Acts 21:27-28:31; Ephesians
Lecture: Acts 21:27-28:31; Ephesians
Today we are on Lesson 21, we are going to conclude the Book of Acts and we will look then at the Book of Ephesians. You should all have your outlines.
We’re starting in Acts 21:27 and we’re going to go to the end of the book; it will be pretty quick. In summary, these chapters are the basic stories of Paul’s imprisonment, and a series of trials that he had on his trip to Rome. All of this happened, you will remember, after his third missionary journey was done. He gets back from that trip, he goes right to Jerusalem into the temple and that’s where the story picks up.
Mob, Arrest, and Defense (Acts 21:27-22:29)
We start with the story of the mob. Paul goes into the temple, and the people assume that he brought an uncircumcised Gentile in with him, which he had not. There’s a huge mob scene, and Paul is arrested, and he gets to make a defense to the people. He concludes in chapter 22:21 because the last thing that Paul says to this Jewish mob was, “he” (meaning God) “said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” We’ve already talked about that and how that the Jews were extreme racists and that they couldn’t even conceive of the Gospel being proclaimed to the Gentiles much less Gentiles even responding. With his statement that it was going to go to the Gentiles, they tried to kill him and they weren’t able to.
Four Trials: Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (Acts 22:30-26:32)
Paul makes a defense before the Sanhedrin and pulls a tricky maneuver that later on he has to apologize for. He knows the Sanhedrin’s made of up Pharisee and Sadducees; Pharisees accept the resurrection, Sadducees don’t, so he cries out, “it is with my hope in the resurrection that I am here today,” and then the Sanhedrin collapses on itself and he later has to apologize for that; it probably wasn’t the best thing to say. There’s a plot to murder Paul and he’s taken to Caesarea under guard, where he stands trial before Felix.
What you have here now are a series of trials and they all sound pretty much the same. They are long and you find yourself wondering, “Okay, Luke, why the same story over and over and over again and the answer is that one of the purposes for which Luke is writing was to provide a defense for Paul in Rome as he was on trial there. He wants to show the Roman authorities in Rome that Paul has been through a series of trials by the Roman governors and they didn’t find anything wrong with him and it’s really the trouble-making Jews that caused the problem. If you feel like this is adnauseam over and over again, that’s one of the reasons that Luke is writing—to provide this defense for Paul. In all these trials Paul recounts that he persecuted the church, that he was converted, that he was faithful to the Heavenly vision and then he asserts his innocence that he is not a trouble maker.
That’s how the trial goes in Acts 24 before Felix, but Felix is afraid, and he leaves Paul in jail for two years as a favor to the Jews. Can you imagine what was going through Paul’s mind? It probably wasn’t going through Paul’s mind, but it would have gone through mine, “Okay God let’s see now, I’m an apostle to the Gentiles, I’m the main apostle to the people that have not heard, why am I in jail for two years doing nothing?” We have no record of anything that happened during the Caesarean imprisonment, but that’s probably what I would have thought, but probably not what Paul though.
Eventually Felix is recalled and he is replaced by Festus, so there’s another trial. Paul’s on trial before Festus and there’s the famous scene where it’s obvious to Paul that the Jews are making trouble and that he is in some danger, and therefore he says, “I appeal to Caesar.” This was the right of any Roman citizen that no matter where they were, no matter who was the judge, if they were a citizen of Rome they could appeal to Caesar and they had to be sent to Rome to be tried. It was one of the perks of being a Roman. It was one of the protections to encourage the Roman citizens to go out to the far reaches of the Roman Empire.
He appeals to Caesar and there’s another trial between Festus and the Jewish King Agrippa. He’s transferred to Rome, and this is the story of the shipwreck where the captain does what Paul says he shouldn’t do and they shipwreck on Malta, and he’s there for 3 months. You can see on his trip that he goes to Caesarea then he heads off and he hits the storm and he’s driven for a couple of weeks, they get to Malta and stay there about 3 months, and then they go back on up to Rome.
Final Jewish Rejection (Acts 28:17-29)
Turn in your Bibles to Acts 28. He gets to Rome he’s under house arrest; it’s not a difficult arrest, he’s got a soldier there with him and people can come and go. The Jewish leaders he calls together, and they hadn’t heard of Paul yet which is interesting. The Jews in Asia Minor made it their business to wreck Paul’s life wherever he went, but they never got to Rome, so the Jews in Rome had not heard about Paul. They knew about the sect, about Christianity, but they didn’t know about Paul. So he presents the Gospel to them like he has in every major city all of his Christian life and then in verse 25 you begin to see that this is the final rejection of Judaism as far as Paul is concerned. They disagree among themselves, some thought what Paul was saying was true and some thought it wasn’t. They depart after Paul has made one statement and here was his parting statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear, but never understand, and you will indeed see, but never perceive.’ For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart,” and of course if the Jewish nation had done that, the quote continues, if they had “turned, and I would heal them,” but they actively rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ and so the Gospel is now fully into the going to the Gentiles. Verse 28: “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
That’s the final end of the process that begin back in Acts 1:8, when Jesus said to the disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts is the record of the spread of the Gospel through all the racial and geographical and etiological and theological barriers and the main preacher of the Gospel is now sitting in the seat of the ancient power of Rome and ready to defend himself. That’s the end of the Book of Acts. That’s a quick run through, but I wanted to make sure we finished that particular story.
We’re going to look the rest of tonight at the Book of Ephesians. Do you know why the Paul’s epistles are in the order in which they are? They are ordered by length: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians. What’s nice about that though is that we have a grouping of four epistles that are called “the Prison Epistles”; they are called the Prison Epistles because Paul’s in Rome in prison when he writes them. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon are all written during this period of imprisonment. We know that at the end of Acts 28 that Paul has been there for two years, we don’t know how much longer he stayed. The chronology is very complicated; I don’t think he stayed much longer than two years. I think Luke was rushing to get this done in order to be able to use it in Paul’s defense. The reason for that is buried in 2 Timothy, but he probably did not stay there much longer than two years, but anyway, Paul’s two jail years were very active years. He was not in a serious imprisonment—people could come and go he could send letters and get letters, meet with people—it was house arrest.
One of the letters he wrote during this time was Ephesians. It’s possible that the Book of Ephesians is what is called the circular letter. In other words, it may not have been written specifically to the Ephesians, but it may have been addressed to the Ephesians, but intended to go to the whole area of Asia Minor. Remember Ephesus was the capital so you if sent it to Ephesus, it spreads out. The reason that’s important is that in some of your Bibles you’ll notice in verse 1 it says, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus.” That phrase, in Ephesus, isn’t in some of the Greek manuscripts and more than that, there are some very strange verses, like Ephesians 1:15, where Paul says, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you”; it sounds like he doesn’t know them, he’s heard about them like he’s heard of other people’s faith, but there is a suggestion that he doesn’t know them. This is especially so in 3:2, “Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you,” wait a minute Paul, you were in Ephesus for three years, they know you! Well, the guess and I think it’s a right guess is that whether the “in Ephesus” was in the original Greek or not, Paul most like intended this letter to be circular, that it would be sent to Ephesus and then spread all the way through Asia Minor. We have that thing going on in the letter to the Colossians too. In Colossians 4:16 Paul says, read the letter I wrote to the Laodiceans when you are done with this letter send your letter to the Laodiceans as well. In other words, Paul intended the people to circulate his letters and so the letter of Ephesians probably fits in that category.
Two-Fold Structure and Resources
In terms of the structure of Ephesians, it’s very straight forward: chapters 1, 2 and 3 deal with theology for the most part; chapters 4, 5 and 6 deal mostly with ethics—the same division we saw in the Book of Romans that he lays down the theology and then he starts bringing out the practical implications of it.
In terms of commentaries I’ll give you the names of three. There are not a lot of commentaries on Ephesians. The John Stotts one called The Message of Ephesians by Intervarsity is the one I go to the most. It is a lay commentary, but Stott did an excellent job on it. Another scholar by the name of Klyne Snodgrass wrote a commentary on Ephesians in the NIV Application Commentary series, but his commentary in the NIV Application Commentary has come out, I have not read it, but the whole series is good and Snodgrass is a very good scholar so I’m assuming it is a good commentary. There is another one by Harold Hoehner, Harold is the Head of the Bible Department at Dallas, a very good scholar, a good Christian, just a good man all around. It was originally written for another series that went defunct and he has spent years trying to find someone to publish it because independent commentaries don’t sell. Commentaries that are a part of a series sell, and Baker finally picked up his commentary on Ephesians—it is wonderful and it’s about 1400 pages, but you have to know Greek to get through it. If you want the really detailed stuff and you wonder how anybody can write 1200-1400 pages on a six-chapter book, you can read Harold’s commentary. Probably for you, Stott's and Snodgrass’s are going to be the best commentaries for you.
Part I: Theology (Eph. 1-3)
Let’s jump into Ephesians, we have the standard greeting in the first two verses; it’s very straight forward.
Our Spiritual Blessings (Eph. 1:3-14)
Part one of the book is about theology, and Paul starts laying out our spiritual blessings in verses 3-14. This should be one of your favorite chapters in the Bible, there is so much stuff in here and so much that causes you to reflect and mull over and think about it. Paul starts, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” do you ever think about how you bless God? You bless God by praising him, by declaring who he is and what he has done. That’s exactly what Paul’s going to do, he’s going to lay out in detail some of things that God has done for us.
I should say again the Bible translations are going to be radically different. The Greek of verses 3-14 is one sentence in Greek. Greek can do that, it’s just the way it functions. Even for Greek, this is ridiculously long, but Greek can do it quite easily. Your Bible translations will be starting and stopping a lot in order to make sense of this long Greek sentence. When you take a long sentence and you break it in half lots of times, and then you’re going to start the second in your translation, you have to add in a few words because your subject is back in the previous verse. So translations are going to differ in terms of the overall structure of this, but they will agree on the basic message.
Let’s look at the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus starting with verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” There is a question whether the “in love” goes with the previous or the next, the ESV puts it with the next.
Election (Eph. 1:4)
The number one blessing we have in Christ is our election. It’s amazing how Paul did not have trouble with this concept like we often do, but for Paul the blessings of God start with the fact that God chose us. I looked up Wayne Grudem’s definition of election, I should have done it back in Romans, but I forgot, Grudem says, “Election is an act of God before creation and this is the strongest statement that election was before creation, an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them,”—God doesn’t look to the future to see what we’re going to choose and then elect us because that doesn’t mean anything—that’s the argument, that we choose him so he chooses us, I’m not comfortable with that, but Wayne writes that out in the definition: “not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.” I would say in this passage that the phrase, “before the foundation of the world” is a really important phrase because it means that before there was time, before there was anything, God in his mercy and God in his grace chose that there would be certain people that he would most certainly redeem from the pit of Hell and most certainly bring into his kingdom. I know that we struggle with some of the implications of that, but I’d encourage you that the doctrine of election, the way the Bible presents it is the greatest doctrine of mercy there is in the Bible. Because of nothing that I have done God chose to save me.
I will point out something here which is just not pointed out in discussions of election and someday I’m going to do my work and look up every verse on election and see if this is true. It’s amazing to me how many times when the Bible talks about election it does so in terms of sanctification. Why were you and I elect? That we should be holy and blameless. In Romans 8 we are predestined, we were chosen to be conformed to the image of his Son that in many, I don’t know if all, but in many of the passages on election, there is an ethical component to it and I’ve never yet been in an argument on election where we argued about that. Yet it seems that in Paul’s mind, that is a large part of what is going on. It is not just that God chose us, it’s that God chose us so that we would be holy and blameless. God chose us so there would be some who look like his Son, Jesus Christ. There’s a healthy ethical component in election and unfortunately it doesn’t come up in most of the conversations. The number one blessing is that God elected us, that God guaranteed that some would respond.
Adoption (Eph. 1:5-6)
Second of all at the end of verse 4, “In love he predestined us,” which is just another word for election, “he predestined us for adoption,” and that’s the second blessing, that we’re all adopted “through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace,” or to the praise of the grace of his glory is another way to translate it, “with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” in Jesus Christ. We are all adopted, none of us are biological or natural children of God. Everyone of us is adopted into his family. Especially if you have a child that is adopted this is a very powerful message that you can share with them. God gives some parents children biologically and some through adoption, but, we’re all adopted children of God. It is a very powerful message to give if you are in one of those situations. The second blessing we have is that we are adopted into the family of God.
Redemption (Eph. 1:7-10)
The third blessing is our redemption—our forgiveness, starting in verse 7, “In him we have redemption through his blood,” in other words, through his death, “the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight”; these are important words to emphasize as we understand our blessing in Christ.
Inheritance (Eph. 1:11-12)
Our fourth blessing is our inheritance, verse 11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” there’s a good verse on the sovereignty of God, “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ,” chronologically first to hope, “might be to the praise of his glory,” that we have a Heavenly inheritance. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 1 Peter 1 when it comes to inheritance, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy,” you can hear the same themes over and over again “he has caused us to be born again” and then later on continues “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in Heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” As I like to say, we have an inheritance that our parents can’t spend and I can’t lose and it’s the inheritance that we have in Heaven. I just picked up Randy Alcorn’s book on Heaven and I’m looking forward to having some time to read it because I don’t think we are that consumed with Heaven, at least not in America. We like it here, we like our houses, our cars, and our luxury and all that stuff, which is not inherently bad, but it certainly does, I think, keep us from longing to go home. There’s so much in the New Testament that’s trying to say look forward, keep your head up, long for the coming of Jesus. I know before I was married I would say, “I’ll long for your coming as soon as I get married,” or when I was working on a book, “Oh God, please don’t come back until this book is done.” All wrong. We should be looking forward to our inheritance.
Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14)
Fifth, our blessing is the Holy Spirit, verse 13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him,” here’s one of those things that happens when you become a Christian that you may not be aware of you “were sealed” powerful metaphor “with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee” and the footnote in the ESV says “or down payment,” meaning the down payment that guarantees the rest of the payment, the notion of guarantee is very strong, “of our inheritance,” our Heavenly inheritance, “until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” In other words, we have a blessing in the Holy Spirit, who when we became Christians, put his seal on us which guarantees that someday we will acquire our Heavenly inheritance. This is quite a blessing.
When you sealed a letter in the ancient world, there are two things you’re doing, right? You’re putting your mark of ownership on the letter and you’re protecting its contents. Both those images of ownership and protection are intended by Paul here and generally elsewhere where he uses the metaphor. I like to use the illustration of the Greek word arrabon in modern Greek, which has a totally different meaning than biblical Greek. You can’t go from the meaning of a Greek word in modern Greek back into biblical Greek, because the language has changed sufficiently. The word arrabon in modern Greek refers to your engagement ring. Now if you add to that the old way of viewing engagements as legally binding ceremonies, then you get the power of this image. This is why Joseph was going to have to divorce Mary, even though they were only engaged; the engagement was the legally binding ceremony. The Holy Spirit is, as an illustration, our engagement ring, our absolute promise, our down payment and guarantee that someday we will receive the inheritance that God has promised to us. It’s a pretty neat illustration isn’t it. I was listening to a sermon by Charles Spurgeon the other day.
There is a guy who is in audio redoing sermons of people who have passed away. This was a very powerful sermon and he talked a lot about the Holy Spirit being our down payment, our engagement ring so to speak and he asked the question, “if the Holy Spirit is a divine guarantee, is it possible for him to fail?” No. God can’t fail. The Holy Spirit is God and his job is to be our absolute bedrock guarantee that we will inherit the Heavenly inheritance that God has promised us. I know I’m annoying with my emphasis on discipleship and the necessity of growth and sanctification, but this is just as true, isn’t it? I will never say I believe in once saved always saved, as I shared, I don’t like any of that language, but I do like the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and that’s the language I’ll use because I think that’s what the Bible uses. The saints persevere, the saints hold on true. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is simply that those who are truly saved persevere to their end and they persevere because God perseveres. The weight is on God because God perseveres. Why? Because his Holy Spirit is the absolute guarantee that we’ll receive our inheritance. How does he persevere? He enables us to have faith. That’s where I come out on this whole debate. God perseveres with me therefore I am able to persevere in my discipleship. The way that God perseveres is that the Holy Spirit is my guarantee and he continues to enable me to respond in faith. Now I still have to persevere to the end, “he who perseveres to the end shall be saved,” Matthew 24, but the only reason I can do that and the only reason I’m going to do that is because God is persevering with me. In the Statement of Faith for the Institute it just has a simple phrase, persevering to the end. I left it innocuous that way, but that’s the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.
Those are the five wonderful blessings that we have in Christ. It’s also very common to point out the Trinity in this passage. There are certain Trinitarian passages in the Bible right? The word trinity doesn’t appear, but you have people baptizing in the name, singular, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Great Commission. This is also another passage we often go to to talk about the trinity because it is God who has blessed us, it is Christ’s work on the cross that accomplishes our blessings, and it’s the Holy Spirit who guarantees our blessings. You have all three members of the God Head at work in our lives in this paragraph so it’s very common to use this when you’re discussing the Trinity.
He starts off by laying out the spiritual blessings in Christ and you just have to reflect on this. These are words that some of us are just used to and you can gloss over them, but stop and think what it means to be adopted. What it means to be, in a sense, in an orphanage, to be one of many kids and God says, “You’re mine and I’m not going to treat you like a slave, I’m going to treat you like a son because you are a son, you are a daughter and you have a full inheritance of my estate.” These are powerful images that you can only really understand if you reflect on them.
Who We Are Individually in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10)
Paul goes through a traditional thanksgiving and prayer at the end of chapter 1 and then in chapter 2 he gets into describing what salvation is. It’s a very powerful discussion and one that people in reformed theology rely on heavily. In 2:1-10, he’s going to talk about who we are individually in Christ. He’s going to get to some corporate information later on, but right now the focus is individual.
Dead in Sin (Eph. 2:1-3)
He starts in verses 1-10 by emphasizing that we were dead in our sins, “you were dead,” this is before Christ “in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience”—this is Paul’s view of the unregenerate world. This is his understanding of the spiritual battle and the depravity that we all have apart from Christ, “among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh,” remember this is Paul the super religious Pharisee talking too and yet he understands this ascribes himself as well, “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
That’s a really powerful statement isn’t it. It’s the same language that we saw in Romans 9, but this is another expression of the doctrine of original sin and total depravity. We talked about this in Romans 5, but as the result of Adam’s and Eve’s sin, we are by nature, we are born children of wrath. If somebody asks me, “Do you believe in free will?” My quick answer is very Lutheran, I say, “No, I believe in the bondage of the will,” and it’s from passages like this that if somebody thinks that people are totally free and can choose God if they want, or equally not choose God, the challenge is to understand Ephesians 2:1-3, because before the time of Christ, Paul’s not saying that I am free to do what I want, he said, “I’m dead.”
Have I told you the story about the pastor and the cadaver? It’s a true story. At least it was told to me as a true story. There had been a funeral of someone in the church and everyone had left? Everyone was gone. He did this he said because, “I’ve always wanted to do it so I could use it as an illustration.” Everyone was gone and he got on his hands and knees and crawled over to the coffin which was still open and he slowly came up and he goes “Boo.” The illustration while morbid is pretty powerful because the illustration is he didn’t move—the cadaver didn’t move. Why? Because he was dead. A little sick, but I thought it was a pretty good illustration. That is the picture that Paul paints of us that we are dead in our trespasses and sins.
Even Wesleyan theology, Nazarene, Free Methodist and others all understand that the Holy Spirit is needed to draw people to God. You have to go way out to the end to Arminianism to say, “No, anybody can choose to choose God or can choose to not choose God.” You’ve got to go way past any Nazarene or Free Methodist doctrine to get to that. Even if you’re in that camp, they will say yes I was dead in my trespasses and sin and it was Jesus who enabled me to respond. Now Wesleyans and reformed people are going to differ a little bit on exactly what that means, but they’re really not that far apart, at least I don’t think so.
Let me read Article V in our Statement of Faith because a lot of it comes out of this paragraph. It says, “Adam and Eve were both created in the image of God, Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from his side. They disobeyed God and died, spiritually and physically.” There’s original sin. “Therefore,” and here is your total depravity, “all people are objects of wrath, sinners by nature,” and then I added “and by choice” meaning that sooner or later the sin nature takes over and you choose to sin. “They are dead in their sins and incapable of pleasing God. Without the direct intervention of God, they will live separated from God, die in their sins, and receive the condemnation that their sin deserves.” This is the clearest statement of what we believe about anthropology, our view of what it is to be a human being. Remember we said in Romans that anthropology precedes soteriology. Your doctrine of what it is to be human and to be sinful and separated from God has to be established first then you move on to soteriology, and then you move on to salvation which is right where Paul goes in vv. 4-10. Wherever you are on the seeker driven, seeker sensitive movement, if you don’t start with sin, you can never get to salvation, and that’s the pattern in Paul here, everywhere.
God Saved Us (Eph. 2:4-10)
Having asserted his anthropology that we are dead in our sins it then says God then saved us. Let me just read 2:4-10, “But God, being rich in mercy,” you can hear this echoing from chapter 1 “because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,” salvation is not by works, “made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—” he just has to add before he goes on, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the Heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” this is being in Christ, that mystical union, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God is just bursting at the seams to bless us, and that just comes through in all the language, and then it’s like Paul wants to say the whole thing over again.
If Ephesians 2:8-10 is not highlighted in your Bibles you should do so because this is one of those verses you use a lot in talking with people, “For by grace,” not by works, but by God’s grace “you have been saved through faith,” not earning things. “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Then notice how quickly Paul moves into sanctification. Salvation and sanctification are not separated concepts in his mind “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” God’s grace enables us to have a faith, we respond in faith and we are saved, but we are not just saved to live anyway we want, Romans 6 took care of that, but we are saved so that we can do the good works, the very good works that God prepared before hand, and I’m assuming before the foundation of the world, so that we would do them.
Student: In verse 8, when it says “For by grace you have been saved through faith this is not your own doing,” what does this refer to? Response: It is a very important question, what’s the antecedent of this? It can’t be grace, and it can’t be faith because the grammar doesn’t work. In Greek there are tree genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. When Greek wants to refer back to the whole of a concept, it puts the pronoun in the neuter. That means that this includes faith, but it’s greater than faith. What Paul is saying is for by God’s grace, you have been saved and the salvation is through faith and this whole thing, not just our faith, but our salvation through the faith is a gift from God. It includes faith, but faith isn’t the specific antecedent; it is included in it.
Reformation theology will talk about how the Holy Spirit draws people to God, which is language from John 8, and what that means is that the Holy Spirit is enabling people to respond to the Gospel message. When you and I became Christians, and this is why I’m not a hyper-reform person, we made a choice, we made a real choice. We all made the same real choice that when presented with Hell or the riches of God’s goodness through faith in Jesus Christ, we all chose to be saved. It’s important in theological discussion that the fact that you and I made a choice isn’t ignored. We all made choices, and sometimes that’s lost in the hyper-reform position. Acts 2 my favorite example. The people asked Peter, “What must we do to be saved?” What if he had said, “Oh nothing, you’re either elect or you’re damned so it doesn’t really matter. Live anyway you want and you’ll find out at the judgment seat.”? There are people that won’t say it that way, but that’s what they intend. Salvation is always presented as a choice and as you and I share the good news of Jesus Christ, we must call people to make a choice, understanding that I can’t make them get saved and that apart from the work of the Spirit in their life they can’t even choose it, but the work of the Spirit is such that they choose to become Christians.
The acronym TULIP of reformed theology stands for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited or particular atonement (which I don’t believe), Irresistible grace. This is the doctrine of irresistible grace, that God extends his grace to you, he gives you the ability to believe. This is where Wesleyans and reformed people start having differences of opinion, but the doctrine of irresistible grace is that God enables you to make a choice and God’s grace is irresistible—you will make a choice and you will always make the right choice—you will choose to become a Christian. That’s what the doctrine of irresistible grace is, do with it what you want. The P is the Perseverance of the saints.
Implications of God Saving Us
Okay, as you’re looking at this, please look at the terminology: rich in mercy, God’s love—we were made alive when we were dead, grace, we’ve been saved; it’s all passive; it’s by God through faith, this is not of our own doing, the whole process. This is a marvelous passage that whatever you believe in the doctrine of salvation, you have to struggle with these six verses because these are key verses in our theology. You can think through the implications, and let me just mention some of them very quickly. There are many implications that come out of this.
If you understand that this is the nature of salvation you’re not going to ask the question of Romans 6, can I continue in sin that grace can abound, because you’re going to understand how radically you were changed from someone who was dead to someone who is alive by God’s grace. You’re just going to understand that life has to be different, you won’t take any convincing at all. I think it’s for those people who don’t understand the depth of their sin and the wonder of God’s gracious salvation. They are the ones they tend to struggle with why does my life have to change, but if you really understand that you were dead in your sin and that you now are alive with Christ, the most natural in the world is to say, “My life’s going to be different.” I think that’s one of the serious implications that come out of this.
I think this should inform how we speak about salvation. I don’t even like saying, “I lead someone to the Lord,” or that “I accepted Jesus,” because that puts all the weight on me and I’m just uncomfortable with that. Saying, “God saved me,” that’s the biblical way of saying what salvation is. Now if you’re going to say that you lead someone to the Lord, I’m not going to get on your case because hopefully you know what you’re saying, that you were God’s agent, you were God’s instrument through the working of the Holy Spirit and you played a vital role in this person coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Now if that’s what we mean by “I lead someone to the Lord,” okay, although it’s not biblical language.
The third pun is that sanctification is, and I use the word part carefully, part of salvation. Now I’m not Roman Catholic, I don’t think that our sanctification, our living lives of holiness earns salvation, you know that by now, but notice how quickly Paul moves from salvation to sanctification, from salvation to holiness, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” God before the creation of time said there are things that I have for Bill Mounce to do and he saved me so that I could do those good things that he had established before the beginning of time. This thing in the American Evangelical church of separating salvation and sanctification, while I can understand it historically in the Protestant battle of Catholicism, that’s long gone by now. We need to understand salvation is by grace, it is nothing that we can do, but we were saved for good works, we were saved to grow in holiness and it’s not right to separate these things like many have.
Who We Are Corporately as the Church (Eph. 2:11-22)
In 2:11-22 he talks more about the corporate church. He goes into a discussion that there used to be two groups, Jews and Gentiles, and there was a dividing wall of hostility that existed between them. You have to understand this is the historical Paul who is raised in this whole milieu of Judaism and its racism against Gentiles, so this is a big deal for Paul. In the cross, Christ broke that dividing wall of hostility so that these that were two could now be one. That’s the mystery that is what Paul never would have guessed as a Jew, as a Pharisee, never would have guessed that Jew and Gentile together would form the family of God, would form the church. He goes on and marvels about it.
Closing Prayer for Spiritual Maturity (Eph. 3:14-21)
Then in chapter 3 he comes to the close of the letter, and in 3:14 he talks about his prayer for the Ephesians. This is a wonderful prayer, and he says it’s a prayer for their spiritual maturity. Paul sometimes is seen as the missionary who wants to evangelize, and that’s true, but if you look at his prayer he says prayers are all for maturity, for Christian growth, verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” that’s how we persevere—Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, he enables us to continue to respond in faith, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth.” Back in verse 16, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” see this is Paul’s prayer, not just that these churches be formed, but they grow in their spiritual maturity.
Then Paul ends with this amazing doxology, verse 20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” and I can think of a lot. I can dream of a lot of things that God can do—like pay off the loan on this building in the next couple of years, but the problem is it seems as soon as I come up with a good idea for God to do, he goes—“I was going to do that, but I’m going to do more than you’ve ever dreamt of.” That’s just an amazing promise, “according to the power at work within us,” the very power to do more than we can dream is the power of the Holy Spirit that resides in us, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Glory to God is the end purpose of all life, isn’t it? To him be Glory, in everything we do, eat, or drink, we do to the Glory of God, whatever we say, don’t say, do, don’t do, we do in such a way that God is praised and God is honored. That is the end purpose of man right—to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Please notice, theology must end in doxology. I wish some of my theology teachers understood that; maybe they do and they just didn’t implement it; but theology is not a way to simply describe God. Theology must be a way to proclaim God, and Paul, as he did in Romans 11, as he does in 1 Timothy 1 and as he’s doing it here as he goes on and on in a description of God and his glory, he’s forced to doxologize, he’s forced to praise, and that is what all theology should do.
Let me end this part with a really quick story. When I was thinking about getting out of college and seminary instruction and into preaching, John Piper came to the seminary to speak and I pulled some strings and I got to pick him up at the airport, because that was the only way I was going to get any time with him. I knew him through a mutual friend, but I had never actually met him before. He had been someone who had taught at Bethel College for 8 years and then took a small dying church in downtown Minneapolis called Bethlehem Baptist. I asked him, “why did you make the shift?” because I was thinking about doing the same shift and he said, “I had a sabbatical, I was working on Romans 9, the justification of God”—a difficult passage, and he said, “I couldn’t sleep one night and God said to me,” and John doesn’t say that thing very often, “God spoke to me and he said now what are you going to do? Now that you’ve finished understanding Romans 9 and writing a book what are you going to do?” It scared him a bit. He didn’t have an answer and the Lord said back to him, “I am not a God to be described, I am a God to be proclaimed, what are you going to do about it?” He said he laid there in bed and obviously couldn’t go to sleep. This is about 1:00 in the morning and he’s waiting for his wife to wake up; he spent the whole night waiting for her to wake up. About 6:00 or 6:30 she just opens her eyes and John says, “How would you feel if I quit teaching and became a pastor?” She said, “Sure.” John said, “Are you sure, do you really want to do this, you’re just waking up?” She said, “John, I’ve been waiting for you to figure this out for years—you’re just now figuring it out.” That was when he resigned. Theology always must end in doxology. The study of God and the description of God is an affront to God I believe because you’re describing someone who must, by his very nature, be proclaimed. All theology must go to doxology, anything short is wrong. When I heard that story I went, “Yep, that’s it.” That’s what made up my mind that I was in the wrong place.
Part II: Ethics (Eph. 4-6)
Okay, the distinction between theology and ethics is a little arbitrary because there is theology in the second half and there’s ethics in the first, but as a general thing, it’s a good way to do things. In the ethics, I’m going to use the word walk as a way to tie it all together.
Walk in Unity (Eph. 4:1-16)
In chapter 4 verses 1-16 he talks about walking in unity, and there’s a lot of emphasis on the Jews and Gentiles having come together forming one body of Christ, all using their gifts so they could all grow to maturity. There is a lot of that. What’s our motivation for growth, for sanctification? We’ve looked at some in the past, but in 4:1 it is a beautiful statement of it, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” this is the be who you are statement. You are a saved person, look at chapter 2, look at the calling to which you have been called, be who you are. Walk in a way that is worthy, you are a changed child of God, act in a way that is worthy of who you are. I am constantly impressed that Paul rarely shakes his fingers at people and threatens them to get them to do the right thing. Very rarely does he do that, but he will do Romans 12:1, live your life in response to the mercies of God, or be who you are. You are a changed person so act like it. In terms of motivation for spiritual formation and for growth, this is one of the clearest statement of that principle. He goes on and he talks about what’s unity and what’s needed for that.
Walk in Holiness (Eph. 4:17-32)
Then in chapter 4 starting at verse 17, he addresses walking in holiness. A little arbitrary; he stopped talking about unity and starting talking about other stuff, but again it’s mostly about holiness and about living a sanctified life. Verse 17, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do,” there’s no option in Paul, there’s no option to say well I was saved by faith so I can live anyway I want. He says, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do,” sanctification was essential for Paul. The image here is putting off your old self and putting on your new self. It’s pretty powerful imagery that take off what you were—get rid of that person and put on your new self—the person who is in Christ. You can do all kinds of good youth group talks about putting on and off different coats. Then he gets into just lots of very practical applications starting at verse 25—read 25 to the end of the chapter—they are powerful, powerful verses. Verse 26, "Be angry," there’s a question whether that’s an indicative or imperative, I think it’s an imperative, "Be angry," in other words, there are sometimes the only Godly response to sin is to be angry, "and do not sin." How do you not sin when you are angry? Well you don’t let the sun go down on your anger. If you do let the sun go down on your anger, you’re going to give an opportunity to the devil to get his foot into your life. There is a lot of very good practical information. Verse 32 is the one that is one of the most difficult verses to follow, I think, in all the Bible, "Be kind to one another," I don’t want to, they hurt me, they said bad things about me, "tenderhearted," well they don’t deserve it, "forgiving one another," I’m not going to forgive them until they come crawling on their knees, "as God in Christ forgave you." Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another because that’s exactly what Christ did for you when you didn’t deserve it. It’s on our refrigerator and we put it on with permanent tape so it’s a constant reminder.
Walk in Love (Eph. 5:1-6)
Starting in chapter 5, again these are somewhat artificial divisions, I call it “Walk in Love,” live in imitation of God, see that in 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God.” This is another motivation, we should be like God, we should be like Jesus, act like him, the imitation of Christ.
I want to stop a bit on 5:4 and then also pull in the verse in 4:29. This whole business of corrupting talk as our translation has it in 4:29 and then in 5:4, filthy or foolish or crude. Man if there’s anything that can rip a church apart it’s this, isn’t it? This stuff, the back stabbing, the critical, the feeling that you have a right to have an opinion or pass a judgment on someone whether you know the facts or not doesn’t seem to stop most of us, we want to have that opinion and it’s just something that is part of human nature—it’s called sin, but there are very few things that will destroy a church faster than gossip. It ripples through so many churches. Up in 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” The Greek word translated corrupting means rotten; it is used in secular Greek of a diseased tree, of rotten fruit, of bad fish that have to be thrown away. He’s saying let no rotten talk, let nothing that corrupts come out of your mouth. Corrupting talk is rotten talk, it’s words that damage the other person or to state the opposite—it’s the opposite of what builds up, what edifies the other person. It is the opposite of grace. Paul is saying there should not be anything that is rotten in our mouths, anything that will destroy, but rather we should be full of that which is good, that which builds up, that which is appropriate, and that which is an expression of grace. It’s the idea that our mouths should be so full of grace that there’s no word for rotten talk.
In 5:4 then he picks up the same theme. There is a stronger sexual nuance here, but it’s the same basic topic, "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk," and foolishness is the silly, sexual stuff, the destroying kind, "nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." Our mouths should be so full of grace; our mouths should be so full of thanksgiving that there’s simply not room for anything else. Look over in 5:20, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father.” Now this is nothing that I have learned, but it is something that I am trying to learn, and I think something that is imperative if in fact we are to live as a functional family as the body of Christ, one in spirit.
What talk constitutes corrupting talk? Let me just give you four opinions on what corrupting talk is. I would encourage you to think through. What constitutes corrupting talk? (1) Saying something that is not true—that’s obvious—saying things that simply aren’t true. (2) I would say what also comes under the rubric of corrupting talk is when we pass judgment without facts. In other words, we may even be right, but when we execute judgment on someone without knowing the facts, it’s wrong, and you don’t know the facts unless it’s first hand for the most part. You know there’s my side, there’s your side, and then there’s the truth, if you approach life that way, it’s a little safer. There’s something inside of me that wants to pass judgment on people whether I know the facts or not. I think that comes under this rubric of rotten because it destroys, it tears down, it hurts. (3) The words that are true, but damaging. There certainly a time in which we have to spread truth, but there’s a time and a place for that right? Words that may be true, but are damaging and tarnish their reputation; this is rotten speech I think. (4) If you’re not part of the solution it’s corrupting talk. I can know something about a person, and even if I know it’s true, if I speak it to people who are not part of the solution, or if I’m not part of the solution, I think that’s rotten, because it destroys, it doesn’t build up, it’s purpose is to hurt and there’s not the possibility of edification.
Now those are the four things I look at and I don’t always follow it, and I have to repent when I don’t, but for me those are the four guidelines of what constitutes rotten talk. It makes it hard when you feel like you need to share, but sometimes sharing is just gossip, right? “Let me tell you a little about my husband here or wife” in Wednesday night prayer meeting “just so you’ll know how to pray.” It’s just an excuse to damage, but there certainly are times in which when there’s a solution to be sought and there are people who can help who are involved one way or another. There certainly is a place to share things that are hard and difficult, as long as we know they are true. I’m not writing that out, but I just think if we as a church could have our mouths be so full of grace and that which builds up, I don’t think anybody would know what hit this church. If we always gave the other person the benefit of the doubt and always expected the best, not in any naïve sense, but that is just the way we would approach life how different, and we’re a good church I think, we’re not a bad church, but I’ve got to think how significantly life would be.
Here is a page out of Jim Cymbala’s book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Let me just read it to conclude this topic.
One Sunday about twenty years ago back in our days in the YWCA, I said something impromptu while receiving new members in to the church that has stuck with us ever since. People were standing in a row across the front before me, and as I spoke the Holy Spirit seemed to prompt me to add, “And now I charge you as Pastor of this Church that if you ever hear another member speaking an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone, myself, another pastor, an usher, a choir member or anyone else you have authority to stop that person in mid sentence and say, ‘Excuse me, who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it Pastor Cymbala? Let’s go to his office right now, he will get on his knees and apologize to you and then we’ll pray together so God can restore peace to this body, but we will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves.’ New members, please understand that I am entirely serious about this I want you to help resolve this thing immediately and meanwhile know this, if you are ever the one doing the loose talking, we will confront you.” To this very day every time I receive new members I say much the same thing. It’s always a solemn moment, that is, because I know what most easily destroys churches. It is not crack cocaine, it is not government oppression, it is not even lack of funds, rather it is gossip and slander that grieves the Holy Spirit.
This is a topic that is really worth thinking on and reflecting on and another phrase, “taking every word captive to Christ,” you have to do that don’t you. All my life growing up my mother would say things like, “Bill, can’t you engage your brain before your mouth?” My mouth works so fast my brain lags behind, and I’m always saying things that I don’t mean, but we have to take our words captive to Christ. We have to say, “What am I going to say, not just say it, but think about it. Is this the right thing, is it an expression of grace, is it an expression of edification? Will this build up or tear down, will it build or will it putrefy, will it be rotten in my mouth? Anyway this is a very important topic in the church and one we all need to struggle with I think.
Anyone who is a supervisor is going to have trouble with this. I have found that there are always two ways to say the same thing. You can say it in a gracious way or you can say it in a mean and hurtful way. I’ve not yet come across a situation where someone says, “We’re going to let you go. I’m really worry, we did everything we could, you need to understand, here’s the reason why I don’t want to do this, but it’s for the good of the company and it’s for your good. You need to learn to tell the truth, people don’t trust you if you don’t tell the truth.” You can say it that way or say, “You’re a jerk, get out.” There’s always been a way in my experience to be honest and edifying and still very strong and forceful in it. Anyway, this is a sensitive topic, but one I guess that most of us struggle with one way or another.
Household Codes (Eph. 5:22-6:9)
In 5:7 the heading is Walk in Light. The imagery changes again a bit as lots of practical ideas of how to live out our faith. In 5:15, the section Walk in Wisdom begins. We talk about the wisdom that comes from the Spirit and then in 5:22 through the first part of chapter 6 we have what are called household codes—that’s the technical word we use. In quite a few of the letters, in Peter as well as in Paul, there are what we call household codes—how different people relate to each other within the church.
Let me emphasize something, the heading like in the ESV says in 22, “Wives and Husbands,” then "wives submit to your own husbands." The problem with this and there is no way to solve it, that’s the problem, is that verse 21 begins with a participle, and verse 22 doesn’t even have a verb. In other words, there is one long sentence going on here, but publication companies like paragraphs and they like headings. The heading “wives and husbands,” while there is a reason for that because you are into the household codes, but what you need to understand that this is one straight line of thought, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that means “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” that means “wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” That’s one thought, there’s not a break at all in the Greek.
Now having said that, verse 21, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ,” is the verse that a lot of people use to talk about mutual submission, husbands submitting to wives, wives submitting to husbands. I don’t believe in mutual submission because it doesn’t mean anything to me. Now this is my opinion, this is my interpretation. Mutual submission is an oxymoron—it doesn’t mean anything. How can two people submit to each other? Because inherent in the word submission is authority and submission. There’s a hierarchy; there’s a structure. The mutual submission is wives to husband, children to parents, slaves to masters, I believe. Especially when you get into it, it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands (22),” “Husbands, love your wives,” he never says husbands submit to your wives. The church is to submit to Christ, right (25)? Christ never submits to the church. Now he loves the church sacrificially and gave himself for her, and so also husbands are to sacrificially love their wives and give themselves for her, and if husbands do that I understand wives rarely have any trouble submitting. I just think this mutual submission; it doesn’t make any sense to me, but this is the verse that it comes from.
But carry the logic through, parents do you submit to your children? I don’t submit to my children, I’m their father, I love them terribly, I would die in a moment’s notice for them, I don’t submit to them, because that’s not healthy, it’s not right. Masters are never told to submit to their slaves, they’re told to love their slaves, to treat their slaves properly, knowing that they have the same master if they’re both Christians and their master is God. The mutual submission thing just does not work, but in this day and age there are not a lot of people that are willing to say that.
Wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Verse 33: “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.” There is in evangelical feminism, and that’s the phrase that’s used, a lot of work to try and remove any sense of authority from the word submit. Among many reasons, one of the ways in which it fails is that the marriage is an acted parable of the relationship of Christ and the church. So whatever you do between the husband and wife, you have to be able to do between Christ and the church. Christ is my Master, and he does not submit to me. He loves me and he died for me and therefore that is what I do for my wife. I respect him, I submit to him, so also wives submit. There’s a whole logic that runs through this passage, and you have to be consistent in that. Children obey your parents, slaves your masters.
Armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20)
There’s a famous passage at the end here of the whole armor of God in 6:10-20 and verse 12 is a good one, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood." This passage is awful familiar to me; I read that and I go, “Well, I do.” I can think of flesh and blood that are a wrestling match as will any pastor, but Paul says no, that’s not the real battle. The real battle is against rulers and all these words define demonic spiritual powers. The rulers are not George Bush or Bill Clinton, but “against the rulers,” the spiritual rulers, “against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness,” and “against the spiritual forces of evil in the Heavenly places.” This is not demonic possession, this is the oppression that comes on Christians from the spiritual world, sometimes the oppression is greater sometimes it’s less, but it’s not possession. This is the world that we fight. I don’t understand that verse very well, it’s just hard for me to understand that there is a spiritual battle going on that’s being fought by Satan and his minions and by God and his angels over me.
I believe in guardian angels by the way, because the Bible says it. It talks about the little one being caused to sin and his angels are forever before the throne of God. Angels are God’s ministering spirits; I think the Book of Hebrews says. I have no reason to think that there’s not an angel whose full time job is taking care of me, and I’m looking forward to meeting, I don’t know if it’s a him or her or it, I don’t know what to do with angels, but I am looking forward to it. It’s interesting that God could just say, “Do it” and it’s done, but he works through his creation; that’s the pattern. He could have rescued the children of Israel from Egypt, he didn’t need Moses, but his pattern is that he works through his created beings. Angels are his ministering spirits set out to do his will, Hebrews says. I have no doubt that when I die there’s going to be, hopefully, a crowd of people waiting there for me and one of them is my angel. I’m curious to find out the nature of the battle that was fought for me. We do have an insight with Peter, don’t we, where Jesus says, “Satan has requested to sift you as flour, but I’ve prayed and it’s not going to happen.” There was a spiritual battle going on for Peter’s life and Jesus himself stepped in and said, “No, it’s not going to happen.” Joel fits in that same category, but our battle is a spiritual battle even if it’s not an issue of possession it certainly is an issue of oppression.
That’s the quick once over on the Book of Ephesians, a book rich in deep theology probably because it was a circular letter that was it’s very purpose to explain what we believe and how we live.