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 .

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Do you Groan for America?

Once again I interrupt our study for a single post to insert a burden that weighs on my heart. I was also able to share this in my weekly column in our local newspaper.

A few posts back I mentioned Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who pastored Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968. He was one of the greatest Bible expositors the Church has ever known. In reading his biography, written by Englishman Ian Murray, I came across an incident that is appropriate for our times.

Lloyd-Jones was a Welshman by birth. While he condemned what he called “carnal nationalism,” which claims that one’s nation is the only one on earth that matters, he also opposed the idea that being a Christian erased one’s national identity or that he should leave the culture into which he was born. He was, indeed, a Welshman through and through. Though living in London and pastoring there, for example, he read Welsh newspapers and listened to Welsh radio. He also deplored the Welshman who tried to lose his accent to please his “English masters.”

Roger Weil, who was a member of Westminster Chapel, recalls seeing a side of his pastor’s character in a new light when he happened to visit the Lloyd-Joneses during one of their summer “holidays” (“vacations” to we Americans). They spoke together in the course of an evening on the state of the Welsh churches, past and present, and this was followed by family prayer, which, as usual, closed the day. The English visitor later wrote:
I will always remember the deep note of sadness in that part of his prayer when he interceded for Wales, that God who had so signally blessed her in days gone by would revive His work there once more. It was that tone of sadness that stuck in my mind at the time—I did not realize how it grieved his heart. I suppose it was memorable, too, because while on our knees there together we were privileged to glimpse him on a more personal level than ever we could in the services at the Chapel. It was not so much the words but something more like a groan in how he said what he said. (Ian Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939–1981 [Banner of Truth Trust, 1990], 202)
I was struck profoundly by that last statement—his prayer was “more like a groan.” It immediately reminds us of our Lord weeping over Jerusalem and the prophet Jeremiah weeping over Judah. 

But what about America? As many are aware, former Arkansas governor (as well as former evangelical pastor) Mike Huckabee weighed in on the recent horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut: “We ask why there is violence in our schools,” he said on Fox News, “but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” Addressing the Aurora, Colorado shootings a few weeks earlier, he added: “We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem, or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.”

He is right, and if anyone gets angry at what he says, that proves his point all the more. We don’t want to face the real truth. We have systematically, methodically, and steadily removed God from every aspect of our culture: schools, courtrooms, government, media, military, communities, public conversations, and, ironically enough, even many of our churches. We then, if I may be so blunt, have the unmitigated gall to ask where God is when some horror befalls us.

Please consider our Founding Fathers for a moment (although many politicians today view themselves as smarter than the Founders). Just one example of many is Fisher Ames, who, according to the Congressional Record of September 20, 1789, was the man who actually offered the final wording of the First Amendment (and didn’t view the Bible as a violation of that amendment, as our “much smarter” politicians do today). In an article in a national magazine dated January, 1801, Ames wrote of his concern about all the new textbooks that were appearing. He said that while these are good, the Bible still must never be replaced as the number one textbook in our schools: 
Why then, if these books for children must be retained, as they will be, should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble.
 So, what is the result of our defection from God and His Word? The United States of America (if that means anything anymore) is headed for economic ruin, political tyranny, and moral bankruptcy. Most important of all, it is headed for divine judgment. In fact, every nation in history that has fallen did so because they followed the same path that America is now proudly traveling.

Is there an answer to our headlong spiral into the abyss?  Yes. While said specifically to the nation of Israel, 2 Chronicles 7:14 applies to every nation: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” What’s the answer? What are God’s requirements for blessing?—humility, prayer, devotion, and repentance

My Dear Friend, do you groan for America?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Results of Preaching (2)

Ephesians 3:11-12 give us two results of preaching and learning. First, verse 11 declares the Divine side there, which is God’s eternal purpose, His glory.

Second, in verse 12—In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him—we see the human side, man’s portion, which is his good. This verse is one of comfort. God here reassures us with what all this means to us personally. We have seen many awesome truths in Ephesians, truths that humble us and show us how depraved and low we are. But God gives an encouragement, a reassurance. He says that these truths, which we shall understand more and more as we preach their depths, give us boldness, access, and confidence.

The Greek behind boldness (parresia) doesn’t mean “presumptuous,” where we come barging into God’s presence demanding what we want, as prayer is sometimes viewed. Rather it means “freedom or frankness in speech.” The word is actually made up of two words, pas (all) and resis (the act of speaking), so the most literal idea is “to tell all.” In other words, we can come before our Father with total freedom of speech, pour out our hearts, and tell Him everything. What a privilege!

The word access (prosagoge), which we noted back in 2:18, is found only in these two verses and Romans 5:2. It literally means “to open a way of access.” A similar word was used in ancient times to describe a person who gave someone else admittance to see the King. Therefore, while we have no right to come before God, we have been granted the privilege by a proper introduction and know that we will be welcome.

Finally, confidence (pepoithesis) comes from peitho, “to persuade.” It comes from the perfect participial form which refers to a past process of being completely persuaded, with the present result that we are in a confirmed and settled state of utter confidence.

What a picture we have when we put all three of these words together! Because of Jesus Christ, we have been formally introduced to our Father-King and are welcomed into His very presence, where we may tell Him everything, having full confidence that He will listen, understand, and respond in love.

Preacher and commentator John Phillips captures a practical application. Picture yourself walking up to the door of your earthly father’s house, only to have a guard barring the door. You say, “Excuse me please,” but the guard brusquely asks, “Where do you think you’re going?” “I’m going in to see my father,” you answer, incredulous. But he defiantly responds, “No, you can’t do that! I’ll take your message to him. You can only approach him through me.” Fed up with this foolishness, you say, “Get out of my way, mister. My father loves me, and I’m his son, so I sure don’t need you or anyone else to come between us.” Likewise, neither do we need nor should we allow any person to come between us and our Father in Heaven. We have boldness, access, and confidence.

In closing this installment, let us observe that verse 12 is so important that it not only ends the first half of Ephesians 3 (The Explanation of the Mystery), but it also begins the second half (The Encouragement to the Saints). This verse actually begins Paul’s further thoughts on prayer and introduces the second prayer he offers for these believers.

Dear Christian, preaching is increasingly deemphasized today. I pray that we understand just how infinitely important preaching really is. Whether you are a preacher or a layman, may you be committed to the preaching ministry; if you’re a preacher, practice it; if you’re a layman, submit to it. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Results of Preaching (1)

Last time we considered the reason we are to preach in Ephesians 3:10: to make “known . . . the manifold wisdom of God.” Verses 11-12 go on to give us two results of this preaching and learning: According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

First, on the Divine side there is God’s eternal purpose, which is His glory (v. 11). Once again, we come back to one of the great themes of Ephesians God is working all things, especially the salvation he provided through Christ Jesus our Lord, to his ultimate purpose, which is His glory. Why, then, are we to preach? Because it brings glory to God. Those who deemphasize preaching today are actually taking away glory from God. As everything else, preaching is designed to glorify God.

The typical attitude today concerning “worship” is that the key to it is music, with other things, such as drama and entertainment, added on. But such an approach is absolutely foreign to Scripture. One key (if not the key) passage in understanding worship is John 4:20-24, where our Lord Himself declares, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (v. 24). There are many today who want to worship “in spirit,” which in their practice is actually more emotion and self-expression than anything else, but few who do so “in truth.” If we are to worship in truth, and the Word of God is truth, then we must worship out of an understanding of the Word of God. In-turn, if we’re going to truly worship God, we must understand Who He is, and the only place He has fully revealed Himself is in His Word. And that is why expository preaching, the systematic teaching and application of the Word of God, is number one. Any Church that does not have this as the core of their ministry is not a Biblical Church.

The vast majority of books written today on worship and Church ministry contain very little emphasis on preaching; sometime, in fact, it’s not mentioned at all, or if it is, it is given little importance. Neither do such books ever deal in any depth with the key passage we just mentioned—John 4:20-24. Many Christians today do, indeed, worship only in spirit with little truth—emotion with no depth.

In is book, Between Two Worlds, author John Stott writes this strong defense of the place of preaching in worship: Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the Name of the Lord made known. Far from being an alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded in its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before His throne. It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable.”

The exposition of the Word of God, then, is essential to meaningful worship. To do less is to rob God of glory.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Why We Are to Preach

The essence of Ephesians 3:10 is, To the intent that now . . . might be known . . . the manifold wisdom of God. What is the reason for preaching? Why have we made such an issue of it? Why is this such a big deal? Simply stated, the main reason for preaching of the Word of God is to make known the manifold wisdom of God. Will a comedian, a stage play, or a music concert accomplish this? Hardly. None of these worldly methods can possible dig into and then make known the depth of God’s wisdom.

This truth demands careful study. May we first review the word wisdom, which we studied back in 1:8. The Greek is sophia, a word which was important to the Greeks; they thought and wrote much about it. It speaks of a quality or attitude rather than an action. Aristotle said of this word, “Knowledge of the most precious things.” So, this word refers to the intellectual understanding of ultimate realities such as life and death. In other words, sophia speaks of the knowledge of the things that really matter, the things that matter most.

Therefore, used in our text this word speaks of God’s understanding of ultimate realities. That is why preaching is a “big deal.” It is designed to make known God’s understanding of the things that matter most. And no other method of ministry will do that. But, as if this word were not enough, Paul adds an adjective.

Notice the word manifold; what a marvelous word it is! The Greek here is polupoikilos and is found only here in the New Testament. The literal meaning is “multi‑colored,” that is, marked with a great variety of colors as in a painting. So, in our text the word means “many‑faceted” or “most varied.” It’s also important to note that the simple form of the word is poikilos, meaning “various” (e.g., I Pet. 4:10). But Paul makes a compound verb by adding the prefix polo, from which is derived the English “poly,” many. So, again, the idea conveyed is “mufti‑faceted” or “most varied.”

Think of it! God’s knowledge and understanding are the most varied, the most multi-faceted. It’s not just that God’s knowledge and understanding are deep, which of course they are, but that these take on many forms and possess infinite diversity. We can never understand anything of God unless He reveals Himself.
This reminds us again of how varied God’s dealings have been with man through the ages. Through the ages, God’s working has been “mufti‑faceted,” “multi-colored.”  Commentator Albert Barnes writes this beautiful description: “It is like a landscape, or a panoramic view passing before the mind, with a great variety of phases and aspects, all tending to excite admiration. In the redemption of the church, there is not merely one form or one phase of wisdom. It is wisdom, ever-varying, ever-beautiful. There was wisdom manifested when the plan was formed; wisdom in the selection of the Redeemer; wisdom in the incarnation; wisdom in the atonement; wisdom in the means of renewing the heart, and sanctifying the soul; wisdom in the various dispensations by which the Church is sanctified, guided, and brought to glory. The wisdom thus shown is like the ever-varying beauty of changing clouds, when the sun is reflected on them at evening. Each aspect is full of beauty. One bright cloud differs in appearance from others; yet all tend to fill the mind with elevated views of God.”

That is why we preach! Only preaching explores the depths of God, only preaching delves into who He is, what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will ultimately accomplish. It is the absolute height of arrogance to say, as many today, “Preaching is not relevant, we’ve found a better method.” How could anyone possibly improve on what God ordained—the preaching of the manifold wisdom of God