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, 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.