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, April 27, 2015

The Consequences of Man’s Immorality (1)

Having mentioned several characteristics of counterfeit love in Ephesians 5:3-4, Paul now turns to the consequences of such immorality in verse 5-7: For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

While popular “preaching” today is full of humor, it avoids the subjects of this verse at all costs, namely those who will be excluded from Heaven and are under God’s wrath. To underscore the certainty of this, Paul writes, For this ye know, that is, you’ve already been told this so you know it’s true and there is no doubt. It is, in fact, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it, “something that is self-evident. How can you be a Christian at all and not know this?”

First, Paul mentions those whose lifestyle results in their having no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Whoremonger is pornos, which originally referred to a male prostitute, and which (with other words in this group—pornē, porneia, etc.) came to be used for any sexual relations outside of marriage. The Greek behind unclean person (akathartos) is a slightly different form of the word we noted in verse 3 for uncleanness and again speaks of that which is unclean, impure, and polluted.

Of special significance is the covetous man (pleonektēs), which is also a repeated concept from verse 3. It here speaks specifically of a person who wants what someone else has, “a defrauder for gain.”

Paul adds a deeper principle, however; such a person is actually an idolater. Ephesus was an important city in the ancient world, not only because of its being the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor, as well as being and being its greatest commercial city as the “Gateway to Asia,” but also because it had become the religious center of pagan worship in all Asia. Ephesus was not only famous for the great temple of Diana (Artemis in Greek), which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but was known as the center of occult arts and practices.

So, the Ephesian believers would have been very much aware of what Paul was saying about no idolater being in God’s kingdom. Paul did not preach the soft Gospel of our day that tolerates and condones; he did not whitewash, dilute, or rephrase it to be it more palatable to “seekers.” He preached an exclusive Gospel that declares the necessity of repentance from sin, especially idolatry. As result of the Gospel, many came to Christ in Ephesus, and there was even the danger of Diana worship being destroyed altogether. Likewise, no Christian should allow anything pagan to touch his or her life. From horoscopes, to Halloween, Christianity makes no peace with idolatry. How tragic it is that many Christians, including preachers, just don’t seem to recognize how much God hates idolatry and anything reminiscent of it!

Further, man’s chief idol is himself. He worships at the altar of self-gratification and makes sacrifices to the god of pleasure.

Still further, all of us are, in fact, idolaters by nature. While we might not have a carved god on the mantle over our fireplace, we all love symbols. Many Christians want to hold on to Old Testament symbols, celebrate feasts, hang “pictures of Jesus” on their walls, stick religious symbols on their car bumpers, and so forth. There seems to be a ribbon to wear for every cause nowadays, from AIDS (Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome) awareness to anti-abortion. We love this kind of stuff because it “represents something.” But Jesus Himself declared that we are to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-4).

This leads to a second consequence, which we’ll examine next time.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Counterfeit Love: Impure Speech (2)

Having stated two characteristics of impure speech that must vanish from the Christian’s life in Ephesians 5:4 (filthiness and foolish talking), Paul adds a third: jesting.

Here is a fascinating word, which is another found only here in the New Testament. The Greek is eutrapelia. The prefix eu means “good” or “well.” Such English words such as “eulogy” (saying good words about someone) and “eugenetics” (“good genes”) use this prefix. The root trepo means “to turn.” So, the meaning of the word before us is “that which easily turns.” Within the present context about speech this word yields the idea of turning something that is spoken into a different meaning. Not only are off-color jokes and stories included here, but it is the twisting of words that are innocent into a double-meaning.

It’s extremely significant that Paul uses this word because historically the Ephesians were masters of this and were known for producing humorous orators. An ancient expression goes, “I am a facetious cavalier because I was born in Ephesus.” How prevalent that is today! Many comedians are masters of this kind of “humor.” They can take something innocent, even something pure, and turn it into something filthy.

Indeed, as our text declares, this is not the speech that is to be typical of the Christian. But at the same time, it is absolutely disgraceful how this still has infiltrated the church in subtle form. While not vulgar or suggestive, more and more the popularity of Christian speakers is gauged according to how funny and entertaining they are. I was speaking with a couple a few years ago who spoke of how their pastor used a lot of humor in his preaching and then said that I could improve my preaching if I would do the same. That is, indeed, how “good preaching” is measured in much of Christianity today. While I am certainly not against all humor in preaching, I am very careful about its use, because that is not why we are there. We are not in God’s house to laugh or be entertained; we are there to worship and “grow in grace and knowledge” (II Pet. 3:18).

Isn’t it significant that while few people will come to hear the exposition of Scripture, thousands will flock to hear a “Christian comedian” or a “preacher” who tells plenty of funny stories to spice up his “sermons.” But is it not also significant that not one verse of Scripture records our Lord telling a joke? A rule among many today is “warm up your audience with a joke and even sprinkle some in throughout your sermon.” But we shouldn’t even have to point out that Scripture nowhere even implies such a worldly idea. Likewise, nowhere does Paul write in one of his letters, “You know, a funny thing happened to me when I was on the road to Damascus.” Why don’t we read such nonsense? Why don’t we ever read, “People will more easily accept Truth if we make if funny?” Because sin, salvation, and doctrine are not funny! They are life and death  issues and must be presented with reverence. People who need humor do not love Truth.

Paul adds that none of these things are convenient (anekō), that is, not fitting, proper, or becoming of a Christian. Because we know true love from counterfeit love, and because we truly love the Lord and each other, our speech will lift up both. As noted back in 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (To apply it again to some “preaching” today, it doesn’t say, That which is good to the use of entertainment, that it may minister humor unto the hearers.”)

Rather, Paul also adds, the Believer’s life is filled with the giving of thanks. In contrast to the foul types of speech listed, what better topic of conversation could there be than thanksgiving? Likewise, what will really bless our hearts? Will it be the funny joke or entertaining story, or will it be Truth? Which will give us lasting joy and deepening growth?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Counterfeit Love: Impure Speech (1)

There are several characteristics of counterfeit love mentioned in Ephesians 5:3-4, 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. Having examined impure acts, we now turn to impure speech.

Why did Paul write verse 4? Perhaps because after reading verse 3, many Christians would be tempted to say, “Oh, I am not one of these sex-offenders; after all, I’m happily married. I’m certainly not guilty of those terrible sins.” But even man’s language is defiled and impure. As our Lord declared, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34), and again. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). We again see three terms in verse 4.

First, there is filthiness, which is the Greek aischrotes, the root of which (aisch) originally referred to that which was ugly and disgraceful and came to refer to that which is just indecent. Greek authority Spiros Zodhiates summarizes its significant: “Impropriety, a summarizing improper conduct whether in action or word or even thought and intent; indecorum of any kind; conduct which when exposed by the light makes the person ashamed of himself; ugly, shameful conduct of any kind; conduct which is contrary to a person who follows after God (only in Eph. 5:4). Attachment and conformity to God requires a conduct of which God is not ashamed and which could not bring shame to the person when it is brought to light.”

How full our world is today with such filthiness! I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story describes a painted portrait of a man that ages and grows ugly to coincide with the man’s life of immorality, while the man himself remains youthful and handsome. A movie was actually made from the book in 1945, and even then the special effects were good enough to show the features of the man in the portrait change from attractiveness to revulsion. What’s interesting, however, is that while the story seems to condemn such lifestyle, Wilde was actually defending it, and, in fact, defending his own immoral life. In Chapter 2, for example, he wrote, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” In defense of his writing, which critics called immoral, he wrote in the Preface of the novel, “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” The same attitude exists in our day, when men are amoral and everything is relative. Like the character in his novel, however, Wilde’s filthiness led to his ruin. After a two year prison term for sodomy, Wilde’s health, money, fame, and even writing talent were gone. There is, therefore, no place for ugliness and indecency in the Believer’s life.

Second, there is foolish talking. This term, and the next, is much more subtle and more prevalent than the first term. Many people would never live or speak blatant filthiness, but they would (and do) practice these two. Foolish talking, which is found only here in the New Testament, comes from the Greek morologia. The Greek moros (English “moron”) means “silly, stupid, foolish” and logia comes from log, which means “word or discourse.” The idea here, then, is the speaking of things that are foolish and pointless. Writing to a pastor, Paul uses this idea again: “But avoid foolish [moros] questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9), which is wise counsel for a pastor. Solomon adds, “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Prov. 15:2).

There is no point in conversing with the Christ-rejecting person who babbles foolishly. But may we also submit, neither is there any point in conversing with a Christian who does the same thing. How much talk there is today about nothing! Today’s “talk shows” (secular and Christian) are filled with such pointless discussion. We hear many give their opinions, but no one presents or even wants the absolutes that are contained in God’s Word. Indeed, many want “a forum for opinion,” not a statement of Truth. This was exactly what Paul declared to the Corinthians. In essence he said, “I did not come to the Greek forum to debate some new philosophy, but rather to preach the Truth of the Gospel” (I Cor. 2:1-5).

Tragically, may we add, there’s even a lot of “moronic speech” spewing from pulpits today. From “feel-good” sermonettes to psychological rambling, Truth is absent. Where the Word of God is not heeded, a Christian should not even waste his time. If people do not want the Truth, if they do not want what God says, there is nothing left to say. Let us not waste our time on foolish talking rather invest our time in wisdom.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Counterfeit Love: Impure Acts (3)

As noted last time, the first impure act that must disappear from the true Christian’s life is fornication (Eph. 5:3). May we add, however, When you really analyze words, it becomes apparent that the word fornication is avoided even in Christianity. This is plainly evident in the consistent habit of modern Bible translations rendering the Greek porneia as “immorality” instead of what it really means, fornication. This is unarguably a softening of the deeper meaning of the Greek word and makes it a little more palatable for our day. In contrast, fornication translates the force of the Greek, where “immorality” (NASB) or “sexual immorality” (NIV) plainly do not.

As textual authority Jay Green observes:  “‘Immorality,’ according to Webster, is merely that which the morals of the region do not approve. But fornication is fornication wherever it may appear on the earth; it is known in every nation on earth where English is spoken.” He’s right! Webster defines “immorality” as “an immoral act,” and then defnes “immoral” as “conflicting with generally or traditionally held moral principles.” But that still doesn’t get us to the meaning because we’re using part of the word we’re defining as part of the defintion. We must, therefore, define “moral,” which Webster says is, “relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.” That, however, is obviously general and vague because right and wrong nowadays relative, it’s in “in the eye of the beholder.” Fornication, however, is absolutely clear. As Webster again defines, “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other,” and that is precisely what porneia means!

How important sexual purity is! One commentator suggests that we can think of sex as a magnificent sandwich, piled high with turkey, salted just so, cheese, mayo (or, if you prefer, “the tangy taste of Miracle Whip,” as the commercial goes), lettuce, tomato, and whatever else your taste demands. Set that sandwich on a nice clean plate, set the plate on a clean checkered tablecloth, and it’s a feast. But if you found that same sandwich in a dumpster, would you shoo the flies away from it, pull it out, and eat it? Of course not. It’s been defiled and will make you sick. Likewise, sexual relations is a feast for all our senses, but outside of God’s marital design, we are feeding from the dumpster.

Second, uncleanness (akatharsia) must also disappear from the Christian’s life. This is a broader term than porneia. Paul used this word back in Ephesians 4:19. It is actually tied in with the Old Testament concepts of “clean” and “unclean.” One could become “unclean” in several ways—by eating unclean meat, for example—so Paul “borrows” the term, brings it into the Christian life, and shows that everything propagated by Satan’s counterfeit love is unclean, impure, and polluted. Not only are immoral acts impure, but immoral thoughts and fantasies are impure. Today there are books written about people’s sexual fantasies and the world has the audacity to call such things “love!”

Third, covetousness must also vanish from the Christian’s life. The Greek here (pleonexia) means “greedy desire to have more,” which is a good definition of covetousness. I recently asked a godly Christian man, a dairy farmer who was visiting our church, “How’s business?” He answered, “We’re paying the bills and the family is providing for. That’s enough.” That is the Godly attitude. The world says, “I have to have more,” while God says, “I will supply your needs” (Matt. 6:33; Phil. 4:19).

Like uncleanness, this word was used back in Ephesians 4:19 where it is translated “greediness.” Man’s underlying motive is greed, lust, and self-gratification. This fact is intensified all the more in sexual matters. Why? Because the human sexual drive is strong and if left to itself, it becomes perverted in unimaginable ways.

It is fascinating to notice that man mistakes all of what we have seen thus far to be “love,” when all of this is actually the exact opposite, “hate.” Why? Because love is selfless, not selfish; because love gives instead of takes; because love satisfies instead of gratifies. True love will always meets the true need, while gratification simply feeds lust.

It’s also significant that covetousness is an “ignored sin.” I read of a Catholic priest who reported that during his many years of hearing confessions, he heard of all kinds of sin, even crimes, but not once did he ever hear anyone confess covetousness. Indeed, we don’t think about this being sin, but it most certainly is. Not only is it greedy desire to have more, but as we’ll see later in verse 5, it is actually “idolatry,” worshipping a false god.