatest need and built his Church on that sandy foundation. Countless pastors have followed his philosophy in building their churches as well. As a result, gone today are the truths of sin, wrath, and repentance. In their place are “felt-needs,” love and acceptance, and personal fulfillment. Addressing these issues is also radically different from what Scripture says. Doctrine and absolute truth are out, while entertainment, pop-psychology, motivational “sermons,” and other man-centered methods are in.

In stark contrast to the modern secular mind, in a tremendously significant passage, Ephesians 4:7-16, the Apostle Paul outlines God’s four-fold method for building and growing a Church: the Foundation (Leadership, vs. 7-11); the Approach (Discipleship, v. 12); the Purpose (Maturity vs. 13-14); and the Instrument (Truth, vs. 15-16).

While space doesn't allow a full examination of this passage, I want to touch on the major points in the next few installments. My reason for doing so is that the Local Church is the physical arm of God for working in the world. His end is the salvation of people and their subsequent training to carry on service. Now, because this end is spiritual, it can only be fulfilled by a means that is spiritual. And again, many churches are not using spiritual tools to build, rather secular, and even fleshly, tools. Often the message is not even spiritual, rather it appeals to emotions and physical needs. While such things might make people feel good temporarily, they will not meet spiritual needs and hence will have no eternal value. Our concern must be for that which lasts forever, not “the fashion of this world [that] passeth away” (I Cor. 7:31; cf. I Jn. 2:17).

I pray that the next severlal installments will be a blessing and encouragement.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Paul’s Doctrinal Statement

Let us take one more look at Ephesians 4:4-6: There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

To bring these seven unities together, here we read the very essence of the Christian faith. Down through the ages there have been creeds, doctrinal statements, statements of faith, catechisms, and other forms of stating doctrinal positions. But here we find a Biblical statement of faith on which we base unity and fellowship.

We could, for example, put it in the form of a Creed, which historically begins with “I believe” or “We believe,” followed by one or more paragraphs stating our belief. Or we could put it in the form of a Catechism, first asking a question, such as, “What is one faith?” followed by the Biblical answer. Whatever form we could choose, the result would be the same. What is the doctrine to which we hold?

One Body (Christ’s Body, of which we are all members); One Spirit (the Holy Spirit Who indwells, enlightens, equips, and empowers the believer); One Hope (the certainty of Christ’s return to the Earth for His own); One Lord (the Lord Jesus Christ Who is Savior, Master, and God incarnate); One Faith (salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from any merit or works and the acceptance of the Bible as the only inspired, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient revelation to man); One Baptism (the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that places us into the Body of Christ); One God (the one and only True God Who is the Father of all who receive the Son through the Spirit).

There is a truly Biblical doctrinal statement, and it is based on that that we can have true unity. That great British expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones closes his exposition of this passage with these words: 

“Have you contemplated this great truth? Have you consider the fact that God the Father, God the Son, and god the Holy Spirit are concerned in your redemption? Have you seen that to realize this alone makes us one? The end of all doctrine is to lead to the knowledge of God, and the worship of God; any knowledge we may have is useless if it does not bring us to that point. If your spirit is not humble, if you are not loving, if you are not concerned about this unity of God’s people, you have nothing better than intellectual knowledge that is barren and may indeed be even of the Devil. Our Lord said, ‘If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them’ (Jn. 13:17). Are you striving to realize that there is ‘one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all?’”

Indeed, until Christianity today rids itself of artificiality and realizes that true unity can be based only on doctrine, it will continue its downward spiral into Relativism and finally oblivion.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Doctrine of One God

The seventh and final doctrinal truth in Ephesians 4:4-6 that forms the very essence of Christianity and therefore unites all true believers is one God.

First, there is the meaning of one God. Verse 6 declares: One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Here is the capstone of the passage. This is the culmination, the climax to which Paul has been building. Paul has built each of these spiritual realities on the other until he now reaches the summit in one God.

The three prepositions in this verse encapsulate the very nature of God. Above all speaks of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty. As the Psalmist proclaims, “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth” (57:11), “For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods” (96:4), and “The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people” (99:2). “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” Paul asks (Rom. 11:34). Flowing from that are the words through all, which demonstrate His providence, as He sustains, guides, and controls all things “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). In you all, then, pictures God’s omnipresence. As David exulted, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Ps. 139:6-10).

Second, there is the application of one God, which is: unity is possible only with a proper view of God. The true God of the Bible is not the polytheistic god of one certain cult we could name, the pantheistic god of another, the strict, harsh, emotionless god of one world religion that comes to mind, or the god of any other cult or false religion. Another particular group leaves its members to “name Him [i.e., God] as he will, think of Him as he pleases; make Him impersonal law or personal and anthropomorphic,” but then tells its more advanced members that the real name of God is Jahbulon. This is a combination of Jehovah (Jah), the God of the Old Testament, Baal (Bul or Bel), the infamous Canaanite fertility god, and On, a probable reference to the Egyptian god Osirus, the brother and husband of Isis. The purpose of such a composite “God” is to show unity between all gods-ideas, that all religions are essentially the same in their ideas of the divine.
What a tragedy and a travesty to the one God of the Bible, the one and only true God that there is. To join the one true God of the Bible with pagan deities is beyond blasphemy, beyond sacrilege. In fact, some of God’s severest judgments were upon those who worshiped pagan deities (see Judges 2:13-14; Jeremiah 32:29, 35-36).

Unity, therefore, can come only from a right view of the one God. To illustrate this right view, ponder a moment a symphony orchestra. As the musicians are tuning up, they each are doing something different, and it sounds awful. But when they are done, the Conductor appears and leads them in a beautiful piece of music. Even though the instruments are tuned and the musicians could go ahead and play the music, the Conductor is still absolutely essential. Likewise, countless people today are playing their own tune, or as Thoreau put it, marching to their own drummer. We so desperately need a Conductor, and we have Him in one God. He is “above all, through all, and in [us] all.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Doctrine of One Baptism

The sixth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one baptism.

First, there is the meaning of one baptism. While some interpreters think this refers to water baptism, Greek born New Testament Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates writes this authoritative statement: “The whole paragraph, Eph. 4:1-5, is indicative of Paul’s desire that there should be unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ. No reference is made to water baptism at all. The verse says, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ This baptism must be, therefore, be the spiritual baptism, the baptism in the Spirit that was promised by John the Baptist that the One coming after him would accomplish (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33) and Jesus Christ Himself promised in Acts 1:5. This took place in Acts 2 . . . The purpose of this Spirit baptism is shown in 1 Cor. 12:13 as the incorporation of all believers into the body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 1:22, 23).”

Second, there is the application of one baptism. As with “one spirit,” the application of one baptism is the right view of the nature and ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is truly tragic that there has been much disagreement over the meaning of I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” This verse teaches three things.

One, “baptized” is a past tense in the Greek (Aorist Tense), which speaks of punctilliar action in the past and can literally be translated “were baptized.” So when did it occur? On the Day of Pentecost. It was on that day that believers were placed into the Body of Christ. Each of us then takes part in the benefits of that day when we receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture are we commanded to seek this baptism because it is something God has already done. To repeats, nowhere does the Bible say, “Seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Why? Because it’s already been done. God alone has already done it

Two, the word “all” is inclusive. Paul simply does not say that only a certain elite class of Christian receives the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We repeat: the text does not say that. It is, therefore, poor exegesis and bad theology to say or even imply that it does. Paul very clearly says that all Christians, even that unbelievably carnal bunch in Corinth, whether Jew or Gentile, were placed into the Body of Christ and “have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Again, Paul’s whole point is oneness of all believers in Christ’s Body, not two divided classes, one of which has “experience” something the others have not.

Three, regardless of what some folks today might teach, the common phrase “baptism OF the Holy Spirit” is actually not a correct translation of this verse (or any other verse in the New Testament for that matter). It is a term without Biblical support whatsoever. The words “by one Spirit” translate the Greek en heni pneumati. The word en is a common word that can be translated not only as “by,” but also “with” and most commonly “in.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “For also in one Spirit we all to one body were baptized.” Similarly, Tyndale’s 1534 New Testament reads, “For in one spirit are we all baptized to make one body.”

We make this point for a very important reason. What did John the Baptist say as to those he baptized? He declared, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me  . . . he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). As the next verse makes clear, the baptism of “fire” speaks of the judgment of hell. So what John is saying is that every living person is in one way or the other baptized by Christ: believers are baptized with the Spirit into Christ’s body, and unbelievers will be baptized with fire into judgment. The point, therefore, is that it’s not that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit, but actually by Christ “with” or “in” the Holy Spirit. And it is this that places us into Christ’s Body. Our Lord has done all the work through His Spirit.

How we should rejoice in this one baptism! It is this that truly makes us one in Christ. It is in this doctrine that we have unity.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Doctrine of One Faith (2)

Last time we began our look at the fifth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers—is one faith. First we looked at the meaning of one Faith.

Second, there is the applications of one Faith. One application is again obvious: unity can only exist with a proper view of salvation. The hallmark of all cults and false religions is works, that a person attains salvation either in whole in or at least in part by his own efforts.

To one cult, for example, as its founder wrote, “[people] must be recovered from blindness as well as from death, that they, each for himself, may have a full chance to prove, by obedience or disobedience, their worthiness of eternal life.” As onother cult teaches, “All mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” Still another teaches, “Salvation, then is a process! But how the God of this world would blind your eyes to that!!! He tries to deceive you into thinking all there is to it is just ‘accepting Christ’ with ‘no works’—and presto-change, you are pronounced ‘saved.’ But the Bible reveals that none is yet ‘saved.’” And on it goes from religion to religion. Of course, the question arises, “But how many works are needed?” No one knows.

One world religion that is currently in vogue teaches the same philosophy—it’s just another religion of works. It is a legalistic system where a person must earn his salvation by holding to its five main doctrines, called the “Five Articles of Faith” (God, Angels, Scripture, Prophets, and Last Days), and especially following its “Five Pillars of Faith” (The Creed, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and the Pilgrimage to Mecca). This, of course, flatly denies Jesus’ own words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14:6). You might call Him anything else you wish, but the issue is the Lord Jesus Christ—one Lord and one faith. It’s not your works, not what you might do, but in Jesus Christ alone.

Another application is equally obvious: unity can only exist with a proper view of Scripture. Another hallmark of cults is their rejection of the Scriptures as the sole, absolute, and sufficient authority. One cult founder, for example, claimed she got her teachings from the Bible but also claimed in no uncertain terms that her revelations were higher than the Bible.

The common thread through all false teaching is adherence to a second authority that supersedes the Bible when the Bible says something that men don’t like. Even evangelicals, though they say the Bible is their authority, actually replace Scripture with their own ideas and opinions. The modern “ministries” of Pragmatism, Relativism, seeker-sensitivity, user-friendliness, seeking the unchurched, and so on are man’s philosophy not God’s revelation. This issue is imbedded deep in my soul, because compromise of the Truth is common place, because the Bible is replaced with what men think not what God says.

The Bible in no uncertain terms speaks of It being the sole and sufficient authority of God. A key verse here is II Peter 1:19: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” The word “sure” is the Greek bebaios, which means “fit to tread on, having a firm foundation, durable, unshakeable, sure, reliable, and certain.” Further, used in a legal sense, it meant “valid and legal.” So, as long as we cling to the Word, we will be firm, unshakable, sure, certain, and valid.

So, the application of one faith is very clear: unity can only exist with a proper view of salvation and Scripture. The doctrine of salvation today has been reconsidered, redefined, and even rejected. Likewise, the Word of God has been mocked, maligned, and mutilated. But one of the very foundations stones of unity is that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from any merit or works and the acceptance of the Bible as the only inspired, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient revelation to man. Opinions vary, experiences change, methods will adjust, but God’s Word lasts forever

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Doctrine of One Faith (1)

The fifth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one faith.

First, there is the meaning of one faith, which refers here not to the act of believing, rather to the doctrines that one believes, that is, a system of truth. Paul is saying that true unity is based on common doctrine, that is, the system of truth that we all have in common. This doesn’t mean an entire system of theology on which we all can agree; that would be impossible. Rather it refers again to the unique revelation of God through Christ. Paul has, of course, dealt with this often here in Ephesians. Specifically, this body of truth is the very essence of the Gospel, the redemption by blood and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This one faith is clearly stated in Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” This was the one faith that was virtually lost for centuries and restored to prominence in the Protestant Reformation. This is the one faith for which John Huss and countless others died for. This is the sola fide (faith alone) for which Martin Luther stood.

Also implicit in one faith is where this body of revealed truth is located, namely, the Scriptures. In other words, it is obviously the completed Scriptures that contain the record of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). In fact, a basic acknowledgment of Scripture as the Word of God is automatic in salvation. Why? Because the person is saying, “I believe what the Bible says about sin, salvation, and the Savior.” Here is an acknowledgment of the Scripture being true in its revelation of Christ. As Paul also declared to Timothy, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:2). Those early Christians had a body of basic doctrine (the Apostles’ doctrine; cf. Acts 2:42) that they believed and committed to others.

So important is right doctrine, that Paul spoke of those who “resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith” (II Tim. 3:8) and instructed Titus to “rebuke [false teachers] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). We do not tolerate false doctrine or embrace false teachers; rather we rebuke them. Why? Because they have violated “the faith.” Among Paul’s last words, in fact, was that confidence that, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7). May that be our testimony as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Doctrine of One Lord (3)

We’ve been examining the fourth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers—one Lord.

Concluding our look at the meaning of one Lord, when we examine Scripture, we can only come to one of three conclusions about Jesus. He was either a liar, the biggest fraud who ever lived, or He was a lunatic because He ultimately died for His false claim to be God, or He was exactly what He said He was—Lord. Time and again He spoke of His equality with the Father (Jn. 5:23; 8:19; 12:45; 15:23).

To this we should also add that according to Jewish law, only God could forgive sins, but this is precisely what Jesus did in Mark 2:5: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Once again the religious leaders were horrified and asked, “Doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?” (v. 7), to which the Lord Jesus asked, “Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?” (v. 9).

So, to answer that pastor’s statement we mentioned last time (“It’s too bad the Bible just doesn’t say, ‘Jesus was God”), that’s precisely what It does say. To the Jews’ ears, Jesus’ statements were just as clear as the words “Jesus was God” are to ours. They knew exactly what He was claiming, and they went berserk; likewise many are still doing so today because they refuse to admit Jesus was God. Paul well summed it up when he wrote to another pastor: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Truly we have unity in one Lord.

Second, there is the application of one Lord, which is, unity can only exist with a proper view of Christ. Christianity is Christ, so how we view Him is absolutely essential. As noted earlier, when used of Jesus in a confessional way, Lord clearly refers to His divinity. To argue that point is total folly and blatant apostasy.
Countless cults and false religions, for example, deny the Deity of Christ. To one cult, Jesus was not equal to Jehovah and was not God in human flesh but was rather a created being and was actually Michael the Archangel in his preexistent state, having a brother named Lucifer who rebelled against God. To another cult, Jesus—like all men, in fact—was a preexistent spirit who took his body at birth in this world; He is “set apart from the rest of us only by the fact that He was the first-born of God’s spirit-children.” Other cults illustrate why they are all defined as “a cult,” namely, because they deny the deity of Christ or in some way pervert that doctrine.

But all that is nothing new in Church history, but is simply a revival of the ancient heresy called Arianism. Arius, a 4th Century parish priest in Alexandria, taught that Jesus was not coequal with God and was, in fact, a created being. A popular book called The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Doubleday, 2003) is another graphic example. While seemingly just another thriller novel set in the present-day, it has a hidden agenda that makes it far more. Starting with the murdered curator of a Paris museum, the hero and heroin of the story must decipher the clues left behind by the murdered man and thereby uncover an ancient and sinister plot. And what is this ancient secret? The supposed “true” story that Christianity has been trying to hide for 1,600 years, namely, that Jesus was just another man who actually ended up marrying Mary Magdalene.

This serves to illustrate a consistent practice of unbelievers, namely, they must distort history to deny truth. Why? Because history, as the old expression goes, is “His Story.” It is what God is doing in the world, what He is accomplishing. So to escape the plain truths of God’s Word, men must revise the facts, reinterpret events, and rewrite the history books. Another example in our day is the rewriting of American history. To escape the fact of America being founded on Biblical and moral principles, revisionist historians totally ignore the godliness of many of our Founding Fathers.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Doctrine of One Lord (2)

Last time we began our look at the fourth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers—is one Lord.

Continuing our look at the meaning of one Lord, the Deity of Christ is an absolute cardinal doctrine of Christianity; without it, Christianity collapses of its own weight. But it’s also a doctrine that is clearly taught in Scripture without any ambiguity. I once heard a pastor say, “It’s too bad the Bible just doesn’t say, ‘Jesus was God’ and therefore clear up all the confusion.” I can’t express how that saddened me because it was based upon not only an ignorance of what we’ve just seen in the term one lord, but also of other statements in Scripture.

For example, one must always begin with John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Theologian Charles Ryrie well sums up the deep significance of this verse: “Before time began, Christ was already in existence with God. That is what is meant by the term ‘the pre-existent Christ.’ See Gen. 1:1 and 1 John 1:1. Logos [Word] means ‘word, thought, concept, and the expressions thereof.’ In the OT the concept conveyed activity and revelation, and the word or wisdom of God is often personified (Ps. 33:6; Prov. 8). In the Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the OT) it was a designation of God. To the Greek mind it expressed the ideas of reason and creative control. Revelation is the keynote idea in the logos concept. Here it is applied to Jesus, who is all that God is and the expression of Him (1:1, 14). In this verse the Word (Christ) is said to be with God (i.e., in communion with and yet distinct from God) and to be God (i.e., identical in essence with God).”

In Revelation 19:14, the one on the white horse is “The Word of God,” the Lord Jesus Christ. John 1:14 declares, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Only the most dishonest or foolish “interpreter” would deny what these verses declare concerning Jesus Christ.

Besides the many confessions of Jesus as God by his followers—Peter (Matt.16:16-17), Martha (Jn. 11:27), Nathaniel (1:49), Stephen (Acts 7:59), and Paul (Acts 20:28; Heb. 1:8)—more importantly Jesus Himself claimed He was God. This silences those who argue, “Well, Jesus’ followers were deluded; they thought He was God, but He didn’t really claim deity.” One key passage is John 5:16-18, where Jesus had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath: “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” While our culture might understand these words to mean, “Big deal. My father is working and I’m working. So what?” the Jews heard something far different. Based on their culture and traditions, what those religious leaders heard was this: “By using the term my Father instead of our Father, this man is claiming equality with God. This man is, in fact, claiming to be God.” And that is what enraged them.

The same thing happened on another occasion: “I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (John 10:30-33). The Jews knew exactly what Jesus was claiming to be. His statement, in fact, becomes all the more offensive to the Jewish ear because the Greek for “one” is neuter not masculine, which therefore means not one in person but one in essence or nature. Jesus was clearly saying that He was the same as God, and the Jews went berserk. We’ll take one more look at this next time.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Doctrine of One Lord (1)

The fourth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one Lord.

First, there is the meaning of one Lord. Without question, this is the most pointed and the most important of all seven of these spiritual realities and demands careful study. It appears in the middle of Paul’s list and does seem to be the very heart of our unity. There truly is only one Lordthe Lord Jesus Christ Who is Savior, Master, and God incarnate.

How vividly this is demonstrated in Mark 12:28-34. A certain scribe came to Jesus and asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” Jesus answered: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”

The scribe responded with his own profound statement: “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Seeing the scribe’s understanding, our Lord then said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” While the man was not yet in the kingdom, he was close. Notice specifically that he repeated everything Christ said except one Lord. He understood the importance of loving God; all that was left was to recognize Jesus Himself as Lord and believe and obey Him. As we’ll see in our application later, it’s amazing that the principle of Lordship in salvation is a big issue. Here is a vivid example of its importance.

The key to understanding this doctrinal reality is, of course, the term one lord. This is the pivotal term. The Greek behind lord is kurios. In early Classical Greek, while the word was applied to the gods, there was no general belief of a creator God. The word, therefore, was used in a broad way of someone who had power or authority. It was different in Eastern thought, however. To the Oriental mind, the gods were “the lords of reality.” By Jesus’ day, Eastern kings, such as Herod the Great (c. 73-74 B.C.), Agrippa I (10 BC.- AD 44), and Agrippa II (AD 27 - c. 100) came to be called lord. Most Roman emperors resisted such temptation, but others, such as Caligula (37-41 A.D.) and Nero (54-48) found it appealing. It was this very attitude of implied divinity that caused both Jews and Christians to refuse to use the term lord of the emperor.

Turning to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), kurios appears over 9,000 times, some 6,156 of which translate the Hebrew YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah), thus reemphasizing the meaning of divinity.

In the New Testament, then, kurios appears 717 times, the majority of which occur in Luke’s Gospel and Acts (210) and Paul’s Epistles (275). The reason for this, of course, was that they both wrote for readers who were dominated by Greek culture and language and who, therefore, understood the deep significance of this word in implying deity.

Finally, while lord is sometimes used as simply a title of honor, such as Rabbi, Teacher, Master (Matt. 10:24; cf. Lk. 16:3), or even a husband (I Peter 3:6), when used of Jesus in a confessional way, it without question refers to His divinity. The confession Kurios Iēsous (Lord Jesus) is rooted in the pre-Pauline Greek Christian community and is probably the oldest of all Christian creeds.

Early Christians unarguable recognized Jesus as God, as Paul wrote to the Philippians: “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (2:11, emphasis added). Even more significance, when Thomas saw the risen Jesus, he called Him, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28, emphasis added). As we’ll see in our next installment, even salvation is based on a confession of Jesus as Lord, as Divine (Rom. 10:9-10).

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Doctrine of One Hope

The third of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one hope or our calling.

First, there is the meaning of one hope. As we studied back in 1:18, the Greek behind hope does not picture uncertainty, such as a wish or want, as it does in English. Rather it speaks of absolute assurance and rest in that assurance. There is, therefore, one hope, one certainty to which the true Believer looks: the return of Jesus Christ for His Church. Our calling refers to our calling to salvation, and the final hope, the final certainty of that salvation is the return of our Savior.

There are differing main views of the Second Coming of Christ: Amillennialism, Post-Millennialism, and Premillennialism. While there are very important differences in these views, they all do have one thing in common: all of them hold that Jesus Christ WILL return. That is really what matters most. Why? Because that is what Scripture says. As Revelation 19:11-16 record: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

Then, in the last chapter of the Bible, we read twice our Lord’s promise: “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 22:7, 12), and then read it again intensified in verse 20, “Surely I come quickly.”

That is our one hope, our certainty. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christ is, indeed, the only glory we should ever seek and the one hope to which we look.

Second, the application of one hope is that unity exists with a proper view of Christ’s return, that is, that He will return to the Earth as the Scripture says. One well-known cult, for example, teaches that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 and set up His kingdom in Heaven, but this is in direct contradiction to Scripture. At Christ’s ascension, two angels in the form of men announced, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The Lord’s coming, then, will be a visible kingdom on Earth, not an invisible Kingdom in Heaven.

This brings up the question, “What about those who don’t agree on their view of Christ’s return? Can a Premillennialist, for example, possibly fellowship with an Amillennialist?” There is today much unnecessary division here. Some who believe one view would not even consider fellowshipping with someone who holds another. But can this possibly honor the Lord? Is that “[keeping] the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?” (v. 3). I, for example, am convinced that Premillenialism is correct. I believe without question that the reference in Revelation 20:4 and 6 to those who will “[live] and [reign] with Christ a thousand years” refers to a literal earthly Kingdom that will last 1,000 years. But at the same time, I can still fellowship with a brother in Christ who believes that the Kingdom is spiritual not literal. While I certainly think he is wrong and is missing a great blessing, what matters most is that we both know that our Lord is coming back to take us to glory. That is what matters.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Doctrine of One Spirit

The second of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one Spirit.

First, the meaning of one Spirit can only be the Holy Spirit of God, the third member of the Trinity, who regenerates the sinner and then indwells, enlightens, equips, and empowers the believer. So vital is the Holy Spirit in living the Christian life that Paul mentions Him a dozen times in Ephesians (1:13; 2:18,22; 3:5,16; 4:3,4; 4:30; 5:9,18; 6:17,18). While we could add several to the list, let’s briefly note seven major ministries of the Holy Spirit to the Believer (I encourage to read each verse in your Bible). What is the Holy Spirit doing in your life?

1. The Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner (Jn. 3:3-6; Titus 3:5; II Pet. 1:4). 2. The Holy Spirit gives the Believer assurance of salvation (Rom. 8:15-16; see also Jn. 10:27-9 and Rom. 8:35-39). 3. The Holy Spirit indwells the Believer, no matter how immature that believer might be (I Cor. 6:15-19; 12:11-13). 4. The Holy Spirit strengthens the Believer (Eph. 3:16). 5. The Holy Spirit illumines and teaches the Believer (I Cor. 2:12, 14; Jn. 14:26; 16:13-14). 6. The Holy Spirit infills the Believer and empowers him for service (Eph. 5:18; Acts 1:8). 7. The Holy Spirit produces the fruit of Christ-like character in the Believer (Gal. 5:22-23).

Second, the application of one Spirit. The pointed application of this spiritual reality is that this one spirit is the energy of unity and fellowship. In thirty years of ministry I have seen some tragic examples of a lack of unity. I am convinced that the reason for this is a failure to allow the Spirit of God to rule. I am not doubting anyone’s salvation, but I am doubting that we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. If we divide over some silly thing, we have just denied the “unity of the Spirit” (v. 3) and have fractured the body of Christ.

On the other hand, a rejection of this truth makes unity impossible. If one examines any cult or false religion, he finds the total absence of the idea of the personal indwelling and empowering presence of God through the Holy Spirit. One well-known cult, for example, teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a part of the Godhead. Both the personality and Deity of the Holy Spirit (which is defined as “the invisible active force of Almighty God which moves His servants to do His will”) are denied. So, as Romans 8:9 declares, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” A rejection of the one spirit of God who indwells every believer, and Who produces unity in the first place, destroys any possibility of unity. Again, as we examined back in verse 3, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It is the Holy Spirit Who produces unity. If we, therefore, do not possess the Holy Spirit, how can there be unity in the Body?

Tragically, there are Evangelicals today who advocate unity with political bodies as well as liberal denominations and even false religious groups for the sake of social ends. But this blatantly contracts the doctrine of one Spirit. There can be no unity, and therefore no glory to God, when we join with those who do not possess the Holy Spirit of God.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Doctrine of One Body

First, the meaning of one body can only be one thing—the Universal Church, the Body of Christ, the Church as an organism, to which Paul has referred several times in this letter.

There are many other references to this in Scripture. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said He would build His Church” (singular), not “churches” (plural). While before his conversion Paul no doubt persecuted individual churches, he recounts in I Corinthians 15:9 how he persecuted “the church,” that is, the entire Body of Christ. That is why the Lord Jesus asked, “Why persecutest thou Me?” (Acts 9:4), that is, My Body, all believers. Later in Ephesians 5:25, Paul also declares that Christ gave Himself for “the church,” that is, the entire Body. That Body was formed on the Day of Pentecost and includes every true believer. He emphasized the same truth to the Romans: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5).

So there is one body, not many. There is not one church that is for Jews, another for Gentiles, another for men, another for women, another for Caucasians, another for Negroes, and another for Asians. There is one, a single unified Body of Jesus Christ, of which all believers are part. As we studied carefully back in 2:14-18, God has made us all one. Shame on us if we build back any walls that He has broken down.

One word of caution is in order here. A common teaching in today’s pragmatic atmosphere is that only the Universal Church is important. This emphasis tears down and de-emphasizes the Local Church, which is, in fact, actually more important in some ways. The Local Church is the Church as an organization. More precisely, it is the local assembly of believers, organized according to Scriptural guidelines, that carries out all outward ministry. The Local Church is God’s instrument for working in the world today, and each is to carry out all ministry. That is why Paul founded Local Churches. Each is for God’s people to gather for worship, exercise their gifts, and equip them for service. As Paul makes clear later in Ephesians 4:11-16, God has given certain men “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and this obviously takes place in the local church, as is also made plain in the book of Acts. Paul likewise wrote to Timothy, the pastor of a Local Church, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 2:15 with context). So as we will see, the Local Church is the training ground for ministry.

Second, the application of one body is that the Universal Church is a basis of unity and fellowship. One example of those who don’t accept this principle are certain denominations (or some groups who refuse to be even called a denomination) who maintain that their local assembly, along with other local assemblies who agree with them, are “The Church.” In this view, no one else is part of the Church, no matter what they believe. That is, of course, an arrogance that is hard to fathom. Biblically, no earthly denomination or group can be called “The Church.” Every true believer who is in agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through and in Jesus Christ is part of Christ’s Body. Any other attitude destroys unity and any possibility of fellowship.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is the Basis of Unity?

The first observation we should make here is that Ephesians 4:4-6 is perhaps the most important section of the second half of Ephesians. I say that because this section forms the very basis, foundation, and ground for unity. What exactly unites us? Some today answer “love,” others answer “our shared experience,” and still others answer “a common goal.” Many today, even evangelicals, insist, “Doctrine divides, love unites.”

Many years ago while preaching a week of meetings in a certain church, the pastor came to me with a burden about how his denomination was drifting towards Liberalism. Asking me what he should do, I answered immediately, “Get out. You must separate yourself from those who deny the Truth.” Appalled at that, he responded, “Oh, I could never do that. Our denomination views love and unity as supreme, so I could never pull out.” But that is serious error. Love is never spoken of in Scripture as being superior to Truth. Not even I Corinthians 13, that great “Love Chapter,” implies such an idea. Yes, it says that without “love” certain things, such as knowledge, faith, and giving are empty and meaningless, but neither does it say that love is meant to stand by itself or is meant to replace all those things.

May we ask a simple question: How can love unite people who deny Christ with those who embrace Him? As we saw in our previous study, how can there possibly be unity apart from the unique revelation of God through Christ? If you remove the very essence of Christianity, the very foundation of the faith, you have nothing. Only when we understand the doctrine of unity in Ephesians 1-3 can we understand the duty of unity here. May we say it clearly and with no ambiguity: doctrine must be the ground for unity. Of course, that principle is frowned upon in our day and is ironically considered “divisive,” but it’s still true.

To put this another way: doctrine makes up the building block of unity, while love provides the energy to build. One without the other is useless. If all we have is doctrine, the building materials will lay around and accomplish nothing. What good is Truth if you don’t use it? What good is right Theology if there is no energy? On the other hand, if all you have is “love,” you’ll have everyone running around looking for materials with which to build, but they will find nothing lasting. It is really here that most of Christianity is today. Everyone is looking for something around which to unify, but the last thing they consider is doctrine. We must, therefore, have both: Truth and love. This is why Paul says later in Ephesians, “Speaking the truth in love” (4:15).

Once we accept the fact that doctrine is the ground for unity, a question immediately arises: what doctrine is the ground for unity? This is vitally important. Some base their unity on what translation of the Bible another uses, or where someone went to Bible College or Seminary, or what position another takes on a particular minor doctrine or practice, or what view someone takes of the Second Coming of Christ, and on it goes. But such divisions are not taught in Scripture.

What then is the basis? What doctrine is the ground of unity? What doctrine forms the foundation of our faith? The answer is in Ephesians 4:4-6. These verses list seven spiritual realities that unite all true believers. Contained in these seven principles is the very essence of Christianity, that is, its foundational truths. If we could boil down Christianity to its bare elements, here they are. Our unity and fellowship must be based on these. If someone accepts these, there can be unity, even when there is disagreement on minor points of doctrine or practice. But if one or more of these is rejected, there can be no unity and fellowship. May we again recall our definition of unity: the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through and in Jesus Christ. And these seven spiritual realities are rooted in Christ and His Word. In the next seven installments, we’ll examine each of these and note two things about each one: its meaning and its application.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How Do We Maintain Unity? (3)

In Ephesians 4:2-3—With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—Paul gives us four character traits of Christ himself (Gal. 5:22-23) that will maintain unity among Believers: first, there is love; second, there is peace; and third, there is longsuffering.

Fourth, there is meekness. The common error is that meekness means “weakness,” but this could not be further from the truth. The Greek is prautēs (or praotēs), which means gentleness and mildness. It has been truthfully stated many times that, “Meekness is not weakness, but strength under control.” The Greek was used, for example, of horses that were broken and trained and also of a strong but mild medicine, both of which have strength but is under control.

The ultimate example of meekness is the Lord Jesus in His humanity. As that well-known song proclaims: “He could have called ten thousand angels, / To destroy the world, and set Him free; / He could have called ten thousand angels, / But he died alone for you and me.” Our Savior had the power of the universe at His command. Is that not strength? But still Scripture says He was meek. While our Lord will one day be vindicated and glorified, instead of being vindicated at that moment, He submitted to the greater need of redeeming the lost.

This word is inseparably coupled with another word—lowliness. The Greek here (tapeinophrosune) pictures modesty, humility, and lowliness of mind, having a humble opinion of one’s self, a deep sense of one’s littleness. Think of that! Not a false humility such as, “Oh, I’m not all that great,” rather a deep sense of how little we really are.

The story is told of a group of people who went in to see Beethoven’s home in Germany. After the tour guide had showed them Beethoven’s piano and had finished his lecture, he asked if any of them would like to come up and sit at the piano for a moment and play a chord or two. There was a sudden rush to the piano by all the people except a gray-haired gentleman with long, flowing hair. The guide finally asked him, “Wouldn’t you like to sit down at the piano and play a few notes?” He answered, “No, I don’t feel worthy.” No one recognized him, but that man was Ignace Paderewski (1860-1941), Polish statesman, composer, and celebrated concert pianist. While he was the only person present man really was worthy to play the piano of Beethoven, he didn’t think so. That is lowliness. And if a concert pianist can think that he is lowly in the shadow of Beethoven, how little are we in the shadow of our Lord? Are our feelings, views, and opinions important enough to destroy unity?

The most fascinating aspect of the Greek word behind lowliness is that, as Greek scholar Richard Trench points out, “No Greek writer employed it before the Christian era, and apart from the influence of Christian writers, it is not used later.” This was true because to the Greek and Roman mind such an attitude was synonymous with weakness and cowardice. It was so abhorrent to their mind that they had no term to describe it. That philosophy still lives today in the “self-image” craze that we noted back in 3:8. Lowliness is the very opposite of the world’s basic philosophy of life—the exaltation of self.

So, how can we maintain unity?—through love, peace, longsuffering, meekness, and lowliness. There is no other way.

Monday, July 29, 2013

How Do We Maintain Unity? (2)

In Ephesians 4:2-3—With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—Paul gives us four character traits of Christ himself (Gal. 5:22-23) that will maintain unity among Believers. First, there is love.

Second, there is peace (Greek, eirene) “a state of tranquility; the opposite of rage and war.” This word is related to the Hebrew word shalom, a common Hebrew greeting. This word, how­ever, means not so much the opposite of war but of any disturbance in the tranquility of God’s people. Because we are in Christ, first there is tranquility and harmony between God and man (Eph. 1:2), and second, there is tranquility and harmony between Jew and Gentile (2:14). We now see the third step in the progression: there is, and must continue to be, tranquility between all believers because of Christ. This is not just the opposite of war, not just the opposite of “going at one another,” not just the opposite of suppressing our seething resentment of someone else, rather a tranquility, a freedom from any agitation or turmoil. We must allow the Holy Spirit to maintain this tranquility, because it is the bond that holds us together.

This challenges us that a lack of peace in the Body is sin, no matter what the reason. A vivid example of this appears in Philippians 4:2-3: “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers.” The only problem in the Philippian church was a single unnamed conflict between two women, but that one conflict threatened to do serious damage. Paul obviously doesn’t tell us what the problem was because it didn’t matter. Whether one woman was right and the other wrong didn’t matter either. Both were wrong because they were causing disunity in the body.

Third, there is longsuffering. The Greek here is makrothumia, a compound word from makro, meaning “long,” and thumos, meaning “temper.” The idea, then, is simple; we are to be long-tempered in contrast to short-tempered, to suffer long instead of being hasty to anger and vengeance. This is one of the social characteristics of “the fruit of the spirit” because this is how we are to react to people and how we are to treat them. To maintain unity, we will set aside “self,” set aside our own needs, and be willing to suffer last place instead of first place, even to look like we’re wrong if it will maintain unity. Again, we’re not taking about doctrinal issues here—that is the point in the next passage (4:4-6)—rather we are speaking here of things that don’t matter, the little things of personality and human interaction. What a marvelous testimony it is to be longsuffering, to have the ability to be long‑tempered. “Love suffers long” (1 Cor. 13:4) and we must be “swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath” (James 1:19).

Commentator William Barclay offers a homey illustration. Have you ever seen a puppy and a large dog together? The puppy barks that high pitch puppy yap, pesters the big dog, and even nips him. But while the big dog could snap the puppy’s neck with one bite and a shake, he just bears it with dignity. Perhaps you’ve even seen the big dog look up at you with an expression that says, “Look what I have to put up with.” That is longsuffering, the attitude that bears attack, assault, affront, and abuse without bitterness or complaint. Likewise, as God is longsuffering toward us (II Pet. 3:9), we are to be longsuffering with others. We’ll conclude this maintaining of unity next time.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Do We Maintain Unity? (1)

We cannot over-emphasize these two verses. The unity of Christians has been a perennial problem since the early days of Christianity. In fact, as early as Acts 6 unity was threatened. Additionally, in almost every one of Paul’s Epistles there is something about unity. The most vivid picture is the analogy of the human body, which is not only mentioned here but elaborated in I Corinthians 12, where we see three principles: there is one body but many members, each member has a different function but still edifies the whole, and one member out of sorts affects the whole.

Tragically, there is little true unity in the Church, that is the Body of Christ, today. There are preachers who break fellowship over minor points of doctrine and those who practice “secondary separation,” which means that they won’t fellowship with one group because that group fellowships with another group. To illustrate tongue-in-cheek, I've seen this go even further to “thirdary” and “fourthdary” separation; one group won’t fellowship with another group because they fellowship with another group that fellowships with another group that fellowships with another group. There is also disunity in many Local Churches, which is caused by petty squabbles over nothing, which in turn comes from spiritual immaturity. It is said that it was Spurgeon who first said this little jingle, and how true it is: “To dwell above with saints we love, / O that will be glory! / But to dwell below with saints we know, / Well, that’s another story!”

So how can we maintain (keep) the unity that God has produced in Christ? The answer lies in our text, where we see the “Fruit of the Spirit” of Galatians 5:22-23 in action.

Galatians 5:22-23 also cannot be overemphasize: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Here is the very essence of Christian living because it is the very essence of Christ’s own character. Further, of those nine “character traits,” four of them appear in our text on unity, and these four will maintain unity.

First, there is love. This is mention first for the obvious reason that all the others will flow from it. As we have studied before, the Greek word agape is “a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” As we've also noted, God’s love can be defined as, “A self‑emptying self‑sacrifice in which God gave of Himself in the form of His only begotten Son Who gave His life for us.” Now we see that to maintain unity we are to have and practice the same kind of love toward other believers. Just think, how can there ever be disunity when we all have “a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice?” To put it in the reverse, when there is disunity, there is an obvious lack of “a self‑emptying self‑sacrifice.” If there is some rumbling going on in the body, if there is some fuss going on, if a fight breaks out, it is because we are thinking of ourselves instead of someone else.

Paul adds something else. We might think that to speak of love would be enough, but Paul knew that it wouldn't be enough because he understood human nature. So he adds that we are also to be forbearing one another. The Greek behind forbearing (anechomai) means “to hold one’s self upright, to bear, to endure.” This is the same word Paul uses in II Timothy 4:3 to describe people who will not “endure [put up with] sound doctrine” but will seek teachers who will tickle their ears. The idea here, then, is that sometimes we just put up with each other, that we bear with each other in misunderstandings, problems, and conflicts, that we love each other and sacrifice ourselves for them anyway. This doesn't mean we just put up with it but still boil within, rather we forbear in love. Without this kind of love and forbearing, unity will be destroyed and God’s work right along with it. We’ll continue this next time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sweet Unity

As we considered in Ephesians 4:3— Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—true Biblical unity is this: the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Where that cannot be agreed upon, there can be no unity. Tragically, even some evangelicals are abandoning this by redefining the Gospel and preaching Relativism.

As we also emphasized, however, once that question is answered, we should not fail to recognize how truly sweet unity is when based on the right doctrine concerning Christ. It is unity that transcends denominations. We can agree to disagree on non-essentials, but we can unify on the one reality of Christ.

This is no better illustrated than in an incident the beloved pastor and expositor Harry Ironside records in his commentary on Ephesians. Taken ill with typhoid during a series of meetings in Minneapolis, he was down for six weeks. After gaining enough strength to return home to California, friends helped him to the train and the conductor made up a special berth for him. As he lay in his berth the first morning out, he took out his Bible and began to read. As he read, a stout-looking German woman came walking by, noticed Ironside, and then stopped and asked, “Vat’s dat? A Bible?” “Yes,” Ironside replied. “Vell, you haf your morning vorship all by yourself?” she asked. “Vait, I go get my Bible and ve haf it together.”

A little later a tall gentleman came and stopped and said, “Reading ze Bible. Vell, I tank I get mine, too.” He was Norwegian. After a few minutes, Ironside was amazed at how many had gathered. Every day a crowd gathered, one day totaling twenty-eight. The conductor walked through all the cars announcing, “The camp meeting is starting in care number so-in-so. Any wanting to take advantage are invited.” They would sing, read, pray, and ask questions.

At the end of the trip in Sacramento, as people came to say goodbye, that dear German woman asked Ironside, “Vat denomination are you?” “Well,” Ironside replied, “I belong to same denomination that David did.” “Vat vas dat?” she asked. “I didn't know David belonged to any.” Ironside replied, “David said, ‘I am a companion to all them that fear Thee and keep Thy precepts’ [Ps. 119:63].” “Yah, yah,” she said, “dat is a gute church belong to.”

Ironside went on to write that no doubt there were many denominations represented in that group, but what mattered was that they were one in Christ. Minor points didn't matter; the main point did, the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What IS Unity? (2)

Paul tells is in Ephesians 4:3— Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—that the first reality of our Christian walk is to walk in unity. Having first considered what unity is not, let us secondly examine what Unity IS.

The Greek for unity (henotēs) basically means “unanimity and agreement.” One Greek authority, however, provides a marvelous contrast between how the Greeks, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), and the New Testament used this word: “In Greek and Roman philosophy the unity of God and the world is demanded by educated reason. In the Old Testament [the Septuagint], the unity of God is a confession derived from experience of God’s unique reality. The decisive advance in the New Testament, caused by God Himself, is the basing of the unity and uniqueness of God on the unique revelation through and in the one man Jesus Christ.”

To simplify, we base unity either on reason, experience, or the person and work of Jesus Christ. Most of today’s so-called unity is based either on experience (“We've all experienced the same thing, so we’re in this thing together”) or reason (“To accomplish more, we’ll get rid of our doctrinal differences”). While these sound noble, they are totally unscriptural. True, Biblical unity is this: the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Unless we can agree on the person and work of Jesus Christ, there can be no unity. It is as simple as that. That and that alone must be our foundation for unity.

As Paul told the Galatians, “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9). The words “as we have said before” indicate that Paul had said this many times in his ministry. Doctrine, therefore, must be the ground of unity, as Paul makes clears in verses 4-6.

Who, then, produces this unity? Certainly not man. This is not something we can produce like we would create “school spirit.” Rather, as our text says, it is the Holy Spirit who produces this unity. Rather what we are to do is to keep the Spirit has produced through Christ.

Notice the subtlety of the word keep, which translates the Greek tēreō, “to keep by guarding, to guard by exercising watchful care, to guard as with a fortress.” The picture here is a fortress around which we post armed guards, set Claymore mines, erect concertina wire, and do all else that we can to guard this unity.

But this is not enough for Paul, for he adds the word endeavoring. The Greek here (spoudazō) means “to make haste, to be zealous or eager, to give diligence.” It speaks of determined effort and exertion. Paul uses it when writing to Timothy about a pastor’s responsibility, “Study (spoudazō; the Old English word “study” means “absorbed contemplation”) to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15).

It is, therefore, the responsibility of every believer to diligently, zealously, absorbingly guard the unity that Christ has provided. We do not produce unity because we can’t produce it. When we try, we end up with uniformity or other false unity. Rather we are to guard the unity that the Spirit produces in Christ. In essence, Paul is saying, “Don’t muck it up. Don’t try to make something you can’t. Just guard what God has already done.”

So we say again, true Biblical unity is this: the unanimous agreement concerning the unique revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Where that cannot be agreed upon, there can be no unity. Tragically, even some evangelicals are abandoning this by redefining the Gospel and preaching Relativism.

Having emphasized that, may we not fail to recognize how truly sweet unity is when based on the right doctrine concerning Christ. It is unity that transcends denominations. We can agree to disagree on non-essentials, but we can unify on the one reality of Christ. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

What IS Unity? (1)

As we discovered last time, Ephesians chapters 4-6 reveal seven ways in which we are to walk, each of which in-turn is based on related doctrine in chapters 1-3.

The first reality of our Christian walk is to walk in unity (4:1-16): Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3). It’s not an accident that Paul speaks of unity first. He dealt with this first, in fact, in another letter, his first letter to the Corinthians. With all the problems in that Church—and there were many!—he dealt first, and at great length, with unity (I Cor. 1:10-3:23). Why? Because without unity, there can be no growth, joy, or effective witness. So important is unity in the Body of Christ that our Lord prayed several times that His people “may be one” in His high priestly prayer (Jn. 17:11, 21-23).

This was also the precedent set in the Early Church. All they did—their worship, witness, and willingness to serve—was in unity: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47-48). Again, the first thing listed is unity—“continuing daily with one accord.”

So the first practical reality that must characterize the believer’s heart is unity with other believers. But what IS unity? Like never before in history we hear much about unity today. Much of what we hear, however, is not based on a proper understanding of what true unity is. Let us, therefore, consider first what unity is not and then what unity is.

First, what unity is NOT. For one thing, unity is not compromise, or another word that is prevalent today, tolerance. Unity does not mean we throw out all doctrine so that everyone can “get along.” This is perhaps the most common misconception of our day. It is argued, “Let’s not have any distinctives or any doctrinal barriers that might divide us; let’s just agree on love and unite on moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.”

Neither is some common brotherhood or mutual camaraderie. Unity does not necessarily exist just because we are members of the same company, union, association, or even church denomination.

Neither, unity is not uniformity. As Webster (11th Edition Collegiate) defines it, “uniformity” means “having always the same form, manner, or degree; not varying . . . of the same form with others . . . unvaried appearance of surface, pattern, or color.” Unity does not exist just because everyone is a cookie cutter cutout who walks, talks, acts, thinks, and even dresses alike, as is common in some Bible colleges. Such uniformity is not Biblical. As we’ll see in the gifts for unity in verses 7-11, this violates the context of the passage. God didn’t makes us alike, and neither does He give us all the same spiritual gifts. God gives us unity, but He also gives us diversity. You can create uniformity from pressure without, but unity comes only from power within.

With that established, next time we’ll see what unity really is biblically.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Doctrine and Duty

As we have mentioned before, how important doctrine is! As the late pastor and expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “The most foolish of all Christians are those who dislike and decry the importance of Theology and teaching. Does not that explain why they fail in practice?”

Why are many Christians weak and shallow? Why do many fall to any new trend that comes along? Why do many fail to discern false teaching? Why do many fail to be consistent and faithful? Why do many fall to temptation? Why do many collapse when someone challenges their faith? Because they do not know doctrine—they are not being taught doctrine by their pastors; they are not being taught that God’s Word alone is Truth. People are being taught that truth is relative and can be found in many other places. And that is why they fail.

That is why the first half of Ephesians (as most of Paul’s Epistles) deals with doctrine and the second half deals with practice, because without right doctrine we will not have right practice. No matter what the issue, the question, or the problem, there is a doctrinal principle in God’s Word to answer it. This fact is at the very heart of the doctrine of the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture. To deny it is to deny it is to deny Scripture Itself.

So, with the great doctrines of Chapters 1-3 as our foundation, we turn now to the practical portion of the Epistle. As we noted in the “Introduction” way back when this series started, this can be expressed in several ways: (1) Chapters 1‑3 present our Riches in Christ; 4‑6 show us our Responsibilities in Christ; (2) Chapters 1‑3 present our Wealth in Christ; 4‑6 show us Walk in Christ; (3) Chapters 1‑3 contain the truth Stated; 4‑6 contain the truth Applied; (4) Chapters 1‑3 present our Heritage in Christ; 4‑6 present our Life in Christ; and (5) Chapters 1‑3 present the Exposition of what we have in Christ; 4‑6 give us the Exhortation of what we are to do in Christ.

To express this in still another way, based on the Doctrine of Chapters 1-3, we come now to the Duty that it demands. This does not imply that the first half of Ephesians in not at all practical. We have, of course, seen many practical principles. Rather, what we see in Chapter 4-6 are specific applications of the doctrines in Chapter 1-3.

The key word in Chapters 4-6 is walk, and we find it five times (4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15). The Greek in all five occurrences is peripateō (peri, “about” or “around,” and pateō, “to walk”), and so literally means “to walk about, to walk around, to walk concerning.” In Classical Greek this word was used only in the literal sense and meant strolling and stopping, as someone would walk about in the market place. It was never used in a figurative sense as it is in the New Testament. Used in the figurative sense, it speaks of “conduct of life,” that is, how we “how we walk about,” how we conduct ourselves as we walk through life. How, then, are we to conduct ourselves? Chapters 4-6 reveal seven ways in which we are to walk, each of which in-turn is based on related doctrine in Chapters 1-3, as the following table illustrates.

Doctrine and Duty in Ephesians

Walk in unity (4:1‑16)
1:22-23; 2:16,21-22; 3:6
Walk in purity (4:17‑32)
Walk in love (5:1‑7)
Walk in light (5:8‑14)
Walk in wisdom (5:15‑17)
1:8,17; 3:10
Walk in submission (5:18‑6:9)
Walk in victory (6:10‑20)

So Paul does not simply write about unrelated thoughts, a little “potpourri of principles” as it were, rather he writes about objective truth on which he then bases proper conduct of life.

Monday, June 17, 2013


How often do any of us think about the word “Amen?” It’s the word that we say at the end of a prayer, but do we ever think of its meaning, much less its significance? This word, which is often overlooked, or even ignored, is actually extremely significant.

Amen is merely a transliteration of the Hebrew āmēn. One purpose of the word is to confirm a statement and could be translated in various ways: “so, be it,” “so it is,” “there you have it,” and so forth. But another use of the word was originally one of response by the listeners or readers who were present when truth was given. One Greek authority tells us that a certain custom, which passed from the synagogue to the Christian assemblies, was that when someone closed a solemn prayer, others present responded with Amen and thus made all that was said their own.

How thrilling this is! Can you say Amen to the marvelous truths of prayer, the attitudes, the approach, and the appeal?  Can you say Amen to that wondrous ascription of praise as God makes His power work in us?

What’s more, can you say Amen to the many, MANY marvelous truths of Ephesians? Can you say Amen to the fact that the true Christian Believer is “a saint” (1:1), to God’s greatest blessings of “grace” and “peace” (1:2), to our “election” and “adoption” (1:4-6), “to our redemption” and “forgiveness” (1:7-12), to our “knowledge,” “wisdom,” “insight,” and inheritance” (1:13-14), to the reality of absolute “Truth” (1:13), to the privilege of prayer (1:16-23), to the blessings of true “enlightenment” (1:18) and powerful living (1:19), to the deliverance from total sinfulness through God’s mercy, love, and grace (2:1-5), to the fact that God is constantly working in us and through us (2:10), and to much MUCH more?

As this first half of Ephesians closes, and as we say Amen to it, we are not only confirming it, but we are responding to it by realizing that it is our very own possession. In short, by saying “Amen,” we are saying, “All this is mine.”

All the doctrinal truth of Ephesians 1‑3 sets the stage for the practical truth of Ephesians 4‑6. It is in chapters 4‑6 that we will see the great responsibilities we have as Christians, and if we can’t say Amen now in chapters 1‑3, we will certainly not be able to say it in chapters 4‑6. If we can’t say Amen to our riches in Christ, we certainly won’t be able to say it to our responsibilities in Christ. Oh, may we say with the Apostle Paul, AMEN!

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Ascription of Praise (2)

As we discovered last time, in light of the glorious truths of the Attitudes of prayer (vs. 12‑13), the Approach to Prayer (vs. 14‑15), and the Appeal of prayer (vs. 16-19), there is nothing left to do but praise God in the way Paul does in Ephesians 3:20-21: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. First, we saw the measure of power to us (v. 20), where we discovered that God’s power is working in us. One reason for this truth is that God is to making each of us all we can be for our own benefit and blessing. But there is a greater reason.

Second, the measure of praise to God (v. 21). Some view the theme of Ephesians as being the Church. While we agree that it is a secondary theme, it is not the primary theme, which is, God’s eternal purpose and the place of Christ and His people in that purpose. An example of this is here in our text. Yes, the church is in view, but before that is God’s glory. So, since God’s ultimate purpose is to bring glory to Himself, Paul closes the doctrinal portion of this letter by presenting two intimately related ways through which God will be praised.

(1) In the Church. What is the purpose of the Church? Is its purpose to be “seeker-sensitive,” to appeal to people’s “felt needs,” to reach the “unchurched,” to entertain, and so forth? Regardless of the redefining of the Church today, its true purpose is the glorify God. God is actually using the Church to glorify Himself. As Psalm 148 declares, everything gives praise to God: angels, the sun, moon, and stars, all the animals, fire, hail, snow, vapours, stormy wind, mountains, hills, trees, kings, princes, judges, and all people, “both young men, and maidens, old men, and children.” Everything praises God, whether or not people intend to do so.

The Church, however, is something special, a grand miracle. We have studied how Jews and Gentiles were alienated and how man in general was alienated from God. Only God could bring about reconciliation, the changing back to the time of no variance, no enmity.

Therefore, what marvelous glory this brings to Him! But, to go deeper, the Church is the living entity that God is using to bring about His purposes on earth. Neither the Church, that is, the universal Body of Christ, nor churches, that is, local assemblies, are to ever bring glory to themselves. Tragically, there are many today who brag about how large their church, what their church has accomplished, how many programs and “ministries” they have, but this an abomination. But how many of these are bringing glory to God alone? We must be careful that all we do brings glory to Him.

(2). By Christ Jesus. Not only is God glorified in (or through) the Church, but this is accomplished by Christ Jesus. The Greek behind both in and by is the same word (en), “a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state), and (by implication) instrumentality,” and is translated in several ways: in, by, with, among, at, on, and through. In light of the context, then, the idea here is that God is glorified through the Church by the instrumentality of Christ. While modern ministry tries to glorify God through the instrumentality of human reason and worldly methods, God wants it done by the instrumentality of Christ. As our Lord Himself declared, “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18).

Finally, Paul adds throughout all ages, world without end. Here is another one of his “self-invented phrases.” Literally, he says, “unto all generations of the age of ages,” or “unto all the generations of the eternity of eternities, or the eternity of ages.” The language is obviously designed to picture eternity. Christ is eternal, the Church will last forever, and both shall forever give glory to God. One poet puts it well: “To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, / The God whom heaven’s triumph’s host, / and saints on earth adore, / Be glory as in ages past, / As now it is, and so shall last, / When time shall be no more.”