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, January 28, 2013

The Substance of Preaching (2)

Continuing our thoughts on what pastors should be preaching today, first, our content should be the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8b).

Second, we are also to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ (v. 9). We recall that the Church was a mystery; before this age the Church was completely hidden.

In 1799, during Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt, some of his troops found a black basalt slab near the town of Rosetta in Lower Egypt. What came to be known as the Rosetta Stone now resides in the British Museum in London. It was inscribed in 196 BC with a decree praising the Egyptian king Ptolemy V, but what was startling was that the inscription was in three scripts: hieroglyphic, demotic (a simpler hieroglyphic), and Greek. Using the Greek as their key, scholars were able to decipher the never before understood hieroglyphic and demotic.

And so it is with the mystery of the Church; in a sense, it is God’s “Rosetta Stone.” As one expositor puts it, the Church is “the key to understanding what He promised in the Old Testament, what Christ did in the Gospels, what the early church did in the Book of Acts, what Paul and the other writers teach in the Epistles, and what God will do as recorded in the Book of Revelation.” Without an understanding of the Church (its meaning, it’s minister, and its ministry) we are clueless as to what God is doing today.

That little word all is also significant. Paul is saying that he was to preach and teach everything concerning the Church and was to teach it to everyone. To Paul the responsibility was given to preach (and write) about the origins, the organization, the officers, the duties, the ministry, the ordinances, the discipline, and everything else concerning the Church.

He goes on to say that he wanted all men to see these truths. The Greek here is photizō (English (“photo”), which we first encountered back in 1:18, where it is translated “enlightened.” Paul repeats his desire that all men, Jew and Gentile, understand God’s Truth.

Likewise, every preacher today is to preach everything concerning the Church to everyone in the Church so that they understand it. I am convinced that the reason for the state of the Church today is that preachers are not studying, much less preaching, the Biblical doctrine of the Church. The trends in church ministry today are the direct result of ignoring what the Bible says about the Church. To say, for example, that preaching and church ministry must appeal to the “unchurched” (one of the most popular views today) is to show a total, absolute, and all-encompassing ignorance of what the Church is about. It’s hard to put into words how incredulous this is! Virtually everything we have in the Church today is based on tradition and man’s ideas of ministry. Why? Why is the Church dominated by tradition  Why is the majority of ministry based on man’s ideas and programs? Why isn’t preaching the focal point of Christian ministry? The answer to all those questions and several others is that preachers are first not studying the Biblical doctrine of the Church and second are not preaching that doctrine. This fact became such a burden to me that I took six months to preach an in-depth series on the doctrine of the Church at Grace Bible when I first came 18 years ago, followed just a couple of years ago by an exposition of I Timothy.

Honestly speaking  the Church has become so undefined, convoluted, and nebulous down through Church History that it barely resembles the Church of the Book of Acts and the Epistles. For this reason, what we desperately need today is the preaching of the doctrine of the Church from the book of Acts and the Epistles; all that we do in our churches should be based only on that.

Oh, may we preach the unsearchable riches of Christ and the dispensation of the mystery. So encompassing are these to two categories, that all we will ever preach will fit into one or the other. And may we add once again, if preaching is not the primary ministry in a church, that church really has no ministry at all

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Substance of Preaching (1)

Even more important than the fact that preaching is primary is the truth of exactly what we are supposed to be preaching. What should our content be? It shouldn’t be what is shallow, trendy, entertaining, popular, and pleasing; neither should be such as things as current events, patriotism, politics, or even moral reform. Rather, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:8b-9, it should be the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.

First, we should be preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. The Greek for unsearchable (anexichniaston) means “that which cannot be traced out.” The root of this word is a noun that means “a track or a trail.” The verb used in our text is found only one other place in the New Testament: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgment and His ways past finding out” (Rom. 11:33). The word is also found in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testa­ment). It was, for example, one of Job’s favorite words, as he declared of God, “Who doeth great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number (Job 5:9; 9:10).

The word riches (ploutos) literally means “wealth.” The meaning here, however, is figurative; it speaks of the whole wealth of salvation and growth in Christ. It is interesting to note that Paul was the only Scripture writer who used the figurative meaning of this ploutos, and that five of those fourteen figurative usages are in Ephesians (1:7, 18; 2:7; 3:8, 16). So, putting all this together we see: The wealth we have in Christ is a pathway we cannot trace; it is unfathomable from human understanding. Instead of the fluff and shallowness of most contemporary preaching, Paul declares that we are to preach unfathomable Truths. Reformer John Calvin explained this by calling it “the astonishing and boundless treasures of grace.”

Now, to what riches is Paul specifically referring? Is he implying entertainment, pop-psychology, “felt needs,” or other popular notion? Hardly! He is, of course, referring back to the riches spoken of in Ephesians 1. How can any of us fathom (“trace out”) redemption, forgiveness, acceptance, election, adoption, God’s will, or the ministry of the Holy Spirit? We can’t! From human understanding we cannot understand these truths; we cannot possibly trace out this Truth; it is all a path in a jungle we could never find, much less follow. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us understanding. Do you see? Paul was to preach all this truth, but it was the Holy Spirit Who would illumine it to men.

Consider again how abundant these riches are; they’re everywhere we look! As one commentator points out, extremely precious and valuable items are usually rare, which is why they are so valuable. Only cheap things are abundant. But here is the exception that proves the rule. The most precious, the most valuable realities in the universe—the riches of Christ—are also the most bountiful; they are everywhere we look. No Christian is poor! Every single one of us is a spiritual tycoon. Men strive for monetary riches, but no matter how much they acquire, they want more. A reporter once asked oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, “If you retired now, would you say your holdings would be worth a billion dollars?” Pacing up and down the room mentally adding, Getty answered. “I suppose so, but remember, a billion doesn’t go as far as it used to.” What a blessing to know that we can’t get any richer when we posses the unsearchable riches of Christ.

So, like Paul, every preacher is to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Instead of preaching shallow sermons, delivering motivational talks, having feel-good discussions, and teaching bad theology, we should be preaching the doctrine of the unsearch­able riches of Christ. We are to preach doctrine, not drivel

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Primacy of Preaching

Continuing our look at Ephesians 3:8 that Paul was called to preach among the Gentiles, the following pointed words are those made by Martyn Lloyd‑Jones in his monumental work, Preaching and Preachers, which was based on a series of lectures delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary over a six-week period in the Spring of 1969: “The work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which any­one can ever be called . . . I would say without hesi­tation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching. . .preaching must always come first, and it must not be replaced by anything else” (pp. 9, 37).

The fact is, however, that preaching has, indeed, been replaced by everything else. Preaching is called “irrelevant” and “old-fashioned.” No longer is just preaching Truth enough. Church “ministry” today must be must be slick, current, appealing, crowd-pleasing, and “seeker-sensitive,” and Biblical, expository preaching simply does not fit that bill; it is not appealing.

In his short but powerful little book, Preaching for God’s Glory, Scottish preacher Alister Begg, who now pastors here in American, makes this pointed statement: “About fifty years ago W.E. Sangster, a great Methodist preacher in Britain, began a volume on preaching with these words, “Preaching is in the shadows. The world does not believer in it” . . . Today at the beginning of a new millennium, the situation is graver still. Preaching is still in the shadows, but this time much of the church does not believe in it.  Much of what now emanates from contemporary pulpits would not have been recognized by . . . Sangster as being anywhere close to the kind of expository preaching that is Bible-based, Christ-focused, and life-changing—the kind of preaching that is marked by doctrinal clarity, a sense of gravity, and convincing argument. We have instead become far too familiar with preaching that pays scant attention to the Bible, is self-focused, and consequently is capable of only the most superficial impact upon the lives of listeners. Worse still, large sections of the church are oblivious to the fact that they are being administered a placebo rather than the medicine they need. . . . In the absence of bread the population grows accustomed to cake! Pulpits are for preachers. We build stages for performers” (pp. 10–11; emphasis in the original).

In stark contrast to today’s so-called preaching, there is the Biblical model. Using one Greek word or another, preaching is referred to 250 times in the New Testament alone. Does this leave any doubt that preaching is the primary ministry of the Church?

In his first letter to Timothy (who was at that time pasturing the church in Ephesus), Paul writes, “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (4:13). Most ministries today are built on entertainment, personality, crowd-gathering events, gimmicks, programs, and many other things that simply appeal to the flesh. But the truly Biblical minister builds only on the Word of God. Paul makes it very clear that until he returned, Timothy was to do one thing only: keep preaching the Truth in which Paul had instructed him (cf. 2 Tim. 2:2, “And 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.”). “Give attendance” translates prosechō, which was a nautical term for holding a ship in a direction, to sail onward. The idea then was to hold on one’s course. And what course was Timothy to hold? Not entertainment or people’s “felt needs.” His course was to be the Word of God alone.

Pastor and author Alan Redpath, who joined the Lord in glory in 1989, wrote: “God is trying to tell us that our current popular version of Christianity—comfortable, humorous, superficial, entertaining, worldly-wise—is exposed for the irreverent presentation of the Gospel of Christ that it really is. A preacher is commissioned to give people not what they want but what they need. No man has any business walking into the pulpit to entertain. He is there to present Calvary in all it fullness of hope and glory.”

It is because of this primary Biblical ministry, that Grace Bible Church (Meeker, CO) is committed to the expository preaching of the Word of God as the only authoritative and sufficient revelation of God to man. And we sincerely invite you to worship and open God’s Word with us at 10:30 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. each Lord’s Day. Again, these blog posts are taken from a 3-1/2 year exposition of Ephesians.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Ministry of the Mystery: What Good Is Preaching?

In Ephesians 3:8, the Apostle Paul declares: Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. We often hear the word “ministry” today; we hear it used in every imaginable way and hear it used to describe every conceivable Christian activity. In fact, it seems like there are more “ministries” today than one would think even possible. But God has given one primary ministry of the Church in this age. This ministry is the one that will produce real growth and development in believers. This ministry is one that must never be replaced. This ministry is called: preaching.

Preaching is something that has been in recent years totally misunderstood. Many Christians, not to mention preachers, ironically enough, do not know what preaching really is, despite the fact that no ministry is spoken of more in Scripture but emphasized less in the present day. This fact continues to amaze me after thirty years of ministry. How can something so evident, so obvious, be so ignored?

One word translated preach in the New Testament is the powerful Greek word kerussō. Paul used this word in his parting challenge to Timothy. He told him that in the face of apostasy (II Tim. 3) there was only one thing to do: Preach the Word (II Tim. 4:2‑4). This verb literally means “to announce or to publicly herald.” The noun form rux (I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:11; II Pet. 2:5) refers to the Imperial Herald who represented the emperor or king and announced his wishes. This word is formal, grave, serious, and authoritative. It is used of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, and the Apostles and teachers. The herald was not like an ambassador who might “negotiate;” he was a representative of the king and would simply announce the king’s decrees. The words of the herald were to be listened to, for to ignore his words would be to ignore the king’s words, and to abuse the herald was to abuse the king. While this word is sometimes used to refer to others besides the full‑time preacher, it is not used of public preaching and teaching by anyone other than the full‑time preacher. As we’ll study in 4:11, this further challenges us that only called, qualified, trained, and ordained preachers should preach.

The word in our text, however, is the Greek euangellizō, “To proclaim good or joyful news.” This word—along with the noun form euangellion—is used abundantly to show the proclaiming of the Gospel by God’s chosen vessels. And, as one might think, it is never used for anyone other than full‑time preachers and angels.

What, then, is preaching? Put simply: Preaching is the exposition (i.e. detailed explanation) and application of God’s Word from the preacher to the people.

The expositions that you read in this column were taken right from messages preached on consecutive Sunday mornings. True preaching not only explains God’s word according to: (1) the original language, (2) Scriptural context, and (3) historical setting, but it also (4) applies that truth to Christian living, showing us what God demands from us. To shorten our definition even further, true preaching is the presentation and application of Truth.

To apply our definition, there is absolutely nothing more important, or even equal in importance, than preaching. I want to be loving and do not wish to offend, but it must be made clear that there is nothing equal to preaching. Regardless of what nationally famous Christian leader might say to the contrary, the Biblical fact is that preaching is God’s chosen method of proclaiming His Truth.

There are countless things today, however, that are being used to replace preaching: films, comedians, dramas and plays, so–called “Bible studies” that consist of people just sharing their feelings and opinions of what a given Bible text says to them, Christian music concerts, crowd pleasing personalities and activities, panel discussions and debates, various church programs, and many others. But the Word of God is plain in showing that preaching must never be replaced, nor does it need man’s ideas and programs to supplement it. J. Sidlow Baxter writes in his excellent book, Rethinking Our Priorities: “Preaching . . . is the gravity center of the Christian pastorate.” By implication, without preaching we shift the weight of ministry and become unbalanced, our whole “center of gravity” has shifted to something else. We’ll continue these thoughts next time.