Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ephesians 5:25-33

25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing [or having cleansed] her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church-- 30for we are members of His body. 31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. 32This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Paul has told wives to submit to their husbands, not all men, not other husbands, not their sons, but their own husbands. But the husband’s authority over the wife is not for tyrannical dictator-style government; rather, it is for loving and self-sacrificial service. Now the remainder of this chapter, with the exception of the last part of v33, which serves as a summary bookend, speaks to the husband’s responsibility to his wife. And reading this potion of the text after the previous portion softens the command to the wife significantly. For no woman would want to submit to someone who doesn’t love the Lord, who fights against Christ daily and shows that disdain for the Lord through persistent attitude and behavior issues in the home. But a woman ought to be excited to submit to a man after God’s own heart, a man who wants nothing less than to please the Lord through the humble service – even unto death – and building up of his spouse.

Thus, in v25, Paul tells the husband to love his wife. Ligon Duncan says, “God calls Christian husbands, all Christian husbands, to a radical, God-originated, gospel-based, grace-empowered, Christ-emulating, self-denying love for our wives; a love in which we are to serve our wives and to care for our wives’ best spiritual and temporal interests.” Love is not a when-you-feel-it-do-it sort of thing; love is a lifelong commitment to lead. Paul then adds that a husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to give himself up for her good; and that’s a challenge that few men, if any, have ever lived up to. It’s something we cannot do apart from God’s grace, and it’s something that we should only hope to make progress in as our lives with our spouses continue until death. We need to think of how Christ loved the Church and love our wives that way; we need to make His atoning sacrifice for the Church the foundation for loving our wives; we need to focus on His purpose in loving the Church – sanctification (an inward reality with outward signs) – and make that our purpose for loving our wives; and we need to consider the glory that becomes of the Church through the work of Christ and strive to present our wives holy before God as Christ does the Church. But what does it look like to exhibit the love of Christ for His Church to our wives? Perhaps we can consider seven adjectives: unmerited, intense, unending, unselfish, purposeful, manifested, and sacrificial.

First, Christ’s love for His Church is unmerited, and a husband’s love for his wife should be as well. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Our wives may not always feel or show love to us, but that’s no excuse for us not to show them love. We may not feel love for our wives at times, but we love her with a committed love that comes not from us but from God. Even when she doesn’t fulfill her part of the marriage covenant, “husbands love your wives.” Second, Christ’s love for His Church is intense. In Luke 22:15, Jesus says that He coveted eating the Passover with His disciples. We ought to covet a relationship with our wives that is intensely intimate and special. Third, Christ’s love for His Church is unending. John 13:1 reveals that Jesus loved us to the end. And we promised in our wedding vows to love our wives “until death do us part.” We don’t take a break along the way. Fourth, Christ’s love for His Church is unselfish. In Philippians 2:6-7, we see that Christ did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made Himself nothing, emptied Himself by taking on human flesh, and submitted Himself to slavery unto death – all out of love for us. Humility ought to be a revelation of our love for our wives, through our providing first and foremost for her needs. Fifth, Christ’s love for His Church is purposeful. In v26-27 we see what that purpose is – to cleanse us and make us holy. Jude 24 speaks of Christ as able to keep us from falling and to present us before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Are you striving in your marriage to purify your wife for the Lord? Sixth, Christ’s love for His Church is manifested. In John 13-16, we have Jesus’ upper room discourse, in which He shows His disciples the full extent of His love for them in a number of ways. Do we show our wives our love for them? They like to see our love in our speech and communication efforts. Do we use words to convey our love for them? How can we do that progressively better? We show our love for them by protecting them and making sure they feel safe and secure. Seventh, Christ’s love for His Church is sacrificial. In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Husbands are called to lay down their lives for the benefit of their wives, out of unmerited and amazing love for them and for Christ. Lord, make us love our wives like Christ loved the Church, for we cannot desire it out of our sinful nature, nor do it out of our own power.

Paul’s focus in v26-27 is to show that husbands are called to adapt their lives to their wives’ needs, to provide for their spiritual growth and health. Since Christ’s love for the Church is the first foundation and highest motive for a husband’s love for his wife, husbands are to cleanse and make holy their wives, just as Christ cleanses and makes holy His Church. It is a lifelong, progressive transformation. Fathers walk their daughters down the aisle and present them to their fianc├ęs to begin the wedding ceremony. Consider that husbands, by the way they love their wives, walk their wives down the aisle and present them to Jesus Christ. Will He say, “A pure and spotless bride! Well done good and faithful servant!”?

Paul reveals a second foundation, an additional motive for a husband’s love for his wife in v28-29. Husband are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and also as they love their own bodies; Paul knows that men are selfish by nature and take care of themselves by instinct. He’s basically saying that to take care of your wife is to take care of yourself, because husband and wife are one flesh. But it’s not that weak an argument; the argument Paul gives here is radical, pointing to the profound mystery of the union of Christ with His body. The statement reminds us of Adam and Eve, with Eve actually being made from Adam’s rib. The marriage union actually makes husbands and wives one flesh. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is saying as mysterious a thing as it is that God can say that in marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, it is an even deeper mystery that when you are saved by grace that you are united to Christ. And your marriage…is a prime witness, Christian, to the reality of your union with Christ.” V28-32 teach us that Christ has not only bonded husbands to wives in the way that a person is united with their own body (intimately and permanently), but He has also bonded Himself to believers in this way. Consider when Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was persecuting Christians, not Jesus Himself, right? Wrong.

In the end, marriage is the most important and most difficult place to live out the vertical Christian life (the relationship between man and God, as opposed to the horizontal life between man and woman). There’s no better place to learn grace and humility in service out of love than in marriage. V33 sums up Ephesians 5:22-32 as simply as possible: Husbands must love their wives, and wives must respect their husbands. Ligon Duncan explains, “Consequently, in light of this great mystery of union with Christ, which is witnessed to especially in a Christian marriage, since we share in that union, every Christian husband, every Christian wife, is a part of the body of Christ. Since we share in that union, and since we are to image that union, every Christian husband and Christian wife is to be a living, breathing, walking, talking witness to that union which Christ has with the church. Therefore, Christian husbands must love their wives, and Christian wives must respect their husbands.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ephesians 5:22-24

22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

If you look at v22 and then v33, you see that Paul places this command for wives to submit to / respect their husbands as bookends over this section of Scripture. Paul doesn’t come to this command for wives to submit to their husbands lightly, but he wants to ensure that we see its practical importance. He works hard to show that maintaining proper relationship roles for mutual benefit is the broader scope here. Just as reverence for Christ serves as our motive to submission in general, now in v22-33, Paul reveals that Jesus’ love for the Church is to define the Christian’s love for one another, especially that of a husband and wife. The word “submit” means simply to receive a spouse’s loving care and service. This definition helps us see how the Church submits to Christ; otherwise, this submission might seem unnatural, since Jesus’ disciples were His friends. In v23, we see that Christ’s specific role as Savior models the husband’s responsibility to his wife. He indwells the Church, governing both her and the universe, and He serves as the source of the body’s health and growth to maturity (Ephesians 4:14-16). The Christian wife has been set free to serve Christ by submitting to her husband. And Paul is simply saying that there is no possibility of a Christian woman manifesting her true embrace of the lordship of Christ without showing respect for her husband in the context of the home.

So the submission command means that Christian wives are to give appropriate respect to their husbands. They’re to acknowledge and follow and encourage and respect their husband’s efforts at spiritual leadership in the home; genders are complementary in the Christian worldview. A husband’s leadership is not automatic but should be an initiative to which the wife should respond (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13-14). Christ restores to the marriage relationship what was lost from creation’s order in the fall (intimate union). Furthermore, both husband and wife acknowledge that God has established a divine order in the Christian home, and that order is for the good both husband and wife. The wife must not resist or resent that divinely established order, but she must acknowledge and embrace it. God has given husbands a unique spiritual responsibility for which they are accountable to God and with which they must exercise spiritual leadership for the well being of their wives and families in the home. Wives, through submission and respect, need to help husbands fulfill that responsibility; and they need to make a commitment to sacrificial, self-giving, long-suffering loyalty to their husband, keeping in mind that he is a sinner.

John Piper and Wayne Grudem say this: “Submission refers to a wife’s divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership, and help carry it through according to her gifts. It is not an absolute surrender of her will; rather, we speak of her disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and her inclination to follow his leadership. Christ is her absolute authority, not the husband. She submits out of reverence for Christ, as Paul said in Ephesians 5:21. The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. For instance, she should never follow her husband into sin; nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband, she can still have a spirit of submission, a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will, and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him can again produce harmony in the marriage.”

So the wife – see Proverbs 31 – should focus on making the home a safe and cozy place for her family for the glory of God. She ought to strive for trustworthiness and dependability. She must work hard to keep a good attitude, cultivate inner beauty, and discuss things in an open, honest, and loving way. The wife should be content, satisfied with her position, with her possessions, with her task, and with what her husband provides. She ought to be patient, forbearing, forgiving, and grateful in all things. And she ought to be industrious for the sake of her husband and household, building loyalty for her husband in her children. The submissive wife offers suggestions and advice and counsel, and even correction to her husband, but she does it in a loving and obedient way that shows respect.

Before moving on, we need to mention, in this world of political correctness, some things that the concept of Biblical submission does not include. First, submission does not mean that the husband takes the place of Christ. Christ has ultimate authority, but the husband is subject to other authorities. Second, submission does not mean that wives must give up their opinions and independent thoughts. Third, submission does not mean that wives must do whatever their husbands demand no questions asked. Submission does not mean, fourthly, that wives should not try to influence their husbands and make suggestions for the direction of the family. Fifth, the idea of submission does not mean that women are somehow intellectually inferior to men. Sixth, submission does not include cowering in fear of the husband’s response to a thought, word, or deed. And all of these examples of what submission is not reveal that the husband is to be someone who loves and cares for his wife, as the next section begins.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ephesians 5:21

21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Remember v21, which we looked at last time, serves as a transitional verse. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” concludes Paul’s comments on the effects of being filled with the Spirit (v19-21) and opens his letter to the topic of submission in the various relationships people encounter in life (v22-6:9). The Spirit-filled life is about serving, not being served. And the result is mutual edification. It is more blessed to give than to receive. A consequence of being filled with the Spirit is servanthood, and our motive for obeying this command is fear of or reverence for Christ. No one humbled himself or served like Him, yet we ought to strive for that lifestyle (Philippians 2:4-11). Take note that the word “submit” means simply to receive loving care and service from another.

Calvin remarked: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn…[and out of reverence for Christ], that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.” And even the standard teaching of ethics at the time, as far back as Aristotle, taught male headship, but not for the sake of selfless service and nurturing care. Christian living is counter-cultural, upholding the value of women, children, and slaves, as well as men.

I find it interesting that this crucial lifestyle application of the Christian faith – mutual service – can only be obeyed in the context of “worldly” relationships. So much for the hermit, monk, nun, and even spiritual person who denounces churchgoing, removing themselves from society or from the local congregation for the sake of “individualism” or focused holy living. Ligon Duncan says, “Though God wants us to be holy individually, it is impossible for us to express the holiness that God wants us to have individualistically. It must be expressed in the context of relationships. It must be expressed in the context of the communion of the saints. It must be expressed in the context of the body, the corpus, and so it is corporate.”

Submission is radical, because it takes the focus of self and puts in on others. But at the same time, we must be discerning about selfless service, because if we get all gung-ho about sacrificial selflessness and serving the community or the world, we might forsake our families or our jobs or even, strangely enough, ourselves. As we’ll read in this section, “he who loves his wife loves himself” and “no one ever hated his own body.” So we have to balance radical submission with time management. Ligon Duncan helps here: “Mutual subjection requires that you do some thinking about what God’s gifting is to you, and what your present obligations are. You’ve got to prayerfully approach how best you can serve others, but it’s not about other people getting to run your life. It means, in fact, that there are some times that we have to say no.”

Ephesians 5:18-21

18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul gives one final motivation for right living here: the indwelling and overflowing Holy Spirit. Once again, says Ligon Duncan, “Paul’s argument is very clear. You’re filled with the Holy Spirit, Christian; every one of you is filled with the Holy Spirit. You ought to seek to go on being filled by the Holy Spirit, and if you are being filled by the Holy Spirit, you’re going to want to pursue holiness. You’re going to be on a quest for godliness. And so the Apostle Paul points us today to the Holy Spirit as the ultimate incentive, and indeed, dynamic, of living the Christian life.”

Paul begins this final motivation to right living with a negative command. Don’t get drunk. And certainly don’t let your life be characterized by drunkenness. V18 prohibits drunkenness, but Paul may have more in mind here. The cult of Dionysus (Bacchus), the god of wine, practiced orgiastic worship, in which prophecy and frenzied dancing brought on by drunkenness was attributed to the deity indwelling his worshipers. Paul considered this to be “debauchery,” which is translated many ways, and it intends the suggestion that you are mastered by something negative. Now some might say that getting drunk helps them relax. Here are six things that getting drunk really does: (1) it helps you fit in with the world (something Paul says not to do); (2) it helps you cope with insecurity (our security is found in Christ); (3) it can be a potentially dangerous habit (alcohol is a depressant); (4) it sets a bad example (others who might not be inclined to drunkenness follow the drunkard’s lead, because they respect that person so much when sober); (5) it breaks the will, causing a yielding to peer pressure (as opposed to building up to strengthen the will to avoid peer pressure); (6) it oftentimes violates of the law (and Christians ought to obey the civil government).

On one hand, drunkenness makes immodesty and shame practically unavoidable; on the other hand, being filled, which alludes to deep drinking (Romans 14:17), with the Spirit, Paul’s positive command, yields, according to Erasmus, “A pleasant kind of drunkenness, which stimulates you, not to wanton dances or foolish songs, by which the Gentiles render homage to their deities, but to psalms, to hymns, to spiritual songs, by which you rejoice, and sing, and offer praise to the Lord, not with indecent roaring, as is the custom of drunk people, but inwardly in your minds and hearts.” Drinking of the Holy Spirit, being indwelled by the Spirit, is nothing less than the peace of Christ and the word of Christ governing the heart (Colossians 3:15-16; John 14:16,26; 16:12-15; 17:17). And though a person can consume too much alcohol, a person can never overindulge in the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a one-time occurrence; it is a constant replenishing and soaking in like a sponge that will never reach saturation, because, as Bob Russell quipped, “We’re leaky vessels.” In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul’s prayer for his audience was that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them with power in their inner being so that Jesus would dwell in their hearts through faith, and so that they would be filled up to all the fullness of God. Being filled by the Spirit is a work by which He matures us, grows us in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Paul says it ought to be our desire, our unquenchable thirst, to see that ongoing filling, the work of the Holy Spirit, in our lives. But we may wonder what Paul has in mind in terms of what this constant filling of the Spirit looks like. And Paul gives us the answer with a series of five commands in v19-20.

In v19, Paul says that we exhibit this Spirit-filled life by speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Paul speaks of this in Colossians 3:16, in the context of allowing the word of Christ to dwell in you richly with gratitude. We gather that worshipping God corporately can/should/often does involve communication with one another for mutual benefit (Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14; Hebrews 10:24). Meditate on Scripture and its application to any given moment of life (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:97). Always look to edify one another, especially children, with your speech. But Paul is not finished with this thought. Speak to one another, he says, but also sing and make music in your heart. The Christian who is being matured by the work of the Holy Spirit devotes himself wholeheartedly in song to God. It doesn’t mean you have to like to sing, nor does this command imply that you ought to be good at singing or making music. Rather, don’t let your inabilities or lack of talents stop you. Sing to God!

So we speak to others, and we sing and make music to God. Then in v20, Paul says to always give thanks. The Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I like Calvin’s comment here: “[Paul] means that [giving thanks] is a pleasure which ought never to lose its relish; that this is an exercise of which we ought never to weary. Innumerable benefits which we receive from God yield fresh cause of joy and thanksgiving. At the same time, he reminds believers that it will argue ungodly and disgraceful sloth, if they shall not always give thanks, – if their whole life shall not be spent in the study and exercise of praising God.” Vincent Cheung adds, “The Holy Spirit fills us with biblical knowledge, and as He does so, we become capable of teaching and admonishing others with theological insight, perhaps even in the form of songs and doxologies, and always with gratitude in our hearts to God.”

Finally, v21, which serves as a transitional verse, adds one final command, that of submission. The Spirit-filled life is about serving, not being served. And the result is mutual edification. It is more blessed to give than to receive. A consequence of being filled with the Spirit is living out the proper role in any given relationship, and our motive for obeying this command is fear of or reverence for Christ. No one humbled himself or served like Him, yet we ought to strive for that lifestyle (Philippians 2:4-11). Remember how Christ served you. Now don’t be ashamed to serve your neighbors; He served you. Remember what you were like, and He served you. Now you serve one another in that way. Calvin concludes: “God has bound us so strongly to each other, that no man ought to endeavor to avoid subjection; and where love reigns, mutual services will be rendered. I do not except even kings and governors, whose very authority is held for the service of the community. It is highly proper that all should be exhorted to be subject to each other in their turn…[and out of reverence for Christ], that we may not refuse the yoke, and can humble our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.”

To summarize, Ligon Duncan says, “Paul has armed us now with arguments to use with ourselves as we seek to be different from the world: We’re going to remember the Judgment Day to come; we’re going to live in light of what God has made us by His grace, and not what we used to be; we’re going to live wisely because we’ve been made wise by the grace of Christ; and we are going to be matured by the Holy Spirit and live in consistency with the One who indwells us; and He is holy, so we’re going to walk in holiness.”

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” concludes Paul’s comments on the effects of being filled with the Spirit (v19-21) and opens his letter to the topic of submission in the various relationships people encounter in life (v22-6:9). The standard teaching of ethics at the time, as far back as Aristotle, taught male headship, but not for the sake of selfless service and nurturing care. Likewise Christian living is counter-cultural, upholding the value of women, children, and slaves, as well as men. We’ll hit on that, Lord willing, next time.

Ephesians 5:15-17

15Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

Paul has motivated us to right living by mention of Judgment Day and by reminding us of who we were and who we are in Christ – our past, present, and future. Now Paul motivates to right living with wisdom. His argument is very simple in v15-17: You are wise. God by His grace has made you wise. Once you were foolish, apart from Christ, but God has made you wise. Now live that way (James 3:13). But you may be thinking, “Paul doesn’t say that we are wise; he says that we ought to live wisely.” You’re right; he doesn’t say that we are wise; but it’s implied. He knows that we know that if we’ve trusted Christ, then we’ve proven our wisdom. If we’ve been born again, if we are new creations, if we no longer live but Christ lives in us, if we have the Spirit of God indwelling us, then we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15), and we are wise. But we need to live wisely. We need to – by God’s grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit – apply the wisdom of Christ to our living.

Again, I like what Vincent Cheung says: “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.” And in these three verses, Paul shows what it looks like to be wise. First, the wise are careful how they live (v15); they are careful – full of care. They think before they act. Second, the wise make the most of every opportunity (v16). They realize that the days are evil (everything around them in the world is dangerously corrupting), and so they don’t waste their time. They “throw off everything that hinders and run the race” (Hebrews 12:1). John Piper wrote, “Don’t Waste Your Life.” Andy Stanley wrote, “Choosing to Cheat.” The idea is to live efficiently, because time is precious. And third, the wise understand God’s will. They make wise decisions, because they know what God would have them do in any circumstance. How do they know that? By living by the Spirit in the word (Psalm 119:9)! Paul says, “You are wise. Now act like it.”

Ephesians 5:8-14

8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: 'Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'

Paul gave us the motivation of Judgment Day, a future time that is surely a motivation that will only be meaningful and useful to those who know the grace of God. And that alone teaches us that grace is the underlying motivation of all these supports Paul builds up. Now Paul turns our attention from the future (Judgment Day) to the past (we were once darkness) and present (we are light in the Lord). Looking back to see what God has graciously delivered us from ought to be motivation to continue on that path of progress. And remembering who we are by that grace – children of God brought from darkness to light – ought to motivate us to never return to the darkness again. Paul again shows us what grace looks like.

In v8, Paul offers a great positive command that sums up his teaching. We shouldn’t focus on what not to do; rather, our efforts ought to be constantly on doing right. In other words, we do not merely abstain from doing evil; rather, we live as children of light, doing good by making the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 2:12). And Paul says that we were darkness. We weren’t merely in darkness. We were darkness! But now we who are in Christ are light. We aren’t merely brought into the light; we are light! And so Paul wants us to focus on being who we are. By being who we are, we will do good things.

It’s as if Paul says, “You were darkened by the confusion that you were at the center of the universe, and now you realize that there is a God and you are not Him. And you were created by Him, for Him, to worship Him, and enjoy Him forever, and that has radically changed your whole moral outlook and experience and character in this life. So, remember who you are! Remember that you are now a child of light, and live that out.” Christianity never asks you to be someone you’re not. Rather, first, understand who you were and who you are, then put off who you were and be who you are. “Live as children of light.” What does that look like? Paul shows us in v9, as a parenthetical remark. Living as children of light looks like goodness (generous benevolence to others), righteousness (thoughts, words, and deeds that are right in God’s sight), and truth (integrity, such that motives and actions are united, Coram Deo).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is God?” and answers, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness [and then listen to the last three}, justice, goodness, and truth.” Notice the last three designations; they are the same as what Paul reveals as living in light. So we might conclude that to live as children of light, to exhibit goodness, righteousness, and truth, is simply living like God would live, wanting to be like Jesus. And so we ask, “What would Jesus do?” When it comes to trying to find out what please the Lord, we want to practice living as children of light until we can do it naturally, without having to “try,” much like athletic training or playing a musical instrument. Consider Eric Liddell, the fast runner in Chariots of Fire. He said, “God made me to run, and I run for His glory. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” In other words, Eric Liddell is doing exactly what God made him to do, and he knows that the Father delights in him doing exactly what he was made to do, which brings God glory.

Finally, in v11-14, we are to do such good deeds that our light exposes the darkness in our midst for what it is. Our motive for doing good works is not self-recognition, but God-recognition. Specifically, in v13, we notice that the light exposes evil (John 3:19-21). One commentary says that some sin of unbelievers is so shameful that only the presence of a Christian can bring it to light and demand repentance. Otherwise, it will not be recognized as sin. But even when the light of godly people reveals sin, the sinner may harden his heart. V14 may be a hymn that shows how God calls the dead to life in this very way (sin exposure).

Ephesians 5:5-7

Now we’re looking at verses 5-21 of chapter 5, in which Paul seeks to motivate his audience to follow the commands he established in Ephesians 4:17-5:4. Paul gives four motivations (1) Judgment Day (future); (2) what you were and who you are (past and present); (3) wisdom (you are wise so act like it); and (4) the Holy Spirit (indwelling). Vincent Cheung says, “Many Christians have changed their theology to accommodate the sinful lifestyle of the non-Christians. It is as if they think that if we are going to affirm that all these things lead to hell, then it would mean that many people are going to hell, and surely we do not want such a harsh theology! But take it or leave it, this is Christianity.” Let’s notice our motivations to live distinctly.

For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person - such a man is an idolater - has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

From Ephesians 4:17-5:4, Paul taught us to live for God’s glory and for Church unity by living selflessly. He gave essentially six commands, six transformations that the Holy Spirit will work in us as we move away from our Gentile / pagan past into a stronger relationship with Christ. Those six commands include transformation from: (1) lying to truth telling, (2) uncontrolled anger to self-control, (3) stealing to useful labor, (4) harmful speech to helpful speech, (5) a sinful disposition to a loving disposition, and (6) unrestrained sexual desires to a thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts.

Vincent Cheung says, “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.” This might signal to us another motivation, to be distinct from the world. Another motivation would be striving for God’s glory. Another motivation might be the fact that God made us, Christ bought us, and the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). And in Ephesians 5:5-21, Paul actually gives four specific motivations to help us respond to his teaching. And we may already know that grace is the chief motivation, and that’s true. But Paul will elaborate on what that grace to us looks like in terms of practical motivation.

Now in Ephesians 5:5-7, he remains on that theme but focuses on the internal heart condition that brings the transformations he’s been talking about. He wants to motivate us to respond to his teaching, and so he begins in v5, “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is! The anticipation of Judgment Day ought to motivate us to sexual purity and fidelity. Paul is simply saying here in v5 in the sternest of rhetoric that God does not give us the option of having Him and His way along with the things He despises all at the same time. We can repent and receive forgiveness and joy and peace and hope and life to the full, or we can stubbornly remain in our sexual sin and have none of God’s blessings for eternity. We can’t have God and His blessings along with sin. Paul delivers this message in the same letter that contains the glories of predestination and election, and yet he says none of that is applicable to the unrepentant sinner. It’s a stern warning, because it’s an insidious sin.

One argument against Paul here is King David. We might say, “But David sinned sexually and was forgiven, so God will forgive me too.” Let me answer that rebuttal in two ways: first, David repented wholeheartedly and was granted mercy and forgiveness by grace; second, that sin still brought him great despair, left him without a life of familial love that we all long for, cost him (and his children!) the lives of four or more of his children, and ultimately incurred the downfall of Israel. Sexual immorality is a serious sin that has intense consequences, and when it hardens hearts to the point of no turning back, there is no repentance. Read v5-6 again: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”

The first part of v5 might better be translated as, “You know with certainty.” In other words, Christians know that they know that God will judge the sexually immoral. In case some of his audience tuned him out on the sexual immorality issue, Paul wants to make sure they realize that they know it’s a problem. As he reveals elsewhere (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), sexual immorality is the ultimate form of idolatry. It’s an exceedingly sinister sin that merits the judgment and wrath of God (Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8; 22:15). We can’t worship God and live in sexual immorality, and we know that we know it. V6 suggests that judgment day may be denied with “empty words” (2 Peter 3:3-4); and knowing otherwise, we ought to be discerning in recognizing that false hope. There are some well-meaning people, even church leaders, who, for the sake of brotherly love and unity, will say, “God is merciful. He won’t condemn anybody. It’s all going to be okay. You’ll see.” We know better. God will divide those who are disobedient (elsewhere translated “the sons of disobedience”), the goats, from the “children of light” (v8), the sheep of His flock. Be certain that you’re in that flock – Repent! And we know what repent means: Turn the other way. Paul tells us not to engage in that behavior in v7. We are not to be partners with sinners, namely unbelievers. Paul speaks similarly when he mentions being unequally yoked. Jude hints at this as well in v22-23. It’s not that we should avoid contact, but we should not be influenced.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ephesians 5:3-4

3But 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. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Paul is wrapping up a list of six exhortations for his audience, people who have already experienced conversion, salvation by grace through faith in Christ by the resurrection/regeneration power of the Holy Spirit. These six commands are fruits of God’s work in us for the practical purpose of unity within the Body of Christ and the display of God’s glory throughout the world. We may come to faith in Christ with a “what’s in it for me” attitude, but we don’t stay there. We move on with the Spirit’s guidance in the Word of God to a “how can God be glorified and others edified” attitude. Specifically, knowledge of who we are in Christ (God’s beloved children) serves to motivate the self-sacrifice required to live the Christian life (see Colossians 3:12). Living out the grace of God is seen through our distinctive lives as Christians in but not of the world, as Paul declares, by (1) telling the truth (not lying), (2) self-control and reconciliation (not uncontrolled and sinful anger), (3) honest labor (not stealing), (4) edifying speech (not unwholesome talk), (5) love (not bitterness), and (6) thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts (not unrestrained sexual desires leading to immorality). We’ll focus on this last one in this section.

In v3-4, we learn that to trivialize the sexual relationship through crude joking or to idolize it through blatant sexual immorality or covetousness is wrong. Rather, we are to restore the sexual relationship to its proper function (Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Hebrews 13:4). A simple outline of these two verses might look like this: (1) Paul explicitly addresses the issue of sexual immorality, including lust or coveting (greed), in the first part of v3, saying there must not be even a hint that those things exist in the confines of the Church; (2) Paul addresses the issue of coarse talk, or filthy and vulgar language, regarding sexuality in the first part of v4, saying they should not be found in the Church either; (3) Paul tells us why these things should not exist in the Church in the last part of v3 and in the middle of v4; they are improper and out of place – “inconvenient” and “inconsistent” with godly character. Though we may want specifics, Paul will say in Ephesians 5:12 that “it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (4) Finally, Paul notes at the end of v4 that thankfulness for the sacred gift of sexual relations within the context of a committed, permanent, monogamous, heterosexual, marriage relationship ought to replace anything even remotely related to sexual immorality, lust, or coveting (greed).

There should not be adultery, infidelity, or fornication in the Church. Those are physical acts of sexual immorality. But Paul also speaks of impurity, speaking of internal cleanliness, and we might relate this to today’s age of Internet pornography, chat rooms, and 900 numbers. And he mentions greed, which would be better translated as coveting (it’s the same Greek word). This includes lust and wrongful desires. All of these elements were problems for Paul’s audience, and they remain problems today. When we think of the culture of Ephesus, we might be shocked; but more likely, if the Christians of Ephesus came here today, they’d be shocked. Why? Because then, you had to go where the immorality was. Today, it comes to you; you can’t escape it. But we can try. Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). How do we flee temptation? Be thankful for the good that God gives.

Most likely, you’re not engaging in physical adultery. But are you coveting? Be thankful for your marriage. Are you lusting? Pray for your spouse and consider her needs; teach your daughters modesty. Are you struggling with the temptation to view Internet pornography? Think of the image as your daughter when she’s older. Now, do you want to fight it? Get an Internet filter. Don’t erase your history and show your wife everyday. Use “covenant eyes,” which e-mails your accountability partner a list of websites you viewed each day. (Sadly, new versions of Internet browsers are coming out with “privacy mode,” a.k.a. “porn mode,” which doesn’t record cookies or history…With a multi-billion dollar industry thriving off addictions, the browser companies must be getting kickbacks.)

Paul tells us how to respond positively. We make sure our conversation is appropriate. We don’t engage in crass sexual joking or anything even remotely considerable as indecent. We are to be distinct from the world, and this is a place where it should be easy to see the difference – in our language being free from obscenity, foolishness, and sexual coarseness. Calvin says, “The Greek words [morologia and eutrapelia, which appear only here in the entire Bible, are] often used by heathen writers, in a good sense, for that ready and ingenious pleasantry in which able and intelligent men may properly indulge. But as it is exceedingly difficult to be witty without becoming satirical, and as jesting itself carries in it a portion of conceit not at all in keeping with the character of a godly man, Paul very properly dissuades from this practice.” Vincent Cheung says, “Throughout this letter, Paul labors to convey the tremendous intellectual and moral differences between the Christians and the non-Christians, and here the imagery cannot be any clearer – Christians and non-Christians are intellectual and moral opposites.”

Finally, Paul tells us to replace any sexual crudeness, whether in thought, word, or deed, with grace or thanksgiving. (The Greek word for “thanksgiving” is always translated as such, but it has in mind the saying of grace, as in praying before a meal.) Paul says this gift of God is too good to be sullied by immorality and vulgarity. Rather, be thankful that sex is not out-of-bounds for the Christian. Sex is great, a gift from God, and we ought to treat it as such – but solely within the bounds God established. Thank God for marriage and the wholesome intimacy of sex therein. Next, we’ll see that Paul continues on these lifestyle transformations by the resurrection power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He shifts the emphasis from thoughts, words, and deeds, to the motivations for those thoughts, words, and deeds.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ephesians 4:29-32, 5:1-2

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you... 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Continuing with our list, the fourth command is found in v29. Paul deals with corrupt speech and points to the transformation as speech that edifies and builds up the Body of Christ. It’s a DC memory verse; “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Other versions (NKJV) talk about edifying speech as a means of imparting grace. “Unwholesome talk” can refer to just about anything that is not good – gossip, slander, foul or vulgar language (obscenities), crude jokes, or even empty words (like offensive or leading sarcasm) and foolishness, especially regarding sexuality, which Paul will mention later (Ephesians 5:4). Our speech ought to be encouraging, a blessing to those who hear. And it’s hard to tame the tongue; we have dirty mouths, for the simple reason that we have dirty hearts (Luke 6:45; James 3:6-10).

In v30, we see that the Holy Spirit is a Person, rather than an impersonal spiritual force (an “it”), since He can be grieved by our poor choice of words. However, He is not a frightened little girl or a pigeon that can be shooed away. Calvin says, “As God has sealed us by His Spirit, we grieve Him when we do not follow His guidance, but pollute ourselves by wicked passions. No language can adequately express this solemn truth, that the Holy Spirit rejoices and is glad on our account, when we are obedient to Him in all things, and neither think nor speak anything, but what is pure and holy; and, on the other hand, is grieved, when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling.” With this thought, Paul refers to Isaiah 63:10, which reveals that he is simply reiterating an Old Testament concept and not teaching anything new. And it’s another reminder of the behind-the-scenes spiritual warfare going on. Words are powerful; and Paul commands that we use them to edify others by the power of the Spirit.

Fifth, in v31-32 and Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul uses a variety of commands to move us from an internal sinful disposition to a disposition of love. Unlike Paul’s previous exhortations, which clearly addressed outward actions (lying, uncontrolled anger, stealing, and unwholesome talk) this command is regarding more of an internal attitude, a hardhearted, sinful disposition (bitterness – resentment, rage – sinful wrath, anger – settled and sullen hostility with no room for forgiveness, brawling – obnoxious clamoring, slander – speaking evil of someone behind their back, and every form of malice – abusive hatred or ill-will toward others). Paul addressed the fruits of the internal problem, the sinful disposition. And now he says get rid of that natural bent toward bitterness. Ligon Duncan says:

“He’s talking about an attitude of heart, an outlook on life, that, when we receive blessings in this life we don’t adequately acknowledge that God has given those blessings; and then, when we come to hard things in this life and trials in this life, we become bitter because we think that somehow God has shortchanged us, that He doesn’t really care about us, that He’s not good...and that bitterness then turns into words, it turns into resentment, it turns into anger towards others. It’s expressed in verbal activity, but it’s also expressed in a heart attitude that bears ill-will to others, resents others who have blessings that we don’t have, doesn’t rejoice with others when they do have blessings, thinks that God is better to other people than to ourselves. He’s talking about a fundamental attitude issue here.”
Think of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. This was his deal. But we are commanded to receive God’s providence with understanding that He is good. We are commanded to be kind and tenderhearted, compassionate, forgiving others as God forgives us, and loving others as Christ loves us (John 13:34; The Lord’s Prayer). But we need more than Paul to say to us, “Stop being bitter, angry, and slanderous. Be forgiving, compassionate, and loving instead.” Paul is teaching us a whole new pattern of thinking and behavior. We need the Holy Spirit to transform us by grace so that we can be imitators of God; in order to be like Christ, a fragrant offering to God (2 Corinthians 2:15), we need to be constantly reminded of the forgiveness and love we have in Christ and then yield that to others. And Paul will discuss additional motivations for these powerful lifestyle transformations in Ephesians 5:5-21.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ephesians 4:25-28

25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26"In your anger do not sin" [Psalm 4:4]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold. 28He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Paul helps us see what transforming grace looks like. He begins with “Therefore,” and we can view the negative commands found throughout v25-31 and v3-4 of chapter 5, as well as the positive exhortations found in v25, v28-29, v32, and v1-2 of chapter 5, as commands to us from Jesus and as exhortations that can only be obeyed in this life through Jesus working in us by the gracious resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Paul gives us six specific instructions to help us live the Christian life, which is to be distinct from the world for God’s glory and for Christian unity as the Body of Christ. His unifying, God-glorifying instructions deal with transformation from: (1) lying to truth telling, (2) uncontrolled anger to self-control, (3) stealing to useful labor, (4) harmful speech to helpful speech, (5) a sinful disposition to a loving disposition, and (6) unrestrained sexual desires to a thankful acknowledgement of God’s gracious gifts.

First, in v25, Paul says to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” Satan is the father of lies. Lying, which includes all forms of deceit, hypocrisy, and cunning, is pervasive in our world, and sadly, even in the Church. And it has been for quite awhile. Seeing the vision of the holy God seated on His throne with the train of His robe filling the Temple, the prophet Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). We are to be distinct from the world by speaking the truth. Paul says to be sincere, truthful with our neighbors, recognizing that when we speak the truth to fellow church members (neighbors), we are literally speaking the truth to ourselves, because we are all in one body. So truth-telling, and not lying, is a fruit of God’s grace to His Church, a sign of His being at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13), and it is essential for maintaining and building unity within the Body of Christ.

Second, in v26-27, Paul commands us to manage anger appropriately. He alludes to Psalm 4:4, “In your anger, do not sin.” Of course, we know that anger is not sinful. Being angry is oftentimes an appropriate response to the world or to an offensive action. We can be angry not only at sin and sinful activity, but also at sinners. It is right for a woman to be angry with her husband when he has an affair. It would be wrong if she weren’t angry. But how we handle that anger is crucial. If we sin in anger, we disrupt the unity of the Body of Christ, and we fail to glorify God. Calvin says, “There are three faults by which we offend God in being angry. The first is when our anger arises from slight causes, and often from no cause whatever, or at least from private injuries or offenses. The second is when we go beyond the proper bounds, and are hurried into intemperate excesses. The third is when our anger, which ought to have been directed against ourselves or against sins, is turned against our brethren.”

Instead of clinging to anger and building contempt and malice inside, we need to seek reconciliation. Be ready to reconcile. Thus Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” And in conclusion on his discussion of anger, having seen that practical unity displays God’s power of reconciliation, Paul, in v27, says not to give the devil a foothold; Satan likes to disrupt the unity of believers. And so we see that there is spiritual warfare going on in our efforts to live the Christian life. Paul will expound on that, especially in chapter six, but for now, we need to see that anger ought to point to us to God’s glorious grace. And we ought to reflect that to the world.

Third, in v28, Paul tells the audience not to steal, but instead to work with their hands in order to share with others. John Stott says, “‘Do not steal’ was the eighth commandment of Moses’ Law. It had, and still has, a wide application...not only the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasion; to employers who take advantage of their workers; and to employees who give poor service, or who work short time in relation to their employers.” Failing to be generous and frivolous uses of wealth – gambling, excessive consumer debt, negligent payment of bills – violate this command of God. When Paul says, “Steal no longer,” he’s speaking in broad terms of the heart issue of selfishness. And Paul instructs his audience not to merely stop stealing, but to replace stealing with honest working. Elsewhere, in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul says to work with your hands “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” It’s for God’s glory and for unity.

Christians ought to be known for their honesty in labor. And beyond that, Christians ought to avoid stealing and work hard, so that they will be able to share with the needy. That motive requires a heart-transformation by the grace of God. Nobody naturally wants to share. John Stott said, “Christ must turn burglars into benefactors.” Paul was a great example of that kind of transformation. But Jesus is our best role model. We read in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” He shared His life with us, and He’ll do it for all eternity.

Ephesians 4:20-24

20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

In v20-21, Paul reminds his audience of Christians that they did not learn Christ by living like pagans. Rather they learned Christ, as the subject, by Christ, as the teacher. Jesus Christ is both the content and the One who applies the content to you. And He does it in your intellect from within you! Vincent Cheung says, “God’s power rescues us from futile thinking and continual lust, not by a divine encounter or experience, but by the teaching of Christ, or Christian doctrine, applied to the mind by divine power.” This is a great objection to today’s common thought that we come to Christ by exercising our free will in our depraved nature. But, as Paul says, “You did not come to know Christ that way,” referring to living as a pagan and exercising your worldly wisdom. Paul’s tirade from v17-19 reveals what happens when man is left to his free will. Thank God that He sovereignly intervened and called us out of darkness into light!

Notice that the whole of the Christian life is inseparably connected to Jesus Christ. We learn Jesus in Jesus through Jesus by Jesus for Jesus. And there’s no room for a pagan lifestyle while united to Christ by grace through faith. Jesus is the content of the truth, the conveyor of the truth, and the context of the truth. Ligon Duncan says, “Jesus delighted to do His Father’s will, and Paul is reminding the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ that if you’re really a disciple of Jesus Christ, if you’ve really come to know Jesus Christ, you, too, will delight to know the Father’s will and delight to do the Father’s will, because Jesus delighted to do the Father’s will. And if all of your life is connected to Jesus, then you’re going to recognize that there is a moral component to Christian teaching.”

There is a moral response to the gospel of grace, and we are reminded of it in v22. Grace teaches us to put off our old selves. They are corrupt and growing more so. That’s repentance! The first response of one who comes to genuine saving faith is repentance. There is a moral transformation that comes with being a Christian, in which we are morally different from the world around us. We don’t be good to be saved; we are saved to be good. And we see that in v23-24; after putting off the old – repentance – we are taught to “be made new in the attitude of our minds, and to put on the new self.”

This transformation is not superficial. It’s from the inside out, from our innermost being, from our eternal soul, and it works outwardly, so that thoughts, words, and deeds conform to those wrought by Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2). God has renewed us. John calls it regeneration; Paul calls it resurrection. Both pictures emphasize that we can’t do them. Notice the new self. It’s created (by God) “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” which Calvin and even Plato see (Luke 1:75) as second-table laws relating to our man-ward relationship (righteousness) and first-table laws relating to our God-ward relationship (holiness). God does that in us! Cheung says, “To paraphrase, Paul is saying to his readers, ‘You don’t have to be like the non-Christians, because you have been taught something else. You have been taught the truth of Jesus Christ, that is, the Christian worldview. Moreover, you can live consistently with this Christian worldview because God has regenerated you and His power is at work in you. By renewing your mind with biblical teaching, you can put on the new self, form new thinking patterns and moral habits, and conform to true righteousness and holiness.’” Our transformation is not the cause of God’s love for us, but the consequence of God’s love for us. But still, what does that look like?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ephesians 4:17-19

We come now to understand our walk in Christ as including a new mind of purity, love, wisdom, and light, all for the sake of unity to the glory of God. Paul’s practical application, which began in Ephesians 4:1 with the words, “live a life worthy of the calling you have received,” leans heavily on Biblical doctrine, and to separate application from doctrine leaves us with legalism.

17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.

Paul continues his train of thought from the previous section of Ephesians 4. He has pointed to diversity among believers unto unity. He has pointed to the importance of intellectual growth unto unity in the fullness of Christ. And now he insists on right living; the basis for right living is right thinking, unlike that of the Gentiles (pagans). Paul says to the Christian, “Learn the truth from those whom God has ordained to teach it, and from the indwelling Holy Spirit; then go and serve one another in love. As that happens, the body of Christ will be unified in growth to maturity (intellectual understanding of the faith, doctrine, and experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ), attaining the fullness of Christ. And because that’s how it works, we must live according to the right thinking in which we are growing.” What does that look like? Paul will give six positive answers to that question in v25-32 and into chapter 5, but for now, he focuses on the negatives. Paul says not live like a Gentile, and he means that we are not to live a life that is not centered on God, a life that is not God-honoring and God-focused – like the Gentiles do. No matter whether they worship many gods or none, the Gentiles are worshiping only themselves. Christians, though commanded to love unbelievers, are not to live or think or believe or desire or speak or behave like them.

Paul says first, in v17, that he is telling you not to live like worldly people. Christians are in the world but not of the world. But there’s more. Paul is insisting in the Lord that you not live like worldly people. Other translations say it much better: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord....” The Lord Jesus is insisting that we live rightly. It’s not a recommendation; it’s a command (1 Thessalonians 2:13). One day, we’ll give an account before the Lord regarding how we handled this teaching of Paul. But Paul doesn’t just leave it there. He goes on to explain what that looks like. He starts with futile thinking.

Unbelievers live in vain and futile thinking, darkened in their understanding. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They are stupid morons, just as much as they are sinners. And if it’s right to warn them about their sinful status before God, which it is, according to Vincent Cheung, it’s also right to tell them that they are stupid morons and demand their repentance and belief on Christ for justification and sanctification. This passage is similar to Romans 1, but the emphasis here is from the human perspective; as God hardened pharaoh’s heart, so pharaoh hardened himself. Furthermore, unbelievers are excluded from “the life of God” (regeneration) because of their ignorance, which is due to their hardness of heart. They indulge in a moral resistance to the truth of the commands of God in them. And they have become callous; they are no longer sensitive to God. They cherish impurity for the sake of vanity and sensuality. And they lust for more. Paul says not to live like that. And that command hits home. The fact that Paul has to tell Christians not to live like that tells us that we, as Christians, will at times be tempted to live like that, desire that, lust for sensual impurity. And we know it. We must fight that kind of life. Why? Ligon Duncan tells us:

“Paul is emphasizing there that there is a moral component to Christianity that sets Christianity apart from everyone else in the world, that sets Christians apart, that sets the church apart from everyone else in the world. And, my friends, it is that distinction that is so crucial to our witness in the world, because when the world looks at us and says ‘You are not so different from me,’ the effectiveness of our witness is sapped because the claim of our message to produce in us the workings of God’s grace so that we are made to be what God intended us to be originally is undermined, undercut. And so it is precisely in the church’s response to this exhortation of Jesus and Paul that we have the most effective aspect of our witness-bearing to the world.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ephesians 4:14-16

14Then we will no longer be 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. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Starting with the word, “then,” Paul is speaking of what the resurrection power of Jesus (the Holy Spirit) can and will do when He brings believers to maturity in the fullness of Christ. He’s speaking of what happens when the prayer he issued in Ephesians 1:18-20 is answered. What is the power of God at work in us supposed to accomplish? What does the resurrection power of Christ look like when it is flowing in us? The simple answer is sanctification unto glorification through a maturing unity with Christ and one another. Vincent Cheung says, “Besides telling us that Christian unity is doctrinal unity (v13), [Paul] also teaches that Christian maturity is doctrinal maturity.” So what Christian unity and maturity looks like is this: a firm establishment in the truth for the body as a whole and of course for the individual parts of the body; a solid pattern of growth in love for the body as a whole, and of course for the individual parts of the body; and a maturing unity throughout the body.

First, in v14, Paul talks about our establishment in the truth in negative terms. He gives us four images to consider that reveal the result of lacking that deep-rooted establishment in the truth. He says that as a result of the ascension of Christ, as a result of His engifting of the church, as a result of His resurrection power, we will no longer be infants (1 Corinthians 14:20). We must grow to maturity in terms of discernment, so that no fine-sounding argument can lead us astray. We will no longer be tossed back and forth by the waves. Having understanding, we will stand firm in the faith. We will no longer be blown here and there by every wind of teaching. We won’t be deceived by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. False teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, will not be able to lure us from our shepherd. According to Calvin, Satan cannot rest without striving to darken the pure doctrine of Christ by his lies; he added, “It is the will of God that these struggles should be the trial of our faith.” So when false teachers come, though they are trying to darken the truth of God by their lies, God is testing us to establish us in the truth. And He does it by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ at work in us.

Second, in v15, Paul speaks of establishment in the truth in positive terms, with the result being growth in love. Truth and love are not opponents; they are comrades in the great work of Christian maturity. Only after one is established in the truth, can grow in love occur on the right foundation. Many Christians are overly concerned about love. You end up with people like Bono who try to love everybody, but they lack the foundation of truth. Proper love must be grounded in truth (Titus 1:9, 13-14). The purpose of truth is love, but not a wishy-washy 1960’s kind of feel-good love. Paul has in mind “tough love,” loving someone enough to do something that’s not very pleasant for either party. Tough love requires truth and a genuine concern for the well-being of another person, however costly. That’s real Christian love, strong love, heroic love, self-sacrificial love – that’s what the resurrection power of Jesus Christ is to produce in us.

Third, in v16, we notice corporate maturity as another accomplishment of Jesus’ resurrection power in us. By mentioning the “whole body,” Paul is saying that the donations of Jesus to us aren’t for private benefit. Calvin says, “This means that no increase is of use which does not correspond to the whole body. That man is mistaken who desires his own separate growth.” Maturity doesn’t come in isolation; there is a level of knowledge of Christ unattainable apart from all believers reaching maturity, which again comes from the resurrection power of Jesus at work in us. Then and only then will we all see clearly, face to face, instead of as through a foggy glass (1 Corinthians 13:12). And so our prayer ought to be like this:

“Lord, grow me in grace for the benefit of the whole body, because You have not empowered me so that I can be more well off or have it easier, or be more successful; You have empowered me in order to be a blessing to the whole body. Lord God, You have lived, died, risen, and ascended and poured out gifts on Your church, and You’ve poured out gifts on me, not so that I can bless myself, but so that I can bless others. Lord God, everything that You have given and done, You have given and done so that I would turn from looking out for myself, and give myself away in self-sacrificing, self-denying, self-giving love. So establish me alongside all of Your people in the truth; grow me alongside all of Your people in love for one another; and bring us all to maturity in the fullness of Christ, for Your glory. Amen.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ephesians 4:7-13

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says: "When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men." 9(What does "He ascended" mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very One who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until 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.

After stating in the clearest of terms that individual Christians are parts of one body, Paul starts v7 with the word, “But.” He’s going to talk about our differences now, but without losing sight of the unity (body, hope, faith, baptism) we share through one Spirit, one Lord, and one God. In v7, Paul says that each individual Christian (each part of the body) has grace bestowed on them “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (ESV). The word “gift” literally means “donation.” The gifts we are given are meant for the body to share (1 Peter 4:10-11). We often think of spiritual gifts coming from the Spirit, but Paul attributes these to Christ. And saying this seems to bring Paul’s mind to how costly those gifts Jesus has given to His church were to Him, and so in v8, he goes to Psalm 68:18, and says this New Testament reality is just like that triumphant procession of God the King in the Old Testament Psalm, who is going up to a city with all the spoils of war flowing in behind Him. Though in the Psalm, the Lord receives gifts from men, Paul sees Jesus as distributing gifts, or sharing His glory. This Psalm was associated with Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, as a gift. So we might say that Jesus dispenses gifts to His people out of His great victory by or through the Holy Spirit. And so it’s no wonder that this Psalm came to Paul’s mind when he considered the Lord Jesus Christ, who gives gifts to His people out of this great victory He has won over the forces of sin and death and hell.

But even that thought of Paul causes a greater and deeper reflection on the price Jesus paid to win that battle – His own humiliation. In v9, Paul notes Jesus came to the lowest depths of the earth. He emptied Himself by taking on human flesh (Philippians 2:5-11) not of His essential attributes but of His glory; He bore the shame, even suffering the ignominious death of the cross for our sakes, and through that descent, through that humiliation, He won this great victory, and so ascended on high. We are to imitate His humble service. And then this thought of victory resurrects within Paul a sense of praise, as v10 declares. Jesus, the One who descended in order to ascend, is exalted higher than the heavens and fills “the whole universe!” The very purpose of Christ’s ascension is the completion and fulfillment of the eternal purposes of God. Ligon Duncan says, “It’s a huge, grand, plan. It’s not just saving us from the deserved punishment of hell that we would have apart from His atoning work and saving grace, but it’s bringing us into a family, a household, a new society, a new community that is part of this glorious restoration of all things in the new heavens and the new earth. And Jesus’ reign is part of the eternal purposes of God.” He is holy (other) and exalted in heaven, but filling all things, He is with us here and now.

When we come to v11, Paul gets back on track with the gifts that Christ apportions to His body. Paul lists gifts as if they are whole persons (perhaps they are), including apostleship (witnesses of the resurrected Christ commissioned to serve the Church as “sent ones”), prophecy (foundational prediction, exhortation, encouragement, warning, and explanation; see Acts 15:32; 21:9-11; 1 Corinthians 14:3; Ephesians 2:20), evangelism (gifted people to proclaim the gospel; see Acts 21:8; 1 Corinthians 1:17), pastoral ministry, and teaching (the last two gifts are thought to be a single set of individuals who shepherd and train God’s flock; see 1 Peter 5:2). These gifts are actually living, human gifts though there are more (Romans 12:4-9; 1 Corinthians 12). Paul’s point is that God blesses His flock with shepherds; He graces the Church with leaders, people to fill foundational roles in the building and instruction of the congregation. Many people think that if the church is going to impact our own culture, effectively engaging the community, in evangelizing the lost and in building up the saints, then what we really need is new strategies, new techniques, and new methods. In our church (Southeast Christian), you often hear the quote, “Methods are many, principles few; methods may change, but principles never do.” Here’s another quote from the nineteenth century Methodist minister, E. M. Bounds, to consider in light of Paul’s teaching here: “The church is looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men.” Paul draws our attention here not to methods, but to people. Ligon Duncan says, “The church may be looking for different methods and strategies and approaches, but Christ is giving men – godly, gifted people – to the church to equip the church for the work of ministry.” That’s the effective strategy, and God does it.

V12 explains that these gifts of specific types of gifts – gifts of speech – are meant to “prepare God’s people for works of service”. Leadership and authority are granted for the sake of service. Leaders aren’t supposed to do the work of the church; they’re supposed to train others to do it. People can think that really the only important ministry that is done is the ministry that is done in the pulpit or in a classroom where the word of God is being taught. Paul is emphasizing the pastor/teacher is here preaching and teaching the word of truth to the congregation not because that’s the only important work of service in the church, but to equip the laity to do church ministry – all the important works of service in the church that need to be done. The whole congregation is called to involve themselves in the work of service – not to do the elders’ job, but to be equipped by the elders to do their work of service in the congregation. In fact, my gift (teaching in this situation) is ultimately for God’s glory and for your edification, for service to Him and you; I need to teach you sound doctrine so that you will be encouraged and equipped to serve with right motivation. And your gift, whatever it may be, is for service to Him and me. At least it’s supposed to be, according to Paul. The things that the Lord has given to you, He has given to you for the well-being of the whole body (see 1 Peter 4:10-11). Are we serving one another with our gifts of grace? We need to create a mindset that’s on the lookout for those gifts and encourages on another in the exercise of those gifts. When is the last time you said to a fellow church member, “I just want to tell you how you have encouraged me in this or that or your trust in Christ; it has been a blessing to me, to my children, and/or to our congregation”?

Isn’t it interesting that Paul speaks of these gifts of imparting knowledge (apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoral ministry, and teaching) as the means to prepare people for works of service? Sound doctrinal understanding is to lead to life-transformation. We are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29), and that comes by the Spirit through the sound exposition of the word of God. Paul elaborates as he concludes this thought of the purpose of our diversity in v13. The purpose for distinctions in our gifts and roles is the building up of the body (which comes through mutual edification and humble service) “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.” Church unity (something we already have, according to Paul) is not hindered by but is served (grown to greater depths in terms of its expression) by diversity among its members and mutual submission (placing oneself under the service of doctrinal leadership). Thus, differences ought to be celebrated and not feared or despised.

So to summarize, the reason Christ graciously gives godly leadership to the church is so that the church will be equipped to serve (with a right foundation for service). And when service is fulfilled daily by all, the church is built up, revealed by a greater display of the unity we possess in the faith (sound Biblical doctrine) and in the knowledge (intensely deep and transforming intellectual knowledge) of Christ. And finally, built up to maturity, the church attains the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. So no wonder Christ graciously gifted the Church; He wants the Church to be filled with Himself. See 1 Corinthians 12. Calvin adds, “Our true completeness and perfection consist in our being united in the one body of Christ. No language more highly commendatory of the ministry of the word could have been employed, than to ascribe to it this effect. What is more excellent than to produce the true and complete perfection of the church? And yet this work, so admirable and divine, is here declared by the apostle to be accomplished by the external ministry of the word. That those who neglect this instrument should hope to become perfect in Christ is utter madness.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ephesians 4:1-6

Paul shifts his focus a little moving from chapters 1-3 into 4-6. He moves from doctrine to duty, from theological truth to theological practice, from instruction to exhortation, and from a description of God’s new family and prayers for God’s new family to the standards of living that God expects from His new family. And this transition is perfectly logical and absolutely necessary. We need knowledge of truth, but we don’t need to stop there. We need that knowledge of truth to be practical, to be applied to our lives in the various relationships with which we deal. And we come to understand, through this instruction and exhortation, that our walk in Christ is one of unity and diversity.

1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

After opening with prayer (chapter one), Paul has spent the past two chapters of this letter telling these Christians who they are in Christ. And now he begins chapter four by saying, “Be who you are!” Here’s who you are; now be who you are. And this pattern of instruction followed by exhortation, of doctrinal teaching followed by lifestyle application, which repeats itself throughout Paul’s letters, is not unique to Paul. It is found in other New Testament authors and more importantly in the Old Testament as well. Consider Joshua telling the children of Israel, “The land is yours. Now take it. Canaan belongs to you. It’s your land. God has given it to you. Now take it.” The indicative precedes the imperative. By walking the talk, by claiming the name of Christ and living rightly (Coram Deo), we not only are obeying God, but we are being a light in the darkness; we are avoiding the charge of hypocrisy that so damages evangelism and the perception of the Church. So Paul’s command to be who you are as Christians is of utmost importance in this fallen world.

He uses his imprisonment as evidence of his authority, to serve as a motive for their obedience. He wants them to do for him what he has done for them. And it’s quite a challenge, “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” The verb is often translated, “walk,” and it speaks of being fruitful (Ephesians 2:10), especially regarding moral conduct. Paul says the same thing in Philippians 1:27-28, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” But how are we to do this? What does a worthy life look like? Paul answers that in much the same way in all of his prisoner letters, but v2-3 here kick off the answer found in Ephesians.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Those DC memory verses – Ephesians 4:2-3 – fall back-to-back for a reason. Paul wants these attributes to be exhibited toward one another within the church for the sake of unity. Are we humble? In other words, do we put others before ourselves? Are we gentle? In other words, does meekness (strength under control) mark our fellowship? Are we foregoing our rights to serve others? Are we patient? In other words, do we forbear any grievances that come our way in order that fellowship may not experience disunity? Finally, v2 says that we need to bear with one another in love. Do we tolerate one another? In spite of personality conflicts, do we get along? Love serves as the bonding agent for all of these other attributes. We need to seek the good of others regardless of the cost we incur. V3 reveals the motive for that effort: unity. Unity must be cultivated; it doesn’t just happen. But Paul is saying, “You have been given a God-wrought unity; now maintain it.” And we do that through maintaining peace despite our differences. So to summarize, unity is crucial for Christianity, and it is cultivated as Christians are humble, meek or gentle, patient, tolerant, and peaceful – all in love.

Next, in v4, Paul details the far-greater-than-we-can-understand unity of the Church. He says there is one body and one Spirit. In other words, just as every Christian regardless of ethnic or cultural background has been called through the gospel to one hope (Christ in you, the hope of glory), so God has, through Christ by the Holy Spirit, made one body (of which each Christian is a part) led by one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. And this impossible-to-understand unity is understood in light of the Trinity. In v4-6, the word “one” is used seven times. Three of those times, it refers to a member of the Trinity – the Spirit in v4, the Lord Jesus Christ in v5, and God the Father in v6. The Trinity becomes the model of how we, though many, can be one and in fact are one in Jesus Christ. Our diversity, our difference, our distinct individuality is not compromised or lost, just as each member of the Godhead remains eternally distinct, yet one and the same essence. Because the Spirit is one, because the Lord is one, because there is one God, so too, we share in four aspects of one salvation – one hope, one faith, one baptism, and one body. Though the church does not often appear to be united, Paul says it is one body. That’s who we are, says Paul, and so we ought to live that way. We ought to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace because the Spirit has united us in peace (v3-4).

There are two great objective realities, or truths, that have a controlling influence on how we live with one another in the body of Christ. The first is who God is, and the second is what He has done, specifically what He has made us to be. We have not contributed anything to those truths. We’re beneficiaries of them. Notice that as a result of who God is, He has made us into this one body. We were not one, but He has made us one. And the body He has created is an actual single physical body. It’s not merely a spiritual body; and it’s not a conglomeration of many bodies. We are one body, the communion of saints, the invisible church, because there is only one Spirit. (Even the local congregation is not a product of human configuration, but an outworking of the Holy Spirit. And the reason we share only one hope, one faith, and one baptism is that there is only one Lord. If there were two Lords, then we’d need two hopes, two faiths, and two baptisms.)

The Spirit joins the Church in spirit (Colossians 2:5), but our unity is seen and displayed outwardly, physically, as the Spirit works in us corporately. As parts of the same body, we share a hope, a desire to see that body reach out for God’s glory, to see that body grow and be healthy, and to bear the burdens, to share the heartbreak of that body corporately. We share a faith in Christ by the Spirit to bring that to pass; we share an experience of baptism – by the Holy Spirit into the sphere of Christ’s Lordship, and for many, in water as well. And we (Christians) share the same Father, God, “who is over all and through all and in all.” Calvin comments, “Although God by His power upholds, and maintains, and rules, all things, yet Paul is not now speaking of the universal, but of the spiritual government which belongs to the church. By the Spirit of sanctification, God spreads Himself through all the members of the church, embraces all in His government, and dwells in all; but God is not inconsistent with Himself, and therefore we cannot but be united to Him into one body” (John 17:11).