Lecture 16: Ephesians
This is the 16th lecture in the online series of lectures on New Testament Survey by Dr Thomas Schreiner. Recommended Reading includes: Article on Divorce and Remarriage – Craig Blomberg, Trinity Journal, 1990; The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris; Are there Two Will in God by John Piper; Two views on Women in Ministry by James Beck and Craig Blomberg; Word Bible Commentary: Pastoral Epistles, Volume 46, by William D. Mounce and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood, by Wayne Gudem and John Piper (article by Vern Poythress entitled, ‘The Church as a Family’)
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The first three chapters of Ephesians communicate who and what we are in Christ. Chapters 4-6 is the practical outworking as Paul equates maturity with doctrinal purity and stability, not being swayed by every idea. The Christian life isn’t mathematical because it’s a relationship with the Spirit.
Flow Assignment 1st Timothy 2:11-15
1st Timothy 2:11 Let a woman quietly receive instruction within entire submissiveness. So there the proposition and verse are almost identical. Then the key word comes, but, I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. The word ‘teach’ and ‘exercise authority’ are both the object of the verb allow; ‘But to remain quiet.’ Then verse 13 we have for Adam was formed first and then was created. Verse 14 is connected with an ‘and’; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. Verse 15 starts with a ‘but’ again. But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control. In today environment and women’s equality thinking, this verse doesn’t go down very well. This is setting up a proposition only. Some think that this isn’t necessarily a command as such and certainly there are cultural prerogatives one must consider. Yet in Ephesians 5:22 it says that wives are called on to defer to the husband’s leadership in the family as the head and I think this means authority and not source. Paul argues that this isn’t just cultural because he says as the church is subject to Christ. He is appealing to an argument that transcends culture.
I. Theological Foundation: an Explication of the Gospel (Ephesians 1:1-3:21)
The letter is addressed to Timothy who Paul addresses as his genuine child in the faith. Unlike what we saw in Philippians, Paul addresses himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus which was commanded by God and Jesus. So he lets it be known that God has given him the authority of apostleship. God has given him authority to preach the Gospel of Christ. Timothy was given a task to stay in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings. We have seen this over and over again of Paul warning others of false teachers. This usually means those of the circumcision teaching; Jewish radicals staying that Christians need to be circumcision to be saved. But he could be referring to some who have broken away from the Gospel as such and have turned to the teaching of the law; again this could be those of the circumcision here; we are just not sure. However, Paul emphasizes to Timothy that any instructions must be made through love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. The law isn’t bad, he says, if it is used legitimately for the lawless and religious people, the rebellious, the ungodly and sinners, murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers and any who are contrary to sound teaching. So the law is for a society who doesn’t know God, not for those who have committed themselves to Jesus Christ.
In the first three chapters, Paul basically communicates who and what we are in Christ. It is what Christ has done for us. In verses 15 and following, Paul doesn’t cease to give thanks for the Ephesians. Like Paul, we should continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in their walk with God. I think if we argued less and prayed more with each other in unity we would see more and more of what is involved in our calling. Paul has asked God to give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. Here he talks about the riches that are in the divine glory as being an inheritance that God has promised us. When God raised Jesus from the dead, he seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places and made him the head of the church; not of buildings but head of us. In chapter 2 Paul reminds the Ephesians that they were dead to sin following the ways of the world. They were part of the uncircumcision having no hope and without God in the world. Part of their inheritance is the riches of his grace in their lives now. It is God who has given them this grace. He has now reconciled them to God in one body through the cross. Thus we are now fellow citizens and members of the household of God. God now dwells in all believers making them the temple of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about the mystery of the Gospel revealed to the gentiles, thus having them become fellow heirs and members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. Paul prays that they might be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit.
II. Practical Outworking of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1-6:24)
Chapters 4-6 it is the practical outworking in the Scriptures. We often see the indicative; that is what God has done for us in Christ. This is the basis for the imperative on how we should live. We never put the imperative first before the indicative; otherwise we fall prey to works of righteousness and legalism and self-effort. Thus we put the law before the Gospel. Once you have the Gospel rightly understood, then there is law, so-to-speak, a new way of living by the power of the Spirit. Not legalism but clearly there is law in the Christian life, a new way of living. So in chapter 4, the Jew and Gentile issue has been very important. The issue is how Jews and gentiles relate; Paul has emphasized that we are one body in Christ and then calls us as believers to live a unified life. To live a life worthy of our calling and like in Philippians, a call to unity as a church and this is maintained by being humble and meek and patient and forgiving and forbearing one another. As we live together, some people will irritate us a bit. We need to overlook and show love. He doesn’t say create unity but maintain unity. As Christians, unity is already there. We are already united in Christ. Obviously at times, there is a need to take a stand on certain issues. We have to make decisions on certain matters. But Paul emphasizes the need for patience and love as a body.
Paul goes back to the indicative again in verse 4 where he says, ‘there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’ There is one body of Christ worldwide; this is the worldwide Christians church that he is talking about. There is one church and all Christians are part of it. We would all agree that the ideal would be if there were no denominational divisions. But we live in the already, not yet and the ideal will not happen until the return of Jesus. The commonality is that we all have the same Holy Spirit within us. In verses 4 – 6 we have a Trinitarian formula, ‘there is one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’ We have one hope as believers, the hope of perfection on the last day, the hope of being everything that God called us to be. At the moment we haven’t attained this perfection but we have the hope of reaching it. In verse 5, when he says ‘one faith,’ he means body of doctrine that we hold to. These verses unify us as believers and Paul is saying that we should maintain that unity we have. In verse 7, Paul talks about the gift that we have been given.
As Jesus ascended on high in verse 8, he led a host of captives. I think what he is talking about is that he conquered demons, and then he gave gifts to human beings. He descended into the lower parts of the earth and ascended again so that he might fulfill all things. Is this talking about Jesus descending into hell? I don’t think that is what it means; the lower parts here refer to the earth as Calvin has pointed out. This is to the earth itself; he became a man and he ascended again. Obviously he was in the realm of the dead because he was dead for three days. Did he actually go into hell? I am not sure that he did. The emphasis here clearly is Jesus’ victory over demonic powers and he has ascended on high and ruling and giving gifts to the church. These include apostles, prophets, evangelists; God has granted certain people evangelistic gifts and then pastors and teachers. This is the only time in the New Testament that we have the word pastor and here it is connected with teaching; so we have pastors and teachers together. If you were to read the New Testament objectively and think of the leaders of the church, the most commonly used word is elders, then overseers and lastly pastors. Of course all these gifts are given in order to help the saints. It is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. I understand that verse 13 is referring to the Eschaton, that which will happen at the end. Unity of faith, I think, means unity of doctrine. As the church grows, it becomes more solid in its doctrine and as we grow in the knowledge of Christ. Remember that Christ in Ephesians is referred to as the ‘new man’; Jew and Gentile joined together. So the new man is Christ and we grow into him. So the goal of the church is to become mature and solid.
How do we know when we are mature in Christ? The example he gives is doctrinal stability. We are not to be carried away by every new wave of the wind of teaching. But there are times to be immature, especially when you are young as baby Christians are just naturally that way. When I was a young Christian, whatever people told me, I believed them. I wasn’t at a way where I could discern between truth and error. In verse 15, when he says to speak the true in love; this refers to speaking the truth of the Gospel in love. Then Paul talks about the impact that we all have on each other. Our church is only as mature as every member of it is as every member of the church plays apart in the growth and stability of the church.
A. A Call to Live as Children of Light (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)
Paul calls us not to live as the Gentiles do. Gentiles for Paul is sometimes a term for unbeliever. They are outside the covenant. Don’t live as they do because they don’t think correctly. They are alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. I think everything is meaningless if you don’t God in your life; what hope do you have? You think that you just grow old and die when in fact without Christ, you grow old and die and spend eternity in hell. Unbelievers are darkened and become alienated from God’s life. Paul says in verse 19 that they become callous giving themselves over to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. And Paul says, ‘you are not like this.’ Not as Christians; you don’t live that way anymore. You now know the truth that is in Jesus; you are a new creature and your minds are being changed. And again we have the tension between the indicative and the imperative. We have passages that say that we have been crucified and that our old self has been crucified along with Christ. Yet in verse 22, it says to put off the old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of god in true righteousness and holiness. This is a tension; we are a new person now and we have to put certain things off and other things on. At first the indicative as we are a new people in Christ and then the imperative to put off the old and put on the new. Our new selves have been created after the likeness of God. This is very practical as we think about it.
It really is instructive in what Paul doesn’t say about sins in our lives. When it comes to anger and lying and bad talk and sexual sins, he doesn’t say just to do away with those sins. It says to put it away; say no to it. You are a new person in Christ (indicative), put off the old way (imperative). Are you struggling with anger, put it aside; are you struggling with lust, say no to it. We know that these things can be great struggles in our lives, but we have God’s grace in Christ. God grace is foundational and there is a call related to it but there is a call to human decision and for making the right choices based on God’s grace. We see that so practically in every area; put away falsehoods and speak truth. Not all anger is sin as shown in verse 26, but don’t let anger stir in you too much. There are things that we should be angry about; for example the abortion holocaust in the world, especially in the west, in China and India, etc. But if that is all we think about, it will destroy us. There is a balance; don’t let things consume you. Continued anger, provides an opportunity for the devil to enter in. We can get angry for a good cause but end up being destroyed by it. Paul says in chapter 5 to imitate God and to walk in love just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.
In verses 3-5 sexual immorality and impurity and crude joking is so evident in our society today. It is truly remarkable how filthy it is today. These temptations are all around us today. Our culture is like the frog boiling in the water over these things and the media becomes more and more corrupt each year until slowly we get used to it. We get used to the way people talk in our culture; yet is something that we are to put away and be different over. Before coming to Christ, I was like this so I know what it is like. Paul says instead, be thankful because a lot of that humor comes from boredom in life. People are bored and they fall into these sins and this type of jesting. But thankfulness is something deeper, richer and more profound. As pastors and preachers and just being Christians, we need to remind people about these things and how often and easily we can slip into these jesters. Paul is very strong in what he says; those who are sexually immoral or impure or covetous have no part or inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Don’t be deceived about this. Note that if we repent of any sin, we will be forgiven but people whose lives are characterized by these things they will be judged as these are unfruitful works of darkness. Paul warns us not to associate with people that drag you down. If darkness is overcoming you, get out of that situation. If you can be light to them, that is great, continue to do so but if their darkness is over powering you, get away from them because they will drag you down. We are light and the fruit of light in doing what is good and right and true. The beautiful and good is so hard for the media to portray. We need to expose those things that are evil. Note that being filled with the Spirit manifests itself in different ways such as psalms and hymns and songs and singing and joy and being subject to one another in the body of Christ. Colossians says to let the Word of Christ dwell in us. And to be filled with the Spirit, we must be filled with the Word. We must do this both together.
B. Social Relationships in the New Community (Ephesians 5:21-6:9)
In verse 22, Wives are to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Today this is so controversial, not so much at Southern Seminary but very controversial in the western culture. ‘For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.’ Paul believes that there are different roles between wives and husbands in Ephesians. Wives are called on to defer to the husbands leadership in the family as the head and I think this means authority and not source. Paul argues that this isn’t just cultural because he says as the church is subject to Christ. He is appealing to an argument that transcends culture. There is a difference in roles for both wives and husbands. But be aware that there are exceptions to wives being subjects to their husbands just as there are exceptions to us being subject to the state. We can’t be subject to the state when it asks us to sin. For example, if the husband bands a wife from going to church, the wife should say no and go to church. Our first allegiance should be to God. This doesn’t suggest that the wife only relates to God through the husband. The wives are to submit to Christ also. The husband’s responsibility is to love their wives, to nurture and affirm and strengthen wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for the church. This is a high call for husbands. Often husbands live by just being passive; they come home and eat dinner and read the newspaper and go to bed. Sometimes husbands are very uncommunicative with wives. Most wives want to hear from their husbands so it is not responsible leadership for a husband not to be communicative to their wives. Every husband can fall short of what is said here. I don’t think it is saying that husbands sanctify and cleanse their wives; it doesn’t say it at all.
In verses 26-27, he speaks of the unique work of Christ in loving the church. Christ sanctified himself for the church and cleanses the church without spot. As husbands we can learn how to help our wives spiritually. Now when husbands love their lives, they love their own bodies. They love themselves as no one has ever hated his own flesh. Interestingly, if your wife is unhappy, you are unhappy! If as a husband you don’t pay attention to your wife, she becomes unhappy and then you become unhappy. Interestingly, people don’t get a divorce if they are happy! The joyous thing to do is to love each other; this is putting off the old and putting on the new. We all fail in ways but we can repent and start over afresh. As Christian we need to think on how we are to be Christ like to our wives. Our marriages reflect our relationship to Christ and the church. Some people relate to the passage as cultural because Paul talks about slavery in chapter 6. And he also teaches about parents and children. This, of course, is not cultural. Children should still obey their parents. They are to honor their father and mother. Yes, certainly slavery is cultural and an evil institution and regulated by the Scriptures; so they are different. Paul doesn’t endorse slavery nor give any transcendent norm for slavery but he does for marriage: Christ and the church. The Scriptures don’t endorse slavery but it endorses marriage and having children. It regulates slavery but it doesn’t commend it. Respect by children to their parents is evidence of obedience to God. So Paul is saying that obedient children show that they are Christians and they go to heaven.
C. The Battle against Demonic Forces (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Demons are real and invisible and powerful. They are dangerous and we can’t conquer them on our own, but we have already won the victory. Paul tells us to stand in the strength of the Lord and his might. Paul doesn’t get into the ‘uga buga’ world that many get into today. People get into a lot of superstition. To conquer demonic power, it takes living a life of truth and righteousness and being ready to share the Gospel. We need to pray for our friends and our church and the world; by this we stand against the powers of Satan. We are to be Godly and kind and loving.