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, December 21, 2014

Taking Off Stealing to Put On Laboring (3)

Concluding Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 4:28—Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth—having considered the negative consideration, we now see the positive.

First, notice that a man must labour, working with his hands. How amazing the Word of God is! In a single statement, Paul addresses issues that plague society 2,000 years later.

The “get rich quick” mentality—winning the lottery, the latest system for buying real-estate, the newest “pyramid scheme”—is not the mentality of the New Man. There’s certainly nothing wrong with riches, for it’s only “the LOVE of money [that] is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10, emphasis added), not money itself. And it is, indeed, this love of money that drives the “get rich quick” mentality.

In contrast, the mentality of the New Man is that he “labors” and “works.” Labour is kopiao, which speaks of “exertion and toil,” “the process of becoming tired,” and the “consequent fatigue and exhaustion.” Peter used this word, for example, when he told the Lord that he and his companions “toiled” all night fishing and had caught nothing (Lk. 5.5). It’s also used of the duty of a pastor to study the Word of God: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (I Tim. 5:17). In contrast to today’s tendency to stay out of the “Pastor’s Study,” Paul makes it clear that the responsibility of a pastor is to exhaust himself in the study of the Word of God.

 Working (ergazomai) speaks of work in general, such as working “in a field (Matt. 21:28) or at a trade (Acts 18:3),” or even “to do business” (Matt. 26:16).” Not only are we working to the point of exhaustion, but we’re doing it systematically, doing it every day in our field, trade, or business.

At the very foundation of society is the necessity of work. Even before the fall, man was required to work (Gen. 2:15), which then became even more necessary, and much more difficult, after the fall (3:17-19). So foundational is work that Paul told the Thessalonians that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (I Thess. 3:10). Every Jewish rabbi was taught a trade, for as the rabbis said, “If you do not teach your son a trade, you teach him to be a thief.” As always, Jesus is our model—He was carpenter. What a principle that is in our day when so many people have no work ethic, when many young people are not being taught how to work.

Indeed, the concepts of “entitlements” and “welfare” were creations of political Liberalism, which is by definition Socialism, “the redistribution of wealth.” There are certainly cases when people need help, such as I Corinthians 16:1-3, where the needs of people in the Jerusalem church were met by the Believers in the churches in Galatia, but the welfare system in our society is horribly abused. People who work support millions who can but won’t. Not only does Scripture declare it, but even common sense tells us that if a man can work, he works, or he does not eat. Biblical principles always have practical reasons.

Second, Paul says that a man’s labour must be good. A Christian must work at a job that is honest and God-honoring and cannot work anyplace where he must violate God’s commands. This would include anything from doing something dishonest to an employer who demands that a Christian working on Sunday was the rule instead of the exception.

Third, and most important, Paul’s main thrust is that we work in order that we may have to give to him that needeth, that we can give to others. Oh, that Christians would see this! Humanism says we work to get; God says we work to give. This includes not only giving to our families, but it goes much further. It involves giving to God and giving to other Believers. It’s easy for Christians to be drawn into the world’s philosophy: “Let the insurance company take care of it,” or, “Let the government do it.” But such attitudes contribute not only to the decaying of our society but to Christianity. Instead of ministering to other believers, we shift the responsibility and thereby not only disobey God but also contribute to growing Socialism. Christians should be concerned about the needs and burdens of fellow Christians. If we see a need, we should do what we can to help meet that need. Sometimes it might not be much, but God will use it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Taking Off Stealing to Put On Laboring (2)

Continuing Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 4:28—Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth—how often do we steal from God? There are two basic ways we do this.

We first steal money from Him. Unlike the Old Testament practice of “tithing” (ten percent), the New Testament nowhere speaks of it. In dramatic contrast, I Corinthians 16:2 declares that the basis of giving our financial support is: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (emphasis added).

While voluntary giving was practiced in the Old Testament (see Ex. 25:1-2; 35:5, 21; Prov. 3:9-10; 11:24), tithing was demanded because it was this that paid for the operation of Israel’s government. In fact, the prophet Malachi condemned the people for their failure to pay these “taxes” that supported the Levites who ran the nation. Tithing, then, had nothing to do with “giving,” which implies freewill offering, rather it was required payment.

Obviously, then, tithing is nowhere New Testament. Just as the Israelites gave “tithes” to support the Divinely ordained government under which they lived, we today are required to pay taxes (Rom. 13:6). While we are sometimes appalled at what our tax money pays for, we are to pay it anyway. As corrupt and perverted as the Roman Empire was, our Lord still commanded, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mk. 12:17).  So in I Corinthians 16:2, no longer is stewardship based upon demand; it’s based upon grace.

Briefly, such “grace giving” involves four things. First, realize that 100% belongs to God. He has entrusted us with all we possess and will hold us accountable for how we use it. Second, weigh how much you give against how much you keep for yourself. There is nothing wrong with buying things, but often we confuse needs, wants, and indulgences. Third, don’t “give to get.” Many today are teaching a philosophy of prosperity that says if you give to God, He will bless you materially. Old Testament Jews were promised material blessing, but no such promise is made to New Testament believers. Fourth, give as the Spirit urges you. This does not mean giving out of impulse or emotion, rather through prayer and Holy Spirit urging give as God has prospered.

I once read a book (by an unfortunately obscure author) in which the author told of a tract that came into his hands. On the cover of the tract was an illustration similar to a pie. A thin slice of the pie, which represented ten percent of it, was labeled, “10% for God.” The remainder of the pie was labeled, “90% for yourself.” In the author’s own words: “I simply cannot express the loathing in my heart to this legalistic and loveless lie. Nowhere are Christians taught that they can discharge their stewardship on such a basis. If I am God’s, then all that is put in my hands is God’s! Does it startle some of you to learn that God is going to make His stewards give an account of 100% of all that He gives them? I urge ministers and teachers to forsake Old Testament ground and start teaching New Testament doctrine relative to stewardship” (Edward Tracy, Babylon The Great Is Fallen, Is Fallen [published by the author in San Francisco, California, 1960], p. 81).

Dear Christian, God wants us to give as He has prospered us, to give according to the grace He has shown toward us.

A second area in which we steal from God is time. All our time belongs to God. Like everything else (money, possessions, children, etc.) God has made us stewards of time. In our study of Ephesians 5:15-17 we will learn that one of the characteristics of true wisdom is “redeeming time,” that is, using time wisely and advantageously. We are to use our time to glorify God. How unfaithful we are in their attendance to the local church, in our daily witness of Christ, and in our service to others. This is no more and no less than stealing from God!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Taking Off Stealing to Put On Laboring (1)

Ephesians 4:28 declares, Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Here is the third of five sins that can easily creep back into the Christian’s life.

The negative consideration is found in the words, Let him that stole steal no more. The Greek behind both stole and steal is klepto (English, “kleptomania”) and “emphasizes the secrecy, craft, and cheating involved in the act of stealing” (in contrast, lestes “includes the element of violence”). In other words, it’s not armed robbery, rather burglary.

At first this might seem to be an odd admonition; after all, would a Christian secretly steal? Well, Paul’s admonition must again be viewed in light of the society of that day. As commentator Albert Barnes points out, “Theft, like lying, was, and is, almost a universal vice among the heathen . . . Hence as the Christian converts at Ephesus had been long addicted to it, there was danger that they would fall into it again.” William Barclay adds that theft was rampant in that day and most “common in two places, the docks and above all in the public baths. The public baths were the clubs of the time; and stealing the belongings of the bathers was one of the commonest crimes in any Greek city.”

Additionally, many believers then were slaves. Since slaves were often not well cared for, a lot of pilfering from the master went on. In fact, Paul wrote Titus and told him to admonish Christian slaves not to “purloin” (2:9-10). The Greek (nosphizomai) was applied by ancient Greek writers to the embezzlement of public treasures, and therefore means “to embezzle, keep back something which belongs to another.” This is the word used for Ananias and Sapphira when they “kept back part of the price” of what they sold after they said they would give it all. Some modern translations render it “pilfer” (NASB, RSV), but that doesn’t quite capture the original as well as “purloin,” “to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust” (Webster).

Citizens of that day, however, not just slaves, practiced petty theft because it was not wholly condemned by popular opinion. The attitude then was much like that of today that says, “Everybody does it,” or “It’s all right as long as you don’t get caught,” or, “They have plenty and won’t miss a little.”

Of course, we’re all aware of what blatant theft is. Our society is full of robbery, burglary, shop-lifting, embezzlement, and the like. In the mid 1990s, the U.S. Commerce Department reported some astounding figures concerning shoplifting. About four million people are caught shoplifting each year, but it is estimated that for every person caught, 35 go undetected. If the estimates are accurate it means that 140 million shoplifting incidents occur. The result is that shoplifting tends to raise prices. Additionally, thefts from hotels and motels reached 500 million dollars a year. Hotel managers count on one of every three guests stealing something. In a recent year, 4,600 Bibles were lifted from New York City hotel rooms.

Certainly no Christian would be guilty of these—or would he? Think a moment of things that few people define as stealing: employees pilfering items from the company, reporting more hours than were actually worked, “hiding” during working hours to avoid work, not paying a debt that is owed, an employer not paying someone fair wages, a false insurance claim, overestimating when bidding on the cost of a certain job, jacking up the price of a repair or service because the insurance company will pay for it, and keeping what a sales clerk overpays you in change. All of that is stealing!

We should also ask, “How often do we steal from God?” We’ll consider that next time.