37. Ephesians - Comments

Course: New Testament Survey - Acts to Revelation

Lecture: Ephesians - Comments


Let’s go on to look at some specific comments. As we go to the opening verse, we spoke of the phrase “in Ephesus”, and whether it’s present or lacking. We should note again that in Codex B (or the Codex Vaticanus), the Aleph (Codex Sinaiticus), (the two best Greek codices we have of the New Testament), and P-46 (the Chester Beatty Papyrii) this phrase “in Ephesus” is missing. Some have even suggested that originally when it was written, there was a space at that point in which each church was to, as they would read this letter, insert their own church name. Some have also suggested that Ephesians is a letter which was thought to be missing (which we do not have), specifically the one mentioned in Colossians 4:15-16. There, Paul writes, “Give my greeting to the brethren at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you [‘this letter’ being Colossians], have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea.” But we have no letter extant from Laodicea – we have Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, etc., but no letter to the Laodiceans. Is the letter that’s referred to in Colossians 4:16 possibly the Ephesian letter? It’s impossible to make decisions on that. Marcion, who writes in AD 140, titled this letter to the Ephesians as the Letter to the Laodiceans, but that’s all hypothetical. We have the normal introduction and benediction (v. 2), “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” is there.

We see an emphasis on grace found throughout the letter. I’ve shown you that, and by the way, Paul seems to have that as a normal emphasis in his ministry and in his writing. In 1:9 a term comes up, the term “mystery”, “For God has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ Jesus.” In 3:3, that term comes up again (3:2-3), “… assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ ….” And then when you get to v. 9, “to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things ….”

At the turn of the twentieth century, the History of Religions School found in their research of ancient religions a group of religions called the “mystery” religions. In the mystery religions, they all had something in common in that one would be initiated into them and learn certain secrets of mysteries. These mysteries are not very well known because they were mysteries – they were told to be secret. We have in fact an instance of one person in his hometown, after becoming initiated into a mystery, telling people what that mystery and secret was. He was promptly booted out of town, and told to never come back – that was said to be irreligious. It’s like being initiated into the Masons – there’s a secret rite, etc., that’s not supposed to be disclosed. Some have suggested that the Book of Ephesians was written in light of the mystery religions, and it betrays an origin of the mystery religions. There’s a mystery here. However, there’s a huge difference between Paul’s use of this term “mystery” and the way it’s commonly understood today, and how it was used in the mystery religions back then.

“Mystery” in Paul has nothing to do with a secret that only certain people know. What he means is that this which was at one time a mystery is now openly being made known to everyone. So, what was a secret and unclear in the past is now revealed to the whole world, and is being shouted from the housetops by Christian preachers. It’s not some sort of a secret that is being shared that only Christians have in common. This is being shared with all people. And the content of the mystery that is being made known is found in v. 6, that is, how “… the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” What was unclear and not revealed in the Old Testament, but is now openly being made known, is how Jew and now Gentile are being made into one group. Gentiles are being reconciled to God, and they’re becoming united in a common faith with the Jewish people. So, mystery is not at all like the mystery religions. This is not a secret, but something everybody is being told about and learning.

In vv. 13-14, he says, “And you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” We already talked about the reference to the Spirit as the guarantee, or ‘earnest’ of our inheritance. We find that in 2 Corinthians 1:22, and we don’t have to dealt with it now, just to be reminded that the earnest is the down payment or guarantee of what’s to follow. But here is another term, “… we are sealed by the promised Holy Spirit”; that we “are sealed” is also found in 4:30 of this same book, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Romans 4:11 refers to our being sealed, and 2 Corinthians 1:22 as well. The Holy Spirit is not only the guarantee, but that which will surely keep us as God’s people. We are sealed; we have his mark upon us. His mark is the Spirit of God. This is a unique gift that we have. Sometimes I get a little uneasy about some of our charismatic friends, who seem to go overboard with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we as Baptists don’t emphasize it enough – this gift of the Spirit as the seal and mark that marks us off from the whole world as God’s people. We are his children because we have been sealed by the Spirit of God. And the first fruits, we’ve looked at and talked about already.

Now 1:15, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints ….” This would be a very strange statement if Paul were writing to the Ephesians. After three years of being with them, he’s heard of their faith? I think he would probably have termed it “seeing your faith”, or something like that if it were the Ephesians that he was writing to. But here, it seems rather clear that he’s writing to people that he has not personally met. He’s heard about their faith, and he’s responding accordingly, just like in Colossians, where he’s heard about their faith, and writes accordingly. I think this suggests that we have a more general kind of a letter, an epistle, rather than a specific letter to a specific church that he founded.

In 1:15-23, we have this lengthy sentence, which is a prayer. “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, remembering you in my prayers.” There may be a little hyperbole there. He never ceases to remember and pray for them, yet if the man sleeps at all, there has to be some time that he’s not praying for them. But he’s trying to emphasize his commitment to their spiritual well-being, and it would be awkward to word it in other ways. He wants them to know that he’s always praying for them. I’ve had wonderful Christian people say to me, “Bob, I always pray for you.” I don’t think they’re praying for me 24 hours a day, but I know that they pray for me whenever they pray, and I’m grateful for that. The content of this prayer is that they may understand all that they possess in Christ.

After that, in 2:1, ff. he describes the rather desperate situation that the recipients of this letter, as Gentiles, once were. If you read this, it brings to mind Romans 1:18-32, where he describes the Gentile situation, “You he made alive, who were dead in 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 – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind ….” Now it’s clear that Christianity is not platonic philosophy. It’s not that somehow our bodies are inclined to sin, and that causes our inner being to be corrupted by it. Christianity teaches a total depravity – not that we are as bad as we possibly can be (if we work on it, we can get worse, believe it or not), but it means that there is no part of our existence that is not totally affected by sin. So it’s not that the mind is alright but the body is evil; body and mind are both corrupted and tainted by sin. Even the conscience, which we usually say is the nearest thing to being true to God, is also corrupted. Total depravity doesn’t mean that we’re as bad as we absolutely can be; but it means that there is no aspect of life that has not been corrupted by sin, and that’s what Paul is saying here. This is unlike the Greek philosophers (2:3), we “… were following the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” We were totally depraved in all of this regard. And therefore we were under the divine wrath. But despite this, he has this wonderful section (vv. 4-7), “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches towards us in Christ Jesus.”

And then, some of the earliest verses that many of us ever memorized (v. 8), “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing.” The “this” here does not refer to faith; it refers to the whole preceding sentence, “By grace you have been saved through faith”, “this” – by grace, saved through faith – is not your own doing. The word “this” can’t refer to faith here because “this” in the Greek text is the neuter “touto”. Faith is the feminine “pisteos”, so the antecedent of “this” can’t be faith. Now the whole argument over whether faith is a gift of God – that theological debate – I’m not concerned about that. I’m just saying that in this text “this” is not referring to faith, but the whole idea that you’ve been saved by grace through faith. This whole thing comes from God, not faith itself. If faith is a gift of God, that may well be. But in this verse, that’s not what’s being said. I’ve heard too many people argue on the basis of this verse that faith is a gift of God, and that’s not what this verse is saying at this point. It’s because grace, through faith, is the means of our salvation. Grace is the means of our salvation – the death of Christ on our behalf; through faith, the means through which this is appropriated.

And this grace leads us to good works in v. 10, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared us beforehand ….” Galatians 5:6, “Faith that works through love is what saves us,” is a close Pauline emphasis. In 3:1 he introduces a second prayer, “For this reason, I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles ….” and then he goes on until he comes to the prayer itself in vv. 14-19. At the end of v. 3, I have a kind of dash, which indicates that we have an aside from that point on. Because if you go from 3:1, “For this reason, I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles …,” It seems to continue in v. 14, “… for this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom….” That picks it up, but there’s this parenthesis in between. We often see places where it seems Paul is distracted. One of the greatest parentheses that we know of is 1 Corinthians 13. If you lift out chapter 13 from 1 Corinthians, 14:1 follows the preceding verse at the end of chapter 12 very nicely. Paul just has an idea come into his mind, and he pursues it, and then he comes back to it. I’m always amazed that he can remember, after 12 verses or so, to come back the way he does in that way. But this is an example of a parenthesis in Paul. The prayer is that they may be strengthened in their inner man.

The section on exhortations begins with 4:1-3, “I, therefore a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” When you think of famous Christian leaders, do you associate them with 4:1-3 – with lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace? Maybe in that great day when we appear before God, if we’re all going to be judged on the basis of things like this, some who may be great in this life will not be so great before God; and some who do not have greatness in the eyes of the world may be truly great. We’ll see then who best displayed lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. It’s an interesting combination.

Then in vv. 4-6 he talks about the unity of the church, and he talks about there being one body, one Spirit, one hope that belongs to our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one god and Father of us all. Count them – there are seven. That’s a good number. Accidental? Not likely. When you think about today, however, some of these things that unite us according to Paul are some of the things now that cause the greatest division – especially when you get to “one baptism”. That which was a unifying factor in the early church is such a divisive thing today, tragically.

In 4:11, he goes on and talks about gifts that God has given to his church, and his gifts are that some should be “… apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Someone has asked me whether I still think there are apostles, and the answer is no, but the gift of the apostles still remains ours. We’re built on the writings of the apostles, on the work of the apostles, so that gift is still very much active in our very existence as believers. I don’t know if it’s quite the issue that it was a few years ago. There were all sorts of seminars on learning your spiritual gift, on knowing your gift and developing your gift. Is this still pretty popular today? A lot of people are interested in finding out what gift they have, and everybody would love the miraculous kinds of gifts of all sorts. But Paul doesn’t see gifts as something God gives to individuals. He gives them to the church via individuals. The purpose of the gifts are not for the individual. These gifts are for the work of the ministry (v. 12), “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ ….” So that gifted-ness is never meant to be something that is a personal privilege or gift; it’s something given to the church through you. And if you have a gift of some sort, that gift is for the church; not for you. If I have a gift of teaching, it’s for the gift of the church; it’s not for my own personal sake. As we look at gifts that way, it becomes much more of a concern that God use that gift for the good of the others, not for one’s own individual joy or walk.

[Question from a class member: You commented that there are no apostles?] No, I think there continues to be prophets through the church, but it’s all in the way you define “apostles”. If you define apostles not the way Luke defines them, which is a broader term; but the way Paul understands apostles, they had to be those who had seen the risen Lord. My understanding would be that ends with Paul. Some people who call themselves apostles are not using that term in the sense that Paul would understand it, but are using a different understanding – which is legitimate, but it confuses things. Luke defines apostles more broadly. There are some who were not eyewitnesses who were listed as apostles, but they were church leaders. But Luke’s definition can’t be brought into what Paul means here [in Ephesians], because we want to know what the biblical author means by these words. How does Paul use “apostle”? His understanding would be as those who had seen the risen Lord.

In 4:30, he then goes on and talks about not grieving the Sprit “… in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” and we talked about that sealing. As far as “grieving the Holy Spirit”, in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 it says, “Quench not the Spirit,” so it’s another emphasis in that regard. That “grieving the Holy Spirit” is what I understand as being the negative side of what we have in Ephesians 5:18, being “filled with the Spirit,” and there’s a sense in which I think they are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t grieve the Spirit, you will be filled with the Spirit. And the reverse is true: if you are filled with the Spirit, you will not be grieving the Spirit. So one is the negative, and one is the positive. I might suggest that we emphasize more our desire to be filled with the Spirit, and I think sometimes that gives us a kind of a warped understanding. It’s almost as if you pray hard enough, if you wrestle with God, if you pray to the Spirit and twist his arm, he will eventually bless you in some ways. And I don’t know if that’s the general understanding we ought to have. My understanding is that the Spirit is eager, and God is eager to work in our lives, and he will, and all we have to do is stop hindering him, if we want to be filled with the Spirit. To me, that gives a better understanding of my getting in the way, and a better understanding of God’s desire, and the Spirit’s desire to fill our lives. I think sometimes we have this idea that somehow you have to do something unusual, and eventually the Spirit of God will say, “Alright, I give up, I’ll do something.” And that is, to me, very detrimental theologically. I think if we don’t quench the Spirit, we’ll be filled with the Spirit.

Now, there are a number of things I want to comment about this, and one is about the tense of “being filled with the Spirit”, which is a present imperative. A present imperative indicates that the command should be continually carried out. Be continually filled with the Spirit. It doesn’t refer to a once-for-all experience. A number of people have argued, especially in charismatic kinds of theologies, that this is a second experience that you should seek -- being filled with the spirit -- and therefore when you have that singular experience, you arrive at a second level of what some call sanctification. This is also sometimes called the baptism of the Spirit. But this cannot be understood as a single experience. Be continually filled with the Spirit. It’s a present imperative, urging that this be continually done. Therefore this is as I say not a second-level kind of experience, but it is continually to be done in the Christian life. We are never, by the way, commanded to be baptized by the Spirit. That’s always a statement of fact as to our being Christians. We’ve been baptized by the Spirit, for by one Spirit we’ve all been baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free (1 Corinthians 12:13). But there is this command to be continually filled with the Spirit.

Now that also is able to be misunderstood. The reason the language “be filled with the Holy Spirit” is as it is, is because of the preceding statement, “Be not drunk with wine”. You take wine, and if you are filled with wine you will be drunk. And so the analogy says, instead of that, be filled with the Spirit. But you have to realize: how can you be more or less filled with a person? You can be more or less filled with wine, but you can’t be more or less filled with the Spirit. He is either present in your life or not. And what we have is a metaphorical way of expressing the degree to which the Spirit is in control of our lives. But the Spirit is present – it’s not like saying about someone, “He’s a really spiritual person. He not only has two arms and two legs, but also the torso of the Spirit dwelling in him. But this other person isn’t really filled at all – he probably has a toe or two.” We’re dealing with a person. The reason “being filled” is used, is that he’s caught up with the metaphor that precedes – being filled with wine. Instead of being filled with wine, we should be filled with the Spirit. But we’re talking here about a person, and so you can’t have a person in degree in your life, but that person can be in degree in control of your life. So the Spirit is present in all of our lives. “Be filled” with it is the way he is talking about how the Spirit should dominate your life and be in control of your life.

When he says “be filled with the Spirit”, it’s in the plural. You and I, typical Americans, westerners, we’re thinking he’s referring to us as individuals. And our view would be: if each one of us in our church were individually filled with the Spirit, then the church would be filled with the Spirit. That’s not the way Paul is thinking. Paul is thinking about the church. And if the church is filled with the Spirit, then we as individuals will be filled with the Spirit. Again, I think our individualism is so dominant in our thinking that we see things through different glasses. Paul thinks of this corporately; we think individually. But he says, “be filled with the Spirit”, plural, “you all be filled with the Spirit”.

And then in vv. 19-21, he has a list of participles related to that command, which indicate the means by which you will be filled with the Spirit. How will you filled with the Spirit? Well, if you address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; if you sing and make melody to the Lord with all your heart; if you are always and for everything giving thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father, and if you’re subject to one another, then you as a church, you as a believing body, will be filled with the Spirit. I’ve preached enough in churches to know after the first hymn if I’m in trouble or not. You just have to listen to a congregation, and the first hymn will tell you whether they are with you, and whether the Spirit of God is present. If it’s a hymn that sounds like a funeral dirge, you don’t know whether this is a committal service (“Ashes to ashes”, etc.), or whether they’re behind you and eager to hear a word of God from you. And the congregation, the whole body, is responsible for the Spirit’s presence by the way they sing, the way they make melody, the way they give thanks together, and whether they are subject to one another. If they are willing to work with one another, if the church doesn’t care who gets the credit for this act that’s being done, just so it gets done, it’ll be amazing how that church will be filled with God’s Spirit present.

In a lot of translations, v. 21 begins a paragraph that talks about wives and husbands in v. 22. Sometimes it’s separated out as a separate paragraph altogether, sometimes together with the rest of the preceding paragraph. There are all sorts of questions about that. My understanding is that what we have in v. 19, “… speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” that’s a participle; “singing and making melody to Lord with your heart”, those are participles; “being thankful” is a participle; “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, being subject [another participle] to one another out of fear of the Lord.” That’s a string of participles, and I assume it all goes with the command to be filled continually with the Sprit. And those participles follow [being subject to one another], and then the new paragraph begins (5:22), “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” and it’s a change of subject in v. 22. For some people this has become a major theological issue of debate as to men and women’s relationships. It’s terrible that all of the sudden egalitarian or complementary theological viewpoints are going to determine where this first belongs. I think it belongs with what precedes simply because it’s a participle, and all the others are participles, and they make a string of participles, one after the other; and then he changes his subject at v. 22, ff.

Then, in 5:22-6:9, we have what is called a “household code”. There exist in ancient society codes that talk about relationships that should exist between parents and children, husbands and wives, slaves and masters, etc.

That’s about all we have then with regard to Ephesians that I want to comment on. Again, with v. 21, this verse goes along with what precedes, because it matches the literary form that was begun in that paragraph. Verse 22 begins a new literary form, and v. 21 follows with the same form from vv. 20 and 19.