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, March 30, 2014

The Purpose of Building a Church (2)

In Ephesians 4:13-14—Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.—Paul provides us with three characteristics of spiritual maturity. The first is unity.

Second, another characteristic is knowledge. How vitally important knowledge is in the Christian life! The word knowledge is the Greek epignosis. We examined this word way back in Ephesians 1:17 where Paul prayed that Christians would truly know God. The full meaning of this word is a personal knowledge that is full, thorough, precise, and correct. Why is knowledge so important? Because we need to know God fully and intimately. No, we will never know everything, but our knowledge is to be “full” in the sense of knowing what is necessary for Christian living, which is really an enormous amount of knowledge. Of, course, there is only one way of acquiring such knowledge and that is by a constant involvement with the Word of God. In that way our knowledge continues to grow. In other words, our knowledge can be full from moment to moment; we can right now know what God wants us to know, but tomorrow we will know more; so, each mo­ment we are living in the full potential of our present know­ledge.

And what is the goal of this ever-advancing knowledge? It is unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The Greek teleios (perfect) “originally meant the turning point, hinge, the culminating point at which one stage ends and another begins; later, the goal, the end.” Several things were looked upon as being an end, or a goal, such as marriage, physical and intellectual knowledge, and, of course, death. So, anything that has reached its goal or end was “complete.” So, within the context of the following verse, where there is a direct contrast with being “children, tossed to and fro,” the clear idea of perfect is “a complete mature adult.”

What, then, does “mature” mean? We hear the term often. We tell our children to “act more mature,” pastors tell Christians that they need to be mature in their Christian walk, and so forth. But what is maturity? Our English word “mature” comes from the Latin maturus, ripe, mature, timely, and seasonable, so our English word means “having completed natural growth and development, full development.” As the old Latin expression puts it, mens sana in copore sano, “a sound mind in a sound body.” Our thoughts, attitudes, actions, speech, and all else are that of a mature adult.

So what is spiritual maturity? It is to be fully developed in Christ, that is, as our text puts it, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The Greek behind stature (helikia) originally spoke of age, life-span, height, and even size of body. It is used, for example, to describe Zacchaeus, who was “little of stature” (Luke 19:3). Used metaphorically, as it is here, and combined with the words measure and fulness, the idea is “the measure of maturity in Christ, the measure of being dominated by Him and possessing Christ-likeness of character.” We are to measure ourselves not by the yardstick of society, or the ruler of some legalistic list of “do’s and don’ts.” Rather we are to measure ourselves according to the gauge of the stature of Christ. In short, spiritual maturity is Christ-likeness of character. God wants the Church to be built in the image of Christ, according to His stature.

Wow! The application of this principle will embarrass us often. The next time we react wrongly in a situation, say something we shouldn’t, do something we know we ought not, may we immediately be reminded to ask, “Is that how my Lord would react? Is that what He would say? Is that what he would do? Am I really being mature here?” Our answer will reveal whether or not we have grown to His stature. Again, we will never measure up perfectly in this life, but out failures will become fewer as we continue to grow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Purpose of Building a Church (1)

Having looked at the Foundation of building a Church (Leadership) and the Approach to that process (Discipleship), we look the Purpose of building (Maturity) in Ephesians 4:13-14: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.

When a builder starts constructing a house, his goal is to get it completed, to have a finished product. Likewise, the purpose of building Christians is a finished product. That doesn’t mean literal perfection, that is, without error—no house is perfect—but it does mean complete in the sense of maturity. There will always be maintenance, but the basic structure is sound, solid, and secure.

In this context the word perfect means “a complete mature adult.” What, then, does spiritual maturity involve? What constitutes a mature Christian? Paul provides us with three characteristics of spiritual maturity: unity, knowledge, and discernment.

We cannot help but believe that the order in which these characteristics are listed is significant. Since unity is the subject of the entire context (vs. 1-16), it is, therefore, listed first. But unity of what?—unity of the faith. We studied “one faith” back in verse 5. The word faith is not used there, or here, as a verb but a noun and pictures “a system of truth.” More specifically, “the faith” and “one faith” refer to “the body of revealed truth which makes us Historical, Evangelical Christianity” (Jude 3). So, this tells us that God’s truth is unified; it is not fragmented or divided; it is one complete system.
Moreover, since this is listed first, God wants this to be the number one concern of the Church; our concern must be the unity of the Body around the unity of the faith.

The application of all this is clear. Unity among God’s people is the number one goal of edification, the number one goal of the building process. We are told by some Christian leaders that the number one goal is to “get big,” to add more people to the membership. But what good is a big body if it’s not unified? Indeed, we want to see the body get larger, and it will do that as we are faithful, but the first goal is to see the existing body in a constant state of unity. Why do we build up one another? So there will be unity and sweet fellowship among all members of Christ’s body. How do we go about this? By practicing the three principles we examined in verse 12: equipping, serving, and building. This leads to the second characteristic of maturity, which we’ll consider next time.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Approach to Building a Church (3)

In Ephesians 4:12—For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.—Paul gives us three principles involved in Discipleship. We have examined two: equipping (perfecting) and service (the work of the ministry).

Third, discipleship involves building (edifying). This completes the progression. Proper equipping by the evangelist and pastor-teacher provides believers with the tools to serve God, which then results in the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ. The Greek for edifying (oikodome) refers literally to the building of a house. There are two things in view in this building process.

1. Equipping and serving build the body internally. This was, in fact, the very point Paul made in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders in Miletus: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up” (Acts 20:32). Paul gave this challenging counsel because it is only the Word of God that can make the body strong internally. How tragic that many today strive for a big church externally before the church is strong internally. Internal growth must always come first or the work will eventually collapse of its own weight. Without a good foundation, any building will fall.

2. Equipping and serving build the body externally. We should not over-emphasize this lest we fall into the trap of the “numbers game,” which is so prevalent today. But neither should we under-emphasize this lest we fall into the trap of isolation and eventual stagnation. What then is the balance? As Christians are given the tools for service, others are going to be brought to Christ as a result. To further explain, we do not produce results; rather we expect results through the Holy Spirit. We can put this another way: we do not rely on results to measure success, rather we rejoice in the results God gives. Many today gauge the success of their church by results of their ministry philosophy (e.g., “seeker sensitivity”), by the outcome of some campaign, or by comparison with totals from previous years. How humanistic! God never said he would bless us according to results; He said He would bless us according to faithfulness.

Our Lord didn’t leave church growth to our devices, rather He said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Yes, we will plant, we will water, but He will give the increase (I Cor. 3:6-7). We are to preach the Word and be witnesses of Christ, and God will give the increase according to His sovereign will. Human reason wants to build the church like a corporation and run it like a business. That’s not God’s way, because His Church is a Body; it will grow as we feed it Truth.

May we reiterate the three things involved in edification: equipping, serving, and building. Proper equipping by the evangelist (church planter) and pastor-teacher gives believers the tools to serve God, which results in the building up of the body of Christ both internally and externally.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Approach to Building a Church (2)

In Ephesians 4:12—For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.—Paul gives us three principles involved in Discipleship. The first is perfecting (equipping).

Second, discipleship involves service (the work of the ministry). This is the second step in the progression: the “evangelist” and “pastor-teacher” (v. 11) give Christians the tools with which they can do the work of the ministry, so they can serve God. Work is ergon, which means the result or object of employment, something to be done; so what these men are called to do is train God’s people for carrying on the task of ministry.

But what exactly is the work of the ministry? What is service? We hear a lot about these nowadays, but let’s get to the heart of the matter. Consider I Corinthians 12:5, which literally says, “There are varieties of ministries, but one Lord.” The word ministry is the Greek diakonia which speaks of labor and service and originally spoke of serving tables. It is similar, of course, to diakonos from which is derived the word “deacon.” So, as there are many members of the body (as the context clearly shows), all members, therefore, serve the body.

Consider also Acts 1:8, which is truly the most vital verse to church outreach, the verse which speaks of the commission given to every believer: “But ye shall receive power, after [i.e. when] the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” This truly is “the great commission.” Tragically, Matthew 28:19-20 (“Go ye therefore. . .”) is sometimes misused.  The tense of the verb is a past tense participle, which means not a command, rather a statement of fact. In other words, God is not commanding any of us to go; He is actually saying that we are already there! It’s not that we should each “go to the mission field,” rather that we are already on the field.

This is exactly what we see in Acts 1:8; we are already witnesses, already on the “mission field.” Yes, God calls certain people to go certain fields, but each of us are already on a field no matter were we are. We note again the word “teaching” (v. 20), “make disciples of.” This is far more than what is true in many of the so-called “soul-winning techniques” of today. Making a disciple is more than bringing someone to the Lord; it also involves helping them get started in Christian growth. The best way to do this is to help them find a local church in which they can be fed the Word of God.

So bringing all this together, ministry means service and service means witnessing. The true essence of service is being a witness for Christ. This is the responsibility of every Christian. The local church is not responsible for “programs of evangelism” or “evangelistic campaigns.” All this is a total turn-around from the New Testament. Individual believers are to be the outreach! That means you and me.

Is evangelism built on a multi-million dollar facility, the latest marketing technique, or some spiel we recite to manipulate someone to “believe in Jesus?” No, Biblical evangelism is one person telling another person about the only Person. True evangelism (euangellion) is telling people through our lips and life about the Lord Jesus Christ.

What then is the purpose of the local church? The local church is the training ground. This principle is one I have emphasized over and over to the folks at Grace Bible Church. The local church is where Christians are to be trained so they are equipped to serve, to be successful witnesses. There are pastors who emphasize witnessing, but the problem is they do not train God’s people adequately. They do not preach Scriptural depth that will properly equip.

With all this in mind, may we see that any “ministry” must point to the one true essence of Christian service—witnessing. We also add here that as we’ll see later in this study, a “ministry” must meet another requirement—it must be based in and through a local church.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Approach to Building a Church (1)

Having looked first at the Foundation of building the Church (Leadership), we now look secondly at the Approach to that process (Discipleship) in Ephesians 4:12: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

“Discipleship” is a term we hear used often these days but one that few people define. What exactly does “discipleship” or “discipling” mean? The clearest text about this is Matt 28:19-20: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

The word “teaching” in verse 20 is the familiar Greek word didasko, which speaks of systematic teaching. The word “teach” in verse 19, however, is matheteuo, which “means not only to learn, but to become attached to one’s teacher and to become his follower in doctrine and conduct of life.” It appears, for example, in Acts 14:21 in reference to Paul’s ministry in Derbe: “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch.” This shows that evangelism is more than just preaching the Gospel; it is “making disciples,” that is, making followers of Christ who are attached to Him and so obey him in doctrine and conduct. Much “evangelism” today is just getting someone to repeat a prayer or “make a profession,” but Biblical evangelism is making committed followers of Christ. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes a “disciple” of Christ as “one who (1) believes His doctrine, (2) rests on His sacrifice, (3) imbibes His spirit, and (4) imitates His example.”

So, while Paul doesn’t use the word mathoteuo in Ephesians 4:12, he most certainly outlines what is involved in making disciples using three principles: equipping, serving, and building.

First, Paul speaks of equipping Believers. The word perfecting translates katartismos, which is used only here in the New Testament and means “to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, equip.” In ancient Greek the verb form was used in a medical sense to refer to setting a broken limb or putting a joint back into its place and in politics for bringing together opposing factions so that government could continue. A New Testament example of the verb is in reference to repairing fishing nets (Matt. 4:21; Mk. 1:19).

So, it was the responsibility of the Apostle and prophet, and it is today the responsibility of the evangelist and pastor-teacher, to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, and equip Believers. In many Christian circles this has been totally turned around. Many today believe, “The pastor’s job is to ‘win souls’ and build the church; he should spend most of his time calling on people and knocking on doors.” But this is not the New Testament precedent. Many go to the phrase “house to house” (Acts 2:46; 20:20) to teach this. But in each case the context makes it clear that the teaching of believers is in view.

The New Testament makes it clear that the pastor’s duty is to train believers who then go out as the outreach. The shepherd/sheep analogy makes this obvious. The Shepherd feeds and nurtures the sheep so that they are healthy and capable of reproducing. The pastor’s first concern is to be for the occupied seats, not the empty ones.

How does a pastor go about all this? There can be only one answer: all this is done by the teaching of the Word of God. Many today are trying to do it through programs, promotional gimmicks, and marketing strategies. But a truth we need to realize is that when God’s people fail in service, it is not because of weak programs, but because of weak teaching.

An incident that occurred during the Arab–Israeli war of 1967 serves to illustrate this principle. While flying over the Sinai Desert, an American reporter and an Israeli officer spotted some 50,000 stranded Egyptian soldiers who obviously were dying of thirst. They reported their sighting, but each time a plan to aid the stranded soldiers was recommended, some military, diplomatic, or bureaucratic barrier prevented its implementation. By the time help arrived, it was too late for thousands of the soldiers.

That is the situation in the Church today. All kinds of programs, committees, focus groups, and other suggestions for “reaching out” are made, when what is really needed is simply the water of the Word of God. While many today think that the Church should be addressing “felt needs,” the real need is God’s Truth.