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, April 27, 2014

The Key to Discernment (1)

We’ve been examining the principle of discernment in Ephesians 4:14—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. This brings us to the question: what is the key to discernment?

There is only a single principle: what does the Word of God say? It doesn’t matter if some new idea or teaching “sounds good,” but whether or not it’s right according to Scripture, and that alone. At the very heart of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, that it is “Scripture Alone,” which dictates all we believe and practice, not Church Tradition, human opinion, or anything else. For centuries the church has added its traditions, teachings, methods, and ministries to Scripture, sometimes even incorporating pagan practices (and even gods). How we need a new Reformation today!

Let’s perform a few tests on how to discern truth from error. One speaker I heard, for example, reflects one of the most common attitudes today about church ministry when he says: “You have a guy sitting in church and he’s figuring out, ‘Okay, how am I going to make payroll? how am I going to finance my lifestyle? I’ve got these two kids that are rebellious; they’re caught up in this lack of authority thing. My emotional connection with my wife is really running dry. I’m sitting with three strangers next to me listening to this sermon. I need some help for my life right now.’ I believe that’s the way Jesus taught. I mean Jesus started at the point of the real and felt need that a person would have.”

That certainly sounds good, noble, and caring, but is it right according to Scripture? No, it is not. The Lord Jesus simply did not start with a person’s “felt need,” a term on which many churches are built today. In His dealing with the woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-26), He very specifically confronted her with her sin and then even taught her some doctrine on worship. He most certainly did not start with a “felt need,” rather real sin.

Here is another quote, which is, in fact, another of the most common teachings of our day: “The unity of the faith is more important than doctrinal opinion.” In other words, unity is supreme, doctrine is irrelevant. Again, this sounds loving, but is it right? No, it is not. As Paul told Titus (a pastor of a local church), the pastor has been entrusted with God’s word and is, therefore, required—not requested or given an option—but required to, “[Hold] fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers [i.e., refute those who oppose that doctrine]” (Tit. 1:7a, 9). Unity is most certainly not more important than correct doctrine, no matter who says anything to the contrary. Every pastor is required by God to teach the Truth and refute error.

Another teacher characterizes God this way: “God is a God of grace. You can curse Him and disobey Him and spit in His face and reject Him, and you can do it over and over and over again, and He keeps coming back for more.” Is such a characterization of God Biblical? Of course not. It flies in the face of the Truth that “the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 3:6) and that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18; also read Hebrews 10:26-31). Does that sound like a God Who just “keeps coming back for more?”

Monday, April 21, 2014

How False Doctrine Comes

Continuing our look at discernment in Ephesians 4:14—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 tells us that false doctrine comes in three ways.

First, by the sleight of men. Here is a fascinating term. The word sleight is by far the best translation of the Greek kubeia, from kubos (English “cube”) and appears only here in the New Testament. The Greek literally means “playing dice” and sleight graphically pictures the implication of the gambling, trickery, and fraud that is involved. We can picture this easily by thinking of how many people throw away billions of dollars on gambling. The house edge in Roulette, for example, is 2.7% for single zero and 5.26% for double zero. The edge is even worse for other games, such as 4.5% for Sportsbook Betting, 3.9% to 15.2% for various slot machines, and an unbelievable 25% for Keno.

I was also reminded of the old scam, Three-Card Monte, in which the expert scam artist lays three cards on the table, one of which is a queen, shuffles them back and forth, and then asks you to “find the lady.” You’ll win at first, but when the bet increases, you will lose because of a sleight of hand trick. The dealer picks up two cards with his right hand, the upper card between his thumb and his forefinger and the lower card between his thumb and his middle finger, with a small gap between both cards. According to common sense, and, is in fact, what he did before, the dealer should drop the lower card first, but this time his forefinger smoothly and slyly ejects the upper card first, which causes you to lose track of the queen. This is especially difficult to see if the dealer’s hand makes a sweeping move from his left side to his right side while he drops the cards. The moral of the story is, you are going to lose.

That is the false teacher. By “slight of mouth” he tricks the unwary without their knowing it because they are gullible and over-confident in their knowledge. Pride gets the Three Card Monte victim every time; he’s confident he can follow the Queen, but he can’t because of sleight of hand—the hand is quicker than the eye. Likewise, immature Christians are over-confident in their supposed knowledge and are easy prey for false teachers. This is precisely why Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Miletus that “grievous wolves [will] enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).

Second, false doctrine comes by cunning craftiness (panourgia), which literally means “capable of all work,” or as Aristotle viewed it, “an unprincipled [capability] to do anything.” That is the false teacher. He will do anything, stoop to any level needed to manipulate error, to make something look like truth and thereby lead others away from truth. Paul also uses this word in II Corinthians 2:2, where believers should “[renounce] the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Just as one cult deceitfully alters the Greek text of John 1:1 so they can translate it, “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god” (and thereby deny the Deity of Christ), men will do anything to make their teaching look like truth when it is the very opposite.

Third, false doctrine comes by delusion and deception (they lie in wait to deceive). Lie in wait (methododeia, English “method”) means “to investigate by settled plan” or “a deliberate planning or system.”  There is a settled plan, an elaborate system, a deliberate scheme behind those who teach false doctrine. Their desire to is to deceive (plane), “a wandering out of the right way” and, therefore, figuratively delusion and error. I Thessalonians 2:10-11 speak of the lost multitude that will believe the Antichrist, and for that very reason God will “send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” While that day is not yet here, delusion, error, and seduction are everywhere.

What is even more tragic is how many true believers there are who are gullible and will believe virtually anything and follow almost anybody. Even with our unequaled education, freedom, sophistication, access to God’s Word, Christian books, and a multitude of Bible translations (which I am convinced is actually part of the problem), it seems that anybody, no matter what he teaches, can get a following and even financial support from not only individual Christians but entire Local Churches and even whole denominations, associations, and fellowships. Like little children, they are captivated by something new: a new interpretation, a new idea, a new catchy phrase or term, a new method of “ministry,” and countless other things. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Need for Discernment (2)

Ephesians 4:14—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—is the most graphic description in Scripture of the immature, unguided, undiscerning Christian. There are several characteristics of children that apply to the spiritually immature Christian. First, they were ignorant, and second, they were impulsive.

Third, they are impressionable, they are carried about with every wind of doctrine. Carried about is periphero, which pictures being carried around in circles, that is, being directionless, just driven here and there with no guidance. As Greek scholar and expositor John Eadie puts it, “The billow does not swell and fall on the same spot, but it is carried about by the wind, driven hither and thither before it—the sport of the tempest.” It’s also significant that the definite article (“the”) appears before doctrine in the Greek—“every wind of the doctrine”—showing that false teachers are very deliberate; they don’t have a general doctrine, rather a definite, calculated, and well formulated doctrine to teach. Most cults illustrate this vividly; as wrong as the doctrine is, it is nonetheless systemized, organized, and well devised. As a result, whatever the false teacher’s doctrine is, the immature, undiscerning Christian is just carried along by it until the next teaching blows in and carries him somewhere else.

One pastor boldly asserts the habits of the spiritually immature Christian when he writes: “There is a flightiness and instability to their lives . . . They dash in a dither toward every new religious fad, they seem more excited about the latest religious book than about the one Great Book, they rush from seminar to conference, hanging on to the words of the latest Christian guru, they change their spiritual and doctrinal mindset as often as they change their socks. With them, prophecy becomes a hobby, and spirituality becomes the latest craze.”

How true! From the days of Bill Gothard’s “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” decades ago to Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” today, it’s been this fad, that book, and this other movement, one after the other, year after year. The picture painted by wind is also graphic. Just as the wind surrounds us when it blows, so all kinds of teaching surround us. This demands, therefore, that we discern its direction—we must examine where it comes from, what it carries, and where it’s headed.

Fourth and finally, children are indulgent. If there is one thing that characterizes a child more than anything else, it’s that he wants to play, he wants to be entertained, he wants to have fun, he is self-absorbed. And that is not only true of the immature Christian today but most of the Church as a whole. The seeker-sensitive movement has inevitably led to entertainment as the driving forced of Church “ministry.” This started decades with just children and youth ministries that kept the kids entertained, but now it defines the whole Church. There is literally every form of entertainment in the Church today that is found in the world: all genres of music concerts, dramas, movies, stand-up comedy, dances, sports, and even—I’m not making this up—gambling and strippers.

To raise money, one church in Surrey, England sponsored “Rodent Roulette,” in which they put a mouse in a box that has several holes in the sides of it, put a cup over the mouse, spin the box around a few times, take bets on which the hole the mouse will use to exit the box, and then release it. Christianity Today magazine reported an incident in Richardson, Texas where one church invited a woman from another church in their denomination to take part in the service. She did, and when the “exotic dancer” from a Dallas nightspot was done, all she was wearing was a G-string.

Yes, I freely admit that those—and actually many more I could document—are extreme examples But I also submit that PHILOSOPHICALLY they are no different than any church today that resorts to entertainment in any form. So-called “ministry” today is built on “giving people what they want,” “appealing to felt-needs,” and “user-friendliness.” It is specifically geared to the flesh and thrives in an atmosphere of spiritual immaturity.

But Paul is not done yet! Next time we’ll look at how false doctrine comes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Need for Discernment (1)

Ephesians 4:14—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.—reveals one more of three characteristics of spiritual maturity. We’ve examined unity and knowledge (v. 13).

Third, the final characteristic is discernment. As a church pastor and Christian leader, in the next several installments I would like to share something with true Believers that is one of the deepest burdens of my heart.

To introduce discernment, think carefully on this little story. The great Napoleon often told the tale of when he was visiting a certain province and came upon an old soldier with one severed arm. On his uniform he displayed the coveted Legion of Honor. “Where did you lose your arm?” Napoleon asked. “At Austerlitz, Sire,” came the soldier’s brisk reply. “And for that you received the Legion of Honor?” “Yes, Sire. It is but a small token to pay for the decoration.” Then the emperor said, “You must be the kind of man who regrets he did not lose both arms for his country.” “What then would have been my reward?” asked the one-armed man. “Then,” Napoleon replied, “I would have awarded you a double Legion of Honor.” With that the proud, old fighter drew his sword and immediately cut off his other arm. The story was circulated for years, until one day someone asked, “How?”

Ponder further; sometimes we accept sayings simply because they are pithy, such as the Earl of Kent’s remark in Shakespeare’s King Lear, “The stars above us govern our conditions.” This is just one of many references to that day’s common belief in Astrology. Other times we accept a proverb because it matches our own philosophy, such as Vince Lombardi’s famous declaration, “Winning’s not everything; it’s the only thing.”

People accept such ideas and uncounted others simply because they lack discernment, a word from the Latin discernere, which is comprised of dis, “apart,” and cernere, “to sift.” The Bible constantly, over and over again, emphasizes this principle: to separate and distinguish between in order to see and understand the difference. But far worse is how the lack of discernment has marched into the church like a plague of Driver Ants consuming everything in its path. Lost in the Church today is the ability to discern, to see the difference between truth and error. And the few who do dare to discern are labeled “unloving,” “divisive,” and “intolerant.” So what does Scripture say about discernment?

Here is undoubtedly the most graphic description in Scripture of the immature, unguided, undiscerning Christian. As the words henceforth be no more indicate, they obviously had previously been children, so the first thing Paul says is that this must cease. There are several characteristics of children that apply to the spiritually immature Christian.

First, children are ignorant. The Greek for children is nēpios, which is a combination of ne (“not”) and epos (“word”), so the literal idea is “one who cannot speak, that is, an infant.” Metaphorically, it pictures one who is “unlearned, unenlightened, simple, innocent,” and even “foolish;” when the ancient Greek philosophers wished to dismiss someone who was foolish in his views, they would use nepios with biting sarcasm. Writing to Christians in Greek society, Paul challenged the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).

This point is, indeed, profound. After becoming a father, I often found myself thinking, “This child ought to know something, but he doesn’t; we’ve got to teach him everything.” And children will believe anything. They’ll believe there is a Santa Clause because we tell them there is (which really doesn’t say much for us, does it?). They’ll also try anything. They’ll try to see what small objects will fit into an electrical outlet, they’ll run into the street, they’ll eat the family dog’s food, and other things we wouldn’t believe unless we saw them. And that is precisely Paul’s point. The immature Christian knows either nothing at all or so little that he constantly gets himself into trouble.

Second, children are impulsive, they are tossed to and fro. This phrase is a singe word in the Greek, kludonizomai, an old nautical term “meaning to be tossed by the waves.” Children have a short attention span. They bounce from one thing to another. Babies will be drawn to a moving object one moment and a shiny one the next. Toddlers will play with a toy one moment and the box it came in the next. Immature Christians are the same, bouncing from one opinion to another, one teaching to another, with no discernment of which is better or even right. They’ll just grab onto anything and run with it. This leads to another characteristic, which we’ll examine next time.