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).