AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(1) Destined In Love (1:1 – 6)
(2) Riches of Grace (1:7 – 14)
(3) Grace-Filled Praying (1:15-23)
(4) Resurrected With Christ (2:1-10)
(5) Christ Our Peace (2:11 – 22)
(6) Stewards of Grace (3:1 – 13)
(7) Praying That Reflects Our Richness in God (3:14 – 21)
(8) One Lord. One Faith One Baptism;
Maintaining Unity Without Imposing Uniformity (4:1 – 6)
(9) Body Life:
Maintaining Unity Without Imposing Uniformity
(4:7 – 16)
(10) Learning and Living Christ
(4:17 – 5:2)
(11) Sexual Purity
(5:3 – 21)
(12) Wedded Bliss
(5:22 – 33)
(13) Ties That Bind
(6:1 – 9)
(14) Christian Warfare
(6:10 – 24)
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(1) Destined In Love (1:1 – 6)
This is Marathon Sunday. It is also called – sometimes facetiously by clergy – “Low Sunday”, the first Sunday after Easter. The two have a similar message: the one who perseveres wins the prize, the loneliness of the long distance runner brings its laurels. It is not amid the crowds of Easter that our faith is proved, but in the quiet demonstration of a ruggedly persistent faith that is prepared to go against the traffic. Any of us who are disciples in more than name know the discipline of climbing Heartbreak Hill. The race is not to the swift, the crowd-pleasers, the excited or the excitable.
Last Easter Sunday one of our speakers was my cousin Mary Edgar – the children may remember her with the parasol. She left our home the week after Easter, returned to her family in England where her husband Bill was the highly respected International Director of the Leprosy Mission. She’d commented to us about a “tummy bug” Bill had complained of, but “nothing serious”. On June 23 last year a biopsy confirmed that Bill, a strong strapping man of 50, had liver cancer. On July 20 he was dead. Mary wrote me this past Easter Monday in a letter I received yesterday. She speaks of a “gloomy January and February which were a bit tough, especially with quite a few personal anniversaries (very tough, actually)”. But there’s also a note of hope: “I’ve been thinking so much of my time with you last Easter, and of the steady rock of God’s covenant love to us, and the reality of Christ’s resurrection, and ours. We couldn’t survive otherwise.”
What is it that gives us the courage to run the marathon of life, past the Heartbreak Hill, to the finish? It’s not the crowd cheering us, the sense of achievement, the glory, the shame of not making it. It’s the deep gut feeling of being committed to something that is larger than ourselves. It’s the sense of knowing the truth, of being grounded in Reality, of having confidence that we have staked our lives on something – or Someone – Whom we can trust. It is the conviction that we have received something that is true, no matter what difficulties we face on the way.
My cousin Mary expressed it well: “the steady rock of God’s covenant love.” And that is why Christians have often turned to the book of Ephesians when they need a reminder of God’s commitment to us. And at the heart of that confidence is this staggering sentence – one of the longest in Scripture, 202 words in the original – which speaks of that hoary doctrine of predestination.
Now don’t be scared: I know that that’s a taunt, a jest, something thrown in the teeth of Presbyterians. But – rightly and Biblically understood (and resist all attempts to caricature it) – the understanding that there is a sovereign Lord at work in my life Whose purposes cannot be foiled except by my will-fulness and sin is – as the Anglican or Episcopalian seventeenth article of their Thirty-nine Articles of Faith states it – “full of such sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ … drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it greatly establishes and confirms their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it fervently kindles their love towards God.“
This sentence at the beginning of Ephesians can be broken into two sections: verses 3 through 7, our faith as seen from God’s view (a “heavenly” perspective) and verses 8 through 14 (an “earthly” view).
I THE AUTHOR OF OUR SALVATION – the triune God
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The traditional blessing of the Old Testament and of Hebrews sabbath by sabbath in their worship is now used to extol the Messiah. And – to complete the trinitarian analogy – it is a Spiritual blessing.
God is the author of our salvation. It is His word that tells me that I am a member of the new covenant people, chosen as Israel was as God’s old covenant people. I am “elect”, “chosen” by God. This is not my word – I could not have imagined anything so utterly inconceivable: it is God’s description, a desire of His that I be called and am called – as is stated in verse 1 – to be a “saint”. Less likely material could hardly be imagined. So the knowledge that I am “elect”, or “chosen” by God is no grounds for presumption or pride, it is a cause of the profoundest humility. Beyond comprehension: that God “in the heavenly place” could have determined that I should be His child is beyond my comprehension. I embrace the truth finally because God has revealed it. And I find in it the most humbling reality – that there was nothing I could do to influence that choice. Indeed, quite the opposite. Only God was powerful enough to save me from my sin.
II THE NATURE OF OUR SALVATION – electing love
“We were chosen … before the foundation of the world.” Wait, you say to me. “I chose God. I made up my mind to follow Him.” “Yes”, I reply, “you did. But only because God chose you first.” And someone else may pipe up: “I decided to follow Jesus.” “But”, I reply, “only because Jesus in eternity first decided to follow you.“
Election and the sovereign will of God is not blind, capricious, malevolent, hate-full. It does not turn us into automata, but rather it releases us to be ourselves. Why? Because it is premised on love: “He chose us .. before the foundation of the world … in love He destined us”. As we used to sing in that wonderful old hymn in the 1955 Hymnbook:
“I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found O Saviour true;
No, I was found of Thee.
I find, I walk, I love, but O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee!
For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
Always Thou lovest me.“
III THE PURPOSE OF OUR SALVATION – holiness
Does this then mean that we can coast through to the end, considering ourselves to be – dreadful word – “eternally secure”? Is it immaterial how I live, now that I’m “in”?
Paul says emphatically “No”. God chose us for one purpose only: “to be holy and blameless before Him”. Holiness is the only evidence that I have that I am chosen as God’s child. If anyone claims to be among “the elect” but lives in sin he is – as John states emphatically “a liar”. The prominent New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce said: “The predestinating love of God is commended more by those who lead holy and Christlike lives than by those whose attempts to unravel the mystery partake of the nature of logic-chopping.“
IV THE CONSEQUENCE OF OUR SALVATION – adoption
“He destined us to be adopted as His sons and daughters.” That is why God chose us – to be a part of His family, children by nature and adoption. Why did God go ahead with creation when He must have known we would fall? God had a higher destiny for us than simply being His created children. He wanted us to enter into the intimacy of being an adopted child.
But intimacy does not absolve us of responsibility. As those who have now taken His name we are called, as His children, to behave as those who imitate our heavenly Parent “as beloved children“
V THE EFFECT OF OUR SALVATION – praise
And why did God chose us? The answer is to be found in verse 7 – “unto the praise of the glory of his grace which he has freely given us in the beloved”. What God has done for us “in Christ” – that’s a key word that repeats itself in verses 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, twice in 10, 11, 12 and twice in 13 – should move us to the most profound experience of praise and worship.
It was A. W. Tozer who complained, a generation ago, that “The church has substituted her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping man. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.” Our praise is lacking depth because we forget from where we have come, it lacks height because it cannot soar to a God whose purposes it ignores, and it lacks connectedness because it fails to see the wonder of a called-out community where sisters and brothers have experienced a common mercy which is not based on performance or perfection.
On the 1st of May, 1558, John Calvin mounted the steps of Eglise St. Pierre in Geneva to preach a series of forty-eight sermons on the book of Ephesians. The previous year he had gone through the tragedy of Servetus. His health was in serious decline. Throughout the congregation that Sunday morning there were refugees whose presence reminded him of the defeats and triumphs of Reformed believers all over Europe. His domestic situation was a shambles. But he stood up that day and simply stated:
“… the reason why St. Paul sets down the word ‘blessings’ is to cause us to know that whereas the devil lays many traps to … turn us out of the way, God has made provision for all that, for he has such a store of blessing that he can overthrow and destroy all that may ever be against our salvation … Let us fall down before the majesty of our God .. praying him to acquaint us more and more with them … and seek to find in our Lord Jesus Christ all that we need, and not for one day, or for a mere brief moment, but continually and steadfastly to our life’s end. And whatever happens to us, let us always assure ourselves that we have good cause to praise our God.“
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
AMAZING GRACE (EPHESIANS):
(2) Riches of Grace (1:7 – 14)
Perhaps on this Sunday, as our eyes may be turned toward Washington, it would not be inappropriate for me to reflect for just a moment, as a preamble to our discussion on Ephesians 1:7 to 14, on the American obsession with individualism and rights. “Individualism”, one observer notes, “has come to define American culture.“ Alasdair MacIntyre of Notre Dame points out that rights language has come to replace virtue language. Friendship becomes an opportunity to pursue personal goals. Marriage is regarded a relationship that furthers my growth, my rights, rather than an opportunity for service and mutuality.
But there is a terrible price that we pay for this. The observer I quoted concludes that “the major single problem for American social life is the problem of relationships – we do not understand them and cannot maintain them“. We are supposed to be strong, tough, self-sufficient but we struggle with how to deal with those around us. He reflects sadly on “Our failing marriages, our profound loneliness, and our desperate search for ourselves“. All three are evidence that in some way we have lost the Way. Rights have replaced relationships – with God and with my fellow creatures made in God’s image.
The profound truth of Ephesians 1:3-14 is that our Creator made us for one purpose only: that we might enter into a relationship, first with God and then with each other. And this reflects the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The 202 words in this single sentence are unabashedly trinitarian. We have seen in verses 3 through 6 the Father Who calls us into a relationship with Him. We go on now in the remaining verses to discover a Son Who redeems us and a Spirit Who seals us. The interconnectedness between Father, Son and Holy Spirit reflects the reality that we are called into a community of love and responsibility.
I THE SON WHO REDEEMS US (verses 7 – 10)
The key concept of verses 7 through 10 is “redemption”. And it is the son Who is specifically mentioned here as our Redeemer, “in Him we have redemption through his blood”.
“Redemption” is on of those Biblical words that is an essential part of the vocabulary of anyone who wants to understand the Christian faith. But it is not a word that is very intelligible today. Twenty years ago a group of students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago went out and asked randomly in a shopping center what certain words at the heart of Christianity meant to the woman or man on the street. “Redemption”, in those days of giving out coupon books, meant only one thing – S and H green stamps.
Seventy-seven years ago Benjamin Warfield, one of our great Presbyterian teachers of systematic theology, spoke to incoming students at Princeton Seminary and urged them to retain that word which even then was going out of fashion. He stated: “There is no one of the titles of Christ which is more precious to Christian hearts than ‘Redeemer.’“ And as evidence of that he went to the hymnbook, citing – among many others – the hymn we have just sung:
“O for a thousand tongues to sing
My dear Redeemer‘s praise.”
What does “redemption” mean in its New Testament context? Simply this – to quote one commentator – “deliverance as a result of the payment of a ransom”. “Now” – you say to me – “salvation is free.” You find distasteful the idea that God would have to pay for my forgiveness – it demeans God as being a cheapskate. But the word redemption is rich in its Biblical imagery: it goes back to a cultural tradition, found in the Old Testament, when slaves could be bought back from bondage. We have many chits with the standard language:
“Date. ‘N. N. sold to the Pithian Apollo a male slave anmes X. Y. at a price of …. minae for freedom (or on condition that he shall be free).” Then the witnesses’ names follow.“
Now Jesus Christ comes and says: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” And the early church affirmed the same: Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness”. Or I Peter 1:18: “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”.
The imagery is simple: Christ bought us back from the slavery of sin, redeeming us by the payment of His life, freeing us into “the forgiveness of sins”. The freedom for which we have been redeemed is a freedom that comes from knowing that Christ has wiped the slate clean. “In Jesus Christ we are forgiven”. And this forgiveness is “lavished” upon us by the riches of the grace of which he has been continually speaking.
And what is the purpose of God in so redeeming us? Look at the second part of verse 10: “… to bring all things together under one head, even Christ”. Six words “to bring together under one head” in English translate a single Greek verb of seventeen letters. And, as Martin Lloyd-Jones points out, it does not even include an important prefix in that word. “To bring together again under one head” might be more accurate.
We believe that everything was under a single Head before the Fall. And that headship has been, is being, and will be, restored in Christ’s redemption. It is that reality that sustains us amid all the contradictions of our life here below. We see a world disjointed, uncoordinated, full of dissonance and disorder. We ask God – sometimes as we shake our fist at the deity – “Why?” And then we read these words: “when the times .. have reached their fulfillment (He will) bring all things in heaven and on earth together again under one head, even Christ”.
“The perfect harmony that will be restored will be harmony in man and between men. Harmony on the earth and in the brute creation! Harmony in heaven, and all under this blessed Lord Jesus Christ who will be head of all! … That is the message; that is God’s plan … These things are so marvelous that you will never hear anything greater, either in this world or the world to come.“
II THE SPIRIT WHO SEALS US (verses 11 – 14)
But in the mean time, you say to me. “It is hard to believe, hard to receive, hard to accept, hard to lives as a Christian – particularly when I think that it is – to journey’s end.”
Ephesians gives us a single answer: the Spirit of God is the one that “applies” our salvation to us. And it uses a single concept: that of a “seal”. We are sealed by the Spirit of promise: “You were marked .. with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (verse 14).
A seal – according to Charles Hodge – does several things for us. It confirms the genuineness of a document or possession. It establishes ownership. It makes something secure. The Spirit of God does all three: it affirms that we are indeed God’s children, it marks us as God’s special property. And it secures us until that day, “guaranteeing our inheritance”.
And the Spirit Who seals us does four things for us:
(1) “Effectually calls” – verse 11 is different from verse 4 – the chosen-ness of the believer means in this context that God will work His purpose out in our lives as the Holy Spirit works within us “in conformity with the purpose of His will”.
(2) Glorifies Jesus – “for the praise of his glory” is repeated twice – verses 12 and 14. That is the Spirit’s task – to draw attention not to Himself but to Jesus. And He does this practically by producing Jesus-like qualities in our lives ” “we” are for the praise of the glory of Jesus.
(3) Makes one new people – “we who were the first to hope in Christ” (verse 12) are now joined to Gentiles who “were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth”. The Holy Spirit establishes a new community, breaking down barriers, a single body, establishing peace, restoring relationships.
(4) Helps us understand the Bible – the Holy Spirit speaks through “the word of truth” and can never be separated from it. For when people like David Koresh of Waco, Texas, say that they have truth aside from Scripture or interpret Scripture according to their whims (or self-interest) what they say must always be interpreted through the Bible as the Holy Spirit illumines the sacred page.
One of the great Presbyterians of our century is John Alexander MacKay who was from 1936 to 1959 the President of what was then the largest Presbyterian seminary in the world, Princeton. In some profoundly moving words he stated categorically: “Apart from … the vision that met me in the Epistle to the Ephesians, I am nothing, and my life has no meaning.“ And then he explained his amazing claim.
On holiday in the summer of 1903, in the Highlands of Scotland, he met Jesus Christ in a service during what Highlanders call the communion season, in a service conducted in a glen as hundred were seated in rows under the shade of some large trees. He went out and purchased, for a coin which was called a “bun penny” (a picture of Queen Victoria with a bun at the back of her head) and started to read. He was arrested by this very book we are studying. And he concluded:
“My personal interest in God’s Order began when the only way in which life could make sense to me was upon the basis of an inner certainty that I myself, through the operation of a power which the Ephesian letter taught me to call ‘grace,’ had become part of that Order, and that I must hence forth devote my energies to its unfolding and fulfillment.“
Grace. Amazing grace. Grace that calls us into God’s new order: life in relationship, relationship to a Trinity: a Father who chooses us, a Son Who redeems us, a Spirit who seals us.
“The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures,
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.“
In him we have redemption … the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace which he lavished on us … marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit .. a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance … to the praise of his glory.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(3) Grace-Filled Praying (1:15-23)
You are familiar with the pollster who asked a passer-by: “Is it true that the two biggest problems facing the United States today are ignorance and apathy?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care”, came back the response.
Several weeks ago pollster George Gallup, Jr., in an article titled “Empowering The Laity” declared that the biggest problems facing American Christians are ignorance and “an undeveloped prayer life”. I quote:
“An undeveloped prayer life, coupled with ignorance of Scripture appears to have caused us to turn away from the living God and choose the substitute gods of the modern age — money, possessions, fame, drugs, and a self-indulgent lifestyle. We say we believe in God, but it would appear that at the same time we reject a supernatural basis for life … There is a break in our vertical relationship with a higher power, or God, and consequently a break in our horizontal relationship with other people.“
“Of the primary spiritual needs of the American people, surely one is the need for practical help in developing a mature faith. Americans pray and believe in the power of prayer, but we do not give our prayer life the attention it deserves … A culture with an emphasis on instant gratification and characterized by a noisy roar and constant bustle does not make meditative prayer easy. Its penchant for fast foods and quick credit does not produce people who are adept at waiting patiently for God’s presence to touch them.“
And so his conclusion is a simple one:
“Deepened prayer life, coupled with rootedness in Scripture, can lead us to new dimensions of faith, and at the same time, a new openness and acceptance of others.“
At the end of Ephesians chapter 1, Paul’s concern for First Century Christians to whom he writes is remarkably similar to that of George Gallup as American Christians face the Twenty-first. He prays – and in his praying models true prayer, for lessons in prayer are better caught than taught. And his prayer? He wants believers to have more knowledge about their faith in order that they might be truly empowered to live for God.
I KNOWLEDGE (verses 15 – 18)
“For this reason”: Paul begins his prayer in verse 15 holding before them all the truths that he has taught in that cascading sentence that is verses 3 through 14. He continues: “I thank God and I never give up praying for you.“ And what is it for which he prays? The kernel of his prayer is to be found at the end of verse 17: “that you may know Him better”.
To know God. What does Paul mean? Paul would be the first to say that knowing God is not knowing about God. You can know a great deal about the Bible, even about God Himself, even discover these great truths of which he has spoken in the first 14 verses, and still not know God.
Knowing God, according to James Packer who wrote a book with that title, consists of three things: one, personal dealing – dealing with God as He opens up to you and being dealt by Him as He takes knowledge of you; two, personal involvement in mind, will and feeling; third, grace, because the initiative in that relationship is always God’s. And then Packer concludes that what matters is not so much that I know God by “that He knows me”.
But it is also a knowledge of God’s salvation. Look at verse 18 to see the dimensions of what God has done for us:
hope – “the hope to which He has called you” or, as Phillips has it, “a hope like that”. Like what? Like everything he has said earlier: being “holy and blameless in his sight” (verse 4), the adoption to which he refers in verse 5, and that we are called “to the praise of his glory” (verse 12) Or as John says in his letter “Here and now we are God’s children. We don’t know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect His likeness, for we should see Him as He is.” Hope is our assurance.
inheritance – “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints”. What is the legacy God has given to us as His adopted children? Thomas Goodwin answers that “An inheritance you know is a thing for a man to use freely and to one’s top the uttermost for his comfort; you shall have God and all his attributes set before you. Lo, there is your inheritance.”
power – “the resources of His power open to us who trust in Him“ And then he goes into the second part of His prayer for them – that they will experience the empowering of the divine presence.
II POWER (verses 19 – 23)
So Paul prays that those to whom he writes will be empowered – “That power is the working of his mighty strength”. Armitage Robinson, pointed out the three emphatics – the working, the might, the strength and adds “we have no words that fully represent the original of this phrase“. Only examples will do:
(1) resurrection power – the power which He prays these Christians will experience is that of the Easter Lord, which broke the bands of death and the power of evil. And that is ours as well.
(2) heavenly power – the power of the ascended Lord which placed Him “in heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, not only in this present age but also in the one to come” (verses 20c and 21)
(3) power experienced in the church – this power now fills – or should fill – the church. Doctors at this time thought that the head controlled the body so now the Head fills the body with powers of movement and perception, and thereby inspires the whole body with life and direction“
“La connaisance est force” – “Knowledge is power” – was the motto of my children’s Toronto French School. Every day they were taught that knowledge was empowering, ignorance was limiting, inhibiting, weakening. We know that in Boston, the intellectual Hub of our country, a city that prides itself on endless years of graduate education, where we all must update our skills in school, always learning. But what of the Christian? Are we thinking, stretching our faith, challenging our presuppositions, always probing, exploring, stretching our faith. Do we listen? Do we read? Do we make use of the Library? Do we discipline ourselves in Bible study?
To quote George Gallup again:
“The years ahead could be an important time of renewal and deepened religious commitment among Americans if the faith communities of our nation help people bring the Bible into their daily lives; listen to the remarkable religious experiences of people, and help them build upon these experiences; encourage small group fellowship, which serves as a way to support current members; inspire people to reach out to others in evangelism, but in appropriate and loving ways; target key groups for spiritual nourishment and religious instruction – people in business and professions, students, the media, and other groups.“
Knowledge and power: the two missing ingredients of the modern church. If we knew, we would be empowered. What greater request can we make of the Lord for Newton Presbyterian Church?
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit … so that you may know Him better … that you may know … his incomparably great power for us who believe.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(4) Resurrected With Christ (2:1-10)
In two of my ministries in Canada I worked with two remarkable sisters, one of them the wife of the Clerk of Session in Knox Church, Toronto, the other a board member for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. They bore a famous name: Ironside. Their uncle, Harry Ironside, was first an itinerant Brethren evangelist and then the minister of Moody Church, Chicago. On my visit to their home, these sisters would tell many stories about their uncle, for stories about Harry were legion.
The one I like the most is when Harry Ironside was traveling from his home in Oakland to a speaking engagement in Southern California and a gypsy lady came up to him. “How do you do, gentleman”, she asked. “Would you like to have your fortune told? Cross my palm with a silver quarter, and I will give you your past, present, and future.”
“Are you sure you can do that?” Ironside asked. “I am Scottish and I wouldn’t want to part with money without getting full value.” The woman became persistent: “Oh yes, gentleman, Please. I will tell you all.”
At that point Harry Ironside brought out his New Testament from his pocket. “It’s not really necessary for me to have you tell my fortune, because here I have a book that gives me my past, present and future.” And he turned to the second chapter of Ephesians and read: “As for you, you were dead in your .. sins.” “That’s my past”, Ironside said, concluding verses 1 through 3.
“That’s enough”, the woman said, trying to get away. “I don’t care to hear more.”
“But wait”, Ironside continued. “There is more. Here is my present: “God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ.” And he read on from verse 4. “No more!” she protested. “Here is my future, too,” Ironside said refusing to let her go and reading on in verse 7: “that in the coming ages he might show … the riches of his grace”. And by that time the gypsy fled muttering: “I took the wrong man!“
Last week a request came to the Worship Committee as it met: “Give us the gospel in a few simple sentences. Give us a chance to respond!” If you want to know what Christianity is all about, if you ask me what it means to be a Christian, there is no passage in the whole of the Bible more basic than Ephesians 2:1 to 10. It distills the first five chapters of Romans into a single paragraph. With its opening two words – “As for you” – it takes us from salvation from God’s point of view in chapter 1 to the perspective of the individual Christian. It tells us two things: what we are without God and what we can become with God. It is, as one great New Testament scholar called it, “one of the great passages of all Scripture”.
I. THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT (verses 1 – 3)
And there are three words to describe that predicament:
(1) dead (verses 1 – 2) – Listen to the apostle: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” Those are not my words and that diagnosis may seem a little drastic. Some tell us with Dr. Thomas Harris and his transactional analysis “I’m OK, You’re OK.” Things are getting better generally. Others say that the patient is sick, but needs minor surgery. The statement here is sweeping: without a relationship with God you are dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. “Trespass” is a false step, crossing a boundary, getting off the path. “Sin” is a missing of the mark, falling short of a standard. Trespass is active, sin passive: before God we are rebels and failures. But there is more:
(2) enslaved (verse 2) – “you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”, captive to the world, the flesh and the devil. The world: “drift(ing) along the stream of this world’s ideas of living”. The devil: “following the … ruler of the kingdom of the air (which is) the spirit of disobedience”. The flesh: “our sinful nature” as the NIV translates it – our ingrained self-centeredness. All these have entrapped us.
(3) condemned (verse 3) “we were by nature objects of wrath”. As John Stott states: “I doubt if there is an expression in Ephesians which has provoked more hostility than this.“ But God’s wrath is not His bad temper: It is, as John Stott defines it, “God’s personal, righteous, constant hostility to evil, his settled refusal to compromise with it, and his resolve instead to condemn it.“
Now these are terrible words. The diagnosis is total, complete and catastrophic. It does not mince words, play around with the enormity of our distance from our God: it confronts the human condition. With Pogo we can say: “We have seen the enemy and it is us.”
II. THE DIVINE INITIATIVE (verses 4 – 10)
“But God”: these words suddenly lighten up the darkness, irradiate the grace of which Paul will now speak. The more we are aware of the extent of our predicament the more these words come on us with relief as we wonder at the divine love and Gift. As Martyn Lloyd Jones stated: “These two words, in and of themselves, in a sense contain the whole of the gospel.”
“But God”: we sing glibly about amazing grace. But you really cannot sing of grace until you have recognized your guilt. Grace is amazing only because it is so undeserved, so unexpected, so utterly surprising. “But God”: until those two words overwhelm you you will never know the good news. The gospel is simply this: “But God”.
(1) what God did (verses 4 – 7) And here language fails Paul. He invents three words, adding the prefix “syn” with each. God made us alive together with Christ (verse 5), he raised us up together with Christ (verse 6a) and He made us sit together with Christ in the heavenly places (verse 6b). In other words, we are united with Christ in His Resurrection, His Ascension, and His Session. When we say “The third day He rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, He sits on the right hand of God” we are saying that He raised me as well, He made me ascend into heaven, and made me sit with Christ in heaven. As Jim Boice states: “Taken together, these words make one of the most significant statements in the Bible of what has happened to Christians as a result of their union with Christ.“
(2) why God did it (verses 8 – 9) Now why did God do this? Simply as in verse 7 – “to show the inexhaustible riches of his grace.” And then we come to verses 8 and 9, after John 3:16 probably the most familiar and most loved verses in the whole of the Bible. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
My favorite illustration of those verses is from Donald Gray Barnhouse who repeated a story from one of the worst slums of London a hundred years ago. There a social worker named Henry Moorhouse saw a little girl coming out of a basement carrying a pitcher of milk. Suddenly she slipped and fell, the milk ran into the gutter and the pitcher broke into several pieces on the sidewalk. The girl was distraught. “My mommy will whip me, my mommy will whip me,” she kept crying.
Moorhouse reassured the girl, taking the pieces of the broken pitcher and trying to piece them together. The girl became hopeful. Many objects in her home had been mended and put together. But just as they came back he knocked them part. More tears. Another time he put them together, the girl brightened, but this time he was without a handle for the pitcher. As she attached it, the pieces came apart again. The girl was hysterical as she looked at the broken pieces on the sidewalk.
Then he took her up in his arms, carried her to a store that sold crockery, and bought a new pitcher. Then he went to the spot the girl had bought the milk in the first place. He asked her where she lived, carried her to the house, set her on the steps, and put the pitcher in her hands. “Now”, he asked, “will your mother whip you?” And she replied: “Oh no sir, because it’s a lot better pitcher than we had before.”
That is the way God’s grace operates. We were made in God’s image, but that image was smashed beyond repair by the sin of our first parents. We tried to repair it, but to no avail. We attempt to put the pieces back of our broken righteousness but we cannot do it. Bits and pieces are all we have left. But then grace intervenes: Jesus did not try to repair our brokenness. And His grace means – to paraphrase the little girl – that we have a lot better nature than we ever had before.“
Yes, you say to me, but how does God’s exchange gift of wholeness for my brokenness become mine? The verse tells us: “through faith”. Faith is simply “the empty hands by which I accept God’s gift”. It is not based on how I feel, it is not believing in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, it is the simple reaching out and receiving a gift. It means that I accept and receive what someone Else has done that I could not do. It means coming home and hearing the Father say: “This my child was dead and is now alive.”
(3) what God expects of us (verse 10) And then what? “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” “Not of works” but “created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. God’s – literally – “masterpiece”. Accepting a gift does not mean we have no responsibility. Indeed grace enhances our accountability: a loving response to a God Who wants us to be his “masterpiece”.
And what does this have to do with Mother’s Day, you ask me? You haven’t even mentioned mothers or families or children! Let me tell you, in conclusion, about a service on November 11, 1956, in Westminster Chapel, the leading congregational church in England which at that time had the largest attendance of any congregation in London. The minister, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was going through Ephesians and had spent the previous year in the first chapter, going through it verse by verse.
Remembrance Sunday that year, 1956, found London in convulsion: the previous Tuesday the Security Council of the United Nations, led by America and Russia, had censured France, Britain and Israel for their invasion of Egypt at Suez. Historians would later date the end of the British Empire, on which the sun had never set for a hundred years, to that month of November, 1956.
Lloyd-Jones was under tremendous pressure to preach something patriotic, seizing on the passions of the hour. Instead he kept on in Ephesians 2, speaking that morning on two words from verse 4: “But God”. He stated unapologetically: “The many who do not think in a Christian and biblical manner believe that the business of the Christian Church on a day such as this is to … say what we think the statesmen should do … The Biblical method, rather is to display God’s truth and then to show the relevance of that to any given situation … The Bible … invites us at the very beginning to lift up our eyes and to look at God.“
If there was ever an issue when we need to look at God first it is the families of our nation. You do not need to adopt a so-called “family values” platform to recognize the crisis in our homes today. Domestic violence is on the rise and the assumptions that many of us thank God our mothers and fathers used when they raised us are no longer there. We need to have the great “But God” of the beginning of verse 4 written over our homes today.
And we need to give ourselves again to the God Who calls us out of the darkness of our own human predicament into the glory of His light and truth. The initiative was His, the grace is His: may the faith be ours today.
For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(5) Christ Our Peace (2:11 – 22)
A month tomorrow I will be flying to Istanbul, one of my favorite cities. There I will be taking a group of Americans to the Archaeological Museum where you can see a white limestone slab which to me expresses the difference that Jesus’ coming made to a divided world. We could call it “Exhibit A” of Before Christ. It was found in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, then part of the Ottoman Empire, in 1871 and brought to Constantinople as the capital. It says simply:
“No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”
Josephus in his Antiquities tells us about that stone wall and the inscription: “a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits. Its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars at equal distance from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters, that ‘no foreigner should go within that sanctuary’.“
“(Jesus) … has broken down the dividing wall of hostility.” So Paul states the effect of the coming of Christ. He explains it in verse 16: “That he … might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.”
The effect of the collapse of Marxist ideology is to tribalize the world: the word “balkanize” has a new significance given the events we see every day on television from Bosnia. Christianity, now that Communism is no more, is the one trans-national ideology that calls for the allegiance of humankind and transcends – or should transcend – any ethnic or cultural or racial identity. “Should” – one confesses with sorrow that some of our worse tribal conflict is in the name of religion: Bosnian Muslims vs Bosnian Serbs or Croats, Northern Irish Catholics vs Northern Irish Protestants. There is no greater travesty of the gospel than the establishment of exclusion zones in the name of Jesus.
The remaining verses of Ephesians 2, 11 through 22, are addressed to Gentiles by the Jew Paul. He speaks of what we were (verses 11 – 12), what Jesus has done (verses 13 – 18) and what we have become (verses 19 – 22). I know of no better focus on this Sunday when we are thinking about the future of our congregation than to focus on the unity Christ brings to this family of faith in a racially polarized city like Boston, that in spite of its intellectual sophistication, its political correctness, its financial wizardry still has failed to bring women and men together in a true common-wealth.
I WHAT WE WERE: an alienated humanity (verses 11 and 12)
In these two verses Paul addresses himself to Gentiles. He mouths that old taunt: “uncircumcised” and reminds his readers of the disdain that Jews felt for them. Labels: they hurt. We can think of them without mouthing them. Some of us know bitterly that epithet thrown at the early Nova Scotians when they came to Boston: “Herring choker”. Others know the taunt of the school yard: “Fatty”. Growing up in the ’50’s and being the last to be chosen for the baseball
team I can recall “Co-ordo”. Calvin Trillium’s recent Remembering Denny speaks about white shoe versus black shoe at Yale at the same time and the stigma of being a “weenie”. And the equivalent of the cry “uncircumcised” in the First Century would be the chilling word thrown at those of Paul’s race ever since Christianity gained the ascendency: “Christ-killer”. Christians have to take their share of blame for labelling, for the Holocaust. “Christ-killer”: no epithet has done more to damage our faith’s credibility.
Five things that we note characterized this alienated humanity, we Gentiles: we were “separated from the Messiah” – we had no anticipation of deliverance, nothing to look forward to. Further – two – we were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and – three – strangers to the covenants of Israel. And then, even more damning – four – having no hope and five “without God in the world”.
These are the things we are to “remember” – the word is found in verses 11 and 12. It is only when we recall what we were that we can respond in true gratitude to
II WHAT JESUS HAS DONE: a peacemaking Christ (verses 13 – 18)
“But now”, verse 13, is equivalent to the “But God” of verse 4. “But now in Christ Jesus you who were far off have been brought near. Now “in Christ Jesus” – bringing back the truth of the first chapter and those three manufactured verbs of verses 5 and 6 of the present chapter – and “by the blood of Christ” (as in 1:7).
“For He is our peace”, making us – Jew and Gentile – one. He broke down the dividing wall. He brought all nations and people together. And how? Three things:
One: “he abolished in His flesh the law” (verse 15a). What does that mean? Are we able to ignore the law because of what Christ did? Are we not under grace? Are we to sin because – as Voltaire said of God – “c’est son metier”. It’s God’s business to forgive.
No: Paul is speaking of ceremonial law. The New English Bible speaks of “its rule and regulations”. But Christ has also done away with the law as a way of ever pleasing God.
Two: Jesus made “one new man out of two” (verse 15b). We are reminded of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We need to eradicate all racism, all unconscious or subconscious feelings that our culture, our traditions, our skin pigmentation, our language, is “best”. Christ has made us one.
Three: Christ has reconciled us (verse 16) through His body into a single body. That word “reconciliation” is often abused, cheapened. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests some of its five-fold richness: changing from ‘hostile” to ‘friendly’, re-connecting, a completed and thorough action, something that comes down from above (‘kata’ in the Greek) – not two sides coming together. And finally restoration, bringing back something that was there before.
So Christ (verse 17) “preached peace”. “First” – to quote John Stott – “he achieved it, then he announced it.” The risen Lord’s first words were “Peace be with you.“And he spoke to those “afar” and those “near”. And it is through Him (verse 18) that we share a common access to the Father by the one Spirit.
III WHAT WE HAVE NOW BECOME: God’s new society (verses 19 – 22)
And here Paul paints three word-pictures of the new society – the international, inter-racial, and inter-necine bonding that has taken place:
One: we are (verse 19a) God’s kingdom. We were stateless citizens (verses 12) but now we are no longer “resident aliens” even but we carry a proud passport, and we are “fellow citizens” with all the saints.
Two: we are (verse 19b) God’s family, “members of God’s household”. We “brethren”, brothers and sisters, the church is a Philadelphia, a city of sisterly and brotherly love.
Three: we are God’s Temple (verses 20 – 22). We have a foundation. We are “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief cornerstone”. But there is also the whole building which is joined and then rises to be a holy temple, a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
I have been involved in only one other building campaign and that was the erection of a building in suburban Toronto by a congregation that was not really all that anxious to sink money into bricks and mortar. Was it spiritual? Would it deflect from our missionary giving, a high commitment in that congregation?
But finally, after five years in a rented auditorium we knew we had no choice. Reluctantly the church went about establishing a building committee, getting pledges, hiring an architect, choosing a contractor. And then one day the architect came to me: did we want a cornerstone? A cornerstone? An obvious need which had not occured to me! But we went through the Bible and came up with Ephesians 2:20 “Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone”. It was laid on Palm Sunday, 1973.
I came back to the congregation on Palm Sunday this year to help them celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary. We gathered at the end of the service around the stone, saw slides of the day it was laid, and reflected through that quarter of a century of achievement, that only God lays the cornerstone for His people.
Augustus Montague Toplady discovered that at the age of 16. He was visiting relatives in Ireland with his widowed mother when he went to evangelistic services held in a barn and heard “an earnest layman” preaching on the text “You who were far off were made nigh by the blood of Christ.” The text brought him to Christ and led to the writing of that most favorite of all hymns, “Rock of Ages”.
“What is the secret of this hymn’s astonishing popularity?” a recent hymnologist asks. Frank Colquhoun replies: “‘The facts of sin and grace are … not transient modes of theological thought; they are abiding, inescapable verities.’ Never mind the mixed metaphors … ‘When men are conscious of deep need, when heart condemns and conscience accuses these very metaphors, with their combined suggestion of shelter and cleansing, are strangely restful.’“
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.”
But now you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ … Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(6) Stewards of Grace (3:1 – 13)
Why would anyone want to commit themselves to working in a volunteer agency like the church when there are so many – more interesting? – demands on their shrinking leisure time? We’re all so busy. Church responsibilities are so limiting, defining, frustrating, disillusioning. Boards and committees – as the old wag said – take minutes and consume hours and leave you in a daze. Who needs another set of commitments, meetings, juggling conflicting needs and desires?
Installation Sunday is not an appropriate Sunday to ask these questions! Those who are being ordained, set apart, have already presumably answered these questions. As a congregation we are grateful for your willingness to serve Christ in this way. We have seen in you those gifts that can best minister to the needs of the whole. But let’s all of us ask the question this morning – for and with you – “What’s so special about the church that anyone would respond to that kind of demanding commitment?”
When I am tempted to ask that question I refer to a favorite quote of mine from a British Congregationalist minister of the turn-of-the-century, P. T. Forsyth:
“The Church is precious, not in itself, but because of Christ’s purpose with it. It is there because of what God has done for it. It is there, more particularly, because of what Christ has done and done in history. It is there solely to serve the gospel.”
Or to the words of Paul in these opening thirteen verses of Ephesians 3. Paul, having concluded his words about Christ having broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, is about to pray for “the whole family” – verse 14 – when he is diverted both by the thought that he is a prisoner on behalf of Gentiles but, more significantly, the personal pronoun brings to mind his own journey.
“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery.” Mystery is the key word of these verses: a mystery? Thoughts of Sunday nights on Channel 2 and fainting women falling off pillars come to mind. Mysteries: Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, detectives, bodies, evidence, murder.
Mystery is the key word in this passage: it comes four times. In the New Testament mystery does not mean something spooky, but rather something unknown until Jesus Christ came into the world. Mystery religions might have their secrets that only initiates might know: followers of Mithra, Isis and Osiris, Dionysius, and the Eleusis. But Christians want everyone to know their mystery. What is it? Look at verse 6: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
The mystery is the church. This is the stupendous reality: that God has made a new humanity, brought together into one people this amazing, motley, assortment of women and men, of all races, of every socio-economic status. We fight and quarrel. We are hypocrites and bunglers. We fail so often and history is full of our contradictions. We ask: why would anyone want to get involved? But this is the mystery: God has called us together, God is shaping us. And being a part of the church, and specifically of its leadership, provides a chance to stand back and watch God at work. The church is indestructible. Why? Not because of my efforts, nor of yours, but simply because God is here. That is the mystery. After two thousand years of having its obituary written, the church still stands.
I. A PERSONAL PRIVILEGE: the mystery made known (verses 1 – 6)
“I was entrusted with this unique insight into God’s grace … not made known to men and women in other generations .. now … revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”
And then Paul does what we saw in chapter 1. He takes that favorite little suffix of his “with” and, in verse 6, uses three words (one of which he has manufactured) and dramatizes what this mystery means to us Gentiles. You and I are ‘co-heirs’, ‘concorporate’, and ‘co-sharers’ of the promise.
And this is the word that I, Paul, was entrusted with: this is why I gave my life, sacrificed my freedom: the wonder of God’s purposes in Christ uniting all races in Him as we are united to one another. It’s a mystery, Paul declares. Let’s never lose sight of the wonder of God’s grace.
That is what draws us to the church, and keeps us there. No other motivation will provide the glue that bonds us to the corporate identity of God’s people. The church is central to the gospel: it is not just an individual reality but that threefold unity: I am “in Christ”, but together Jew and Gentile, we are also bound to each other because we are each and all “in Christ”. The gospel is always first personal. But then it must be corporate.
II A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY: making this mystery known (verses 7 – 13)
Privilege brings responsibility. Look at verse 7: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me.” Paul marvels at the grace that no only personally called him into such a family, but the grace that sends someone who is “leaster” of all saints, Paul the paulus, the small, insignificant of stature, the blasphemer and persecutor, contemptuous in appearance, to be an emissary for God. And that ministry, entrusted to him, has three ever-broadening circles of influence:
(1) making Christ’s riches known to the Gentiles (verse 8) and these riches are beyond our fathoming. Translators struggle with superlatives when they render Paul’s word from Greek to English: “unsearchable”, “inexplorable”, “untraceable”, “unfathomable”, “inexhaustible”, “illimitable”, “inscrutable” and “incalculable”.
(2) making the mystery known to all humankind (verse 9) “enlightening” the darkness as “the mystery” of God’s equalizing grace, His multi-racial harmonizing, becomes known to everyone.
(3) making God’s wisdom known to cosmic powers (verse 10) “in its rich variety”, using the church as “Exhibit A”, a living model, of His saving purpose to those in authority and power.
And the reality of this mystery, as we proclaim it, means that we have resources available: (verse 13) “access to God in boldness and confidence” so that we “may not lose heart” (verse 14) as we are obedient to God’s call and commission.
Paul concludes then with a reminder that in the sufferings of sisters and brothers in the church we find our “glory”. We cannot escape our common identity. We dare not side-line the church, by-pass the disciplines it imposes, be selective in our choice of Christian fellowship. For
We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.
The mystery of Christ … is that through the gospel (we) are sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(7) Praying That Reflects Our Richness in God (3:14 – 21)
In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters Wormwood, a Junior Devil, asks his experienced Uncle Screwtape what his attitude should be toward the attempts to pray of his baby Christian temptee.
If you can’t keep him from prayer altogether – which should be your first line of attack – keep him focussing on feelings. Another ploy might be to keep him praying to some imaginary thing: God as an object on a crucifix or someone at the corner of the bedroom ceiling.
But then there comes that desperate situation. Wormwood overhears the new believer praying “Not to what I think You are but to what You know Yourself to be.” At that point Christian is in real peril of discovering God and so the warning becomes intense:
“If he has thrown aside all his thoughts and images – and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why then it is that the incalculable may occur.”
How does God break in – and into – our praying? Do you and I really know, as we pray, that we are speaking, to our Creator as we are on our knees? If we are honest, much of our praying lacks a God-ward dimension, that transcendence without which our intercession becomes merely an (unconscious) soliloquy.
How do we discover what C. S. Lewis calls “the real nakedness of the soul in prayer”? There is only one way: immerse oneself in the praying of the New Testament, and specifically the praying of Paul. Of all the prayers of Paul there is none so revolutionary in its God-intoxication as that at the end of Ephesians 3. Verses 14 – 22 are one of the greatest prayers of the Scripture. Christ’s prayer in John 17 in the Garden is unique, of course. But Solomon’s prayer at the Temple, the prayer of the early church in Acts 4 at the release of Peter and John come to mind.
As Alexander Whyte says: “Who has not read and reread the closing verses of the third chapter of Ephesians with the feeling of one permitted to look through parted curtains into the Holiest Place of the Christian life?”
Paul – “the prisoner of Jesus Christ”. Paul picks up the thought with which he begins the chapter. He had been about to fall on his knees but then, for a moment, he digresses. He reflects on the marvel of the mystery revealed to him and which he was commissioned to make known. Now – with this additional incentive to prayer – he intercedes, energized by the full awareness of the measure of God’s amazing grace to him and to those to whom he writes, marvelling at the sovereign purposes of a great God.
This prayer begins with God and ends with God. It starts with the wonder of His redemptive and reconciling purpose as He has re-created a family of faith. It concludes with a benediction to a God Who is able. In between, there are four specific requests. Requests unlike anything you – or I as your pastor – have ever prayed for the church.
Calvin remarks that “It is therefore the duty of pastors diligently to teach, of the people earnestly to attend to telling, and of both, to flee to the Lord lest they weary themselves in unprofitable exertions.”
I THE GROUND OF PRAYER: AFFIRMING THE PURPOSE OF GOD (verses 14 – 16a)
Why should we pray if we believe in a sovereign God Who is working His purposes out: purposes that Paul has described in the preceding part of Ephesians? If God has been calling a people to Himself since eternity (chapter 1), powerfully including the Gentiles as He has broken down the middle wall, then why bother to pray?
Paul’s answer in verses 14 through 16a is simply this: that we have confidence in the One Who has named His entire family in heaven and earth. We pray not to change His mind, but to bring our will into accord with His. His (verse 16a) are “the glorious riches”.
And our response? “I bow the knee.” The posture expresses the sense that Paul has of His creatureliness. It is a prostrating oneself before One whose purposes are so great, so unfathomable, that we are – to quote the hymn – “lost in wonder, love and praise”.
The theology of Ephesians 1:1 through 3:14 does not eliminate the need for prayer, it undergirds it. Indeed it is only a sovereign Lord to whom I can make my requests known, confident that His riches will be there for a poor beggar who comes with only a claim on His abundant and loving grace. Anything less than that vision impoverishes prayer and reduces it to the level of nagging. God is God: we come in that confidence.
II THE CONTENT OF PRAYER (verses 16b – 19)
What are Paul’s four petitions to this great God?
(1) that they be strengthened by the Spirit
What Phillips paraphrases as “the strength of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement”. At Pentecost we are reminded that the Spirit came to empower to church.
(2) that they be rooted and grounded in love
A mixed metaphor! “Rooted” – deep in the soil of love. “Grounded” – finding there our base of support and courage.
“With all the saints” As we say in the Creed: “I believe .. in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins.” We experience God’s love in community.
(3) that they know Christ’s love
in all its width. length, depth and height.
Napoleon flung open a prison built for prisoners of conscience during the Spanish Inquisition two hundred year before. As he did so, remains were discovered of a prisoner who had died for his faith. The flesh had all decayed, only bones remained. Around the ankle-bone there was a chain. But the prisoner had left a witness. A rough cross with four words in Spanish: Above the cross: “Height”. Below, “depth”. To the left, “width”. To the right: “length”. That is what Paul says might be the knowledge his readers might have.
Could we with ink the oceans fill
And were the skies of parchment made.
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade –
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
(4) that they be filled with God’s fullness
He will go on to speak about this in 4:13: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
III THE CONCLUSION OF PRAYER: LEAVING AFFIRMED IN THE PURPOSE OF GOD (verses 20 – 22)
How do we leave the audience chamber of a King? Recognizing that it is God with Whom we have met, God Whose power is inexhaustible, unlimited.
As Ruth Paxson paraphrased this benediction:
That is able to do
All that we ask or think
Abundantly above all that we ask or think
Exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think
According to the power that worketh in us.
Seven affirmations are to be found here:
(a) able to do
(b) able to do what we ask
(c) able to do what we ask or think
(d) able to all we ask or think
(e) able to do more than we ask or think
(f) able to do much more, more abundantly, than all we ask or think
(g) able to far more abundantly than all we ask or think
With that power there are only two questions we can ask ourselves: Why do we fail to pray? And, as we do pray, why is prayer so little a resource in our lives?
For this reason I kneel before the Father … that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(8) One Lord. One Faith One Baptism;
Maintaining Unity Without Imposing Uniformity
(4:1 – 6)
“I urge – therefore – I who am a prisoner in the Lord.” So Paul begins the second half of his letter. No better joining of theology and life could be imagined. “Therefore”: the second word in the Greek original suggests that he is building on all that he has stated in the first three chapters.
We’ve seen that breathtaking summation of the whole of Christian doctrine. The ability Paul had to summarize the divine initiative: that before the foundation of time you and I should be “in Christ”. Jew and Gentile together in God’s new, redeemed humanity. The mystery has been explained, revealed as it was to Paul, the “unsearchable riches in Christ”.
Theology – at least of that depth – is not popular these days. David Wells in his recently published No Place For Truth: Or Whatever Happened To Evangelical Theology? speaks of the “disappearance of theology. “…while items of belief are professed, they are increasingly being removed from the center of evangelical life where they defined what that life was, and they are now being relegated to the periphery where their power to define what evangelical life should be is lost“. And my friend Tom Gillespie, President of Princeton Seminary, asked – in a convocation address last September to incoming students – “What Makes Theological Studies Theological?” and reflected that the Christian community is in danger of falling prey to amnesia. “Such a community must turn to its memory banks which are located in the church’s tradition and particularly in its scriptures.“
“Therefore” – in mind of all these deep theological truths – “I” – it’s emphatic – “the prisoner who is in Christ” “urge” you. Paul is saying that that theological truth “in Christ” is now exceedingly precious to him. It’s not some intellectual abstraction, it’s his life, it’s what sustains him in the hour of death, amid suffering. “I know that I am in Christ.” The theological truth is what makes life meaningful, bearable, eternal. Theology and life; theory and praxis. What – we might ask – will Christians do today if they are nurtured on the pablum of experience and stories and “sharing pain”? We need the study of doctrine if our experience is to be anything other than shallow and superficial.
And what is the experience that Paul now wants to share with us? It is the experience that he regards as essential to the Christian life – an experience of living in community. In these opening sixteen verses of the practical half of this letter to the churches of Asia Paul wants us to focus on what unity is all about. He’s saying: “If you have any understanding of the theology I have been teaching you will realize that you can’t live the Christian life in splendid isolation from other believers. There can be no lone ranger Christianity. You have no life as a follower of Jesus – to paraphrase T. S. Eliot – if you do not have it together.”
I CHRISTIAN UNITY DEPENDS ON THE CHARACTER OF THE BELIEVER (vs 1- 3)
“Live a life worthy of your calling.” “Worthy” actually stands first in that order. What does it mean to be “worthy”? We are – after all – saved by grace as we were reminded in verse 8 of chapter 2. None of us is worthy of the God Who has called us.
Let me illustrate. You hire a carpenter to do some work at your home. After he has finished the job you ask, before you pay him: “Is he worthy of that money? Is he worth what I am giving him?” Martyn Lloyd Jones speaks of a scale: the weight – or worth – at one end must balance with the weight at the other. My worth at one end must balance the doctrine I have been entrusted with at the other. “They must not put all the weight on doctrine and none on practice; nor all the weight on practice and just a little, if any at all, on doctrine. To do so produces imbalance and lopsidedness. The Ephesians must take great pains to see that the scales are perfectly balanced.“
So Paul continues with the five qualities that must characterize such a balanced Christian, all intensely practical:
(1) humility – we are not saved by works lest anyone should boast (2:8-9). Humility is where my life in community begins.
(2) meekness or gentleness – as Christ Himself was “gentle/meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 12:28)
(3) patient – “long-suffering” which comes to us often through suffering
(4) forebearing – which belongs with patience
(5) peace-ful – (verse 3) “keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. It is the unity of the Spirit that we are actively to maintain, being intentional, pro-active in our diligent pursuit of unity at all times and in all ways.
II CHRISTIAN UNITY RESTS ON THE UNITY OF THE TRIUNE GOD (vs 4 – 6)
“The unity of the Spirit” is a natural bridge from the kind of believer who works at unity within the community to the God on Whom such unity and whose character it reflects. Unity, Paul says, is not some artificial quality that is arbitrarily superimposed upon a group of people. It is inherent in the triune reality of the life of its God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
“That they all may be one” is Jesus’ oft-quoted prayer in John 17. But we forget – to our peril – the second half. “That they may all be one as we are one.“ The unity between believers is no less – and no more – than the unity between the first and second members of the ever blessed Trinity.
So we have these seven “one’s” in verses 4 through 6. They are probably based on an early hymn or creed to be memorized by inquirers. They cluster around a member of the Trinity:
(1) The “one’s” of the Spirit: “One body, one Spirit, one hope.” We’ve seen (2:16) that in one body Christ reconciled both Jew and Gentile to Himself at the cross. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us together – “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.“ So there is a single Spirit at work in each of us, drawing us, powerfully saving us, sanctifying us. And there is a single hope – “a sure and certain hope” of the resurrection as we say at a grave side, and it is the Spirit Who strengthens and empowers that hope.
(2) The “one’s” of the Son – In verse 5 we discover that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. A single Lord Jesus over all, a single faith we profess in Him as Savior and Lord, and a single baptism by which we die in Him and are raised to Him.
(3) The “one” of the Father – Finally in verse 6 we reminded that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. Paul has progressed from the effect – the Holy Spirit – to the Cause – the Father.
This is the unity which we experience – or should. The Christian is united to her sister, her brother, his sister, his brother, because she or he is united to God. We are called to life together. And that means an amazing diversity.
Some of us have been – or are – aware of that diversity during our holidays. I think back last Sunday to a small thousand year old church in a field in idyllic rural England where a lay reader read a five minute sermon to the thirteen of us who were present. Two weeks ago I was in my ancestral church, seated on the first pew from the front where the MacLeod’s have worshipped since the church was opened in 1910 – the service all in Gaelic. Or three weeks ago, a tiny hall under a mount in the English Lakes, filled with communicants celebrating the sacrament.
Or we think of the three with us this morning and where they will be in a week or two’s time: Jim Thomas out in Chiangmai with believers in Thai, José Matos in a prison chapel with convicts discovering the liberty Christ offers, Emmanuel and Susan and Samuel back with their own in the Cameroon.
Isn’t the family of God wonderful? They will be there because Newton Presbyterian Church has made – and is making – its small contribution. We will never be together in the same combination as we are today, but there will come a time when we will, finally, be all together in the eternity of God’s love. And heaven will be the richer because of who we are but – praise God – who that triune Lord is. For Jesus’ prayer that “we shall all be one as He and the Father are one” will at last be answered. And then all fetters of our divisions and separations will fall.
Live a life worthy of the calling you have recreived … There is one Spirit .. one Lord .. one God and Father of all … over all and through all and in all.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(9) Body Life:
Maintaining Unity Without Imposing Uniformity
(4:7 – 16)
Last Sunday, as we began our study of the second half of Ephesians – the “practical half that seeks to link the theological profundity of chapters 1 through 3 with the realities of life together in relationship – we noted that Paul is concerned for the unity of the Christian family. This unity we observed requires a certain kind of person (4: – 3) and is grounded on the objective character of the Triune God, the united Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We are now, beginning in verse 7 through verse 16, to discover two further reasons why the Christian community must be united: because of the mutual interconnectedness of our gifts (verses 7 through 12) and the demand for Christian growth and maturity (verses 13 through 16).
III. THE MUTUAL INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF OUR GIFTS (verses 7 – 12)
The contrast between verse 6 and verse 7 could not be more marked. In verse 6 we learn of a Father “over all, through all and in all”. Verse 7 starts “But” to “each“. Paul goes from the unity of the Father in the blessed Trinity to the diversity of His people. As verse 7 has been paraphrased: “Naturally, there are different gifts and functions; individually grace is given to us in different ways out of the rich diversity of Christ’s giving.”
(a) Christ is the Source of our diversity: The image in verse 7 is that of a victorious Monarch, showering gifts on his subjects. It is an adjustment of Psalm 68. The reference is then transferred to Christ Who died, returned to His Father, and as our ascended Lord, dispenses gifts to the church.
What is the significance of this? It is two-fold: because the gifts have been given by Christ they are to be used for the purpose for which he intended them. They are not to be squandered on ourselves. Rather, they are to be used for the service of the people of God.
Secondly, since every follower of Christ has been given a gift, all are called to ministry. Juan Carlos Ortiz said, in a famous message given at Lausanne ’74, that ministers are the cork in the bottle. We are keeping the word from getting out. But all have a gift, everyone is to use their gift, and an organization that elevates one or two people over the whole is in deep trouble.
A friend of mine, George Mallone, reports the following conversation reported Sunday morning by a parishioner whose husband was an elder from the dinner table the night before among three of her children.
Geoffrey: Do the Mallones go to our church?
Betsy: That’s Eryn Faye and Scott’s mom and dad!
Jenny: Of course they do. Mr. Mallone is the head of our church.
Geoffrey: And Daddy too?
Jenny: Well, sort of. He sets up the chairs. Mr. Mallone is there every day so he’s the head of our church.
(b) This diversity is rich and complex:
The gifts – or charismata – are very comprehensive. The various lists in the New Testament – Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and elsewhere are never intended to be exhaustive. Here Paul mentions only five: “He (verse 11) gave s some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”
All five of these gifts relate to teaching – as John Stott notes. While there are no apostles or prophets today in the Biblical sense, we need the authoritative word that they gave. We need a teaching evangelism, a pastoring that is profoundly instructional, and a teaching that is in accord with the will of God.
The Presbyterian – Puritan, Reformed – model of minister was of the scholar-teacher whose main responsibility was in the study. We have been accused of “dying by degrees” but the alternative – a frenetic, Kiwanian, back-slapping, organizational genius – is surely one of the reasons why we are a declining denomination. We have, somewhere along the way, lost the heart of our distinctiveness.
(c) Our diverse gifts serve a single purpose: Look at verse 12: “to prepare God’s people for works of service”. We are called to be servants of each other. The gifts are not to be paraded, used as ego-gratification, held up as reasons for spiritual superiority. “Brother – or sister – let me be your servant” should be the motto of the followers of One Who said: “I came not be ministered unto but to minister and to give my life.“ The order of the towel is the mark of the family of faith.
IV. THE DEMAND FOR CHRISTIAN GROWTH AND MATURITY (verses 13 -16)
Paul then explains what it means – verse 12 – “to build up the body of Christ”. Verse 13 introduces that key word “Maturity”. The whole purpose of the family of faith, the reason why God calls us to mutual accountability within a community, why there can be no Christian living in isolation, is that only by this means can we be all that God wants us to be. And what is that? Our heavenly Parent wants His child to be mature, grown-up. He does not want us to be perpetually dependent, much less kept in trainers or even diapers. He wants us fully grown, on our own, adult, mature.
In the book our youth use for their preparation for confirmation John Stott says: “Our churches are full of Christians who were not only born again years ago, but who stopped growing years ago. This is a tragedy beyond description. God’s purpose is that we should grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually … Hundreds of Christians suffer from infantile regression of the spirit. They have never grown up.“
What does it mean for a Christian to be mature? J. C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool in the last century defines it: “That his (or her) sense of sin is becoming deeper, his (or her) faith stronger, his (or her) hope brighter, his (or her) love more extensive, his (or her) spiritual mindedness more marked.”
Growth in truth: verse 14 speaks of no longer being infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” As Peter says “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that you may grow thereby.“
We not only learn the truth, discriminating truth, differentiating it from error, but we speak – and live – the truth. But always in love, for maturity means, secondly, to
Growth in love: verse 16 – “the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love.” As Thomas Watson, the old Puritan said: “The right manner of growth is to grow less in one’s own eyes … This is good, to grow out of conceit with oneself.” As the hymn has it
“I ask Thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And to wipe the weeping eyes;
And a heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize.“
Growth into Christ: verse 15 “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ”. Monsignor Knox took the imagery of the baby with the huge head, out of proportion to the rest of the body, and how gradually the whole body grows into harmony with its head. So the Christian develops the full stature of the adult-hood size of Jesus its Head.
We bought a home many years ago in Toronto that we could only afford because it had been grossly neglected during three years of tragic divorce wrangling between a father and mother over the custody of their two small sons. We had to do extensive painting and renovations and in an upstairs bedroom closet there was the most tragic thing I had ever seen. Along the wall there were the marks of the height of each of their sons, lovingly inscribed by father and mother. And then, suddenly, three years before, those marks stopped. The mother took the boys to New Zealand. The Father would never see his sons bgrow any taller.
We replaced it with a measure of our own as the boys started to shoot up in height and the comparison was always on my mind. There are Christians, torn apart by forces of hatred and anger, often beyond anything for which they are directly responsible, whose growth is stunted. Then there are others, whose growth is progressive and continuous.
Paul says that we need each other in open and caring relationships, each serving the other, within the body. For the church exists for one purpose only and that is: maturity. And without a certain kind of member, reflecting the harmony that is God’s in the Trinity, utilizing all the gifts, the great end of the church can never be reached.
Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(10) Learning and Living Christ
(4:17 – 5:2)
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord.” Thus Paul, in verse 17 of chapter 4 of Ephesians, begins the last section of his great letter. The wording makes us look back to verse 1 of the same chapter: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you…”.
The apostle is speaking with authority, reminding his readers of their obligation to follow his instructions – not because they are his private hobby horse, but because he speaks for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And what he says has to do with the ethical demands of the gospel: he is concerned – note the wording of the rest of verse 17 “that (they) must no longer live as the Gentiles do”. He is suggesting that there are moral absolutes that they, as followers of THE LORD, must be obedient to, discipline their lives by, be committed for.
Who speaks for God in our time? Our apostles all have feet of clay: we read about the fallen religious idols of our day. Ministers are caught in sin and have to resign their pulpits. Some television “evangelists” … need I say more. Prominent religious writers no longer follow their own advice. The list is legion, reflecting the moral chaos of our time.
Who speaks for God? This book we have before us: the Biblical standards of morality are based on a clear understanding that Jesus is the Lord: absolute in his demands that we do not live as those around us, that we march to a different drum beat, that the gospel liberates us to reflect the holiness and truth of a God that made us not only to reflect His teaching, but model our lives after One who exemplified that law and those commandments.
So we being this final section of the book we call Ephesians: learning how not only to make a difference, but to be different, to live as children of light. But before he gets into specifics, Paul sets the doctrinal context for Christian behavior.
I RIGHT LIVING STARTS WITH RIGHT THINKING (verses 17 – 24)
What is particularly striking about Paul’s ethical imperatives is that he starts with the mind. When asked what is wrong with the way pagans live he does not itemize their conduct. He speaks rather of “the futility of their thinking“, that they are “darkened in their understanding” and “separated from God because of the ignorance that is in them”. Empty minds, darkened understanding, inward ignorance: these are the first things one can state about the person whose conduct is morally objectionable. What we do comes from what we think.
(a) The way of the world (vs 17-19):
The concluding observation in verse 19 is a summary of the teaching of these three verses: the god-less person has a porosis of the heart, a hardening, a callous, a calcification of what should be soft and tender towards God.
As you read these three verses you become aware of the parallels between this passage and the last half of Romans chapter one. As John Stott notes, there are four stages in turning one’s back on God:
1. obstinacy – their hardness of heart (verse 18) as humankind suppresses the truth (Romans 1:18), refusing to honor God” (1:21), unwilling to acknowledge God (vs 28).
2. darkness – “the futility of their thinking (verse 17 here) or (Romans 1:19) “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened”. Here we read that “they are darkened in their understanding .. because of the ignorance that is in them” (verse 18) and in Romans 1:22: “they became fools”, their mind (1:28) “depraved“.
3. judgment – as a result they – verse 18 – were “separated from the life of God” or – as Paul in Romans “God gave them over” (verse 24), “God gave them over” (verse 26), and again, verse 28, “he gave them over”. Sinful desire, lust, a depraved ind – God no longer restrained them from the logical conclusion of their thinking.
4. recklessness – the description of humankind’s moral sewer in verse 19 is unflinching: ” sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more”. Or the conclusion of Romans 1: “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.”
Wait a minute, you say. It’s too sweeping, this narrow-minded description of human peccadilloes. But the description of life in the First Century Roman Empire is little different from life at the end of the Twentieth Century. The more things change the more they remain the same.
(b) The way of Christ (vs 20-24):
“You, however, did not come to know Christ that way.” The emphasis is again on the mind, and it is reiterated in verses 21 “You heard of him and were taught in him” and again (verse 22) “You were taught…”. The emphasis here was on instruction. They were trained in “the truth that is in Jesus”.
What is that way? Verses 22 – 24 instruct us: “to put off your old self … to be made new … to put on the new self, created to be like God”. In other words to be a Christian demands a whole different way of life, a tearing up by the roots our old manner of living and a one eighty change so that we have one desire: to be like God “in true righteousness and holiness”.
We were called to take off one set of clothing – filthy, ragged, polluted, and now to put on a new set – fresh, clean, beautiful. We are confronted with the imperatives of the gospel: the transforming grace of God which makes us brand new. We are in a word – transformed, different, special. No longer do we see how close we can get to the edge without falling in, but we are rather anxious to go as far as we can away from the old and move towards God.
II RIGHT LIVING DEMANDS SPECIFIC ATTITUDES (verses 25 – 5:2)
Now Paul provides five illustrations of this principle, providing in each a contrast:
(a) put off falsehood, put on truthfulness (vs 25) As Samuel Johnson once stated, urging parents to insist on accuracy: “It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying that there is so much falsehood in the world.“ The reason for the insistence on truth is that “we are members of one body” and falsehood of any kind tears down that atmosphere of trust that is essential if good relationships are to prevail.
(b) put off anger, refuse to give the devil a foothold (vs 26-7) The new life of the Christian is supposed to deal openly with anger, refusing to let it fester, not allowing a day to pass without keeping close accounts not only with God but with our neighbor, our family, our spouse, our children. In that way the devil will not even have a foothold.
(c) put off theft, put on stewardship (vs 28) Theft is not simply a matter of robbery: it is also the inability to use what is our for God’s glory, and to realize that we are stewards. We are called to work both to do something “useful” but also in order to be able to share with those in need. A poor steward is robbing God and her or his neighbor.
(d) put off idle gossip, put on edifying conversation (vs 29-30) Refusal to let “unwholesome talk” come from our mouths is only the negative – positively we are to see, through our conversation to “edify” or “build others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.” And in that way we will not (verse 30) “grieve” the Holy Spirit who lives within us and is the silent Witness to our every word and Who has sealed us “until that day”.
(f) put off bitterness, put on love (vs 31-5:2) And finally, as a summation, Paul deals with the most fundamental problem among Christians – as indeed among all of humankind – “bitterness”. The antidote to our feelings about others and the way they – and life- has treated us is to (verse 32) be kind and considerate, focussing not on those who have wronged us but being “imitators of God” recognizing that we God’s “dearly loved children” secure in His affection, “forgiving each other” because God in Christ has forgiven us – loving us and giving Himself up for us.”
“Imitators of God” – literally mimics of God, called to repeat after Him, copy Him, echo what He says, replicate His actions. As the Sarum Primer of 1514 had children learn:
“God be in my head
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes,
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart,
and in my thinking;
God be at my end,
and at my departing.”
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(11) Sexual Purity
(5:3 – 21)
At a quarter to five this past Thursday afternoon I was visiting in a nursing home as the Pope touched down in Denver. Surrounded by women in their eighties and nineties I heard him say in his heavily accented English:
“In developed countries, a serious moral crisis is already affecting the lives of many young people, leaving them adrift, often without hope, and conditioned to look only for instant gratification. Only by instilling a high moral vision can a society insure that its young people are given the possibility to mature as free and intelligent human beings, endowed with a robust sense of responsibility to the common good, capable of working with others to create a community and a nation with a strong moral fiber.”
The appeal to youth in a room full of the elderly struck me as wildly paradoxical. What could these women, born as the Twentieth Century was still young, understand of the moral pressures that are a part of our society as that century concludes? What do they know of – much less understand – that “moral crisis”, of “instant gratification”? What sort of help could they provide for grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are a part of the moral muddle of our time?
Paul the old man, is advising the Christian communities in west Asia Minor, almost two millennia ago, as to how they are to conduct their lives in a society that could also be characterized as “without hope” and filled with “instant gratification”. I’ve been in Ephesus twice recently and been amazed as tanned and pot-bellied European tourists, with a minimum of clothing, seem to have only one place they want to see. They walk by the statues, the fountains, the restored facade of the Library of Celsus, the amphitheater seating 50,000. But they linger with fascination as their tour guide explains the lurid sign pointing to a First Century local house of prostitution. Ogling, cameras at the ready, it seems not only a reminder of the continuing human fascination with sex but also a recognition that little has changed during the intervening years.
The theme of verses 3 through 21 of Ephesians 5 is timely: moral – and particularly sexual – purity. Paul begins by providing a kind of bridge between what he has said about the difference between Christian and pagan as he provides a sixth distinguishing characteristic of the believer. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” He continues – verse 4 – to say that “obscenity, foolish talk” and “coarse joking” are likewise out for the one who does more than merely professing faith in Christ.
But these standards are so high, we say. “What do you know about sexual purity?”, youth demands of the aging apostle, as they do of presumably aging parents. Do you know anything about raging hormones, testosterone levels, the magnetism of sexual desire? What is it that helps a Christian who is committed to moral purity live an exemplary life in a decadent and sex-obsessed culture? Is there anything more helpful than the naive ‘Just say no’? Paul suggests four – what John Stott calls – “incentives to moral purity”.
I THE RECOGNITION OF THE REALITY OF JUDGMENT (vs 5 – 7)
Paul’s statement in verse 5 is categorical. “No immoral, impure, or greedy person .. has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” It is explained by a parenthesis – a person given over to idolatry. It is not the single thought or lust or even action that is condemned. It is the habitual giving in to immorality, impurity, greed, that is condemned. It is the inability to confess sin, seek a cleansed and forgiven fresh start, that is at issue. There is pardon for all sin: but the one who falls into such must ask for forgiveness and pardon. And it is only a powerful Force other than ourselves that can release us from the yoke of compulsive and escalating lust.
For such a person “given up” (as we saw in verses 17 – 19 of the previous chapter) to fornication or greed, there will be judgment. Judgment is not a word we like to use but we are reminded in verse 6 of the “wrath” of God – His implacable hatred of anything less than His nature. And we are not to be deceived – self-deception is a trap – in spite of what others may say, in spite of the popular culture of our time, there is judgment at the end. “Do not be partners” with such. The original means that we are not to participate with them.
Judgment then is a powerful – but in our time, neglected – incentive for holy living. We are to recognize that evil brings its own punishment. The first reason for moral purity is negative. The next is positive.
II THE RECOGNITION OF THE DIFFERENCE CHRIST HAS MADE (vs 8 – 14)
Paul’s next reason for holy living is not future but past: Christ has made a difference. Once you were in darkness, but now you are in the light. To live with purity is to live being true to one’s identity. We are people – I am a person – of the light. And the fruit (verse 9) of light is a new nature, characterize by “all that is good and right and true”.
We are now given a new set of desires: the Christians concern is “what is pleasing to the Lord”. Our lives are open to the light. We are transparent. We do not have secrets, skeletons in the closet. No reporter can dig into our past and ruin our reputation. We are glad to be exposed, for there is nothing that we are afraid of revealing. Jesus Christ has made our lives an “open book”. There is no hidden microphone which can reveal secrets nor a microphone we think is switched off which blares out our inconsistencies.
So our prayer is simply this:
“I want to walk like a child of the light
The light of my life is Jesus.
In Him there is no darkness at all.
The light of my life is Jesus.”
III THE RECOGNITION OF TRUE WISDOM (vs 15 – 17)
Paul then adduces a third reason for moral living. Christians are wise. We are called to “look carefully … how (we) walk”. We are to take great care as we conduct our lives. And particularly this has reference to our use of time, “making the most of (our) time” – weakly translated in the NIV “making the most of every opportunity”.
This summer I spent a day in the Edinburgh City Library reading through a four year diary of my wife’s grandfather’s grandfather. From the years 1842 – 1846 Charles Cowan had recorded week every hour he had spent and on what activity. You may call him compulsive, but his business, church, family and social life was all spelled out. No wonder that he was able to be instrumental in the founding of the Free Church of Scotland, achieve great business success, serve as an active elder in his local congregation and raise nine children. He was one who “made the most of .. time”.
For time is a resource we all share: but the commodity is soon exhausted and we look back over a life either spent in the pursuit of personal pleasure or the greater good of God and neighbor. An incentive to righteous living is the simple quatrain:
“Only one life,
‘Twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ,
IV THE RECOGNITION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’S INFILLING (vs 18-21)
Paul has said that these Christians are “sealed with the Holy Spirit” (1:13) and that they must never grieve that Spirit (4:30). Now we tells them – 4:19 – that they are called to holiness because they are to go on continuously being filled with the Holy Spirit.
And when we are filled with the Holy Spirit there are four characteristics:
(1) speaking to one another – in stead of the “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking” of verse 4 there should be conversation that is edifying and uplifting — “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”.
(2) singing to one another – making music in our hearts. Music has the power to redirect our emotions and channel our energies
(3) thanking one another – gratitude is an antidote to restless desire and lust
(4) submitting to one another – establishing accountability within the body and accepting reproof or admonition when we have lost the way. Impurity is always self-gratification. Living a life open to others, and in their service, frees us from the introspective fulfilling of personal desire.
No one exemplified this struggle to be moral in an immoral society better than Augustine. Do you recall his prayer – as he describes it in his Confessions – “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” And then he adds candidly “For I was afraid that You would hear my prayer too soon, and too soon would heal me from the disease of lust which I wanted satisfied rather than extinguished.“ And then one day he heard that voice: “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” “Take and read, take and read.” And his eye fell on Romans 13:13: “Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality or debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy, but, rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” He recalls his reaction: “I had no wish to read further, and no need. For in that instant, with the very ending of the sentence, it was as though a light of utter confidence shone in all my heart, and all the darkness of uncertainty vanished away.“
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(12) Wedded Bliss
(5:21 – 33)
One of my favorite comments about marriage is the Pfeiffer cartoon that appeared about seven years ago. A woman is in bed, thinking about men. “Men are selfish,” she reflects. “Thoughtless. Self-righteous. Self-=pitying. Insensitive, Overbearing. And hate to talk to their wives … unless it’s a monologue.: She continues: “And after they’ve been married a few years, men never say, ‘I love you.'” Then suddenly, in the final panel, you see that there’s a man there as well. “Hey, I’m here, ain’t I?” he yells as the woman gnashes her teeth with a look of quiet desperation.
Mary Hunt in her Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship has stated that “Economic, political, psychological, and other differences between the genders result in the fact that women find it difficult to be friends with men and vice versa”. Or as Harry Burns says in the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally as he is driving Sally from Chicago to New York “Men and women can’t be friends – because the sex part always gets in the way.”
Paul has just finished speaking about sexual purity. He’s been direct about the need for chastity, continence and abstinence outside the marriage relationship. He is now to give one of the most radical statements about Christian marriage to be found in the New Testament.
Nowhere is the Christian counter-culture more profoundly at odds with its First Century culture than in the area of marriage. Rome had vested women with property and inheritance rights, and had given them – at least in theory – a position better than that of Greece. There women had been chattels, without any identity or value of their own, usually pawns for political, economic or social advancement. However, “Most women were still considered to be very much inferior to and remained under the dominance of their husbands.“ And First Century society was characterized by “a general moral decline … marked by the growing prevalence of divorce and the disintegration of family life.“
Today we face a similar situation. “Marriage has been robbed of its meaning … marriage is in a mess,” notes Christian feminist Elaine Storkey. In spite of all efforts to the contrary the wife “is vulnerable and economically defensive; her identity .. often embedded in her domestic roles.“ And the answer to this, our feminist and humanist friends tell us, is that the woman, the wife, find fulfillment outside of marriage. But – Storkey notes – its is exactly the quest for self-fulfillment, self-achievement, self-growth and self-service that has led men to become the bullies that they often are. For women to go that same route “can only make the situation worse”. “A Christian … recognizes the hollowness of contemporary forms or marriage (but) would not rush to champion these against more trothful and committed relationships where no wedding has taken place … but for a Christian … their alternatives are not acceptable”.
It is in this context that we need to discover the alternative offered here in Ephesians 5:21 – 33.
I. THE CONTEXT OF MARRIAGE: SUBMISSION WITHIN COMMUNITY (vs 21 – 25)
“Wives, submit to your husbands.” Our hackles are raised: today when I ask a prospective bride as we discuss the wedding ceremony: “Do you want to ‘obey’ your husband?” they look at me with utter consternation, totally unaware that in an earlier age women promised to obey their husbands! “Submission” – as I stated in a sermon July 29, 1990, on I Peter 2:11 – 3:7 – “is the revolutionary new principle of conducting inter-personal relationships that Christianity introduced.” And I defined it as “mutual respect between people who are joined together with interconnecting responsibilities”. It never implies inferiority, dominance, nor is it arbitrary: one could call it “ordered authority”. It is exemplified in the attitude of Jesus Christ, who was submissive even to the cross. Wives are to submit to husbands “in the Lord”.
Note that verses 21 and 22 of Ephesians 5 go together: “submission to one another … wives submit to your husbands”. We take the one without the other at our peril. There is a mutuality of commitment – commitment always within the community, so that our interconnectedness is recognized. Marriage for the Christian is never a “haven from the world“, nor is it a matter of personal indulgence. A Christian marriage is always open: inclusive of the rest of the community, particularly those who are single, those who are struggling, those who need the security and the modeling of a loving and caring relationship where they have experienced only pain and rejection previously.
If the relationship between husband and wife is similar to that between Christ and the body of which He is head, then it follows that the church is of critical importance to a marriage that is worthy of being called “Christian”. Indeed the quality of marriage, as a primary relationship within the body, determines the quality of many other relationships within the church. That is why husbands and wives must together be committed together to whatever task the one or the other undertakes in the church. The church is called to protect marriages, to help to take pro-active responses when marriages are threatened, and to defend its witness when the “marriage bed is not held in honor“.
II. THE COMMITMENT OF MARRIAGE: LOVE WITHOUT LIMIT (vs 26 – 33)
Isn’t it interesting that the bulk of Paul’s teaching on marriage is directed to the husband. He proceeds in verse 26 and for the rest of the chapter to lecture husbands on their obligations: if the submission of wives is related to the Lord and His attitude, then the love he commends to their spouse is to have two qualities:
(a) love your wife as you care for your own body: as we daily care for our bodies so we should care for the one who is “one flesh” with us. As we are concerned for its health and purity so we should be vigilant for the health and purity of our marriages. As we cleanse our bodies, so we are reminded of the cleansing activity of Christ as He desires His Bride be “without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish” (verse 27)
(b) love your wife as Christ loved the church: an agape love, giving as Jesus gave Himself at Calvary. The husband is to exemplify in his love for his partner that of Christ on the cross: “who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life.“
The following wedding prayer was written by Temple Gairdner, the great missionary to Egypt before his wedding:
“That I may come near to her
Draw me nearer to You than to her.
That I may know her
Make me to know you more than her.
That I may love her
With the love of a perfectly whole heart,
Cause me to love You more than her and most of all.“
Which is the practical expression of
“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.”
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(13) Ties That Bind
(6:1 – 9)
It was a marriage invitation like none other. Martin Luther asks his friend Leonard Kopp to attend the nuptials, scheduled for June 27, 1525: “I am to be married on Thursday. My lord Katie and I invite you to send a barrel of the best Torgau beer, and if it is not good you will have to drink it all yourself.”
At ten on the morning of his wedding Luther led Katherine through the streets of Wittenberg to the parish church and there at the door the religious ceremony was observed. Then a banquet in the cloister and a dance at the town hall. In the evening another banquet, and by eleven all the guests “took their departure on pain of being sent home by the magistrates.“
But then on their wedding night there was a knock at the door. It was Andreas Carlstadt, fleeing the Peasant’s Revolt. Could he be allowed in for the night? There began a long record of hospitality in which, in addition to their six children, the Luther household had as many as twenty-five guests at any one time!
From this household there came Luther’s Table Talk, the longest of his books: 6,596 entries in all, full of pithy sayings that guests had culled from dinner time conversation. Over meals, “Luther ranged from the ineffable majesty of God the Omnipotent to the frogs in the Elbe. Pigs, popes, pregnancies, politics and proverbs jostle one another.“ His sayings are full of pithy wisdom: “Spoil the rod and spoil the child – that is true. But beside the rod keep an apple to give him when he has done well.” To Martin Luther faith was something to talk about in the home, at the table, while eating.
No wonder Martin Luther, in his children’s Catechism, was the one who first called these instructions for the conduct of household relations at the end of Paul’s letters Haustafeln – literally “tables of household duties”. They are simple, domestic and very practical. In Ephesians they fall under the general rubric of 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” They deal with relationships: husband and wife in 5:22-33 and now, 6:1-4, children and parents, and, 6:5-9, masters and children.
This advice, scholars have discovered, was typical of the Jews with their halakah and even Gentile – and particularly Stoic – literature. But for Christians such regulations are unique: they represent what John Stott calls “the Christian counter culture”. We’ve noted how women are treated in a way that is radically different from the society around them. We will observe now that two other radically marginalized and oppressed groups are also raised to dignity and value: children and slaves.
I. CHILDREN-PARENTS (vs 1 – 4)
A father’s attitude toward his children is summarized by a Roman soldier stationed in Alexandria, Egypt, writing to his pregnant wife: “If – good luck to you! – you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out!“ A Roman father had absolute control over his family. He could sell them into slavery, make them work in the fields, even in chains; ne could even inflict the death penalty on his child. And, further, “the power of the Roman father extended over the child’s whole life, so long as the father lived. A Roman son never came of age.“ This was the patria potestas, the father’s power.
Now Paul shows a different way to conduct parent-child relationships. And, in keeping with the principle of submission, he begins with
(1) The duty of children (vs 1-3)
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Paul’s instruction to children is not only premised on their Christian obligation (“in the Lord”) but the general recognition that all humankind recognizes a bond of loyalty to parents on the part of children. Indeed, we are not surprised when elsewhere he speaks of a mark of a decadent society as being characterized by those who are “disobedient to parents“.
The reason for this is adduced from the fifth commandment – “Honor your father and mother”, which he speaks of as the first of the Ten “with a promise“. That promise is long life and prosperity: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”.
Now this raises two very practical questions: Is the command unconditional? And to whom is it addressed?
Is the command unconditional? Are children always to obey their parents in everything? That’s what the parallel verse in Colossians (3:20) says.
I think that “in the Lord” gives a caveat: for those who have non-Christian parents, actively opposed to their faith and way of life, some commands must be disobeyed. What of proscribing church attendance? Baptism? What of insisting on dishonesty, immorality, or hypocrisy (“keeping up family appearances”)? These are all issues that depend on the degree of independence one has assumed. It also begs the second question:
To whom is it addressed? Does this refer only to children who have yet to reach the age of majority? As long as they are under the same roof? Until they are financially independent? As Stott notes “Even after we have attained our majority .. and are no longer under the authority of our parents, and are therefore no longer under obligation to ‘obey’ them, we still must continue to ‘honour’ them.“
Honoring parents as adults is a costly business. We children are also parents: caught in the squeeze between young adults sons and daughters gaining independence and parents losing theirs. The obligations to aging parents are increasingly a serious moral (and practical) concern as the age span lengthens and the quantity of life (and not necessarily its quality) increases.
(2) The duty of fathers (vs 4)
But verse 4 points out that fathers have a corresponding responsibility: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” “Do not goad your children into resentment.” (NEB)
A whole theology of Christian family life and church education has been built on this verse. You will not that it is both negative (“don’t exasperate your children”) and positive (“bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”).
Fathers: do you ever get “exasperated” with your children? As Martyn Lloyd Jones asks from this text: “When you are discipling a child, you should have first controlled yourself … What right have you to say to your child that he needs discipline when you obviously need it yourself? Self-control, the control of temper, is an essential prerequisite in the control of others.“
Instead, we are to bring children up in a disciple that is “the Lord’s”. As parents we sit under the discipline of our heavenly Parent. We are learning in the school of Christ. So the lessons we have been taught are to be passed on to our children; the disciplines which we submit ourselves to – prayer and Bible-reading particularly – are to be passed on to our children. Most Christian education in the home is caught not taught.
II. SLAVES-MASTERS (vs 5 – 9)
(1) The duty of slaves (5-8)
Paul then goes on to speak of another marginalized group: slaves. Over half the population of the Roman Empire were slaves – some 60 million in all. They included all levels of society – the intelligentsia, the manual laborer. “They were only chattels without rights, whom their master could treat virtually as he pleased.“
In the light of this arbitrary authority Paul asks slaves to remember that their ultimate Employer is Christ. They are not to be divided in their loyalty as they work but to realize that they are serving their Lord Who is Jesus in their work. They are to render service “as to the Lord”, knowing that it is to Him alone that they are accountable.
(2) The duty of masters (9)
are discussed in three ways:
(a) treat them as you would be treated yourself
(b) forebear threatening – the dehumanizing effect of control based on coercion
(c) remember Christ is there in your relationship, master of both employer and employee, impartial as an Arbitrator, the one to Whom we are ultimately accountable.
There was a man, whose story I have heard often, who found himself, at the age of 35, at a crossroads. His marriage was in a shambles, thanks to excessive drinking. He had lost his appetite for work and his fellow-employees found him irritable, cross, and unreasonable. As a supervisor he was a disaster.
A training course in his business sent him south for several months. He was invited to a service where an invitation was given. He went through what he would later admit to his wife’s consternation was a “born again” experience. He returned home to the skepticism of his family: would it last – in Boston of all places? Was it “real”?
Recently his wife spoke to me: “It’s the tenth anniversary!” I found myself wracking my brain: “Tenth anniversary of what?” I thought. “It was ten years ago today”, she went on to explain, “that – her husband’s name – had that time in the south.” “It’s lasted. He’s a different father, a different husband, and a different man on the job than he was before he had that experience with Jesus Christ ten years ago.”
My friend – “It is no secret what God can do.”
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right … Fathers … bring (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord … Slaves,. obey your earthly masters … just as your would obey Christ … and masters, treat your slaves in the same away …. since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven … .
AMAZING GRACE (Ephesians):
(14) Christian Warfare
(6:10 – 24)
As we’ve been working our way through Ephesians in these last months we have seen an idyllic world of “peaceful homes and healthful days”. Marriages that exist in the harmony of a God-directed order, children and fathers working together for the good of the family, workers who are not shirkers.
Suddenly, verses 10 and 11 of chapter 6, we have a jarring note: “Finally … take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. It’s what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls “a stirring call to battle … Do you not hear the bugle, and the trumpet?“ Some manuscripts are even stronger: “Henceforward”, “From this time on”. It reinforces the idea that the time between the first and second comings of Christ is a time of conflict.
One would expect that the idea of conflict would particularly resonate with us at the end of the Twentieth Century. Christians are called everywhere to resist the trivialization of religious faith. That’s the word Stephen Carter, Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale, uses to describe the marginalization of belief by the contemporary American religious establishment. It’s in a book titled The Culture of Disbelief that President Clinton read on his holidays and this past Monday at a prayer breakfast in Washington urged us all to read. Religion is a “mystical irrationality”, harmless, inoffensive. But never make it a basis for public policy.
The idea of spiritual warfare has been resisted by the modern American liberal establishment that has dominated the mainline for half a century (or more). I cannot begin to trace the thinking that led to an understanding of the “principalities and powers” of verse 12 to be “structural” rather than “personal” evil. The emphasis on “peace-making” has contributed to this whole attitude and faced with the horrors of nuclear warfare one has some sympathy with the concern, though not with the one-sidedness of the argument.
Other well-meaning Christians have had the idea that we must eliminate all thought of war-fare as negative and attempt to be “positive” in our thinking. Some have adopted a passive view of the Christian faith such as Watchman Nee in his book on Ephesians called Sit Walk Stand – we sit with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6); we walk with Christ (4:1, KJV) as live our faith – we stand on the ground Christ has already won. Our battle, Nee tells us, is defensive not offensive. There is little for us to do as Christians but “let go and let God”. That is quietism of the most destructive kind which saps the strength against an enemy of the most devious and corrupting vitality. It leads to naivete, withdrawal, neglect and eventually defeat.
No! Paul summons us at the end of Ephesians to spiritual warfare. But unlike some Christians who are today fixated by the idea of conflict, he keeps it in proportion, avoiding the twin dangers of complacency and alarmism, and providing a perspective of realism about whom we are to fight and the resources we have for the battle.
I. WHOM WE ARE TO FIGHT (vs 10 – 13)
It’s three centuries and a half since William Gurnall published his vast treatise on these verses: The Christian in Complete Armour: A Treatise of the Saint’s War Against the Devil. The sub-title, in Puritan style, says it all: “Wherein a discovery is made of that grand enemy of God and his people – in his policies, power, seat of his empire, wickedness and chief design he hath against the saints – a magazine opened from whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armour, and taught the use of his weapon, together with the happy issue of the whole war.”
In verse 12 we learn that it is not against “flesh and blood” that we struggle, not against human beings, but rather with cosmic powers of evil, the demonic. Paul goes on to tell us three things about the enemy we face:
(1) The enemy is powerful – they are the “spiritual forces … in the heavenly realms”, a term taken from pagan astrology to describe the planets’ control of human destiny
(2) The enemy is evil – “the powers of this dark world”, “forces of evil”, or as Phillips paraphrases it “spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil”.
(3) The enemy is cunning – “the devil’s schemes” or – more familiarly in the KJV “the wiles of the devil”. The devil both bullies and banters. Some times he uses power, other times he employs tricks.
II. WHAT WE FIGHT WITH (vs 14 – 17)
So we urged – four times in these verses – to stand: “Take your stand … out on the full armor .. so that .. you may be able to stand … and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand therefore …”. Wobbly knees and faint hearts do not have any place in the kingdom of God.
With what then do we stand against the foe? You recall David fighting against Goliath: “I come in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the army of Israel whom you have defied.“ We take the full armor of God (verse 14), the panoply of a completely decked-out soldier which – according to verses 14 to 17 – consist of six main pieces:
(a) the belt – a part of the undergarment – which held a soldier’s uniform together and meant he was unimpeded for battle. And for the believer this is “truth”, integrity, honesty.
(b) the breastplate of righteousness – protection for the body which comes from the knowledge of our “righteousness” or “justification”, that we stand in a relationship of confidence and openness before God
(c) feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace – the ‘half-boot’ of the Roman soldier, with toes free but with studded soles, tied to the ankles and shins. The gospel of peace gives us a firm footing both as we look toward God and we face our fellow humans.
(d) shield of faith – as an indispensable necessity in our armory because only in this way can we “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”. What are they? The accusations of the evil one, surely, which we defend by the assurance of our faith as we defend ourselves by repeating the promises of God
(e) the helmet of salvation – which Paul has earlier stated is “the hope of salvation” and which – to quote Charles Hodge – is “that which adorns and protects the Christian, which enables him (or her) to hold up his head with confidence and joy … the fact that he is saved.“
(f) the sword of the Spirit – those words of defence and witness that Jesus said would be given His disciples by the Holy Spirit when they most needed them in their time of trial, particularly words of Scripture which spring to our remembrance when we are about to be bested by the foe.
So much for the Christian’s armor. What then of the outcome of the conflict? What reassurance do we have of the final triumph?
III. WHY (AND HOW) WE WILL WIN (vs 18 – 24)
Two remaining thoughts and a parting benediction conclude the letter we call “Ephesians”. In the fight to the finish Paul says we can be confident of the outcome because we have two great resources we all share in common:
(a) Prayer (vs 18 – 20)
He uses four great comprehensives in verse 18 as he speaks of prayer: we are to pray on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests, always keep on praying, for all the saints.
And then he specifies his present need for prayer in verses 19 and 20. As “an ambassador in chains” he needs prayer on his behalf. Prayer for fearlessness – the word comes twice in the two verses, that words would be given to him as he takes the sword of the Spirit.
(b) Community (vs 21 – 24)
The other great assurance that we are on the winning side is the power of what we share as we live in community: Tychicus is “a dear brother and faithful servant” – he will give them the news and will do what he has done for Paul, provide encouragement.
We need that encouragement in the battle of faith. Yes, we have armor protecting us, yes we have prayer to reassure us, but our strength is in community: other parents who are struggling with raising their children in a pagan culture; other seniors who are coping with illness, expenses, neglect; other students in high school or college who are trying to say “No” but find the pressures overwhelming at times; others who are hemmed in by the forces of darkness and materialism and tempted to make compromises as the years progress and they wonder if taking a stand for Jesus is really worth it after all.
“Grace” and “peace” – “charis” and “shalom”, Jew and Gentile bond and free. “Love with faith” and finally – a reminder that we are in this Christian warfare to the finish – loving Jesus must be “with an undying love”.
So the letter ends where it began: with grace. Grace has been the keynot of the letterr. Grace, amazing, free and sovereign. Grace that makes the heart sing. Or, as John MacKay stated it: “What we read (in Ephesians) is truth that sings, doctrine set to music. “
And that will be the song we will sing in eternity:
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.“
He chose us in him … to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely givenb us in the One he loves.
Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
1. Article 17, Articles of Faith.
2. Cf John Stott’s God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1979; page 37.
3. Number 402 in The Hymnbook, written anonymously in 1880 and revised in The Pilgrim Hymnal, 1904.
4. Bruce, F. F.; The Epistle to the Ephesians, A Verse-by-verse Exposition; London (Pickering and Inglis), 1961; page 28.
7. Calvin, John; Sermons on The Epistle to the Ephesians; London (Banner of Truth Trust), 1973; page 21.
8. William Dyrness in How America Hears The Gospel; Grand Rapids, MI (Wm. Eerdman’s Pub. Co.), 1989; page 96.
9. In his After Virtue.
10. Dyrness; Op. cit.; page 100.
12. Person and Work of Christ, 1950 Ed., page 325.
13. Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Ephesians; page 82.
14. Morris, Leon; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross; Grand Rapids, MI (Wm. B. Eerdmans), 1955; page 22.
16. Lloyd-Jones, J. M.; God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1 to 23; Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Book House), 1979; pages 206 – 7.
18. Quoted in his God’s Order; New York (Macmillan Co.), 1953; page 8.
19. Ibid.; pages 9 – 10.
21. Religion In America: Princeton Religion Research Center, 1992-1993 25th Anniversary Edition; Princeton, NJ (The Princeton Religion Research Center), 1993; page 6.
23. Ibid.; page 8.
24. Phillips paraphrase of verse 16.
25. Knowing God; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1973, pages 34 – 36.
28. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians; London (James Clark and Co. Ltd.), Second Edition; page 40.
29. I have taken the third of three possible translations, cf John Stott’s God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians for the possible alternatives, pages 61 – 66.
30. Barth, Markus; Anchor Bible Commentary:Ephesians; New York (Doubleday), 1974; vol. 1, page 208.
31. Op. cit.; page 8.
32. Quoted by James Boice in his Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI (Zondervan), 1988; pages 72-3. Originally in Ironside’s In the Heavenlies; pages 96-8.
33. Handley Carr Glyn Moule in his Ephesian Studies; London (Hodder and Stoughton), 1902; page 78.
34. Hence John Stott, God’s New Society, page 71.
35. Stott; Op. cit.; page 74.
37. James Montgomery Boice; Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary; pages 57-8.
38. How God Saves Men; Philadelphia, PA (The Bible Study Hour, 1955), pages 7 – 9; quoted by James Boice in Op. cit., pages 62-3.
39. Lloyd-Jones; Op. cit.; page 60.
40. Wars of the Jews; V.5.2.
41. Cf Trillium’s comment: “After I visited Yale in 1970, I was trying to explain to a classmate how the place had changed, and he said, ‘What’s their word of weenie?’ That was the point, I told him: they were so tolerant that they didn’t have w word of weenie. He mulled that over for a few moments. ‘In that case,’ he finally said, they’re all weenies.'” (Remembering Denny; New York, NY (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), 1993; page 64.
42. In God’s Way of Reconciliation; Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Book House); pages 224-5.
43. God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians; page 102.
45. Colquhoun, Frank; Hymns That Live; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1980; page 104.
46. Cited by Boice; Op. cit.; page 102.
47. As in Stott; Op. cit.; pages 139-140.
48. No Place For Truth; Grand Rapids, MI (Wm. Eerdmanns), 1993; page 108.
49. The Princeton Seminary Bulletin; vol. xiv, no. 1; New Series 1993; page 62.
50. Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn; Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1 to 16; Grand Rapids, MI Bake Book House), 1981; page 24.
53. See Boice’s explanation of the textual problem in his Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI (Zondervan); page 121; also Stott; Op. cit.; page 157.
54. Quoted in his Furnace of Renewal; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1981; page 81.
55. Stott; Op. cit.; page 164.
56. Mark 10:45.
57. Your Confirmation, page 2.
59. “Father, I know that all my life” by Anna L. Waring (1820 – 1910).
60. God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians in The Bible Speaks Today series; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1979; pages 177 -8.
61. Boice, Op. cit., page 148 who is turn is quoted Barclay, page 183.
62. Stott; Op. cit.; page 196.
63. Augustine; Confessions, Book Eight, VII, second paragraph (F. J. Sheed, trans.), page 139.
64. Idem; Book Eight, XII, paragraph 2 (page 146).
65. As quoted in First Things (June-July, 1993), page 9.
66. Evans, Mary J.; Women In The Bible; Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press), 1983, page 40.
67. Idem. Quoting D. S. Bailey; The Man-Woman Relation in Christian Thought, page 4.
68. What’s Right With Feminism; Grand Rapids, MI (Wm. Eerdman’s), 1985; pages 169-170.
69. Ibid, page 170.
70. “Christians As Citizens, Employees, and Spouses”, #9024, from the series Hope For Today (I Peter); page 3.
71. Vide Elaine Storkey’s comments in Op. cit., page 170.
72. Hebrews 13:4.
73. Mark 10:45.
74. Quoted in Miriam Adeney’s A Time For Risking: Priorities For Women; Portland, OR (Multnomah Press), 1987; page 136; from Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p. 68.
75. Bainton, Roland H.; Here I Stand; New York (Abingdon), 1950; page 290.
76. Ibid., page 295.
77. Quoted by William Barclay in The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians; Edinburgh (St. Andrew’s Press), 1954; page 209.
78. Quoting again from Barclay, Ibid., page 208.
79. II Timothy 3:1-2.
80. This has caused no end of controversy for the Second has a promise attached when it speaks of God “showing love to thousands”. “First here can either mean first in priority, or the mark of the Second can be simply a characteristic of God and the Fifth containing a promise like none of the others. Bruce adds in his commentary that Paul is thinking “not only of the decalogue but of the whole body of Pentateuchal legislation which is introduced by the decalogue.” (Page 121) See Stott’s treatment in Op. cit., pages 240-1.
81. In his commentary, Op. cit., ad loc., (page 243.
82. In his Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home & Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18 – 6:9; Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Book House), 1973; page 279.
83. John Stott (page 251) quoting Salmon; History of the Roman World from 30 BC to AD 138; London (Methuen), 1944; page 72.
84. In his The Christian Warfare: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10 – 13; Grand Rapids, MI (Baker Book House), 1976; pages 16, 22.
85. It began in 1952 with a book by Gordon Rupp entitled Principalities and Powers, continued with G. B. Caird’s book of the same title in 1954 and was advanced by Markus (son of Karl) Barth in a 1959 title and subsequently in his two volume commentary in the Anchor Bible series (1974). A good, short, critique of this position is found in God’s New Society by John Stott, pages 267 – 272. This view was adopted in the 1970’s by leading evangelical pacifists such as John Howard Yoder and Samuel Escobar in their discussion of “structural evil”.
86. I Samuel 17:45.
87. I Thessalonians 5:8.
88. Hodge, Charles; A Commentaryon the Epistle to the Ephesians; Grand Rapids, MI (Eerdman’s), 1954; ad loc.
89. MacKay; Op. cit.; page 33.
90. Verse 4 of “Amazing Grace”.