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, December 30, 2013

The Foundation of a Church: Leadership

Leadership is the unconditional key to building God’s work on earth. It is the breakdown of Biblical leadership, in fact, that is the chief problem today. Leadership, such as those mentioned in the last installment, is the major contributor to the secular direction the Church has taken. I do not wish to sound unkind or divisive, but I want to be totally, absolutely, exclusively Biblical in building God’s Church, and the fact is that that is not the approach of the majority of Church leadership today. We are not attacking anyone here, we are not being personal, rather we are discerning truth from error according to the Word of God alone.

The foundation for building God’s work revolves around what Scripture calls “spiritual gifts,” and specifically the “office gifts” as declared in Ephesians 4:8 and 11: When [Christ] ascended up on high, he . . . gave gifts unto men . . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. Spiritual gifts are essential to all earthly ministry. Without them, in fact, the Church can not possibly function. Without the gift of teaching (Rom. 12:7), for example, there would be no one to teach and preach the Word so people could grow. Without the gift of ministry (service), nothing would ever get done within the Body. Paul deals first with gifted leadership because it is the key to building and maintaining the Church.

The words He gave are pivotal. The Greek here includes an “intensive pronoun” (autos edoken) that yields the literal idea “He Himself gave,” that is, He and no one else. In other words, these offices are God-given only, not by the Church, not by a school, not even by the person who wants to fill an office. The common attitude today is that someone can just say, “I want to teach,” and are then qualified to teach. While such willingness is commendable, it doesn’t qualify. As none of the Apostles appointed themselves but were chosen by Christ, neither does any man appoint himself to any of these offices. As one commentator aptly puts it, “The Jesus Who ascended—this, and none other, is the sovereign donor. The provider and bestower are one in the same.” As we’ll see in a later installment, it is Christ alone Who calls to ministry.

So, these “office gifts” consist of specially gifted men which God has given to the Church as leaders. There can be no doubt whatsoever that the reason for the state of the Church today lies at the doorstep of its leaders. As mentioned earlier, it has been poor leadership that has lead people down the road of secularism, Pragmatism, and Relativism.

Mark it down: the Church will rise or fall based on its leadership. One illustration should suffice. Can we imagine the consequences of sending an army into battle without leadership? What would be the result of the battle if there were no squad leaders, no company captains, no division generals, or any other commanding officers? What would be the magnitude of disaster if we just sent the army into battle with words, “Just do the best you can?” But that is exactly what the church is doing today because of weak and sometimes non-existent leadership. We have neglected the strict qualifications for leadership, abandoned proper training for ministry, and have discarded the entire concepts of the call and ordination.

Monday, December 23, 2013

How to Build a Church

Since the 1970s there has been a massive amount of writing on how to build the Church. As one studies the historical data, however, he discovers that the methods get progressively more modern and secular as the years unfold. This came to final fruition in the mid-1990s with the total abandonment of Biblical methods for building the Church. The method used by a major contributor in the early-1980s was an appeal to every person’s need for self-esteem; he proceeded to build his entire Theology and Church ministry on that so-called “human need.”

From there things got even worse. One of the most prominent figures today in Church building decided that, instead of self-esteem, “personal fulfillment” is the greatest need and built his Church on that sandy foundation. Countless pastors have followed his philosophy in building their churches as well. As a result, gone today are the truths of sin, wrath, and repentance. In their place are “felt-needs,” love and acceptance, and personal fulfillment. Addressing these issues is also radically different from what Scripture says. Doctrine and absolute truth are out, while entertainment, pop-psychology, motivational “sermons,” and other man-centered methods are in.

In stark contrast to the modern secular mind, in a tremendously significant passage, Ephesians 4:7-16, the Apostle Paul outlines God’s four-fold method for building and growing a Church: the Foundation (Leadership, vs. 7-11); the Approach (Discipleship, v. 12); the Purpose (Maturity vs. 13-14); and the Instrument (Truth, vs. 15-16).

While space doesn't allow a full examination of this passage, I want to touch on the major points in the next few installments. My reason for doing so is that the Local Church is the physical arm of God for working in the world. His end is the salvation of people and their subsequent training to carry on service. Now, because this end is spiritual, it can only be fulfilled by a means that is spiritual. And again, many churches are not using spiritual tools to build, rather secular, and even fleshly, tools. Often the message is not even spiritual, rather it appeals to emotions and physical needs. While such things might make people feel good temporarily, they will not meet spiritual needs and hence will have no eternal value. Our concern must be for that which lasts forever, not “the fashion of this world [that] passeth away” (I Cor. 7:31; cf. I Jn. 2:17).

I pray that the next severlal installments will be a blessing and encouragement.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Paul’s Doctrinal Statement

Let us take one more look at Ephesians 4:4-6: There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

To bring these seven unities together, here we read the very essence of the Christian faith. Down through the ages there have been creeds, doctrinal statements, statements of faith, catechisms, and other forms of stating doctrinal positions. But here we find a Biblical statement of faith on which we base unity and fellowship.

We could, for example, put it in the form of a Creed, which historically begins with “I believe” or “We believe,” followed by one or more paragraphs stating our belief. Or we could put it in the form of a Catechism, first asking a question, such as, “What is one faith?” followed by the Biblical answer. Whatever form we could choose, the result would be the same. What is the doctrine to which we hold?

One Body (Christ’s Body, of which we are all members); One Spirit (the Holy Spirit Who indwells, enlightens, equips, and empowers the believer); One Hope (the certainty of Christ’s return to the Earth for His own); One Lord (the Lord Jesus Christ Who is Savior, Master, and God incarnate); One Faith (salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from any merit or works and the acceptance of the Bible as the only inspired, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient revelation to man); One Baptism (the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that places us into the Body of Christ); One God (the one and only True God Who is the Father of all who receive the Son through the Spirit).

There is a truly Biblical doctrinal statement, and it is based on that that we can have true unity. That great British expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones closes his exposition of this passage with these words: 

“Have you contemplated this great truth? Have you consider the fact that God the Father, God the Son, and god the Holy Spirit are concerned in your redemption? Have you seen that to realize this alone makes us one? The end of all doctrine is to lead to the knowledge of God, and the worship of God; any knowledge we may have is useless if it does not bring us to that point. If your spirit is not humble, if you are not loving, if you are not concerned about this unity of God’s people, you have nothing better than intellectual knowledge that is barren and may indeed be even of the Devil. Our Lord said, ‘If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them’ (Jn. 13:17). Are you striving to realize that there is ‘one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all?’”

Indeed, until Christianity today rids itself of artificiality and realizes that true unity can be based only on doctrine, it will continue its downward spiral into Relativism and finally oblivion.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Doctrine of One God

The seventh and final doctrinal truth in Ephesians 4:4-6 that forms the very essence of Christianity and therefore unites all true believers is one God.

First, there is the meaning of one God. Verse 6 declares: One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Here is the capstone of the passage. This is the culmination, the climax to which Paul has been building. Paul has built each of these spiritual realities on the other until he now reaches the summit in one God.

The three prepositions in this verse encapsulate the very nature of God. Above all speaks of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty. As the Psalmist proclaims, “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: let thy glory be above all the earth” (57:11), “For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods” (96:4), and “The LORD is great in Zion; and he is high above all the people” (99:2). “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” Paul asks (Rom. 11:34). Flowing from that are the words through all, which demonstrate His providence, as He sustains, guides, and controls all things “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). In you all, then, pictures God’s omnipresence. As David exulted, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Ps. 139:6-10).

Second, there is the application of one God, which is: unity is possible only with a proper view of God. The true God of the Bible is not the polytheistic god of one certain cult we could name, the pantheistic god of another, the strict, harsh, emotionless god of one world religion that comes to mind, or the god of any other cult or false religion. Another particular group leaves its members to “name Him [i.e., God] as he will, think of Him as he pleases; make Him impersonal law or personal and anthropomorphic,” but then tells its more advanced members that the real name of God is Jahbulon. This is a combination of Jehovah (Jah), the God of the Old Testament, Baal (Bul or Bel), the infamous Canaanite fertility god, and On, a probable reference to the Egyptian god Osirus, the brother and husband of Isis. The purpose of such a composite “God” is to show unity between all gods-ideas, that all religions are essentially the same in their ideas of the divine.
What a tragedy and a travesty to the one God of the Bible, the one and only true God that there is. To join the one true God of the Bible with pagan deities is beyond blasphemy, beyond sacrilege. In fact, some of God’s severest judgments were upon those who worshiped pagan deities (see Judges 2:13-14; Jeremiah 32:29, 35-36).

Unity, therefore, can come only from a right view of the one God. To illustrate this right view, ponder a moment a symphony orchestra. As the musicians are tuning up, they each are doing something different, and it sounds awful. But when they are done, the Conductor appears and leads them in a beautiful piece of music. Even though the instruments are tuned and the musicians could go ahead and play the music, the Conductor is still absolutely essential. Likewise, countless people today are playing their own tune, or as Thoreau put it, marching to their own drummer. We so desperately need a Conductor, and we have Him in one God. He is “above all, through all, and in [us] all.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Doctrine of One Baptism

The sixth of seven doctrinal truths in Ephesians 4:4-6 that form the very essence of Christianity and therefore unite all true believers is one baptism.

First, there is the meaning of one baptism. While some interpreters think this refers to water baptism, Greek born New Testament Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates writes this authoritative statement: “The whole paragraph, Eph. 4:1-5, is indicative of Paul’s desire that there should be unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ. No reference is made to water baptism at all. The verse says, ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ This baptism must be, therefore, be the spiritual baptism, the baptism in the Spirit that was promised by John the Baptist that the One coming after him would accomplish (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33) and Jesus Christ Himself promised in Acts 1:5. This took place in Acts 2 . . . The purpose of this Spirit baptism is shown in 1 Cor. 12:13 as the incorporation of all believers into the body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 1:22, 23).”

Second, there is the application of one baptism. As with “one spirit,” the application of one baptism is the right view of the nature and ministry of the Holy Spirit. It is truly tragic that there has been much disagreement over the meaning of I Corinthians 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” This verse teaches three things.

One, “baptized” is a past tense in the Greek (Aorist Tense), which speaks of punctilliar action in the past and can literally be translated “were baptized.” So when did it occur? On the Day of Pentecost. It was on that day that believers were placed into the Body of Christ. Each of us then takes part in the benefits of that day when we receive Christ as Savior and Lord. Neither here nor anywhere else in Scripture are we commanded to seek this baptism because it is something God has already done. To repeats, nowhere does the Bible say, “Seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Why? Because it’s already been done. God alone has already done it

Two, the word “all” is inclusive. Paul simply does not say that only a certain elite class of Christian receives the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We repeat: the text does not say that. It is, therefore, poor exegesis and bad theology to say or even imply that it does. Paul very clearly says that all Christians, even that unbelievably carnal bunch in Corinth, whether Jew or Gentile, were placed into the Body of Christ and “have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Again, Paul’s whole point is oneness of all believers in Christ’s Body, not two divided classes, one of which has “experience” something the others have not.

Three, regardless of what some folks today might teach, the common phrase “baptism OF the Holy Spirit” is actually not a correct translation of this verse (or any other verse in the New Testament for that matter). It is a term without Biblical support whatsoever. The words “by one Spirit” translate the Greek en heni pneumati. The word en is a common word that can be translated not only as “by,” but also “with” and most commonly “in.” Young’s Literal Translation reads, “For also in one Spirit we all to one body were baptized.” Similarly, Tyndale’s 1534 New Testament reads, “For in one spirit are we all baptized to make one body.”

We make this point for a very important reason. What did John the Baptist say as to those he baptized? He declared, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me  . . . he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matt. 3:11). As the next verse makes clear, the baptism of “fire” speaks of the judgment of hell. So what John is saying is that every living person is in one way or the other baptized by Christ: believers are baptized with the Spirit into Christ’s body, and unbelievers will be baptized with fire into judgment. The point, therefore, is that it’s not that we are baptized by the Holy Spirit, but actually by Christ “with” or “in” the Holy Spirit. And it is this that places us into Christ’s Body. Our Lord has done all the work through His Spirit.

How we should rejoice in this one baptism! It is this that truly makes us one in Christ. It is in this doctrine that we have unity.