Friday, November 14, 2008

Ephesians 1:7-10

7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Paul continues to praise God the Father in v7, for in Christ “we have redemption through His blood.” Paul is praising God the Father for His eternal plan and purpose, for His most costly grace, which included the redemptive work, the life, death, burial, and resurrection, of His Son, Jesus Christ. Praise God for redemption in Christ. Now redemption is essentially defined here as “the forgiveness of sins” – Calvin says, “We are redeemed, because our sins are not imputed to us” – but Paul has in mind a deliverance by paying a ransom. William Barclay, in The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, Revised Edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, pg. 81), says redemption “is the delivering of a man from a situation from which he was powerless to liberate himself or from a penalty which he himself could never have paid.” This costly grace, this redemption, the forgiveness of sins, came freely to the called “through His blood” – the blood of Christ (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22, 10:4) – “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.” We didn’t have to pay for it; we couldn’t have. The message of praise to God here is all about the riches of His glorious grace (v11-12) lavished (overflowing) on us bought by Jesus’ blood.

Paul goes on in v8-9 to say that in His infinite wisdom (philosophical / theological knowledge) and understanding (practical application of the knowledge), God the Father has made known to the saints the mystery of His will; God’s revelation, bestowed to His people in superabundant grace, is sufficient for a correct (Biblical) worldview. As the Holy Spirit instructs us from within on the Scriptures, we are thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul is talking here about our calling, which follows foreknowledge and predestination (election) in the golden chain of salvation (Romans 8:29-30).

For Paul, a mystery is simply something revealed that was once concealed, and he will elaborate on this concept in Ephesians 2-3. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-32 that all men know that there is a God; all men know that that God is to be worshiped; all men know something of the attributes of God; all men know that God has a right and a wrong, and that He will judge the wrong and He will reward the right. But Paul also tells us here that not everyone knows the fullness of God’s redeeming plan. That is something that God in His grace and mercy has revealed in the gospel, and as Paul proclaims the gospel, it falls upon ears that could not have understood it apart from the grace of God in announcing it and making it known (the doctrine of calling). Understanding salvation is a blessing, to see the truth of God’s redeeming plan revealed in the gospel, learned through the Holy Spirit. Vincent Cheung says, “Faith is not something by which you obtain the benefits of the atonement, but faith is something by which God applies the benefits of the atonement to you.”

One aspect of the mystery of God’s will revealed in this letter to the Ephesians is that process of salvation; another is that the Gentiles are being welcomed into God’s family along with believing Jews. The revealed mystery here in v10, according to Paul, is God’s grand purpose to bring all things under the headship of Christ, that God’s wisdom, understanding, will, purpose, and pleasure find their unison in making Jesus Christ the head of all things in heaven and on earth. This will “be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.” God, in His good and kind purposes, which must be all the answer we require when confounded by these high doctrinal truths, has brought His saving plan to pass at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 9:15). The battle was won with Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection (Christus Victor), and so there is an already sense of Christ’s kingdom; but the not-yet sense of His kingdom (“Thy Kingdom Come”) will commence with His return in glory (see Galatians 4:4; Colossians 1:15-20; Acts 2:32-36). It is a grace to know that no matter what is going on in your life in any of its circumstances, the grand purpose of God is the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and the bringing of all things under His rule and under His headship. That truth is life re-orienting. For His glory, God is bringing this whole universe under the orderly and perfect, eternal rule of Jesus Christ. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ephesians 1:3-6

3Praise 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. 4For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-- 6to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.

In v3-14, Paul prays a doxology, filled with theology, in one lengthy sentence in Greek. It’s a life-changing prayer. Calvin says of this prayer, “The lofty terms in which [Paul] extols the grace of God toward the Ephesians, are intended to rouse their hearts to gratitude, to set them all on flame, to fill them even to overflowing with this thought. They who perceive in themselves discoveries of the Divine goodness, so full and absolutely perfect, and who make them the subject of earnest meditation, will never embrace new doctrines, by which the very grace which they feel so powerfully in themselves is thrown into the shade. The design of the apostle, therefore, in asserting the riches of divine grace toward the Ephesians, was to protect them against having their faith shaken by the false apostles, as if their calling were doubtful, or salvation were to be sought in some other way.”

If we pray this prayer – using it as a model – with understanding, we will see ourselves in light of the holy God of the universe. “There is a God, and you are not Him.” The world doesn’t revolve around you; that’s the first thing we learn in understanding this life-altering prayer. It’s never bad to wonder how we live better lives in Christ. Life application is crucial, but it’s secondary to learning what Scripture teaches us about God. As we come to understand this life-changing prayer, we’ll also put God’s glory first in the prioritization of our lives. What about our lives? They’re important. What about facing trials or suffering or rejoicing in blessings? That’s important. What about being a better spouse and parent? What about worship and prayer? These are crucial things; and the Bible speaks to them. But this prayer of Paul teaches that those peripheral concerns are penultimate. God’s glory is ultimate. Finally, praying this prayer of praise with understanding reorients our lives in the sense that we will not only see God as holy and ourselves as sinners falling short of His glory in that light, we will not only see God’s glory as ultimate, but we will also desire, appreciate, and delight in God’s glory in all things. Our purpose will be ever before us. Satan wants to convince us that God is not worth living for, but this prayer keeps us on track. We see God for who He is, the Triune, eternal, and mighty God. We see His glory as His goal. And we come to desire and delight in His glory, living to praise His grace and His amazing love.

This passage is quite difficult to translate into English because of its lengthy interwoven structure, as your numerous footnotes may reveal, but Paul focuses on the Father’s election and predestination in eternity past, the Son’s redemption and forgiveness in the present, and the Spirit’s present application of redemption, which is a guarantee of inheritance and glory in the future. We’ll do our best to work through it bit by bit all the while keeping in mind the entire context, which is a prayer of praise to God for blessings all of the saints – “we” – receive in Christ. We’ll look first at v3-4, in which Paul, according to Ligon Duncan, calls us to seven things: first, to bless God; second, to bless God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; third, to praise God as the source of every blessing we receive by the Holy Spirit; fourth, to realize that we are recipients of every spiritual blessing; fifth, to realize that every spiritual blessing comes only in Christ; sixth, to understand that God has blessed us in Christ before creation; and seventh, to realize that God chose us so that we would be holy before His face. That’s v3-4. Let’s look.

Paul begins by praising God. He is speaking of God as the highest good. Some consider pleasure to be the highest good. Others consider wealth to be the goal. Paul says that God is the greatest. In Him resides the most blessedness, and we respond to that understanding by living for His glory, worshipping Him with our entire being, all day every day. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this question and answer: “What is the chief end of man?” “To glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Notice that Paul praises the Father specifically for His blessings toward those of us in Christ through Christ (v3). Let those words sink in. In the same statement, Paul uses the phrases “with every spiritual blessing” and “in the heavenly places.” The first phrase makes a radical claim – that Christians already have every spiritual blessing, that is to say, “Through the fullness of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we who have been made alive in and united with Christ by grace through faith possess the very fullness of God and have been possessed by God Himself.” Consider that! The second phrase, which occurs six times in this letter, refers to the complete and full extent of glory and exaltation. Amazingly, we have already been seated there, as in Ephesians 2:6. Paul wants us to see God as Father, and the ideal father is one who blesses. God, our Father, is also the Father of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And it is God His Father, who blesses both Him and us through the Holy Spirit by exalting us in union with Christ by grace through faith – unto His own glory and the glory of His Son.

In v4, Paul first praises God the Father for having chosen us – that is, those in Christ – in Him – that is, “in Christ” – before the creation of the world. In other words, God chose us to be in Christ; He did not foresee those would be in Christ and then choose them (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:9; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 9:16; Revelation 13:8). Humanity did not choose to be in Adam, though we are (1 Corinthians 15:22; Romans 5:12-21); neither does any human choose to be in Christ, yet God places us in Him (1 Corinthians 1:27-30). Paul is talking about the doctrine of election as a reason for praising God, whereas election is often something Christians argue about and divide over. That should not be! Why does God bless us? Because He has chosen us! In other words, we can look back at our conversion and praise God, for our conversion – if genuine – can be attributed only to God’s pre-creation election of us to come to faith in Christ. We would not have experienced conversion to faith in Christ had God not chosen us before creation; and furthermore, none that God chose before creation will fail to come to faith in Christ in His time. This is a high doctrine, a teaching that must be carefully explained and not taken lightly. But simply put, we all must praise God that we believe the Gospel. There is no room in Christianity for a faith wrought by a sinner. The faith you have is indeed your faith; but you did not conjure it up. Rather God bestowed it upon you, and your perseverant exercise of that faith in no less by grace than the bestowing of it in the first place. Paul’s point is that Christians are the objects of an eternal choice. What great assurance of salvation and the gracious mercy of God this doctrine of election provides!

So often this doctrine is explained that God gets a vote, Satan gets a vote, and you cast the deciding ballot – that’s election. That’s wrong; it’s never taught anywhere in the Bible. But, even if it were right, it’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s not talking about an election, a choice that you make; he’s talking about an election that God makes – a choice that God makes from before the foundation of the world, so it can’t be based on anything that you have done. Paul does not explain why God chose “us” and not others, but more importantly, he does disclose the immediate, though not the chief, purpose of God’s choice – that we who are chosen would be “holy and blameless in His sight [in love].” The order here is vital (Romans 8:29-30). God does not choose us because we are holy; He chooses us in order that we would be holy. We are blessed by God to be holy; we do not pursue holiness in order to be blessed by God. We are chosen to, towards, unto holiness, not chosen because of our holiness, and that difference makes all the difference in the world. If your pursuit of holiness in the Christian life is to get God to love you, to be assured of God’s love for you, then you’ll never proceed far in the pursuit of holiness or in the security and assurance of the Christian life. However, realizing that God has not chosen you because of your holiness but because of His love in Jesus Christ, if your pursuit of godliness is based on the realization that God has made you for holiness and that He delights in His glory displayed in your holiness, it will make all the difference in the world when it comes to security and assurance in the Christian life.

From Paul’s language, we can say that God’s choice was out of love. Being one long sentence, it’s hard to tell what Paul intends to modify with his clauses. “In love” could go with either or both the preceding or subsequent thought; the later thought seems more likely, given the language of Ephesians 2:1-5. His loving choice was so that we would be sanctified – set apart, holy and made pure, or blameless. Since God’s choice was made before creation, we conclude that His foreknowledge was complete, for there would be no need to choose some to be holy and blameless apart from the fall of mankind. We can also proceed from this understanding that God mysteriously purposed the fall of man (v11) unto His desired end – the praise of His glory (v12, v14). Calvin points out three causes for our salvation from v3-6: “The efficient cause is the good pleasure of the will of God, the material cause is Jesus Christ, and the final cause is the praise of the glory of His grace.”

In v5, Paul elaborates on the praise of God for His electing grace (v6) by saying that, in love, “we” – “us saints” – were predestined by the Father “to be adopted as sons.” Paul doesn’t write, “as sons and daughters,” because in that culture, only adopted sons were treated as sons; adopted daughters really were more like slaves. They had no rights. But adopted sons would be full heirs. And so Paul says that whether you’re a son or a daughter in Christ, you’re predestined “to be adopted as sons.” Through Jesus Christ, the natural Son, you’re a full heir with all His privileges. There is no contradiction between predestination and the exercise of faith. And once again, there would be no need for this adoption apart from the fall; thus the pre-creation election and predestination of God applied to certain individuals must be explained in light of God’s overarching, albeit sometimes mysterious (v9), good desire. And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what Paul says – that God’s predestining the saints to be adopted as sons through faith in Jesus is indeed according to His “pleasure and will.” Again, Paul does not explain why God predestined “us” to be adopted and not others, but more importantly, he does reveal God’s chief reason for predestination – to exalt His glorious grace. We saw that holiness was the immediate purpose of election; and now we learn that God’s glory is the ultimate purpose of predestination.

Calvin offers an analogy: “The design of building is, that there should be a house. This is the immediate design, but the convenience of dwelling in it is the ultimate design… The glory of God is the highest end, to which our sanctification is subordinate.” Vincent Cheung says, “The doctrine of predestination is indeed controversial, not because Scripture is unclear or that there are good arguments on all sides, but it is controversial chiefly because sinful man, taught by Satan, demands salvation from God and yet refuses to give him all the glory. Instead, he reserves a determinative role for himself, asserting that God makes salvation at best possible, but actual for no one until the person permits God to save him.”

In v6, on which Paul will expound in Ephesians 2:1-10, we learn more about God’s pleasure and will. God pleasure is the praise of His glorious grace. God’s unchanging eternal will, pre-creation throughout eternity, is that His glorious grace would be praised. How amazing! Paul adds to that rather abstract thought an even more amazing concrete reality: God has given “us” His glorious grace “in the One He loves” – Jesus Christ. God’s grace is freely given though expensively bought. In paying the penalty for sin, Jesus did not get the Father to love you; rather, His paying the penalty for sin was because the Father loves you. The doctrine of predestination helps us understand that and praise God for that. We don’t just marvel at the eternal plan and purpose and pleasure and will of God; we experience His grace and praise Him for it. Of course, no praising of grace, and no grace of measure, would exist apart from purposed sin and forgiveness and predestined grace and redemption. And so that’s what Paul turns to next.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ephesians 1:1-2

V1-2 - Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by giving his apostolic authority to declare the truth within this letter. He is an apostle of Christ Jesus, an office not granted to every minister of the gospel (Ephesians 4:11). This has come about not by his own declaration or appointment – for “no one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God” (Hebrews 5:4) – but by the very will of God – as testified to by Paul’s (then Saul’s) Damascus Road conversion experience, which is possibly the most clear illustration of monergism in all of Scripture (Acts 9). As Ligon Duncan points out, “We must listen to the message of Ephesians with an appropriate attention and humility, because this message does not come to us from the ideas of man. This message does not come to us from a private individual acting on his own. This message doesn’t even come to us from someone who was a gifted teacher, or one of our missionary heroes. This message comes to us, because God called and set apart and appointed Paul to bring this message to us; and, therefore, when you hear Paul speaking in this letter, you are in fact hearing the message of God Himself that God appointed Paul to bring to you.”

If this letter is specific to Ephesus, then it reads at stated, “to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ;” however, if Ephesus is absent, as in some early manuscripts, and the letter is general and circular, then Paul is writing to “the saints, the believers who are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Either way, he is defining for us what it means to be a saint. Being a saint and believing in Christ, having faith in Jesus, are synonymous. So when the Roman Catholic Church canonizes saints, it is discounting, even denying, what Paul is saying. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have faith in Him as He is presented in the Bible, then you are saints. Paul is not the only one who makes this declaration. See 1 Peter 2:9-12. We who believe in Jesus Christ are not among those destined for stumbling over Him; rather, we are the chosen ones of God, called to be holy. And so we, as strangers in the world, must pursue holiness (distinctness) with nothing less than the whole of our very lives, unto the glory of God. Paul says that the saints are faithful, literally, full of faith. But it’s not a faith in faith, or a faith in sincerity, or a faith in self. It’s a faith “in Christ Jesus.” When Paul says “in Christ,” he has in mind “union with Christ;” he’s thinking of the personal, saving union to Christ by grace through faith, which is a work of the Holy Spirit. And it’s part of the Biblical definition of a Christian.

As is typical with Paul, his salutation includes a benediction, a blessing of grace and peace from God “our” Father, and from “the Lord” Jesus Christ. It’s not just a bunch of words; Paul means it. He wants his audience, the saints, the faithful who believe in Christ, to have the grace and peace of God through Christ. (You can’t have the peace of God apart from Christ!) Grace refers to the undeserved favor of God despite our demerit; peace (shalom) is referring to all the blessings of God, including but not limited to the end of hostility, as we’ll read in Ephesians 2 that we once were alienated from God as His enemies, spiritually dead in our sins. God has made us alive, reconciling us to Himself through Jesus; and the result for us is objective peace – by grace. Peace means that we experience complete wholeness and satisfaction no matter the circumstances of life in this world; it’s not subjective. That’s what Paul wants for his audience,
and he’ll spend the rest of this passage cataloging the “peace” of God, the blessings that we have from God in Christ, the fruits of God’s grace bestowed on us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Intro to Ephesians

The epistle to the Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul between 60-62 AD. He wrote this, along with Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, while under house arrest in Roman prison (Acts 28). As likely the fourth and final of Paul’s prison letter, Ephesians is more general and less specific – focusing more on prayer and doxology and less on instruction and doctrine. Paul doesn’t persuade or argue with reason in Ephesians, as he does in other, previous letters; rather he rejoices and prays (in perfectly sound doctrine) with awe at God’s majesty and working out of His eternal plan. Paul previously rejoiced in the exaltation of Jesus Christ; now he finds amazement in God’s bringing forth of Christ’s universal Church.

Ephesians was likely a circular letter, as the word “Ephesus” is not found in some of the earliest manuscripts. Also, early church fathers seem unaware of the specific audience of this letter, treating it as circular to the churches of western Asia Minor. Finally, it lacks the personal greetings found in Paul’s letter addressed to specific congregations. Some think it may be the Laodicean epistle mentioned in Colossians, but more likely, it came after Colossians and was not written and sent at the same time.

Ephesus was one of the top five cities in the Roman Empire at the time, and Paul actually stayed there, building up the church with sound doctrine, for two-three years during a stretch of his third mission trip (Acts 19:10, 20:31). Ephesus served as a headquarters for the young church extending throughout western Asia Minor, including the church at Colosse, which was founded by Epaphras, who heard Paul in Ephesus while he was there. Ephesus was famous for the Temple to Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Diana was supposedly a “nurturing” goddess who supposedly made the city “radiant” and glorious. Paul commonly used the language of his culture to battle the culture and this is no exception. For example, in Ephesians 5:27,29, Paul says that Jesus (not the goddess Diana) came to make the church (not the city of Ephesus) holy and “to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless… After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for [nurtures] it, just as Christ does the church.” Acts 19 describes Paul’s ministry there, which impacted local commerce (an idol manufacturer protested Paul’s teaching against idolatry) and turned people away from occult practices.

Though written many years after Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is considered to be the king of the epistles, Ephesians, which is Calvin’s favorite Bible book and considered to be the queen of the epistles, is similar to Romans in the sense that Paul was not writing to address problems. Romans serves as Paul’s doctrinal teaching; Ephesians serves as his opus on the church and prayer inspired by the awe of Christ. Specifically, Paul speaks of the mystery of the church – it is God’s new humanity, a foretaste of eternal unity; it is a community of reconciled sinners, being transformed by grace into a living organism, the body of Christ; it is a new Temple for worshipping God made of living stones founded on Christ and the ministry of the apostles; it is a light in the darkness of the fallen world, a beacon of hope and of stewardship to the glory of God; it is finally a beautiful picture of a bride preparing for and awaiting her husband to come.

Ephesians is a book of prayer. Paul is either praying or talking about prayer in over half of the letter; to paraphrase one commentator in this regard, Paul’s heart is singing the truth, and his prayer is the doctrine of God set to music in this letter. Paul prays prayers of praise and intercession, thanking God for His attributes and asking God to grant wisdom and knowledge and understanding of His attributes to His people – all for His glory. Ephesians is a book about God. Throughout the letter, Paul reveals the glory of the Triune Deity and finds God to be praiseworthy on account of who He is, what He has done, and in light of who we are – sinners without hope apart from Him. Ephesians is also a book about evangelism. Chapters 1 and 2 speak of the missionary God doing His redeeming work: setting forth a plan from before the foundation of the world, accomplishing it in the person of Jesus Christ, and applying it through the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He reaches out with this saving work of Jesus Christ to a multitude from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that no man can number. Then chapters 3 and 4 show God’s purpose in evangelism, to unite His people as the Church, the Body of Christ, and to make them like Himself, like Jesus. And in chapters 5 and 6, Paul reveals the bold and joyful ambassadorship that we have as witnesses to the world of God’s saving work in us and for us through the only way of salvation, which is Jesus Christ.

DC 101 - 201 Transition

We completed our 10-week introduction to the discipleship curriculum and now have some 8 weeks to read through and comment on the book of Jeremiah. We meet up around the 4th or 5th week to cover the first half of Jeremiah (chapters 1-26), and we start DC201 in 8 weeks and there will cover the second half of Jeremiah (chapters 27-52). In the meantime, I'll be blogging through Ephesians...