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 .

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.