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, March 25, 2013

The Approach to Prayer (1)

How are we to approach this sacred thing called prayer? Ephesians 3:14-15— For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.—give us three marvelous principles on how we are to approach prayer: the reason, posture, and object of prayer.

First, there is the reason we pray. A clue to this reason is found in the reason Paul prayed, which we find back in chap­ter 2: he was praying because we were once aliens, now citizens  we were once slaves, now free; we were once outcasts, now family‑members. So, Paul’s reason for praying was that all believers would USE the power that their position in Christ provides. Looking at all the position, possessions, and power that the believer has in Christ, Paul prays that we will use it, that we will apply it, that we will live out the realities we have in Christ.

Why do we pray? Do we pray just to get something? Do we pray only when we need something or only when we are in trouble or distress? There is nothing wrong with any of this unless these are the only reasons we pray. This takes us back to the thought in of praying for spiritual realities, not just physical needs. Is the underlying reason for our prayer that we will use the position, possessions, and power that our salvation in Christ provides? Do we pray this for other believers? Are our goals and motives for prayer ultimately spiritual? If not, we are praying for the wrong reason.

Second, there is the posture of prayer. There is no prescribed posture for prayer in the Scripture. Of course, there are many who insist that one posture is better than all others. Some say to really pray effectively, one must be kneeling. Others say we should stand with the head bowed and eyes closed. Still others maintain that to speak with God one should either stand or sit while looking toward heaven, perhaps with the arms stretched outward or upward. It’s odd, however, that disagreement exists here at all because the Word of God tells of many postures for prayer. Abraham stood before the Lord as he interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:22). David sat before the Lord as he prayed about the building of the temple (I Chron. 17:16). Jesus fell on His face and prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39).

So why did Paul mention knelling here? He undoubtedly did so because of what knelling pictures. It was actually not customary for Jews to kneel in prayer. The normal posture was standing, just as Jews do today as they rock back and forth and intone their prayers before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Kneeling, in fact, indicated an extraordinary event or an unusual passion. King Solomon, for example, knelt on a wooden platform before all the people when he prayed at the dedication of the Temple, lifting his hands to Heaven in prayer (II Chron. 6:13). Likewise, Paul knelt in prayer with the Ephesian elders when he made his emotional farewell to them (Acts 20:36–38).

There are, therefore, at least three pictures that kneeling paints. 1. Kneeling pictures reverence: “Oh, come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker” (Ps. 95:6). 2. Kneeling pictures submission. When Solomon dedicated the temple (II Chron. 6), his kneeling in prayer was not only out of worship but submission to God’s will and judgments. 3. Kneeling pictures burden and passion. With great burden Ezra fell on his knees before the Lord because of the intermarriage of the Israelites and their pagan neighbors (Ez. 9:5‑6). So, Paul knelt and emphasized kneeling for at least three reasons: 1. Reverence for all God had done; 2. Submission to God’s will as he sat in prison; 3. Burden for the people to whom he was writing, which seems especially significant here. Paul had a special burden for the people to whom he ministered; he passionately prayed that they would understand these principles, embrace them, and apply them. This should likewise be the burden of every pastor in our day.

Christianity today could do with a lot more kneeling. We should not kneel out of ritual and formalism; this makes the act meaningless. Rather, kneeling is between each believer and God. We will not kneel every time we pray since because prayer is “constant communion,” we would be walking around on our knees all day. But when there is a need to kneel, God will show that to us. Most important, however, attitude is much more important than posture.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Attitudes of Prayer (2)

In our last installment, we looked at the first two attitudes of prayer (boldness and access) in Ephesians  3:12-13: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Third, we have confidence. The Greek here (pepoithesis) gives the idea of “trust, confidence, and total persuasion.” All these ideas are vitally important. In what are we to place our trust and confidence? About what are we totally persuaded? We are totally persuaded that we can come to the Father, trust Him to do His will, and be confident of the result.

Notice that we didn’t say that we trust God to do our will, rather His will. The very essence of prayer, in fact, is not getting our will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth. It is us coming into line with God’s will. Can we ask God for things? Of course, but we ask according to His will. Our Lord made this clear when He declared, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn. 14:13). Our Lord didn’t mean here that we just tag our prayers with the words, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” While we should do this, what this really means is that ask on behalf of Jesus, we ask in line with what He desires. Our requests must be in harmony with His will. It is, in fact, impossible to ask for something in Jesus’ that He does not want. The Apostle John picked up on this principle and wrote later: “If we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” and only then do “we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14, 15).

This also brings us to the complete warning: boldness does not mean insolence, access does not mean impetuosity, and confidence does not mean arrogance. There is today, without doubt, a lot of arrogant prayer. There are many who pervert verses like Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, Who strengtheneth me.” Many twist the meaning of the verse to say: “I can do anything I want because Christ gives me the strength,” when what it proclaims is that we shall always be given the power to do what God desires of us. Many today turn to this verse and others to prove their “self‑image” teaching and their “Christian success‑motivation” philosophies. But all this is nothing but humanistic arrogance with a Christian label pasted on it. Our trust and confidence must NEVER lie in “self.” Rather our trust and confidence lies only in Christ.

Do you have absolute confidence in God? If not, perhaps you are asking, “How can I acquire this kind of confidence?” Some today teach that it comes by chanting a certain prayer or through some mystical experience, but such teaching is not based in Scripture. Rather, how does one acquire confidence in any area of life? By the old fashioned method called: PRACTICE. To illustrate, most of us remember how we learned to ride a bicycle. Confidence came only through faithful practice, and as someone pointed out long ago, riding a bicycle is something we never forget. Likewise, we trust the Lord and have confidence in Him because we faithfully practice at it—we do it over and over again, day in and day out. And the day will come when we will not forget it.

Perhaps you have heard of the Aeolian Harp, a popular 19th Century musical instrument in which several equal length gut strings are stretched over a narrow oblong box. When placed in a focused current of air, such as in narrowly opened window, it produces eerie chords. The story is told that in Germany there stood two tall towers, each on the extreme end of a castle. The baron of the castle stretched huge wires from one tower to the other, thus constructing a giant Aeolian Harp. Ordinary winds produced no effect, but when fierce storms and wild winds came down from the mountains and rolled through the valleys, they produced majestic music on the harp. So it is in the Christian’s life. The soft breezes of easy living produce little growth. It’s when the storms of trials and tribulations come that we truly grow and sound out great praise and glory to God for what He is doing.

Oh, may we have total and absolute confidence in the sovereign God!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Attitudes of Prayer (1)

As noted in our last installment, Ephesians 3:12-13—In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.—provide a “prelude” to the prayer of Paul that follows (vs. 14-21). Let us now examine the three attitudes of prayer: Boldness, Access, and Confidence. How are we to pray? What is at the very foundation of prayer? When we understand these attitudes, they will transform our prayer life.

First, we have boldness. The Greek word behind boldness (parresia) literal means “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 blessed privilege God has granted us! Because of Jesus Christ, we can speak to God without fear and may speak openly and candidly. The book of Hebrews is most vivid in speaking of this (read 4:14‑16 and 10:19). In Judaism only the High Priest could enter God’s presence in the Holy of Holies, and he could only do that once a year on the Day of Atonement. But now, because of the blood of Christ, we can come directly to God and speak openly.

At this point we must sound a warning: boldness does not mean insolence. We recall that “insolence” is the negative sense of the Greek parrēsia. There is a growing amount of disrespect of God in today’s various teachings on prayer. While boldness does mean that we need not have any inhibitions as we come before God, we must still never forget that God is God. The “buddy‑buddy” attitude that many have of God and man is truly blasphemous as it brings God down to man’s level. God must be respected and worshipped as God. He is not our “buddy” or our “pal;” He is our Father and our God. We may indeed come before Him openly, candidly, and without fear, but we must also come before Him in reverence, respect, and worship.

Second, we have access. The Greek here is (prosagoge). A similar word was used in ancient times to describe a person who gave someone else admittance to see the king. The person who wanted to see the king had no right to do so; rather someone else had to give him admittance, had to make the introduction. So, may we realize that we have no right to come before God, but have been granted a privilege of doing so. The French word entree perfectly translates the Greek as it means “admission.” This is the picture in the Greek; we have been granted “admission” into the Father’s presence. How arrogant is the thought and the teaching today that we have a right to come before God because of Jesus Christ. We have no right; we only have a privilege because of Christ. At this point we can translate our text thusly: “In Whom we have openness of thought and introduction.”

With this in mind, we must also expand our earlier warning: boldness does not mean insolence, and access does not mean impetuosity. To be impetuous means to be impulsive, doing things hurriedly, or rushing about. Many of us are guilty of hastily and hurriedly coming before the Lord in prayer. We often rush before Him and ask, or even demand, something from Him. And, may we say again, how often we think we have a right to be before Him.

Oh, may we cease such dreadful actions! May we see that we have no right to come before God, but rather we have a mar­velous privilege granted us by the introduction of our Savior. May we never again rush into His presence, hurriedly making our desires known. Rather, in our communion with Him may we come quietly, humbly, slowly, and deliberately before Him.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Paul’s Prelude to Prayer

The content of the closing passage of Ephesians 3 (vs. 12-21) is the second of the two prayers recorded in Ephesians. The first is back in 1:15‑23, where Paul prayed for four things. That first prayer can be summed up this way: a prayer for Appreciation; that is, Paul prayed that God’s people will realize and appreciate all the riches they have in Christ.

We can summarized the second prayer as a prayer for Application; that is, Paul prayed that God’s people will put into practice what they now appreciate, that they would be what God desires them to be. It is impossible indeed to apply something to our lives if we do not appreciate it.

To illustrate, as an American, we should appreciate what that means. While it has lost some of its early glory, it is without doubt the most unique nation that has ever existed on Earth. Its principles of liberty and how that liberty came about transcend anything on this planet. Only when we appreciate that, can we, therefore, apply it; only then can we live out the principles of what it means to be an American. Infinitely beyond that should we appreciate and apply our riches in Christ.

One commentator contrasts these two prayers by writing: “[Paul’s] first prayer is for believers to know their power; the second is for them to use it. Two things a pastor should be most concerned about are telling his people who they are in Christ and then urging them to live like it. In other words, the pastor helps members of the flock understand their spiritual power, and then he motivates them to use it. Like the apostle Paul in this letter, the faithful pastor seeks to bring his people to the place of maximum power as full-functioning Christians.”

It’s one thing to tell the people something, but it’s quite another to help them use it. As we saw back in our study of preaching, this is what preaching is all about—the exposition and application of Truth. That is what the pastor is called to do.

We should also note something very significant in the recorded prayers of Paul. The most important prayers of Paul are called “Paul’s prison prayers,” those recorded in the Prison Epistles. Two of them are here in Ephesians, one is found in Philippians 1:9‑11, and one more appears in Colossians 1:9­-12. The point here is that these deal with spiritual realities rather than material needs. While there is nothing wrong with praying for physical needs, we need to recognize that this is often the only thing our prayers involve. Much of the teaching on prayer today is shallow because it fails to point out that prayer should ultimately lead to spiritual results. In fact, when we do see Paul pray for something physical, we find that the final result is actually spiritual.

We turn now to our text: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. Verses 12 and 13 are not actually part of Paul’s prayer. Rather, they are more of a “prelude” to the prayer that follows. The reason for the prelude is because after their reading about the sublime purpose of the Church, Paul fears that his readers might be so overcome by awe that they might shrink away from personally applying this truth to their own lives. Perhaps they were thinking, “How can these amazing truths, these sublime realities, these unreachable riches, these grand mysteries apply to us?” Therefore, Paul re­assures his readers with what these truths mean to all believers personally.

Now, while verses 12 and 13 are not part of the prayer itself, they are still part of the context on prayer. For this reason we include them in the fourfold thrust of the passage. In this installment, and the ones following, we will examine this fourfold thrust: The Attitudes of Prayer (vs. 12‑13); The Approach to Prayer (vs. 14‑15); The Appeal of Prayer (vs. 16‑19); The Ascription of Praise (vs. 20‑21).