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, March 23, 2015

Counterfeit Love: Impure Acts (2)

The first impure act that should vanish forever from the true Christian’s life is fornication (Eph. 5:3). The Greek here is porneia, which occurs 26 times in the New Testament. Originally this word was used to refer to prostitution. It’s derived, in fact, from the related word porne, which means “prostitute.” It’s translated “harlot,” for example, in Matthew 21:31 and I Corinthians 6:15. It was used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) to refer not only to common prostitution, but religious prostitution that was part of the fertility rites of Baal worship. By sexual relations with temple prostitutes, humans supposedly could share in, and even mimic, the fertilizing power of and cosmic harmony with the fertility god Baal.

In later Rabbinical language, which carried over into the New Testament, porneia then came to be used for any sexual relations outside of marriage, including (and please for forgive the graphic language): pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, sodomy, pedophilia, and incest. While it is fornication in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, as well as in I Corinthians 5:1, the meanings are clear in the context: “adultery” in the former and “incest” in the latter. As Corinth, in fact, was a pagan city known for its temple prostitution, Paul also uses porneia some fourteen times!

One Greek authority writes: “The moral life of the Graeco-Roman world had sunk so low that, while protests against the prevailing corruption were never entirely wanting, fornication had long come to be regarded as a matter of moral indifference, and was indulged in without shame or scruple, not only by the mass, but by philosophers and men of distinction who in other respects led exemplary lives.”

Does that not sound familiar? Does that not sound like our own day? While there are a few weak outcries against sexual perversion, indifference is the chief attitude. “What’s the big deal?” it is argued, “After all, what’s done in private is up to each person’s decision.”

As historian Will Durant reports, for example, while trade was the chief reason for wealth in Corinth, prostitution was a major contributor. “The Temple of Aphrodite was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves, courtesans [i.e., prostitutes] whom both men and women had dedicated to the goddess.” They brought in so much money that the people of Corinth considered them benefactors and referred to them as “hospitable ladies.” In Athens prostitution was officially recognized and was even taxed as any other business. Further, harlotry was in most cities considered just another career choice with many specialties. The lowest order were the pornoi, who plied their trade in public brothels; in our day, this would be the common “hooker.” Another were the auletrides, or “flute-players,” who “like the geisha of Japan, assist at ‘stag’ entertainments, provide music and gaiety, perform dances artistic or lascivious, and then, if properly induced, mingle with the guests and spend the night with them.” The highest class were the hetairai, literally “companions,” the “high class call girl” of our day. These were women of citizen class who had fallen from usual respectability, lived independently, and entertained in their homes the clients they lured.

Another example is pornography. In conjunction with the word graphē, which means “writing,” it is from pornos that this term is derived, and which means a writing or picture of sexual sin and involves all the meanings we listed earlier. But while certain types of pornography are considered “bad,” other types, such as Playboy magazine, actually have a certain degree of respectability and are not really considered pornography by some people, rather “art.” In recent years indescribably disgusting paintings and sculptures have been displayed in art galleries and called “art” and are even paid for with tax money.

As we continue, we’ll see other aspects of this that must never be present in the true Christian’s life.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Counterfeit Love: Impure Acts (1)

In the last four installments, we’ve been studying true love, which is to be “followers” (mimics) of God (Eph. 5:1-2). In dramatic contrast, we turn now to counterfeit love, which is impurity of life (vs. 3-4).

As always, whatever God creates Satan perverts. Inversely, whatever Satan propagates is something that God originally created. Whatever is good has been created by God, and, in the final analysis, any evil is simply a perversion of something good. All that is true of love; Satan has perverted it. As a counterfeiter of money tries to make his copy look like the real thing, so Satan tries to make his version of love look real. But on close examination, one finds Satan’s version of love to be worthless, just like counterfeit money. Instead of a love that is self-emptying and self-sacrificial, Satan has produced a counterfeit that is self-centered, and most of all, self-indulgence.

There are several characteristics of counterfeit love, but each falls into one of two general categories: impure acts or impure speech. Paul first lists those and then closes with the consequences of such sin and some counsel to Believers.

Verse 3 declares the first characteristic of counterfeit love: impure actsBut fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints. Saints are not those who supposedly lived a pure life, died, and received “sainthood,” a concept that is actually rooted in pagan religion (that is, the worship of idols). Rather, as we detailed way back in 1:1, every child of God is a “saint” (hagios), which at first in Classical Greek meant “to stand in awe of or be devoted to the gods,” but was lifted to a new level of meaning in the New Testament: “to set apart or be separate,” that is, “one who is set apart, one who lives holy.”

Paul, therefore, uses three terms to describe impurity of life, and challenges Believers that such things should not be present in their lives, as becometh saints. Becometh is the Greek prepō, to be fitting, suitable, proper, or appropriate. So these three things are not fitting in the Believer’s life, not appropriate for his or her living. They should not, in fact, be once named among us. The idea in the Greek (onamazo) is, as one commentator puts it, that we are so detached from these things, we have removed them so far away, “that the very suspicion of [their] existence among [us] should be banished once and for all.” Even the slightest suspicion of their existence in the Believer is gone. These three things are: fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness. We’ll examine these are we continue.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Means of Following God (2)

Based on Ephesians 5:2— And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour—we saw last time that love is not only a noun and adjective, but it is most importantly a verb.

We should note here that, as always, the duty Paul introduces in the latter half the Epistle is based on some doctrine he presented in first half. We are reminded again of the absolute necessity of doctrine. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it better than anyone: “Doctrine and behaviour are indissolubly linked together, and they must never be separated. It is no use talking about conduct and behaviour in a Christian sense without doctrine. And when people neglect doctrine you will always see it in their lives.”

In this case, then, the doctrine is presented in 3:17-19: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Because we are “rooted and grounded in love,” and because we “know the love of Christ,” we are, therefore, to “be filled with all the fulness of God” and will desire to mimic Him.

To prove Christ’s love for us, in fact, Paul goes on to say that Christ . . . hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God. Here we see more doctrine even in the practical portion of the letter, and its significance is deeper than any ocean. Given is paradidomi, which means to deliberately give up or hand over something without reservation. Hath given, then, reflects the Aorist Indicative tense, that is, a once-for-all past tense. Our Lord willingly surrendered Himself up once-for-all without hesitation or reservation. The word for is huper, which is, as one Greek authority puts it, this is “the great preposition of substitutionary atonement in the [New Testament] and means, ‘instead of, in behalf of.’ It does not merely mean that Christ died for us, for our benefit, but He died instead of us, in our place. He substituted for us, receiving the full impact of the divine wrath against sin.”

Paul then goes back to Old Testament pictures. The Greek behind offering (prosphora) is a word used in the New Testament that refers back to the blood offerings of the Old Testament Levitical system. Hebrews 10:10, for example, declares that “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Our Lord accomplished once-for-all what the old Levitical system could only emulate. Instead of the countless millions of offerings that were given throughout Israel’s history, Christ needed to die only once.

Finally, sacrifice is thusia, from thuō, which refers to killing a sacrificial animal, as in Mark 14:12. So, our Lord is again referred to by Old Testament Levitical terminology. He was the fulfillment of what those old sacrifices could only picture. Even before the Levitical system, we read that after the flood, “Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour” (Gen. 8:20-21).

With that in mind, we note that Paul adds one more beautiful picture. True love is a sweet-smelling savour, a fragrant aroma, to God. This picture is taken from the Old Testament “sweet-savor” offerings that were presented at the altar of the temple. The term “sweet-savor” merely means that something pleases God in the sense that it satisfies His demands. We all can identify with that when we walk into our house and smell something wonderful cooking; that certainly satisfies our demands and is a great pleasure. Infinitely more, love “smells good” to God, it pleases and satisfies Him.

What, then, does all that show? Why did Paul go back to the old Levitical system for his illustrations? He borrowed from the old system simply to illustrate that if we really want our lives to be a “fragrant aroma” in the nostrils of God, then we must manifest our love for Him and other believers. Every deed done out of love is a sweet-smelling savour. While we’ve seen love several times in Ephesians, here we see the capstone, for love “smells good” to God.

May we close this chapter by repeating a truth that should constantly be emphasized today: Love is a VERB!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Means of Following God (1)

Ephesians 5:2 declares: And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour. Now that we know the meaning of following (mimicking) God (v. 1), we now are compelled to ask, “How can we possibly do that? Is it really possible to mimic God? Isn’t that somewhat naïve? Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? Didn’t Paul get a little carried away? How can we who are sinful and who live in a sinful world be mimics of God?” The answer to those questions is found in viewing the attributes (characteristics) of God.

First, there is what we call God’s “Natural Attributes.” These are those characteristics that describe what God is in His nature and include His omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, eternality, sovereignty, and immutability. These attributes are what are called “incommunicable,” that is, unable to be passed on to man.

Second, however, are God’s “Moral Attributes.” These are the characteristics that describe God’s character and what He does; they include His holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, and love. These attributes, on the other hand, are “communicable,” that is, able to be passed on to men. God can (and does) communicate holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, grace, and love to men so we can manifest them in their lives.

So, how can we mimic God? By manifesting His moral attributes. We can indeed mimic God by possessing His “character attributes.” For example, we can possess holiness through Christ and live a holy life (I Pet. 1:16). We can “follow after righteousness” (I Tim. 6:11). We are to “think on” and then “do” the things that are just (Phil. 4:8-9). God will judge us if we do not show mercy to fellow believers (Jas. 2:13). It is by showing grace that we can truly serve the Lord (Heb. 12:28).

In light of all that, we now see another way we mimic God through his moral attributes, and that is by [walking] in love. We have seen the word love (agape) many times in Ephesians and recall its meaning, “a self-emptying self-sacrifice.” We now see something in our text that is quite fascinating—love is actually used three different ways in the verses before us.

First, love is used as an adjective. The word “dear” (v. 1) is actually a form of agape (agapetos), which would allow “dear children” to be translated “loved children.” As noted back in our study of 2:4, agape was actually rather colorless in secular Greek. It originally carried an element of sym­pathy and spoke of the love of a person of higher rank for one of a lower rank; it even went so far as to speak of a love that was not self‑seeking. But the Lord Jesus transformed it, giving the deeper meaning of being totally sacrificial. As the same authority says, “[It] thus creates a new people who will tread the way of self-sacrificing love that [Christ] took.” As Christ was self-sacrificing in His love, we do the same.

Meditate for a moment on Matthew 3:16-17. Moments after Jesus’ baptism, “the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” “Beloved” is again agapetos. Do you see the implication? Think of it! God loves us as much as He loves His Son, Who is “the first born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). Jesus, in fact, confirmed this in His high priestly prayer in John 17:23, where He prays that the Father has “loved them [i.e., those the Father gave to the Son, the elect, v. 6, 9, 11-12, 20, 24], as thou hast loved Me” (emphasis added).

Second, love is used as a noun (agape). We are told to walk in [a self-emptying self-sacrifice]. As we’ve seen several times, walk is peripateo, literally “to walk about,” that is, how we conduct ourselves as we walk through life. Love, then, is how we conduct ourselves. It must be the basic attitude of the believer. There must be a love for the Lord and spiritual things and a love for other believers. Love must be the root characteristic of our lives.

Third, however, and most important of all, love is used as a verb (as Christ also hath loved us). People speak so lightly about love, but the crux of the matter is this: true love always expresses itself by an action. Our definition shows this fact. As God’s love was shown by the act of giving Christ, so our love is demonstrated by the act of giving ourselves to God and to others. May we mark it down, “a love” that does not give is not real love; “love” that is not a verb is not real love. Love must prove itself. We’ll continue these thought next time.