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, February 22, 2015

The Meaning of Following God (2)

Continuing our thoughts on Ephesians 5:1—Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children—not only does Paul tell us to be followers (“mimics”) of God, but he goes further to use the word be; this is the Greek ginomai, “to become,” and is an imperative. In other words, we are commanded to become mimics of God. This is not optional, rather mandatory.

To help in this process, Paul said that Christians could mimic him as he mimicked God (I Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; II Thes. 3:7, 9). Some people view Paul as being arrogant in that attitude, but they do not understand what he is actually saying. We must not misunderstand Paul to say that he is the model but rather Christ is the Model. Paul made this clear in I Corinthians 11:1: “Be ye [mimics] of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Again, he does not say that he is the model but rather an example of the Model. Based upon that, may we now realize that this should be true of every believer. People should be able to mimic me and mimic you. That thought, indeed, puts a tremendous responsibility upon each of us.

Paul even gives an all-important illustration of this principle. He uses the words as dear children. The Greek for children (teknon) is one of three words used in Scripture for children. One is pais, from which is derived English words such as “pediatrics,” refers to a young child. Another, which arises from pais, is paidion, which refers to a smaller child, or even an infant. Teknon, however, which is from tiktō (“to beget”), “emphasizes a child’s origin . . . physical ancestry, or even spiritual fatherhood and sonship.” So Paul’s point is that as those who are God’s children should act like Him. There is nothing more imitative than a child. This is one way in which he or she learns.

I’ve never forgotten a television commercial I saw many years ago. While it was short and had no dialog, the impact was powerful. A father and his little boy, who looked to be about two years old, were sitting together under a tree. The dad reached into his shirt pocket, retrieved a pack of cigarettes, lit one, and laid the pack down between he and his son. Having seen what his father had done, the little boy picked up the pack and looked at it. The camera froze on that picture, and the point was made.

So, as children of God we are to mimic the Father. May this challenge each of us to look at our lives and ask, “When my children mimic me, are they mimicking the right things; can people in general do the Godly thing by mimicking my life?”

To further illustrate with a related passage, this is why one of the qualifications for a pastor is that he is “one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (I Tim. 3:4). That is true for two reasons. First, if he can’t rule his own house, how can he lead a church? Second, however, other Christians must be able to mimic him, and they will whether the result is good or bad.

We have all heard the term “namesake,” which refers to someone who has the same name as another, especially one who is named after someone else. The story has been told that Alexander the Great had a certain namesake, but not one that honored him. One of his soldiers was brought before him for court-martial. After listening to the charges, turned to the soldier and asked, “What is your name?” “Alexander!” was the reply. Again the emperor questioned, “What is your name?” And the second time the soldier answered, “Alexander!” With a cry of rage, the emperor roared, “I say, what is your name?” When the soldier answered for the third time, “Alexander!” the great general angrily replied, “You say your name is Alexander? You are found guilty of your crime as charged, and now you must pay the penalty. Either change your conduct or change your name, for no man can bear the name of Alexander, my name, and do the things that you have done.”

Likewise, many people today call themselves “a Christian,” but their life does not mimic their Namesake. As Christians, we are His namesake; we are Christianos (literally, “of the party of Christ,” cf. Acts 11:26). Our lives, therefore, must reflect Him.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Meaning of Following God (1)

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), and the second is to walk in purity (4:17-32). We now see the third: Walk in Love in 5:1-7. This passage goes on to demonstrate that there are two realities about walking in love: true love (5:1-2) and counterfeit love (5:3-7). To examine true love we must look at two principles: the meaning and the means of following God.

Ephesians 5:1 declares: Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children. What does that mean? The Greek word behind followers is mimetes, from which we get our English word “mimic” and which is the most literal translation and the most vivid picture. This word goes as far back as the 6th Century B.C. in secular Greek. According to Aristotle, at the beginning of civilization man learned skills by mimicking animals. For example, weaving and spinning were learned from spiders, and house building was learned from birds. Plays, paintings, sculptures, and poetry were merely “imitations of reality.” Even an actor was called a mimos (a “mimer”). Commentator William Barclay also observes that “imitation, was a main part in the training of an orator. The teachers of rhetoric declared that the learning of oratory depended on three things—theory, imitation, and practice. The main part of their training was the study and the imitation of the masters who had gone before.”

But the Apostle Paul brought this word to the New Testament and gave it deeper meaning. Think about it a moment in light of our world today. In our society people mimic athletes, entertainers, world leaders, military figures, and the like. But the Christian is to mimic God. We are, therefore, to mimic God, copy His character, attitudes, and actions. As the old adage goes, “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.” I have always been amazed by impressionists who can mimic famous people so perfectly, such as actors Jimmie Stewart and John Wayne. But far greater is the Christian who mimics God. While the first certainly takes great talent, the latter takes a miracle. It is not talent that enables us to mimic God, rather the miracle of the Holy Spirit as He produces “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23).

As that great London preacher Charles Spurgeon declared 100 years ago: “While it thus humbles us, this precept ennobles us; for what a grand thing it is to be imitators of God! . . . Time has been when men gloried in studying Homer, and their lives were trained to heroism by his martial verse. Alexander carried the Iliad about with him in a casket studded with jewels, and his military life greatly sprung out of his imitation of the warriors of Greece and Troy. Ours is a nobler ambition by far than that which delights in battles; we desire to imitate the God of peace, whose name is love.”

It’s amazing how many times in Scripture we read that we are to mimic God. In Matthew 5:48, for example, Jesus commanded that we are to be “perfect [teleios, “a complete mature adult”] even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Did you get it? We are to mimic God’s maturity! Jesus also declared, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12). Paul declared to the Philippians, we are to have the mind of Christ, which is humility (Phil. 2:3-8). Peter likewise admonished that we are to “follow [Christ’s] steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (I Pet. 2:21-22). To mimic God is, as Martyn Lloyd Jones put it, “Paul’s supreme argument . . . the highest level of all in doctrine and in practice . . . the ultimate ideal . . . the highest statement of Christian doctrine that one can conceive or even imagine.” We’ll continue these thought next time.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Taking Off Natural Reactions to Put On Spiritual Actions (3)

Concluding Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 4:30-32,having considered the negative consideration, we now see the positive.

The best way to destroy vice is to develop virtue. While we will not here get into the argument of whether or not we can “legislate morality,” it cannot be argued that far better than legislation is changing the heart. The godlier we are, the more we desire holiness, the less vice and corruption there will be, the less evil we will do. So in contrast to the natural reactions of the “Old Man,” verse 32 lists three spiritual actions of the “New Man.”

First, in great contrast to “wrath” (v. 26) and “stealing” (v. 28) toward others, we are to be kind one to another. When used of persons, the Greek chrēstos (kind) describes one who is “good-natured, gentle,” “mild [and] pleasant” in contrast to “harsh, hard, sharp, [and] bitter.” Our Lord used this word, for example, to describe God Himself as one Who is kind even “unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Lk. 6:35). How merciful God is to allow men to continue in his indescribable wickedness! Likewise, no matter whom we deal with, we are to do so with kindness.

Second, in great contrast to being “past feeling” (v. 19), we are to be tenderhearted, that is, full of compassion and pity. This Greek word (eusplagchnos) appears only here and I Peter 3:8, where it is a integral part of unity: “be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful [i.e., full of pity], be courteous” (emphasis added).

Third, in great contrast to “bitterness” and “malice” (v. 31), we are to be forgiving one another. Forgiving translates charizomai, which is derived from charis (grace) and therefore speaks of showing favor, graciously giving to someone. It’s used “chiefly in connection with the decisive, gracious gift of God,” as in Romans 8:32, where He “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (emphasis added). So, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven [us], we forgive one another.

Bitterness and unforgiveness are well illustrated by the stubborn old farmer who was plowing his field. His neighbor was watching in puzzlement as the old guy was struggling much harder than necessary to guide the plow horse. Finally he said, “I don’t want to butt in, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying ‘gee’ [right] and ‘haw’ [left] instead of jerking on the reins.” Wiping his brow, the old timer replied, “Yep, I know, but this here mule kicked me six years ago, and I ain’t spoke to him since.”

How often do we act the same way? “But that person wronged me,” we argue, “he hurt me, he insulted me!” But may we consider what we did to the Savior, but He forgave us without hesitation. Oh, the agony we put our Savior through and we have the audacity to say, “That person hurt my feelings and I don’t think I will ever get over it.” How childish! What trouble our “feelings” cause! In a day when many people are “in touch with their feelings,” how often those feeling lead to ruin. There are many Christians who chirp right along with the world’s philosophy today and say such things as, “Well, this is just how I feel,” or, “This is what I think.” But what trouble it all brings!

Neither should we deny our feelings; rather we should deal with them; they should be controlled by the mind. What matters is what the Word of God says, not what we think or feel. Just as God pardoned and released us from the sin we committed, we likewise are to release and pardon someone from a trespass against us. “But they don’t deserve forgiveness,” we may say. Neither did any of us deserve the pardon of God. “But they did a terrible thing to me,” we cry. But was that trespass as terrible as our nailing Jesus to the cross with our sin? “Does this mean they will get away with what they did?” we may ask. Indeed not! God says that vengeance belongs to Him and that He will judge sin (Deut. 32:35; Heb. 10:30; etc.). Let us allow God to take care of the matter.

There we have “The New Life.” My dear Christian Friend, are you living this New Life? Have you taken off the graveclothes and put on the graceclothes?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking Off Natural Reactions to Put On Spiritual Actions (2)

Continuing our meditations on Ephesians 4:30-32—And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you—Paul first deals with bitterness and then addresses wrath, and anger.

Third, the explosion wrath, and anger will be manifested in one (or both) of two ways. One manifestation is clamour (kraugē), which refers to a crying out against someone or even physical brawling. I have seen such verbal sin in congregational business meetings. I even heard of one church member who “invited the pastor outside” to settle a matter with fists. How disgraceful!

Whether or not this happens, however, at the very least there will be evil speaking. The Greek here is blasphemia (English, “blaspheme”). This refers to slanderous and damaging speech. While in English, “blaspheme” means speaking evil of God, in Greek it means speaking evil of anyone.

Webster defines “slander” as “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.” A legal term for this is “defamation,” which is, as one law professor explains, “a tort [i.e., “a wrongful act”] that imposes liability for making false and derogatory statements that injure someone’s reputation.”

This is a serious problem in Christianity today. We see preacher speaking against preacher, church member against pastor, church member against church member and so on. While certainly disagreements will come, and even rebuking of false doctrine will be required, we must never allow slanderous and damaging speech to characterize our dealing with other believers. We must always “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Fourth, there is all malice. Back in verse 29, we noted the word “good,” which is agathos, meaning benevolent, profitable, useful, beneficial, excellent, virtuous, and suitable. The Greek here for malice is kakia, which is used to indicate the exact opposite of agathos. When compared, then, to the aforementioned meanings of agathos, kakia means: malevolent, unprofitable, useless, detrimental, poor, vice, and unsuitable. In other words, any and all forms of “bad” must not characterize the Christian.

Paul adds finally, all these are to be put away. The basic concept behind the Greek here (airō) is “to raise or lift up.” Used in the figurative sense, as it is here, it means “to pick up and carry away, to make a clean sweep.” Indeed, may we sweep away these hindrances to Christian living.

Expositor Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers this solemn challenge: “The Apostle is exhorting the Ephesians to put away all this evil. He does not say that because they have become Christians it has automatically dropped off . . . And again we notice that he does not merely tell them to pray that these sins may be taken out of their lives. Pray by all means, but do not forget that Paul tells the Ephesians to put them off, to put them far from them, and we must do the same. It is not pleasant. It is not at all pleasant even to preach on these things; it is very unpleasant for us to face them . . . but, says the Apostle, we must do it, and if we find any vestige or trace of these things within us, we must take hold of it and hurl it away from us, trample upon it, and bolt the door upon it, and never allow it to come back.”

And may we add, we will battle some of these tendencies daily, but the challenge is to consciously sweep them out of our heart and bolt the door behind them. They grieve . . . the Holy Spirit, so they must go.