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, June 29, 2014

Not Walking Like the “Old Man”

As noted last time, the Apostle Paul declares, This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk . . . the old man (Eph. 4:17a and 22a ). Because the old man is dead, the last thing the Christian should want is to cling to any of the characteristics of the old man.”

Back in 4:1 Paul simply said, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you,” but now he uses two words: say and testify. Say is lego, which underlies the word logos. Prior to the 5th Century B.C.), legō meant to denoted the “activity of collecting, carefully selecting, cataloguing in succession, and arranging together in an orderly sequence.” This developed into the meaning “to lay before, i.e., to relate, recount” and finally “to say, speak, i.e., to utter definite words, connected, and significant speech equal to discourse.” Paul’s readers, therefore, knew that he had something definite, connected, and significant to tell them.

But that was not enough; Paul adds, and testify in the Lord. Testify is marturomai, which is from martus (English, “martyr”). The original setting of both these words was the legal matters, just as today. The witness gives solemn testimony to that which he knows and gives evidence. What Paul is saying, then, is clear: he is about to give a solemn declaration, give clear evidence concerning what the old man was and what the “new man” is. In other words, based upon all that I have said, I want you to listen carefully to the evidence I am about to give and allow it to sink into your mind and dictate how you live.

Additionally, Paul says that his declaration will be in the Lord, that is, it will not stand out as his own personal declaration, rather the authoritative pronouncement of the Lord Jesus Himself. This is what true preaching is all about. The Biblical preacher never declares his own opinion, authority, or ideas. Rather his responsibility is to testify of Christ, to declare solemnly, as if he were in a courtroom, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

What then does Paul declare? That as we walk through life, we no longer conduct ourselves, we no longer order our behavior in the ways of the old man. In other words, the true Christian does not live like the sinful old man. As we’ll see in verse 22, we are to “put off concerning the former [conduct of] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” In other words, we take off the old man, all that we were in Adam, as we would take off an overcoat when we come in from the cold. Yes, the old man is dead, but it is up to us to take off the behavior, the characteristics of the old man that still exist. Positionally, the old man is dead, but behaviorly the attitudes still exist. We must not be conduct ourselves according to that old behavior.

The famous 16th and 17th Century Spanish novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes is best known for his masterpiece Don Quixote. It contains many famous lines, such as, “To give the Devil his due,” “Let the worst come to the worst,” “Every dog has his day,” “I begin to smell a rat,” “Fore-warned [is] fore-armed,” “The pot calls the kettle black,” “Every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” and others. Still another of his immortal lines, however, reflects the philosophy of many people today: “When thou art at Rome, do as they do at Rome.” We call it by many names: “Fitting in,” “Blending in,” “Getting along,” “Playing ball,” “Not rocking the boat,” and so forth. But, of course, that is the very opposite of Scripture. As our Lord said of Himself, we likewise are in this world but are not of this world (Jn. 17:11-16). Whether we be in Rome, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas, or Timbuktu, we are not to walk . . . as other Gentiles walk. We no longer walk as does the old man because he is dead.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Is the “Old Man”?

As mentioned some time back, Ephesians chapters 4-6 reveal seven ways in which we are to walk, each of which in-turn is based on related doctrine in chapters 1-3. The first reality of our Christian walk is to walk in unity (4:1-16). Turning to the second reality, in 4:17-32 we discover that we are to walk in purity. The first thing to understand about living a pure life is to understand that the true Christian is no longer the “Old Man.” But what is this “Old Man?”

Ephesians 17a and 22a declares, This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk . . . the old man.” Another key verse on this subject is Romans 6:6: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him [i.e., Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Oddly, this verse has been a battleground for centuries. The question has been not whether we become holy in Christ—all agree there—rather how this holiness is brought about. All misunderstanding, however, comes from the idea that Romans 6:6 refers to something that happens in our own experience, that it is something that we do in our efforts, that it is something that comes as result of our own struggling against sin. But that is the exact opposite of what the text SAYS.

The key to understanding this verse comes in recognizing that all the verb tenses in Romans 6 are past tenses. In other words, every verb tense that refers to our identification with Christ in His death refers to that identification being completed in the past. Romans 6:6, therefore, does not say that our “old man is crucified” or that our “old nature must be crucified,” rather it says that our “old man was crucified” way back when Christ died and that it was completed then and there. It does not say that we must each morning get up and “crucify ourselves again to sin.” Rather it says that by God’s judicial act, not by our experiential effort, the old man was “crucified” and therefore “destroyed.”

Based on that fact of the language, the old man can refer to only one thing: all that we were in Adam, that is, all the guilt, penalty, power, and dominion of sin that was in Adam. Immediately we want to ask, “But I do still sin—why?” We’ll deal with that next time. The point to get here is that sin is not the rule of life like it was before. We are not dominated by sin as we once were. The old man, the person we were before salvation is gone because of what Christ accomplished on Calvary. We are not sinless, as we’ll examine in verses 20-24, but we are no longer dominated and controlled by sin. While sin used to rule, it is now Christ Who rules.

To make this practical, how often have we all used the excuse, “Well, I just can’t help it; I’m a Christian, but because I just can’t help but sin?” Such an attitude is defeatist and actually justifies our sin. The fact is, as we’ll see, we most certainly can “help it” because we are no longer dominated by sin. Sin is no longer the rule, it is the exception.

Paul adds in Romans 6:6, that “the body of sin might be destroyed.” “Destroyed” is katargeo, “to render inactive, put out of use, cancel, bring to nothing, do away with.” Because it is in a past tense, like all the verbs in the passage, it declares that “the body of sin” (a synonym for old man) has been nullified, put out of use, done away with completely in the past. It was through the cross that God put the old man out of action. That “body of sin” no longer hangs on us as like an anchor to sink into the ocean of sin; God has removed it and freed us from sin’s dominion.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Primacy of the Local Church

Back in Ephesians 4:11-12—And [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ—the Apostle Paul lists the “office gifts” that God has given to equip individual believers so they can go out and do the work of building the Body both internally and externally. This leads us to the all-important question: Where is this equipping to take place? Where is the equipping of the saints to occur? Where do the office gifts operate? Can this equipping be done anywhere, by anyone, or by any organization? May we say plainly: This equipping of the saints is to be done in the Local Church. The men spoken of in verse 11 are in the Local Church, for the local church is the training ground for ministry.

Tragically, however, the Local Church is increasingly de-emphasized today, often being relegated to the past and accused of being “outdated,” “narrow,” “limited,” and “old fashioned.” Many advocate a freedom to “minister as they see fit,” without being “confined or shackled to any one church.” But we here submit that this is unscriptural. Why? The reason is, and please get this, God has created a physical entity to deal with a physical world. God chose to create something physical to deal with something physical. This in not because God is limited but because man is limited; God knew that He had to come down to our level with something physical.

To illustrate, I greatly appreciated reading about an incident told by pastor and prolific author Warren Wiersbe. He tells of a free-lance missionary who visited a pastor friend of his asking for financial support. He asked the missionary what group he was associated with. His answer was, “I belong to the invisible church.” The pastor then asked, “Well, what church are you a member of.” He again received the answer, “I belong to the invisible church!” By now the pastor was getting somewhat suspicious and asked, “When does this invisible church meet? Who pastors it?” The missionary became incensed and said, “Well, your church isn’t the true church. I belong to the invisible church.” The pastor’s response, which may we add was based on Biblical principle, “Well, here’s some invisible money to help you minister to the invisible church.” That incident again shows that there is a physical entity with which God is dealing with a physical world. In other words, the Universal Church ministers through the Local Church. Even a casual reading of the New Testament shows this to be the clear precedent.

How vital it is today that we recognized that the Local Church is the functioning organization of the Universal Church. In fact, the Universal Church (that Body of Christ of which all Christians are members) cannot even function properly without the Local Church, for the local church has been ordained of God to carry on earthly ministry. That is why the Apostle Paul founded local churches throughout the known world of his day. To deny the primacy of the Local Church is to deny the very foundation of New Testament ministry.

The Local Church is the training ground, training Christians to be witnesses of Christ. This truly is the beginning of what is commonly called “church outreach.” Dear Christian, you are the outreach. The Local Church has been ordained by God for this task of training Christians for ministry.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Material for Building a Church (3)

Ephesians 4:15-16—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—provide us with three principles concerning the material we use for building a church. The first is the command to [speak] the truth, and the second is the control of speaking in love. Third, we see the three consequences.

(1) There will be individual growth in Believers. May grow up is one word in the Greek (auxano), which we first saw back in 2:21—“In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” As we saw there, it means “to grow or increase, of the growth of that which lives, naturally or spiritually.” While there it spoke of the entire Body of Christ as a living, growing entity, it speaks here of the individual Believer. This is proven by the verb tense (auxesomen), which is first person plural and, therefore, can be translated “we may grow up.” Into Him in all things, then, means that each of us is ever growing in Christ in every way, more and more growing in Christlikeness of character, progressively conforming to Him, Who is the sovereign and controlling Head.  

(2) There will be unity in the body of Christ. The literal idea behind the Greek fitly joined together (sunarmologeo, Eph. 2:21) is “together-joint-choose,” as the mason methodically fits each stone into the structure. Likewise, the building of the Church is an ongoing process in which each believer is being properly and uniquely cut and trimmed to be useful to the Building. Conversely, if each of us is not allowing God to work in us (2:10), then we will weaken or disfigure the building. Compacted, then, means “to join or knit together,” as each joint and ligament is controlled by the Head, which is Christ, and the power for unity is [supplied] by every joint. No part of the Body is idle; each every one is active in one measure, that is, to one extent, or another.

(3) There will be growth of the body (increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love). Just as the physical body grows of itself through food, the spiritual body of Christ grows and increases of itself through the nourishment of the Word of God. One commentator says it well: “[The body’s] various members are not in mere juxtaposition, like the several pieces of a marble statue. No portion is superfluous; none could be altered without positive injury . . . It is a mechanism in which all is so finely adjusted, that every part helps and is helped, strengthens and is strengthened, the invisible action of the pores being as indispensable as the mass of the brain and pulsations of the heart . . . While Joshua fought, Moses prayed. The snuffers and trays were as necessary as the magnificent lamp-stand. The rustic style of Amos the herdsman has it place in Scripture, as well as the polished paragraphs of the royal preacher. The widow’s mite was commended by Him who sate over against the treasury. Solomon built a temple. Joseph provided a tomb. Mary the mother gave birth to the child, and the other Maries wrapt the corpse in spices. Lydia entertained the apostle, and Phoebe carried an epistle.”

Further, what is the commodity that gives growth beauty?—love. Paul not only began his dissertation on unity with a focus on love (4:1-3) but he now ends the same way. May we never forget the grace of unity—love, the love of Christ for His Church and the love of believers for Him and one another. If we really love each other, we will work and get along as do the members of our physical body. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Material for Building a Church (2)

Ephesians 4:15-16—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—provide us with three principles concerning the material we use for building a church. The first is the command to [speak] the truth.

Second, lest our speaking be harsh, mean spirited, insensitive, or arrogant, Paul adds a principle that will control our speaking—love. No one in Corinth could have accused Paul of being unkind or unloving in his rebuke. Likewise, we are never to be rude, unkind, arrogant, or overbearing when we speak the truth. We are to always do it “in love.” A pastor must never “brow beat” God’s people; neither should any believer be arrogant, overbearing, or use “high pressure techniques” in personal witnessing. Our goal is to humbly and lovingly draw people to the Lord. Further, love is the balancing agent of conviction and courage. When the child of God has convictions and courageously stands on them, he will be called “closed minded,” “intolerant,” “hard-nosed,” and many other things. But when love is the balancing agent, people will take notice.

One commentator ably demonstrates the comparison of love and truth by pointing out that speaking the truth without love makes us ungracious, while speaking only love with no truth makes us unfaithful. “Raw truth” can alienate the very people we are trying to reach, while “uncontrolled love” can suppress the very truth we need to share.

A skilful physician, having to treat an abscess but finding the person to be afraid of lancing, privately wrapped up his knife in a sponge and then while gently smoothing the affected area, lanced it. Likewise, when we encounter an offender, we must not openly carry the dagger in our hand, but with words of sweetness administer our reproof, and so affect the cure.

May we understand that this love does not constitute some syrupy sentimentality that sets aside doctrine for the sake of unity. This is the common notion and practice in our day, when love is viewed as supreme over all else. But this is not what Paul is saying in this phrase or the context. Such a view makes a mockery of verse 14. This challenge from the great expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached several decades ago, should be heeded by every evangelical of our day: “To put life or ‘spirit,’ or niceness, or anything else, before truth is to deny essential New Testament teaching; and in addition is to contradict directly the Apostle’s solemn warning in verse 14. It is to set up ourselves, and the modern world, and the 20th-century man, as the authority rather than the ‘called apostle’ Paul and all others whom the Lord has set in the Church to warn us against, and to save us from, this attitude which dislikes discrimination and judgment. Never was it more important to assert that friendliness or niceness or sentimental notions of brotherliness do not constitute Christianity. You can have all such qualities without and apart from Christianity, and even in men who deny it, but you cannot have Christianity without ‘truth.’ So that, whatever else it may mean, ‘holding the truth in love’ does not mean a vague, flabby, sentimental notion of niceness and fellowship and brotherhood.”

Later Lloyd-Jones touches on another matter that is very common in our day and is one of my own pet peeves about modern ministry: “Obviously we must know exactly what the truth is. We are not to spend the whole of our time arguing about preliminaries and presuppositions; we are to start with the revealed truth and expound it. Every one of us to understand, to believe, and the ‘hold the truth,’ not to speculate philosophically about life and its meaning and its problems. It is not for any preacher to stand in a pulpit and say, ‘I think this,’ or ‘I have come to this conclusion,’ but rather ‘Thus saith the Lord.’”

Oh, how true this is today! “Preaching” is filled with opinion and psycho-babble, but Truth is absent. May we never hesitate to speak the Truth, but may we never fail to speak it in love. To reverse the emphasis, may we always be loving, but may we never compromise the Truth.