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, October 27, 2014

Taking Off Lying to Put On Truth (6)

Continuing our examination of Ephesians 4:25 to take off lying to put on truth, why do we shun lying and desire Truth? For three reasons. First, lying brings the judgment of God. Second, we shun lying because Truth is the most foundational principle of Christianity.

Third, there is a superlative reason we shun lying. An even deeper motive for speaking the truth is that all believers are members of the same body. Here is a fascinating picture! As Paul has emphasized many times in Ephesians, he again gives us the picture of a body.

To illustrate, our eyes do not deliberately try to deceive the brain but try to send truthful information, that is, the way things really are, which is what Truth means. The brain, for example, does not deliberately try to deceive the feet into walking in the wrong direction or the hand to pick up a red hot iron. In short, if our body parts were constantly lying to one another, our body would soon destroy itself.

Paul’s point, then, is simply this: lying is diametrically opposed to the doctrine of the Church. The Church, whether the universal Church or a local church, is a body, and a body must have unity and harmony. But how can there be unity and harmony without honesty? Oh, may we please realize that a lie damages the whole body. When a Christian exaggerates, cheats, betrays a confidence, makes an excuse, or just tells an outright whopper to cover up his sin, he (or she) hurts all the members of the Body of Christ. There is no such thing as “a little white lie” because every lie hurts the body as a whole.

As commentator Kent Hughes writes: “A lie is a stab into the very vitals of the Body of Christ. This is so because a lie is a sable shaft from the kingdom of darkness . . . There is no place in the Christian ethic for the well-intentioned lie. In the moral behavior which Christ inspires, the end never justifies the means.”

Notice the word neighbor. The Greek (plēsion) refers to one standing near, a neighbor, a fellow man. While the context obviously shows that Paul is talking about fellow Christians, Scripture also teaches the deeper principle that a neighbor is anyone near to us, a fellow-man of any creed or nation, and even our enemies, as our Lord made clear in Matthew 5:43-44 and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Truth, then, must characterize our dealings with every individual, whether Christian or non-Christian.

So, Paul tells us to speak every man truth because mutual trust is absolutely necessary for fellowship, and because of this trust we can speak openly with one another.

Lying is indeed the easiest thing in the world to do. During the weeks I was preaching these messages on the New Life, I ironically encountered a sales clerk at Wal-Mart whose name is Alethea. I did a double-take when I read her nametag, so I asked her, “Did you know that your name is the Greek word for truth?” With a smile, she answered, “Yes, and sometimes it’s very hard to live up to.” Indeed it is.

So the Christian “puts off the garment of lying” and “puts on the garment of truth.” The reason a lie is despicable is because it’s a perversion of Truth. God created Truth, but when we lie we are trying to turn falsehood into Truth. How ugly that is! Dear Christian, the next time you are tempted to tell a lie, which might be in the next few hours or even minutes from now, just stop and think about how despicable a thing it really is. And may we always be aware of the subtle forms that lying takes. May we truly [put] away lying, for when we do all that is left is Truth, and that must be our sole desire.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Taking Off Lying to Put On Truth (5)

Having taken a close look at the negative, let us turn to the positive. Paul goes much deeper than just “thou shalt not lie” in Ephesians 4:25: Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Rather, he here (and in the other four sins he lists) gives a deeper motive. What a challenge this is to parents, pastors, and all leaders. Teaching motives is much more valuable than teaching commandments. Why doesn’t God want us to lie? Why do we shun lying and desire Truth? For three reasons.

First, lying brings the judgment of God. This is not only graphically demonstrated in Jeremiah 5, but Scripture makes it clear that liars are condemned. Speaking of the glories of Heaven, Revelation 21:27 declares, “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Likewise, speaking of the New Jerusalem, Revelation 22:15 says, “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Who are under God’s condemnation? Those whose life is patterned after sin, of which lying is a chief pattern. It’s just that simple; liars are on the same level as the most heinous of sinners and not part of God’s Kingdom. What is their end? “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (21:8).

Second, we shun lying because Truth is the most foundational principle of Christianity. As we carefully examined way back in Ephesians 1:13, Truth (alētheia) is that which is real, what really is, what is factual. And as we examined in 4:15, it is the mandate of the Church that we “[speak] the truth,” that which is absolute, reliable, and unchanging.

The word Truth appears 235 times in the King James Version, even more often than “grace” (170). The Psalmist, for example, declares, “For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth” (33:4), and that “all [His] commandments are truth” (119:151). Likewise, the Apostle John declares, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Most significant of all, our Lord declared of Himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (Jn. 14:6). The Lord Jesus is TRUTH ITSELF; apart from Him there is no Truth. Therefore, since the essence of Christianity is Truth, every Christian is commanded to “speak the truth.”

For this reason, commentator Albert Barnes writes these insightful words: “Nothing is more important in a community than simple truth—and yet it is to be feared that nothing is more habitually disregarded. No professing Christian can do any good who has not an unimpeachable character for integrity and truth—and yet who can lay his hand on his breast and say before God that he is, in all cases, a man that speaks the simple and unvarnished TRUTH?”

Indeed, how vital it is that we speak the truth, but how often do we do so with absolutely no hint of untruth? This is the challenge to us all, a challenge that we will face every single moment of every day: guard the Truth with jealous, passionate tenacity.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Taking Off Lying to Put On Truth (4)

Last time we closed with a mention of the Cretan poet and reputed prophet Epeminides, whom Paul quotes in Titus 1:12: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always[s] liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.”

Fascinatingly, in the very same era as Epeminides but in a different part of the world, the prophet Jeremiah labored, and we see lying as a way of life even among God’s chosen people. Jeremiah 5, in fact, is the most graphic Biblical example of what exists in our society today. Historically, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, has already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians (722 B.C.) and only Judah, the Southern Kingdom, remains. God has, however, been telling them that they too will be judged harshly for their sin unless they repent. In verse 1, God sends Jeremiah scurrying through the capital city Jerusalem seeking anyone who “executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth” and promises to “pardon” the sins of the entire nation if he can find a single person. But there was not one.

Think of it! Not one person, whether rich or poor, whether citizen or leader (vs. 4-5), told the truth. Even though they mouthed the words “the LORD liveth,” in reality “surely they [swore] falsely” (v. 2). Verses 11-12 go on to say that they “dealt very treacherously against [God]” and lied to Him. Verse 27 paints the picture, “As a cage [was] full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit.” Verse 31 records that even the “prophets [prophesied] falsely” and that the people loved it. Like today, people loved what was preached even though it was not true! Honesty, integrity, veracity, genuineness, and truthfulness were not virtues to be encouraged, but weaknesses to be avoided. They are not only bad for business but even bad for ministry. People do not want to hear the Truth.

To illustrate further, may I interject that while the foundational approach to child-training is obedience, the foundational principle is Truth. A parent must never allow a child to get away with a lie. Further, the punishment for lying should be more severe than for anything else. Why? For two reasons, not only because of how important Truth is, as we’ll detail later, but for the practical reason that a good liar is capable of any other sin, no matter how bad. Lying rarely, if ever, stands alone; it usually hides other sin. If a person is good at deception, he can hide anything else. Verses 7-8, for example, reveal that adultery and fornication permeated the nation, as did idolatry in verse 19.

Verse 3 is especially instructive: “They have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.” The imagery here is unmistakable. They are stubborn, adamant, and even obstinate in their lies. A liar will fight and do anything to cover up the truth. Why? Because to admit one lie opens the flood gates to all the others and everything pours out in a deluge, and the liar is exposed.

In contrast, a person who loves truth avoids other sin that he would be compelled to admit if found out. Love for truth will keep us from sin.

Jeremiah later foretells of the coming judgment of the Babylonian captivity and destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 14-17; chs. 20-21) if the people continued in their sin. Did the nation heed Jeremiah? Did the people repent of their sin? Indeed not. They rejected what he said, struck him, and imprisoned him (20:2-3). When that didn’t shut him up, they threw him into a muddy dungeon without food or water and waited for him to die (38:6). A liar hates the one who exposes his lies.

We can’t help but wonder if God is asking of America today, “Are there any who tell the truth?” And we can’t help but wonder what judgments are to come. As in Jeremiah’s day, we are a generation of liars. We have no interest, much less desire, for truth. We weave, dodge, and duck the truth like a boxer avoids being hit.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Taking Off Lying to Put On Truth (3)

Continuing our examination of Ephesians 4:25 to take off lying to put on truth, another illustration of how impeded lying is in our nature philosophy is found in the ancient Greeks, who supposedly prided themselves on the search for Truth. That’s simply another lie propagated by many a philosophy professor, however, for in reality the ancient Greek considered lying a necessity. In the 4th Century A D, philosopher Proclus asserted that “good is better than truth,” a philosophy we are hearing today even among evangelicals in the form of statements such as, “It’s much better to be loving than to tell the whole truth and offend people.”

Some 800 years before that, and 400 years before Christ, Plato allowed lying as needed, as long as it was at the proper time. He wrote, “To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege” (The Republic, Bk. 3, Sec. 389.) What a horrendous political philosophy! (In light of his numerous lies, some even on national television, we can’t help but wonder if Bill Clinton read Plato.)

Titus 1:12 is a fascinating verse that actually refers to Greek culture 200 years before Menander: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always[s] liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” Paul here quotes the Cretan poet and reputed prophet Epeminides; to the Greeks, a prophet was a interpreter of the gods who explained the obscure responses of the oracles and saw future events. While certainly a pagan, Epeminides was one of the wisest of the ancient Greeks and was very much unlike his countrymen in behavior. His three accusations are significant.

First, he said the Cretans were “always liars.” As an ancient proverb put it, “To act the Cretan, is a proverb for to lie.” In the same way that to be “Corinthianized” meant that one had stooped to the grossest immorality and drunken debauchery common in Corinth, to be called a “Cretan” was the same as being called a liar, a term used even in the literature of the day. The word “always” indicates that this was not the exception but the rule, the general moral character, “the national sin” (John Gill) of the Cretans.

Second, Epeminides called them “evil beasts,” not gentle animals like sheep, but wild, ravenous predators who were unrestrained in their indulgence and passions.
Third, Epeminides called them “slow bellies.” The Greek here is argos gastēr. Argos literally means “without work” and describes someone who is not at work only because he chooses to be idle. Gastēr (English “gastric”) refers to the belly, particularly the stomach. Used figuratively, as it is here, it means “appetite” and “excessive eating.” Another ancient Greek term was gastrodouloi, “slaves of their stomachs.” So the Cretans were “lazy gluttons,” “slothful stomachs.” In short, they wanted to eat without working for it.

Does this not remind us of America’s own out of control welfare system? Countless people who can work refuse to do so but still expect to eat, in direct contradiction not only to II Thessalonians 3:10—“If any would not work, neither should he eat.”—but also simple common sense. Not only was this principle set down by God in Genesis 3:9—“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (cf. 17-19)—but the same principle is “found in Homer, Demosthenes, and Pythagoras” because it was “founded in obvious justice.”

And what was at the very root of the Cretan’s passions and slothfulness? Their lying character, their indifference and contempt for Truth. Again it reminds us of our welfare system. How many people lie about their ability to work? How many lie when asked, “Are you actively seeking employment?” At the core of our passions and laziness is lying. We will again continue next time.