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, May 26, 2014

The Material for Building a Church (1)

For quite some time now, we’ve been looking at Ephesians 4:7-16, where the Apostle Paul outlines God’s four-fold method for building and growing a Church. We’ve seen the first three principles: the Foundation (Leadership, vs. 7-11); the Approach (Discipleship, v. 12); the Purpose (Maturity vs. 13-14). This brings us to the fourth: the Instrument or Material for building, which is Truth: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (vs. 15-16).

A building is only as good as the materials used to construct it. There was a time, for example, that houses were wired with aluminum wire because of how much cheaper it was than copper. But because aluminum expands and contracts much more than copper, this gradually worked connections loose on switches and receptacles. So, because loose connections cause heat and heat causes fire, many houses were burning down. Eventually aluminum wire was outlawed for branch circuit wiring.

Perhaps you remember when two suspended walkways in the atrium of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel collapsed in 1981, resulting in the death of 114 people. It was caused not only by a serious error in the original design of the connections between the hanger rods and the main-carrying box beams of the walkways, but also a change in the hanger rod arrangement during construction, which doubled the load on the connections.

All this vividly illustrates that as engineering and building materials are crucial in a physical structure, they are even more critical in a spiritual one. Tragically, however, the trend in the Church today is poor engineering and inferior building materials. In fact, if we built our buildings the way we build churches, none of us would dare live in one because its collapse would be inevitable. Most churches are engineered according to the philosophies of Relativism and Pragmatism and the materials used to build are entertainment and emotional appeals to “felt-needs.”

In stark contrast, Paul declares that we must engineer and build God’s work based on one ingredient—TRUTH. Let us notice three principles: the command, the control, and the consequences.

First, the command concerning our building materials it to [speak] the truth. This is not optional, not just “one approach to ministry among many.” It is rather the single mandated method to building and maintaining a Church. We are to speak truth (aletheia), not opinion, conjecture, hypothesis, or theory, rather what is true, absolutely reliable, incontrovertible, irrefutable, incontestable, unarguable, and unchanging.

Beyond tragic is the fact that this is anything but the norm today. The vocabulary of much of the Church today is politically correct catch-phrases, sentimental expressions, and psycho-babble. Instead of confronting false teachers with their error, we embrace them with such schmaltziness as, “Our bother brings up an intriguing, thought-provoking point,” or “Our brother is entitled to his own ideas, to which we should be open.” No, we are supposed to speak the truth.

Once again, we see that true doctrine is essential in the face of “every wind of [false] doctrine” mentioned in verse 14. Speaking on the importance of doctrinal preaching, one writer comments: “If you take away the doctrine, you have taken away the backbone of the manhood of Christianity—its sinew, muscle, strength, and glory.” Wanted today are showy churches and glitzy ministries, but shunned is the preaching of Truth. Many Christian leaders think they know more than the inspired Apostle Paul and many great leaders in Church History who came after him. As a result we are already seeing the shipwrecks that are left behind. May we, indeed, [speak] the truth at all costs.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Mandate of Discernment (2)

The discerning of Truth from error is not a minor concern in Scripture, but is, in fact, a recurring theme throughout. Continuing that thought, the Apostle Paul wrote the Thessalonians, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil” (I Thes. 5:21-22). “Prove” is  dokimazō, which means “test, pronounce good, establish by trial.” A related word, dokimos, was originally used as a technical term for coins that were genuine. So Paul is saying, “Examine everything, put everything to the test, verify each item to see if it is genuine or if it is a fake.” If it’s good, seize it and hold on to it. If it’s not, however, withdraw from it. A growing number in the Church today are constantly seeking something new, novel, and non-conforming. But what is desperately needed is not what is new, but what is true.

The Apostle John echoes Paul’s mandate to discernment by also using dokimazō: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I Jn. 4:1, emphasis added). How much clearer could Scripture be? There are countless claims to spiritual authority today, innumerable assertions that “this is what the bible says,” but every single one of these is to be examined, tested, and verified.

Finally, Hebrews 4:12 is among the strongest New Testament statements about discernment: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The Greek for “discerner” is kritikos, which appears only here in the New Testament and which from Plato’s day onward referred to “a competent, experienced judge.” What a perfect description of the Word of God!—The Discerner, The Judge of men’s thoughts and even their intentions, ideas, notions, and purposes (Greek, ennoia).

Now, before we go on, we should also address one other verse that always arises with this issue, Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” This is used by most people to say, “See there, Jesus says we are not supposed to be critical of anyone; we should not criticize what they believe or say.” But is that what the verse says? Of course not. If it did, Paul contradicted the Lord Jesus many times. What such people fail to do is read the context (vs. 2-5), where Jesus clearly says that we are not to judge and discern hypocritically or judge someone’s motives and attitudes. We are all tempted to hold others to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, which is hypocrisy, so we must first make sure of our own life, make sure our standard is consistent, and then discern actions. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus says: “First, get the log out of your own eye and then you can remove the splinter that’s in your brother’s eye.”

Besides the texts we’ve examined, Scripture over, and over, and over again mandates discernment and warns of the dangers of false doctrine. Here are just a few I would encourage you to read: Matthew 7:15-16; 24:23-26; Acts 20:28-31; II Corinthians 11:3, 13-14; I Timothy 6:20-21; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:8; II Peter 2:1-2.

Never before has the Church been in such a need of discernment and pure doctrine as it is today. One of the best statements on place of doctrine in the Church was written back in 1983 by pastor and theologian Gordon Clark: “Today liberals, humanists, behaviorists, and the neo-orthodox attack doctrine; but what is worse, those who think of themselves as devout evangelicals strongly insisting on the inerrancy of Scripture, ignore doctrine. They favor pastoral counseling, they prate about four spiritual laws, sing Gospel dance tunes, testify to their happiness, even read some of the Bible, but they read it without trying to understand it. Nor is the major blame to be put on the congregation; most of whom know no Greek; the major blame lies on ministers who know no Greek and not much theology. They do not speak evil of God’s work: they simply do not speak. A friend of mine, who did his best to preach the whole counsel of God, had a conversation with a very popular preacher and author. Said the popular idol to my friend, “I believe the same doctrines you do.” Said my friend, “I am delighted, I wouldn’t have known it, if you hadn’t told me.”

Indeed, in many circles today, doctrine is avoided at all costs. What folly this is! Doctrine is the foundation on which we stand, and we must discern it carefully.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Mandate of Discernment (1)

We’ve been examining the principle of discernment using several examples of popular teachings that simply are not supported in Scripture. All those examples (and believe me, a myriad of others we could list) demonstrate how completely undiscerning the Church has become. Now, we could understand this if the Bible only mentioned discernment once or twice, but the fact is that the discerning of Truth from error is a recurring theme throughout Scripture.

Consider when God asked Solomon what he wanted most, Solomon answered, “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?” (I Kings 3:9).

Most people are aware of the old adage, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” which is based on Matthew 16:2-3. The occasion was when the Pharisees tempted Jesus to perform a sign from heaven. He turned it around on them, however, and said, “O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” In other words, they could discern a simple natural phenomenon, but they had no spiritual discernment of Who Jesus really was. The Greek for “discern” is diakrino, one of several similar words that speak of judgment and discernment. It literally means “to make a distinction,” something the Pharisees could not do and something many Christians today will not do.

A graphic, and excellent, picture of discernment appears in Acts 17:11. After leaving Thessalonica because of much bitter treatment from Jews there, Paul and Silas headed for Berea, about forty-five miles away. Upon entering the synagogue, they found a group of new believers who “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” While many in Thessalonica had “received the word of God which [they] heard” (I Thes. 2:13), the Bereans were totally dedicated to the study of Scripture to see if what Paul said was true. That is discernment. What does the Scripture say (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30)? That must be are credo, our motto, and our only discerner.

Paul also declared to the Corinthians (who were anything but mature, discerning, or spiritual), “He that is spiritual judgeth all things” (I Cor. 2:15). “Spiritual” (pneumatikos) means “non-carnal” or “dominated by the Spirit, in contrast to [the] natural.” To really be spiritual, then, means that we are characterized not by our natural instincts or opinions but by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul further says that the spiritual person “judgeth all things.” Here is crucial principle. “Judgeth” is the same word translated “discerned” in the previous verse: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The Greek for “discerned” here is anakrino. From about 400 B.C onwards, it expressed “the questioning process which leads to a judgment: to examine, cross-examine, interrogate, enquire, and investigate. Other concepts in the word are scrutinize and sift.

So, to discern something means that we don’t say, “Well, as long as that Bible teacher talks about God or Jesus, then he’s okay.” True spirituality, maturity and discernment mean that we examine everything, that we investigate, question, scrutinize, and sift through every aspect of what is being taught and practiced, not from the perspective of the flesh, natural inclination, or personal opinion, but by the domination of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. Most people are, like the Corinthians, anything but spiritual; they are, in fact, the very opposite, looking at everything from their perspective not God’s. The truly spiritual person does not accept everything that comes along; rather he or she first examines it Biblically to see if it’s right or wrong. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Key to Discernment (2)

Continuing our thoughts on how to Biblically discern Truth from error (Eph. 4:14), I want to mention one of the most dramatic examples in our day of how one book has managed to captivate Christianity in spite of the fact that its teaching is simply not Biblical. I know this might upset some readers, but I beg you not to react to but rather discern what you are about to read. Think Biblically.

The gullibility and undiscerning nature of Christianity today is no more apparent than in the virtual cult that has arisen around the hugely popular book The Prayer of Jabez. One author’s indictment of this book is right on the mark when he calls it “the most mesmerizing deception to be launched on American Christianity in the modern era” (Steve Hopkins, The Cult of Jabez [Bethal Press, 2002]). Why? Because the basic, underlying error of the book is, as another author writes, “that the repetition of a prayer, any prayer, even a Biblical prayer, unlocks the power of God in our lives” (Gary E. Gilley, “I Just Wanted More Land” —Jabez [Xulon Press, 2001] ). The whole thrust of the book is that by repeating this obscure Old Testament prayer (a clear violation of the prohibition of “vain repletion” in Matt. 6:8), the Christian can unlock blessing and miracles. But Scripture nowhere says any such a thing. All it boils down to be is old “prosperity teaching” in a new wrapper, and to be blunt, it’s heresy plain and simple. Over and over again (ad infinitum, ad nauseam) the author promises prosperity and miracles with such statements as the following.

(1) “God wants [us] to be ‘selfish’ in [our] prayers. To ask for more and more—and more again—from our Lord . . . [is] exactly the kind of request our Father longs to hear” (p. 19). But when we discern using Scripture alone, we find that Scripture nowhere says any of that. Not one place does God’s Word say that He wants us to be selfish in our prayers—NOT ONE.

(2) “A guaranteed by-product” of saying the Jabez prayer will be that “your life will become marked by miracles” (pp. 24-25). But again, that is not promised either in the so-called “Jabez Prayer” (I Chronicles 4:9-10) or anywhere else in Scripture.

(3) “Seeking God’s blessing is our ultimate act of worship” (p. 49). But once again, not one verse of Scripture says that; it is totally the author’s conjecture.

And on we could go. Like so many contemporary writers, that author came to the Bible with his own preconceived philosophy and tried to support it with Scripture. While the book is filled with warm anecdotes, personal experience, and boundless conjecture, totally absent are solid theology, Scripture exposition, and Divine Truth.

If I may say again, my desire is not to offend anyone, rather to defend the Word of God. And the only way to defend Scripture is by discerning Truth from error. If we honestly examine the situation today, we discover that Truth says, “Go ahead and examine me; I can take it,” while Tolerance says, “Leave me alone; I’ll believe what I want to believe.” The truly mature Christian is one who discerns Truth—plain and simple. He or she will be willing to examine everything according to the Word of God.

Now, is that my opinion? Most certainly not. In out next installment, in fact, we’ll see that discernment is everywhere mandated in Scripture.