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Monday, June 30, 2014

Putting on the New Self: Growing and Building Up in Love Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4

            This week we will study chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Before we begin that, we need to review what the main points in the first three chapters were. Chapter 1 records Paul writing to the Ephesians Christians - Gentile Christians - and to “faithful followers.” Paul wrote explaining how God loved each of His children before He created the world. God had a plan for us to return to Him since before the creation of the world. Paul told them and us in chapter two God made His children, every Christian, into one body in which Jesus Christ is the head. Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic covenant and ushered in the Messianic covenant. He removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles. Now God establishes believers of every background together as part of the foundation of Christ’s Church with the saints and with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Paul taught being under a new covenant and in one body together is what in chapter two. In chapter three, Paul taught about the mystery God revealed through Christ – Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise in Christ. He said God revealed His mystery, previously unknown to other generations, to Jesus’ apostles and prophets through the Spirit. God planned this mystery from before the beginning of time to bring everyone back into relationship with Himself. The Mosaic covenant God made with the Hebrews. The Messianic covenant God made with humankind in total.

            Beginning in chapter four, Paul taught four things: 1) How “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (4:1), 2) How Christ gave grace to each person in the body “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (4:7), 3) How to build up through love the members of the body using Christ’s gifts so they “grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head” (4:15), and 4) How to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind and put on the new self” (4:23-24). Paul gave the overarching theme of this book and chapter in verse one when he said, “Therefore I, the prisoner/bondservant of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” He spends the next thirty-one verses explaining how to do this and why to do this.

First Paul talked with them about issues that every person faces in himself or herself. Christians are to be humble, gentle, patient, tolerant, loving, and diligent to preserve and guard the unity of the body in peace. This list sounds very much like the fruits of the Spirit Paul mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Paul taught believers that as they grow in Christ, the Holy Spirit develops these fruit in them. These fruit are not just for personal growth. As Paul said later in this chapter, they are for use in the body of Christ to “equip the saints for the work of service in building up the body of Christ” so that each member of the body will become mature in Him (vs. 12-13). Patience, tolerance, love, unity, and peace grow in a believer gradually from one to the next. In our first encounters with Jesus, when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, we humble ourselves before His deity. We learn gentleness from Him because of His love and gentleness to us. From that point, our growth begins to extend outward toward others. We learn to be patient and tolerant of others in the body of Christ and to do it with love. Each of these aspects – humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, love, unity, and peace – requires growth in the Christian to be able to enact them – receiving from Christ and then giving to another person. They are successive learning steps. To give one’s heart to Christ requires acknowledging one’s littleness (humility). When receiving Christ’s give,  a person learns gentleness. As gentleness grows, a heart for other people occurs and patience grows. Learning patience is the prerequisite for tolerance of others, which occurs because Christ gave you the love to give to other people. Endurance is not a once off action, but is ongoing. Enduring is diligence, endeavoring, exerting one’s self to keep walking with the person and with Christ because of one’s care for the person and their relationship with Jesus. The believer wants to preserve, guard, and take care of the person and the relationship they have with them. The Holy Spirit puts a unity of mind and spirit in believers that leads to the commonality of peace. The Holy Spirit unifies believers through God’s love, His Word, and His grace. Paul said in Colossians 3:14, “Love is the perfect bond of peace.” Step-by-step growth in becoming Christlike is similar to any other growth of the person – crawling, creeping, toddling, walking, and running. Each is built on the foundation of the prior. Just as we grew into thinking, moving physical adults, we must grow into gentle, meek, loving Christ-likeness. God uses individual growth as a Christian to edify the body of Christ so every member of the body of Christ will grow to become mature and unified in Christ.

Paul ensured that believers who heard or read this letter remembered by whom they became children of God. He said in verses four through six, Christians are of “one body and one Spirit (the Spirit of God), just as we were called in one hope of our calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Each of us, no matter from which country or race we come, are parts of the body of Christ and share in the one hope of our calling (eternal salvation). Through the Messianic covenant, believers from every nation are children of God through belief in Jesus Christ. We have one Lord, not many, through one faith and baptism, not multiple. There is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. Everyone who believes in Him has the same faith and baptism into new life. Paul’s baptism or Apollos’ or John’s are not different. They each, as well as Christian pastors today, baptized people who believed in Jesus Christ as the Savior from God. Paul returned to Old Testament teachings in Deuteronomy and Zechariah, which Jews taught their children and, of which, peoples of the world knew. The Jews taught God’s saying, “Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God is one” (Deut. 6:5 and Zech. 14:9). The God of the Jews is the God of the world. He is the one and only God who planned from before creation the perfect sacrifice to bring humankind back into relationship with Himself. Yahweh God sacrificed His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sin offering for the sins of humankind. The same God who provided the sacrifice is the Father/Creator of humankind. He is the “one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). The Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -  makes us into one body with Christ as the head. Each believer is a member of this body. God the Father is over all. Jesus Christ is Lord of and through all. The Holy Spirit lives in all.

God unites with believers as a body through Jesus Christ. Christ gives grace gifts to each member of His body. The measure of Christ’s gift to the person is in accordance to the need in the local body for the building up of the body. Christ, as the one who defeated death and ascended to heaven, has absolute power to give for the needs of the church. He knows in what way each church needs to grow to become more like Him. Christ gives these grace gifts to His servants for the goodwill of the body of Christ for its edification. Christ gives the gifts necessary for gathering the members of His body. These gifts are ministry gifts for gathering and edifying the body of Christ and for the mutual help of one another. They are not the Spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gives as spoken of in verses two through three. Christ gives different gifts in different sizes and for different purposes to grow the body for the task needed in their community. He grows each body of believers for His purpose for the edification and equipping of the body.

Paul said Christ gave to some people in each church the grace gifts of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (vs. 11). These are not gifts about which to boast, but are to be used solely for building up/edifying the church. With the gifts come responsibility and accountability to God. Paul stated Christ gave the gifts “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (vs. 12-13). Christ gives members in each church these gifts so they can equip believers to serve God and grow in Christlikeness until the unification of the church in faith and knowledge of Christ occurs. These gifts are for growing the members of the body. That is  a big responsibility – ensuring the growth of each member to become a perfect likeness of Christ! I know many people rank these gifts of Christ, but that should not happen. Christ gives each gift to the church as Christ sees need. Each gift is necessary for the church. Apostles are messengers of Christ and teachers. Prophets plead the cause of God and urge salvation of men. Evangelists are bringers of the Good News. Pastors are the shepherd of the local church who teach, lead, and lay down their lives for the church, just as Christ did. Teachers teach about the things of God and the duties of believers. As you can see, each gift from Christ brings the task of being a teacher for God to lead each person into Christlikeness and the church into one unified body. None of them is greater and they each have similar tasks. Each church may have different measures of each grace gift from Christ in them, but that is because each local body of Christ has different needs and areas of growth required. Each member of the body needs to grow spiritually. God gives spiritual gifts to each member as they grow in Him. These individual members grow conjointly into a one working body of Christ to reach their community and world for Him. To be a growing body, each member must grow individually. The grace gifts given to members of the church help the members individually and jointly grow into a mature body of Christ willing and able to do what He leads them to do.

Paul leapt from individual growth to joint growth to show the ideal for the body of Christ, working in full maturity with and for Christ. He made the point that each person must mature. Paul made another point that each member must work in unison, unity of spirit, with the other members to do the tasks that Christ, as the head, gives them for their community and the world. He told the Ephesian Christians that they were “no longer to be children (but mature believers – vs. 13), tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (vs. 14). Paul arrived at one of his purposes for this letter. He heard that when deceiving teachers taught the Ephesian Christians other doctrines they should have grown beyond, some of them believed what they the deceivers said. Paul said they should be “grow up in all aspects to Him who is the head, even Christ” (vs. 15). They were to be growing in Christlikeness by then. Paul said not to let these crafty deceivers and defrauders confuse them and lead them astray. How many times have we heard about someone who was deceived and we thought with exasperation, “Oh, just grow up!” Jack’s father, from Jack and the beanstalk probably thought the same of Jack. I think Paul may have been at this point, but he tempered his exasperation because of his love for them by putting this decisive point in the middle of his letter. He continued this thought by saying, “Christ causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (vs. 16). Christ is the head of the whole body and fits and holds it together supplying what each joint needs for the body to work properly. Each person must be growing in Christ. This causes the growth of the full body to build itself up in love. The body of Christ must grow more Christlike and more loving so they can reach out to the lost with His love and share His Gospel message. God wants to renew more people to a right relationship with Himself.

Paul said each member of the body has the responsibility to grow in Christ. He said Christ gives gifts within the body to help grow each member into a cohesive unified body of Christ able to reach out to the world with His love. This makes it imperative that each believer grows in their life with Christ, in their Christian walk. Paul told them they are to “be renewed in the spirit of their mind and put on the new self” (vs. 23-24). First Paul spoke from the negative side when he said, “no longer walk just as the Gentiles walk” (vs. 17). “Gentiles” refers to unbelievers. Paul said not to be like them -

in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous (apathetic) have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.     (vs. 17- 19)

He said their thinking and understanding is darkened. They chase ideas and rationalize about life, but they will not understand apart from God. Paul said, “They are excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts (dulled perception and stubborn) and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality” (vs. 18-19). This sensuality includes practices of impurity – lustfulness, wantonness, promiscuous living – and greediness for the practice of every kind of impurity.

In contrast to the way Gentiles live, Paul told them they did not learn Christ this way (vs. 20). He said Christians learn they must “lay aside the old self, which is corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit” (vs. 22). Christians are “being renewed in the spirit of their mind and putting on the new self” (vs. 23). Many translations read this “be renewed” and make it sound like a once off event. However, as we walk with Christ and continue to live in the sinful world, we find we must make a daily and sometimes hourly effort at being renewed in our mind and putting on the new self in Christ. Salvation is a one-time event. When we accept Jesus Christ’s forgiveness and acknowledge Him as the Son of God who sacrificed Himself for our sins, we are saved. Being renewed and putting on the new self is a daily occurrence. Sanctification is the continuing daily putting on the mind of Christ and walking in His likeness. Sanctification is an ongoing process of growing more Christlike. To become more Christlike we must choose each day to put on the new self and be renewed in our minds. Paul continued and said this new self “has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (vs. 24). The definition of righteousness comes from God’s character. This word means being in a condition acceptable to God in rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting. The holiness of truth contrasts to the holiness of the Jews and the pretended holiness of the hypocrites. The holiness of the Jews was not pure, but was predicated on their actions of offering impure sacrifices for their sins. The holiness of truth of the new self shows the genuineness of the Spirit’s work of sanctification on the heart. The new self acts righteously and holy and encourages others to live this way, too.

After Paul told the “faithful followers” they must be renewed in their mind and put on the new self, he gave a list of what the “new self” of a believer would do. Before, in verses two and three, he told how a believer would be – humble, loving, patient, tolerant, gentle, diligent, peaceful, and unified in the Spirit. Now, to close this chapter of his letter, Paul gave actions of believers – how/what to do. He said, in contrast to falsehood, believers speak truth with their neighbor, can feel anger but not sin because of it, labor instead of steal to be able to share with a person in need, speak with worth to edify the hearer, and give the Holy Spirit cause to rejoice. Paul added in verse nineteen, if we go to bed angry, it gives the devil a foothold/opportunity to make us act upon that anger. We stew over it and it boils within us. As it boils, it may come to a head and cause us to explode with hurtful words or actions. The words we say, as Christians, must be wholesome and for the building up of another. Anger does not allow that. Sin comes in these ways when we do not allow the Spirit to quench the anger before the end of the day. Paul said as Christians we look for ways to help our neighbors, too. This leads us to work so that we have enough to share with a person in need. We build up a person’s physical body by working well enough to have food to share.

Paul gave a final list to every Christian who hears and reads his letter (vs.31-32). This list begins in the mind and moves to the heart and action. Paul said to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander from themselves along with malice. Instead, be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. Let us define these words. Bitterness is a sharpness of mind that is ready to take offence. It produces hatred. Wrath and anger is the outburst of bitterness into a deeper anger. It easily boils over to actions. Clamor and slander are the loud fury of wrath moving into deliberate evil speaking. Action occurs from the boiling over of bitterness. Paul expressly said not to sin while angry in verse twenty-six. He knew that anger left to boil could spew out like hot lava and someone could be hurt. When anger creates a rift in a relationship either between a person and God or between two people, sin occurs. Christians must resist these sins. Paul said Christians instead should be kind to one another, compassionate, and forgiving each other because God in Christ forgave us. God in His merciful loving-kindness showed compassion on us and forgave us when we deliberately chose to turn our backs on Him. Because we know we received Christ’s forgiveness when we did not deserve it, that should enable us Christians to forgive another person for what he or she did to us.

If we are followers of Christ, Paul said Christ calls us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called” (vs. 1). This requires us to be humble, gentle, patient, tolerant in love, and diligent in preserving unity of Spirit and the bond of peace. We are able to do this because of God’s love for us. Though He had every reason to turn His back on us, He chose to relate with us compassionately. He prepared a way for us to return to Him before He created the world. God provided the perfect sacrifice. He provided the way for us to be remade so we could be in a relationship with Him. To be able to live in the world in a Christlike manner, God gave us His Spirit to guide and teach us and to give us strength to walk this way. He also gave gifts to members of the church to build us up in the body of Christ. We no longer walk in darkness as the Gentiles walk, but we are being renewed in the spirit of our mind and putting on the new self, the likeness of Christ.

Paul said much in this chapter. His main point was to implore Christians to walk in a manner worthy of Christ. Christ gives us His Spirit who empowers us to do this. He also gives gifts to members of His body so that each believer can grow in likeness to Him and so He can build up the body in love for the tasks to which Christ calls the body. Christians cannot do this by walking in the world as the Gentiles walk, but as the child of God who puts on the new self and walks in love and forgiveness.

The questions:

Are you a believer?

Are you being deceived by cunning and deceitful people

into believing false teachings?

Or are you putting on the new self and

growing into more Christlikeness each day?

Jesus provided a way for us to know the truth about Him in His Word, the Bible. He also provided a way for us to grow in Him through the study of His Word, His Holy Spirit, and the messengers He gifted in the church. The final question: Will you seek the Truth?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

God’s Love: Exceedingly Abundant Beyond Ephesians 3

Ephesians 3
Let us do a quick review. In Ephesians 1, we found that Paul addressed his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Gentile believers, and to “faithful followers.” This letter is meant for every Christian. Paul told us that God loved each of us before He created the world. He made a plan for us to return to Him since before the creation of the world. Ephesians 2 tells us through Christ, God made His children, every Christian, into one body where Jesus Christ is the head. Jesus Christ made this possible by fulfilling the Law and its ordinances. Because of that, He removed the barrier or wall between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Now in Christ, we are under one covenant, the Messianic covenant. Hence, we are established together as part of the foundation of Christ’s church with the saints who went before us and with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone. Being under a new covenant and in one body together whether Jew or Gentile is the great new idea in Ephesians 2 that Paul taught. None of this, though, is about us. God is the focus. He created us. He fulfilled His covenant through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. He calls us to return to Him. He grows us into His temple by building us together. We do nothing toward making the Messianic covenant, nor did we do anything to earn such loving-kindness from God.

            In Ephesians 3, Paul taught about the mystery that God revealed through Christ, that Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promise in Christ Jesus (vs. 6). Paul told them and us that God revealed His mystery, which was unknown in other generations, to His apostles and prophets in the Spirit. God’s plan from the beginning was to bring everyone back into relationship with Himself. From the Old Testament, we find that God chose a group of people, the Israelites, to be His chosen people. You can find this in Jeremiah 24:7, 31:33, and 32:38 and Ezekiel 11:20, 34:30, and 36:28. In the fulfillment of His covenant with the Israelites through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the sin sacrifice, God created a new covenant and revealed His mystery - He calls all believers His children.

            Let us go back to understand better. At the beginning of this chapter, Paul explained that he yielded himself as a captive/bond servant of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles. Jesus’ call of Paul on the Damascus road revealed to Paul that Jesus sent him to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul said he received God’s grace to be a steward for and to the Gentiles. God disclosed this revelation to him and told him His mystery that God included Gentiles as those who are called to return to Him, not just Jews.

Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members belonging to the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:4, Romans 11:25, and Colossians 1:26-27). God did not reveal this mystery before, but revealed it to the His apostles and prophets in the Spirit. As fellow heirs, Gentiles have right to the inheritance with other believers in Christ. Because they are fellow members of the body of Christ and fellow partakers, they share in the promise of Christ Jesus through the Gospel, salvation – an eternal relationship with God and eternal life. As Christians of Gentile background, we are given the grace of God to become fellow heirs, partakers, and members of Christ’s body with other believers, Jewish and Gentile (vs. 5-6).

Paul said God made him a “minister (one who executes the commands of God) according to the gift of God’s grace” (vs. 7). He is a minister for God because God chose him to receive His grace, not because of his (Paul’s) worthiness. Paul was a minister for God by God’s power working within him. He acknowledged God gifted him and empowered him to be His minister/servant. Paul felt his duty keenly. He said, “To me, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery, which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” (vs. 8-9). God gave Paul His grace to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation to the Gentiles. Paul said he was to preach about God’s unfathomable riches. These riches have an unknowable beginning and end, so they cannot be fully comprehended (vs.18 – 19). The riches, according to Paul in others of his letters are kindness, tolerance, patience (Romans 2:4), forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), and strength of power through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:16). Since we are dealing with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we will narrow God’s riches to forgiveness of sins and power through the Spirit. Paul said, too, he was to make known what is the dispensing of the mystery (how God will administer His salvation to Gentile and Jew). God did not reveal this mystery until He called Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. God made Paul a steward/dispenser/minister of this Gospel. The Greek word oikonomia is what is translated as administer or dispense. God called Paul to do this, dispense of/proclaim God’s grace, which God hid in Himself. Remember, God chose each of us to be in a relationship with Him before He created us (Ephesians 1:4), before the Abrahamic covenant. Hence, He chose all people to be in relationship with Him before He formed the world. The Messianic covenant returned us to that status.

God calls every person to return to Him through Jesus Christ, not just Jews. By revealing His mystery then, God revealed His manifold (many and varied) wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (vs. 10). Ephesians 6:12 calls these the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. Colossians 2:15 says God will disarm rulers and authorities and will have the head rule over every dark force. Paul said God’s wisdom is greater than anything one can think or imagine. He had this mystery planned from before the foundation of the world. God’s wisdom will disarm all the dark rulers and authorities and He will rule over them. This was according to the eternal purposes, the purpose of the ages, which God formed and carried out in Christ as Lord. We can have fearless confidence, cheerful courage, and confident access through faith in Him (vs. 12). Remember the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is “faith is the conviction of things hoped for and the assurance of thins not seen.” We can approach the throne of God because of His forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ and our giving Him control of our life as Lord. Paul said this in Ephesians 2:18, “For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. We know He will accept us and be with us.”

Paul did not stop with telling the Gentiles of their acceptance into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God’s mystery. Paul prayed five things for them from God’s riches, His abundance. He prayed they would not lose heart, faint, at the tribulations he endured for their glory (vs. 13). This glory came because of his and God’s opinion of them - they are loved by God. Paul prayed they would be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, the soul and conscience. This he prayed so that Christ would inhabit and govern their hearts and souls through faith (vs. 16-17). Paul prayed they would be rooted (fixed and established) and grounded with a firm foundation in love so they could have the full ability to comprehend (learn, understand, and take hold of) along with the saints who went before them what is the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love for them. Job spoke of this unfathomable and immeasurable-ness of God’s love in Job 11:7-9. He said, “Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty? They are as high as the heavens, what can you do? Deeper than Sheol, what can you know? It’s measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” You cannot know even the depths of Sheol or the heights of heaven, which God created, so how can you fully comprehend God and His love? Paul said in Ephesians 3:19, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge. The love of Christ is exceeding knowledge. The final prayer request of Paul’s for the faithful followers is that they “may be filled up to all fullness of God” (vs. 19). Our English word fullness translates from the Greek word pleroma. Pleroma is the abundance or being fully filled with the presence, power, agency, and riches of God and Christ. Paul prayed the believers would not lose heart, would be strengthened with God’s power in their soul, would be able to comprehend the depths of God’s love, would know the love of Christ, and would be completely filled with the presence of God and His abundance.

To finish this section of his letter to the Ephesians and other faithful followers, Paul offered a benediction of praise to the Father and Son in verses 21 and 22. He said, “Now to Him, the One who is able to do far more than we can ask or think, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Paul returned to his words in chapter 1 when he said “to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” He spoke of the exceeding abundantly in chapter 1. In chapter 3 Paul added the word “beyond,” which comes from the Greek word huperekeina. Huperekeina means super, beyond what we can think. This word used in one other place in the New Testament, in 2 Corinthians 10:16. The ability to do this beyond our imaginings is according to the power that is working within us, God’s power. The word “power” in Greek is dunamis, from which we derive our word dynamite. “Works” is the Greek word energeo and means operates. Energeo is from where we derive our word “erg.” So, this part of the verse can read “according to the dynamo that is erg (working) within us.” This dynamo does not derive from ourselves, but from the exceeding abundant fullness of God and Christ within our souls. The glory Paul gave here was to God. He stated this in the rest of the chapter, “To Him is the glory (magnificence, excellence, dignity, and grace) in the church (the assembly of believers) and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

God is the one who receives the glory, we are not. He is the one with the unfathomable and immeasurable love. God is the one who chose us and created us from the beginning. He is the one who provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins. God is the one who calls us to return to Him. He is the one who fills us completely to an exceeding overabundance with His power through His Holy Spirit. God chose to love each of us, Jew and Gentile, and calls each believer to be in His household as fellow heirs and partakers of His promise. We can do nothing to earn His love and we could do nothing to offer the sufficient sacrifice that fulfilled the Mosaic covenant. We are the created and the recipient of God’s love. We are the receiver and God is the initiator and perfector. Notice in verses 18b-21, the verb is present tense when referring to God. These verses tell us there is no limit to God’s love. God is always present and active. In verses 16-18b, Paul spoke to the followers as recipients when he used the word “may.” The Gospel is not about us, but about God, His unfathomable love, His sacrifice, His calling to us, and His glory.

God still calls to His creation today. He calls them to return to His love. God provided the perfect sacrifice with the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the covenant humankind could not fulfill because of their limited ability and power.

God will keep calling for you to return to His love. His whole purpose for creating you was to be in a love relationship with you.

Will you trust Him and return to Him today?

Monday, June 16, 2014

No Longer Strangers Ephesians 2

Ephesians 2

            In last week’s lesson on Ephesians 1, we found out that God pre-ordained and chose us before He created the world to be in a relationship with Him. He loves us so much that He created us for a relationship with Him. He loves us so much that He provided a way for us to return to Him even though we are sinners and He cannot be in the presence of sin. The way He made for that to happen was to give the perfect redeeming sacrifice that removes the sins of our past and of people since the beginning of time. The sacrifice of animals as prescribed in the Old Testament was not enough to remove sin completely from a person, from their consciousness as well as their hands. Jesus sacrifice of His life for our sins wiped away the taint of our sin from our hands and removed our guilt and consciousness from sins (Hebrews 10:2). So in chapter one we find God loves and cherishes us so much that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. This shows how God lavishes His love on us.

            In chapter 2, Paul began by directing attention to the Ephesians Christians. Remember, they are Greek (Gentile) Christians. Also, remember that Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesian Christians and to every faithful follower (Eph. 1:1). At the beginning of chapter two Paul spoke to the Ephesian Christians when he said, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the principles of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Paul addressed these Ephesian Christians and reminded them who they were; they were dead eternally and spiritually because of their trespasses (lapses from truth and righteousness) and their sins. They were not any different from any of us “faithful followers” now. We each lapse and have lapsed from truth and uprightness (godliness). We each miss the mark and wander from God. These trespasses, Paul said, come from walking in this world where the dark forces of wickedness wander. These dark forces of wickedness, on which Paul expounds in Ephesians 6:12, are from the “prince of the power of the air.” They are of the “spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (2:2), the people who are obstinate to God’s will. Remember, God gave humankind a gift when He created us. He gave us our own will to choose to follow Him or our own desires. That is where sin entered and continues to mislead us from the perfect path.

            When Paul arrived at verse three, he included all Christians in his teaching here. He said among sinners, “we, too, all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were the nature of the children of wrath, even as the rest.” That is a powerful statement. It reminds me of what Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The lusts of which Paul spoke are strong internal sexual desires or desires for something. When we allow these lusts to control us instead of God, we are sinning. The indulging of which Paul spoke is external actions of filling the desires. Sinning is both internal, lusting (such as coveting), and external, acting upon those lusts. Jesus said in Mark 7:15, "There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” This is what makes a people “children of wrath.” When a person chooses to turn away from God’s right ways, he or she is a sinner even as the rest of humankind. No one is immune from temptation and sin.

            The good news, and the point of this whole chapter, is what God did and is doing. The world and life are not about us, but about God, Creator and Redeemer. Verses four through seven say,

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [NASB]

That is a mighty mouthful. It speaks about God. It begins with “But God,” which draws our attention back to the main thing, God. What did God do that is so important? He did not just make us alive, raise us up with Him, and seat us in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. He lavished his mercy on us because He loves us. The Greek word used for mercy means the kindness and clemency of God choosing not to give us what we deserve, punishment. Paul spoke of this in Ephesians 1:7. His mercy came from His great love. This sounds somewhat blas√© so let us go deeper. God’s grace and mercy come from His insurmountable and unlimited kindness and love. This love, as Paul said in chapter one, is “lavished” upon us. Lavished means to be over and above measuring, to be abundantly overflowing. His love, Paul stated in Ephesians 3:18-19, is higher, wider, and deeper than we can ever comprehend and surpasses knowledge. Even when we were dead in our transgressions, our misdeeds/deviation from truth and uprightness, He loved us. What did He do for us because of His love? The practicalities are that God made us alive in Christ. He raised us up with Christ from mortal death to new life dedicated to God. He gave us hope of being raised up from death. God seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He placed us together with Him. God did this so that “He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (vs. 7). He did this to show the transcending exceedingly great beyond imagining riches of His merciful loving-kindness and favor. Because of God’s immeasurable, merciful loving-kindness, He made us alive, raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ.

            Paul stated it succinctly in verses eight and nine when he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God’s action of providing salvation from death, eternal separation from God, Paul again stated, comes from His grace. We can do nothing to save ourselves or earn God’s grace. God’s grace comes because of His exceeding and abundant love and mercy. Because we can do nothing to gain our salvation from death, we cannot boast of having achieved it. Even faith is a gift from God. Remember when Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12, he listed spiritual gifts that God gives. One of these gifts given by God is faith. God gives us faith to believe. What is faith then if not something we have, but is important for salvation? The writer of Hebrews said in 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” We must choose to exercise the faith that God gives when we ask for it as we seek Him. We must believe and then we will receive salvation from God, a salvation that is not from ourselves. Salvation is a gift of God, nothing we can ever do. Salvation comes from God. Faith comes from God.

God’s goodness, grace, and mercy, come from His surpassing and abundant love. This love is why God created us to be in relationship with Him, why He predestined us to be His children from the foundations of the world, and why He prepared a way for us to return to Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are God’s workmanship. He created us. God recreates us, transforms us back to His image, in Christ Jesus for excellent and upright works, which God prepared beforehand (vs. 10). God created us to be in a love relationship with Him. He gave us the gift of free will, knowing our inclination to choose to follow our lusts and act upon them. Because of this and His great surpassing love, God prepared beforehand a way for us to return to relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son. He wants us to walk with Him and to work with Him. He created us and prepared a way for us to be transformed back into the image in which He created us.

Paul said in verse eleven, “Therefore, remember,” and repeats it in verse twelve for emphasis. Remember that you, the Gentiles, the Ephesian Christians, who did not follow the Laws of the commandments and the rules and doctrines that came from them, remember that you did not circumcise your boys. You were “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth and strangers to the covenants of promise having no hope and without God in the world” (vs. 12). The Greek word for our English word “excluded” means alienated and estranged. The Ephesians were aliens and estranged from the citizenship of Israel in Yahweh with the rights that engenders. They had no claim to God because they were outside the covenant of promise; they were not Israelites. The Ephesians were strangers outside of Israel without the knowledge or any share in the covenants of promise. They had no hope and were without joy, having no confident expectation of eternal salvation because they did not have God in their lives.

Paul, then, stated, “But now” (vs. 13). Something great was about to be spoken to the Ephesians, something to give them hope. Paul said, “But now in Christ Jesus, you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” These Ephesians, because they believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world, now had an inheritance with the Israelites.

How does this happen? Paul said,

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of the commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (vs. 14-16, [NASB])

 Wow, a mouth and mind full. Let us look at this closer. The peace that verse fourteen speaks of is tranquility, surety, and safety through salvation. This peace is the state of a tranquil soul that knows of its salvation, no fear of eternal separation from God. Later, Paul spoke of both groups. These groups were the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians, the circumcised and uncircumcised. Before the Jewish Christians followed the Law of the commandments given through Moses from God from which the Jewish leaders made rules and regulations of life. So the Jews circumcised the foreskin of the boys in obedience to God to show they were in relationship with God. A covenant relationship, what the Israelites had with God, means a relationship that to which both parties contract themselves and requires both parties to fulfill their side. For the Jews, they had to follow the Ten Commandments and the rules that came from them to be in relationship with God. Because of the Gentiles did not have a covenant relationship with God, shown in their flesh by uncircumcision, they were outside the promises of God that the Israelites enjoyed. Christ came to fulfill the covenant between the Israelites and God. Since the Israelites could not fulfill their side of the covenant because of their sinfulness, the covenant never could be fulfilled and they would be separated from God forever. God provided the way for the covenant's fulfillment by providing the perfect sacrifice in the death of His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. The cows and sheep mandated to be the sacrifices for the sins of the Israelites never were effective to remove the sin of the people. The sacrifices cleansed them for that point in time, but they continued to be sinners carrying the guilt and consciousness of sin. Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice removed our sins from the past and forever, from our hands and our consciousness. His sacrifice was perfect and fulfilled the covenant. Only God could completely fulfill the covenant and in His love, He did that through the death of His Son. Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with the Israelites, no wall or barrier separates Israelite from Gentile. Any person who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior for our sins becomes a recipient of the new covenant, the Messianic covenant. This is how Christ “broke down the barrier of the dividing wall by abolishing in His flesh the enmity” (vs. 14-15). The enmity was the separation of Jew and Gentile because of the Mosaic covenant before the Messianic covenant.

            Paul returned to what God did when He provided salvation and why. He became more specific each time he spoke of this. He said God did this so “He might make (create) the two (Jewish and Gentile believers) into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by having put to death the enmity” (vs. 15-16). God’s new covenant through Jesus Christ made one people out of all His believers. This is the “one new man” Paul mentioned in verse fifteen. By doing this, Jesus established peace. He brought tranquility through salvation. Instead of there being dissension between Jewish and Gentile believers, they had Christ’s covenant in common and became unified through Him. He reconciled them back to a former state of harmony, before the fall of humankind through the cross. God wanted to reconcile humankind and bring them back into harmony with one another. He put enmity to death with the new covenant brought into being through Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul quoted Isaiah 57:19 to highlight that this was God’s intention from the beginning. He quoted, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near.” Isaiah prophesied of this tranquil state of humankind when he spoke this to the Israelites. Paul recalled it for them.

Paul continued by stating how God made Jew and Gentile unified and established peace in verse eighteen. He said, “For through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” We have a relationship to God where we are acceptable to Him because our sin does not keep us away (Eph. 3:12). We have assurance He is favorably disposed toward us because Jesus’ perfect sacrifice took our sins completely away. When we accepted Him as our Savior, He put His Spirit in us. His Spirit in us intercedes for us to the Father.

To wrap this up, to restate who we were and who we now are, Paul wrote,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the corner stone, in whom the whole building is being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together through the Spirit. (vs. 19-22, [NASB])

The Gentiles of Ephesus and non-Jewish believers are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints. We have knowledge of God and share in the covenant with the Jewish Christians. Before, we Gentiles did not have citizenship in God’s kingdom, but now we are included in the promise and covenant through Christ in eternal salvation. We are fellow citizens with those who have gone before us, the saints, the holy ones dedicated to God for His purpose who had a relationship with Him. We now belong to and are devoted to God’s household. As a part of God’s household, citizens of His kingdom, God built us on the foundation of believers who went before us, the apostles and prophets (Eph.3:5), even on Christ Jesus, the chief corner stone of the building. This building is the act of God, not of our doing. God continues building even now because the temple is still being fitted together. His holy temple is growing. The temple, the building made of faithful followers into one body, is active and continues to grow in the Lord. Christians are being built together into a dwelling of God through the Spirit. We do not accept God’s grace and mercy in the form of Jesus perfect sacrifice and leave it at that. Christians are to grow and keep on growing in our relationship with God and in our likeness to Christ. That will stabilize the building of God’s temple, the Church.

Salvation is a onetime occurrence. It happened once for all humankind when Jesus died on the cross in our place. Sanctification is a continuing occurrence throughout the rest of our lives as we walk with God becoming more Christlike. We must continue to be active in becoming like Christ so that the holy temple is growing. To consider that I am counted as worthy to be added on top of the saints who went before me is unimaginable; I am not worthy. I do not want to let God down, fail to grow in Christ, and not become more like Him. I do not want to fail to continue to build or grow the temple together with other Christians through Jesus Christ.

God chose us and predestined us to be in a love relationship with Him before He created the world. He chose to give us free will because of His love. Knowing that we would choose to walk away from Him, to sin, God provided a way, from before He made the world, to bring us back into relationship with Him, to transform and recreate us in His image. The way God did this was through the offering of His Son, Jesus Christ, the pure and sinless One, as the substitute for our death, due because of our sin. God planned this before He created the world. He loved us so much that He accepted the great pain of having His Son crucified as the sacrifice for our sins. We did nothing to offer the perfect sacrifice. God prepared it beforehand. We did nothing to earn the sacrifice of the pure life of Jesus Christ. For we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God loves us with His great, unlimited, immeasurable love.

His love is His own doing. God’s creating and re-creating us is His own doing. The perfect sacrifice is God’s own doing. Christ’s resurrection from the dead to give us eternal life with Him is God’s own doing. We are sinners. If we are “faithful followers,” we still sin, but are forgiven and assured of our salvation. We are powerless, but God adopted us as His children. We rest assured knowing God made us alive, raised us up, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. He did this to show the surpassing riches of His grace, His undeserved love for us.

As Paul told the Ephesian Christians, before they were spiritually and eternally dead living according to the lusts of their flesh and indulging their flesh and minds. When they believed in and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, God made them alive, raised them up with Christ, and seated them with Him in the heavenly places. They were no longer strangers, but fellow citizens in God’s household. God gives this to each follower of Christ. He adopts them as His children and gives them an inheritance in His kingdom.

This leaves us with a few questions.

  1. Are you a “faithful follower” of Jesus Christ?
    1. If you are, are you growing in Christlikeness and being built upon the foundation of His temple?
    2. What do you need to do to continue in your relationship with God?
  2. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, have you asked God to show Himself to you and give you faith to believe so that you will be adopted as His child?

We each must come to this point in life.

We each must decide if we will accept God’s gift of unlimited and immeasurable love and salvation.

Will you ask God to show Himself to you today?

Monday, June 9, 2014

More Than Created - Adopted Ephesians 1

Ephesians 1

            A few weeks ago, the church I attend began a forty-day study of the book of Ephesians. I have not been able to attend any of the studies so am studying on my own. I remember years ago studying the New Testament in seminary and am eager to learn afresh what God wants to tell me.

            As I began this study, I remembered that Paul’s letters begin with a greeting and introduction as to who he was. They often contain a preamble that lets you know on what he planned to teach. The book of Ephesians follows that same pattern, but I found or re-learned something in my current study. Chapter one includes a section on what God has done for the Ephesian church and a prayer from Paul for them. If you have not read Ephesians chapter one recently, I encourage you to do that now before you continue this study.

            As quick lists, here are the things Paul said God did and things for which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians and faithful followers of Christ.

            What God Did:

  1. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. (vs. 4)
  2. He predestined us to adoption as sons and daughters. (vs. 5)
  3. He freely bestowed His grace on us. (vs. 6)
  4. He gave us redemption through Christ’s blood. (vs. 7)
  5. He gave us forgiveness of sin because of His grace. (vs. 7)
  6. He lavished His grace upon us. (vs. 8)
  7. He made known to us the mystery of His will because of His kindness. (vs. 9)
  8. He summed up all things on Christ on earth and in heaven. (vs. 10)
  9. He gave us an inheritance because He predestined it based on His wisdom.(vs. 11)
  10. Because He gave us this inheritance through His grace, we are for the praise of His glory. (vs. 12)
  11. He sealed us with His Holy Spirit. (vs. 13)
  12. He gave the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance because we believed and redeemed. (vs. 14)

What Paul Prayed (for the faithful)

  1. That God would give wisdom, revelation, and knowledge in recognizing Him. (vs. 17)
  2. That God will enlighten the eyes of our heart to know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance. (vs.18)
  3. That God will give us the surpassing knowledge of the greatness of His power towards us with the working strength of His might. (vs. 19)
  4. That we will know these occurred in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ when He (vs. 19-20)
    1. raised Him from the dead (vs. 20)
    2. seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (vs. 20)
    3. far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named (vs. 21)
    4. to change this age and also the one to come. (vs. 21)
    5. He put all things in subjection under His feet (vs. 22)
    6. And gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (vs. 22-23)

            From the first section under “What God has done for His children,” verse 3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” As I read this, I wondered what the spiritual blessings were to which Paul referred. I can think of many things God has done, but what is a spiritual blessing? This led me to a discovery. Paul outlined these blessings in the eleven subsequent verses. Each of these blessings are God’s actions and thoughts toward us; we did nothing to get them.

In verse four we find that God chose us before He created humankind and the world, to be holy and blameless before Him. He chose to have an eternal relationship with us; that is why He created us. He created us for relationship. When Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they broke relationship with Him because He, in His holiness and purity, cannot be in the presence of evil. Yet, we learn from this verse, God chose us to be holy and blameless so He had a plan to renew our relationship with Him. Paul expands this teaching further in chapter two, especially in verse ten.

            Verses five through six carry on from this. Verse five says, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” This affirms again that God chose us, He predestined that we would be His children one way or the other. God’s plans cannot be thwarted by humankind. God planned from the foundation of the world our adoption as His children. Paul began in the verse to explain how God planned to adopt us to bring us back into relationship with Him. He gave us a glimmer of what he spoke and developed later in his letter to the Ephesians. God, through Jesus Christ and because of the kind intentions of His will, provided a way for us to be cleansed from the darkness of our sin. This adoption and kindness of God comes from God’s grace. Grace is defined as God’s riches at Christ’s expense. We receive God’s riches, an inheritance, at because of Christ’s death as our substitute. Paul and all followers of Christ praise God because of His grace, which He freely gave us. We do not deserve this great kindness and love of God to remove our sins at the expense of the life of His Son. Nothing we can do makes us worthy of this grace from Holy God. Paul developed this teaching further in Ephesians 2.

Paul added more in this first chapter. He stated, “In Him (Jesus Christ) we have redemption (our death penalty redeemed by the death of a substitute) through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” Because Jesus in His gracious love for us chose to die as a substitute for our death, which our sinfulness required, we can be made pure, one hundred percent clean from our sins. God’s forgiveness comes to us through Jesus’ death, His blood poured out instead of ours. This redemption and forgiveness is because of God’s great grace, His insurmountable and unlimited kindness and love. Paul used a word that describes the limitlessness of God’s grace. He said God “lavished” His grace upon us. Lavished means to be over and above measuring, to be abundantly overflowing. Paul talked more about the limitless grace and love of God in chapter three. He said he wants us to grasp how high and wide and deep is the “love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge so that we may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19).

God, in wisdom and insight, “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention” according to Paul in verse nine. Paul spoke more on this mystery in Ephesians 3, but summed up for us here what God’s will is – to bring all humankind back into a relationship with Him through the death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus Christ. God provided for us this way back to Him because of His love. He made it known to us because of His kindness and love. What good is a plan for others if they do not realize a plan was made for them. Paul continued to summarize God’s mystery by stating that all things on heaven and earth will be in subjection to Christ at the fullness of time, when He returns to earth. Then the kingdom of God will reign forever. Christ’s death was not just for us to experience now as a once off cleansing. His death and resurrection occurred so that we could have eternal life with Him when all things are under His gracious and wise authority and dominion.

Paul stated in verses eleven and twelve, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” He reiterated it again for emphasis. God adopted us and they will receive a full inheritance with His Son as children of God. The inheritance we receive is eternal life with an unbroken relationship with the Father. This idea was not a backup plan after Adam, Eve, and humankind sinned. God foreknew humankind would sin. He predestined a plan for our salvation because of His love for us out of His unlimited mercy and kindness. Because we asked for forgiveness and accepted His love, He made us His children. We get to praise His glory – His excellence, magnificence, and majesty. Our word “doxology” comes from this Greek word translated as “glory.” We praise God for who He is and what He has done.

Paul said, in verses thirteen and fourteen, God sealed us in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. He gave us the Holy Spirit in our hearts “as a pledge of our inheritance,” our redemption and eternal life with Him, “to the praise of His glory.” Paul preached this in His letter to the Ephesians. He praised God and taught the Ephesian Christians to praise God for what He did for them. The Holy Spirit is our pledge from God of our inheritance as His children. The Holy Spirit is not just our guide, comforter, and teacher, but is our pledge from God. How great is that?

To sum up God’s spiritual blessings for the Ephesian Christians according to Paul, God adopted them. We must be more specific though. God chose them before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. He predestined them to be adopted as His children through Jesus Christ because of His kindness. God bestowed His grace freely on them. He redeemed them from their merited death by Jesus’ substituted death. God forgave them of their sins because of His grace. He lavished His grace on them. He made known the mystery of His will to them. God gave all things to the authority and dominion of Christ on earth and in heaven. He gave them hope in Christ. God gave them the pledge of His Holy Spirit as a sign of their inheritance. The Ephesian Christians and we did not do anything to acquire salvation and adoption. God did it all.

The second section of this opening chapter of Ephesians is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians. Keep aware as you will notice overlapping between this prayer and God’s spiritual blessings of His children. Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians giving thanks for them and asking God to give them certain things. First, Paul asked God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. This means that Paul asked God to give them His knowledge in truth and instruction, which they did not have before they became Christians. He asked that God give the Ephesian Christians knowledge and practice for godly living and for teaching Christian truth to other people.

Second, Paul prayed that their hearts would be enlightened so that they would know three things – 1) what is the hope of His calling (vs. 18), 2) what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (vs. 18), and 3) what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward those who believe (vs. 19a). Paul asked that they would be illumined or instructed because they are now of the household of God regarding what is their joyful expectation of eternal life. This is the hope that Christ gives to Christians, joyful expectation of eternal life. Nothing can take it away from believers. Paul developed this in Ephesians 4. He asked God to guide them to understand the “riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” He wanted them to realize the abundance from God’s grace of blessedness from having the promise that Christians will be with Christ in heaven. “Inheritance” in the Greek New Testament is kleronomia. Kleronomia is the eternal blessedness of the kingdom of God which occurs after Christ’s second coming, which adopted children of God will have for eternity. Christian riches come from our inheritance in Christ’s kingdom. The third thing for which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians was that they would know the exceedingly abundant greatness of God’s power toward those who believe. God does not just save them for that time; He saved them for eternity. His power is greater than anything that attempts to hold you back. This is what Paul stated in Romans 8:37, “But in all things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” The word used for “power” in verse nineteen is dunamis. We get our word dynamite from this word. It means strength and power; the ability to do something with great power. God having power is a great thing to know. What use is power, though, if not applied for something or someone. Here, in this verse, Paul stated God used this exceedingly great power toward those who believe. He saved them by His great love for them and He kept them safe by His great power. No one can ever snatch them from God’s hands. Read Romans 8:31-39 for more on this.

Paul continued in verse nineteen by stating that these three things are according to the working of God’s great power. The Greek word translated as “working” is energeia and is used only of superhuman strength in the New Testament. God’s power is greater than any person’s. This power is that which God brought about in Christ when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heaven. God exercised this power in Christ toward us who believe so that we could always have the hope of eternal life with Him. Paul developed this more in Ephesians 3:7 and 6:10.

The place of honor God the Father gave Christ by seating Him at his right hand in heaven shows the Son is a part of the Godhead and that He has all authority and power. Paul named those people and beings over whom Christ ruled. Christ reigns over all rule/rulers. “Rule” is the Greek word arche and means leader or magistracy. Christ reigns over all authority (exousia). Exousia means the command and power of created beings under which others must submit themselves. Christ reigns over all powers and dominions. “Power” is dunamis, which means the power which a person or things exerts and puts forth. “Dominion” is kuriotes, which includes the power of lords, rulers, and kings. Jesus reigns over all created beings who reign - human, angelic, and Satanic. Jesus’ power is greater than every being or thing, even death, because He is part of the Godhead. Paul further stated that Jesus Christ’s name is over every name that is named for all ages (aion – a perpetuity of time).

The Father gave the Son power over all things and beings. He put them in subjection under His feet, too (vs. 22). They do not have power over Christ. They must obey Him. The Father made Christ the head over all things to the Church. Jesus Christ is the foundation and the head of the Church. Paul said this in Colossians 1:18 and in Ephesians 4. In verse twenty-three, Paul spoke of “the fullness of Him.” By this he meant, the Church is the body of Christ. “Fullness” in the original Greek comes from the word pleroma meaning the body of believers who are filled to completeness with and by Christ’s presence, power, and riches. “All in all” in this verse means that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts; He does not restrict His redemption to just one kind of person. Christ redeems Jew and Greek, rich and poor, slave and free, which Paul explained in Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11. Hence, verses twenty-two and twenty-three can be stated like this: “And God put all things in subjection under Christ’s feet and gave Him as the head over the Church, which is His body, who are filled to completeness with and by Christ’s presence, power, and riches and which Church is made up of people from all walks of life.”

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians included that they would recognize and come to know Christ with a deep knowledge that led to godly living and Christian teaching. He prayed they would be enlightened and would know the hope of His calling, “the riches of the glory of His inheritance,” and the exceeding greatness of His power for and toward them. Paul prayed they would understand and know it was in accordance with the superhuman energy used of the strength of God’s might that raised Christ from the dead, seated Him at His right hand, and gave Him power over all things in heaven and earth. Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians would know Jesus as the head of the body of Christ, the church, and would grow stronger in the knowledge of His presence, power, and riches.

After studying this, two questions arise. Do I show in my life what God has done? Can I say that Paul was praying these things over me? Paul wrote these things to the Ephesian Christians. Do they apply to every Christian? When I re-read the opening of the letter, I noticed in verse one that Paul addressed the letter “to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus” [NASB]. I wondered if other English versions of the Bible translated it this way. I discovered most translations do state it in this way. Yet I found two that do not, Young’s Literal Translation and the Duoay-Rheims Bibles. The first was translated in 1898 by a Scottish Presbyterian who was fluent in several languages and was a printer. The latter in 1899 from the Latin Vulgate by the Catholic Church. This difference in translations piqued my interest so I had my scholar husband translate it from the Greek Bible. He translated it as follows: “Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ through God, to saints to the ones which are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Paul addressed the letter to the saints in Ephesians and to all faithful followers of Christ. He wrote the letter to all Christians “not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21). This means that God did these things for me. He chose me before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. God predestined me to be adopted by Him according to His kindness and grace. He freely bestowed His grace on me and gave me redemption through the death of Christ. Through Christ’s death I have forgiveness of my sins. God made sure I knew the mystery of His will - He sent His Son to die for my sins so I would not die eternally. He gave me an inheritance because of His plan and for His purpose, so that I could have eternal life with Him and praise Him. God sealed me with His Holy Spirit who He gave as a pledge of my inheritance because He redeemed me for His own, for which all praise goes to Him. If God did this for me, He did it for all other faithful followers/Christians.

Questions arise now because of this. Am I living as if God has done these magnificent things for me and in me? Can anyone see in my words and actions God’s grace and call upon me? If Paul meant his words for all Christians/faithful followers of Christ, what does this mean for you? Are you living in a way that people watching you realize you are a child of God, one who inherits redemption and eternal life from Him?

Paul often began his letters by stating what he would teach the recipients. His prayer in Ephesians 1 tells us what Paul would be teaching the Ephesians. Paul did not aim to teach only the Ephesian Christians. He purposely set out to teach every Christian who read his letter or heard his letter read. Paul had a purpose in this letter. He wanted to correct false teaching, impart knowledge and wisdom (Christian truth), remind them of their inheritance and hope of glory, try to express the exceedingly great power and might of the Father and Son, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection, and the structure and building of the Church/body of Christ. This is what Paul prayed for the saints and faithful followers to receive from God. He recognized their weaknesses as Christians and wanted God to make them stronger. This recognition is what he prayed for them, wrote to them, and taught them. They needed more teaching regarding what the Father and Son did for humankind. Paul recognized this was a need for them and for faithful followers through the ages.

My questions returned repeatedly this week. I must consider if I am a weak Christian like some of the Ephesians. Am able to be mislead by false teachings? Am I growing in Christ, who is supposed to be my Head? Am I helping to build up the church? Am I holding on to the hope of my salvation? Am I willing to take steps of faith into areas that are outside of my comfort zone knowing my salvation is secure, that nothing can take me out of God’s hands? These are not easy questions with which to probe yourself. They can be painful.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you must do this probing, too. Are you growing in your relationship with Christ? Are you reading God’s Word and studying it? Are you sure of your salvation and holding onto the hope of glory so that no matter what, you understand you are in God’s hands? Are you willing to take steps of faith from where you are comfortable? Have you considered that your growth or lack is what contributes to the stability of the growth of the church?

These are not easy questions to apply to your life. They were not easy for me either. Paul wrote to all Christians. What God did through His Son, Jesus Christ, applies to each of us.

If you are not a Christian, you have a decision to make.

Will you chose to recognize and follow the God who chose you and predestined you to be His adopted child?

If you are a Christian,

Are you growing in your relationship with God?

Can people see from your words and actions that you are a follower of Christ?

Begin there,

at the heart,

and let God’s words through Paul lead you to a closer relationship with Him.

It starts with a first step:

Will you accept God’s grace and give Him your life?