Author Archives: preacherwin

Deep and Wide…

“in order that you might be able to attain with all of the saints that which is the breadth and the length and the height  and the depth to know the surpassing knowledge of the love of Christ and that you might be filled by all of the fullness of God.”

(Ephesians 3:18-19)

As Paul waxes elegant with his blessing upon the Ephesian church, we perhaps should ask a simple question. Is it possible for any finite being to really know the breadth, length, etc… of the love of Christ? The answer, of course, is a resounding, “no!” We certainly experience it as believers not just in our salvation but also every day in our sanctification, but we will never comprehend the fullness thereof. In fact, even after a millennium in the presence of God, we will still be awed by that which we have yet to understand about the character of our bridegroom. 

My shelves are lined with books of those who have sought to plumb the depths of the love of Christ, but my library is hardly exhaustive. In fact, yet today, people still write books seeking to further plumb the depths. No matter how deep we explore, the bottom will still be out of sight. But why would Paul wish something as a blessing that the people could not attain? The simple answer is that there is no sweeter and no more joyful pursuit in life than to pursue the depth of Christ love so that we might be filled with the fullness of God.

Later in this letter, Paul will make the comparison between marriage and Christ and his church. How appropriate that is and how useful it is as we seek to understand what Paul is communicating to us. As I write these words, I have been married to my wife for over twenty years. There is still more and more that I am learning about her character and personality and that she is learning about mine. I would have it no other way. There is great joy in slowly learning a person over time. I have no doubt that by the time we have been married 50 years, presuming we live that long, I will still be learning things about my lovely wife. As Christians, we make it our mission to learn the personality of Christ our bridegroom and we will have eternity to do so. Yet, as he is inexhaustible, we will never exhaust his fullness.

What is sad is when professing Christians become content with only a surface understanding of their Lord. Would you be content with only a surface understanding of your spouse? Is your goal just to get married and once married, check that off of your list and then ignore the one to whom you are married? That would be foolish, yet that is how many Christians behave toward their Savior Bridegroom. Beloved, content yourself with a life-long pursuit of the love of Christ. Such a pursuit will never disappoint because your quest will never reach the bottom, the side, or the top of Christ’s love for those he redeemed.

In Whose Love?

“for Christ to dwell through faith in your heart, being rooted and established in love,”

(Ephesians 3:17)

Christ’s indwelling through faith is established and rooted in our hearts with love. The important question to ask, though, is “Whose love?” All too often, people look to this as a way to plug human works into either their salvation or at least into their sanctification. But, if it is our love that grounds and roots Christ in our hearts, then we are going to be on a roller-coaster ride with respect to faith. For indeed, our love is fickle and failing. When things go well, we may tend to burst with love for God, but when things go very, very well, we tend to allow our ego and pride to step in. When things go poorly, we are often on our knees and adoring God for his daily provision, but when things go really, really poorly, then we often doubt and ask where God is and once again, our human doubts give rise to pride and sin.

No, what roots and establishes Christ in our hearts is the love of God. The love of God for whom? Ultimately, it is the love of God for Christ and, as the elect are in Christ, the love of God for us (Romans 8:39). Does God love those outside of his elect? That is one of those questions that Christians have debated and created theological gymnastics to seek to defend. If we look honestly at Scripture, though, God clearly says that it is Jacob that he loves and Esau that he hates and then uses this to illustrate his election (Romans 9:10-14). It would seem that God has stored up the wicked for the day of wrath (Romans 9:22), and praise be to God that he has sovereignly chosen to deliver some of us from that day for his own glory (Romans 9:23). If you wish to be delivered, too, the call is to repent and believe…but it takes the work of God giving you spiritual rebirth before you can do so. 

But does that mean that God does not show any love toward the wicked? Some will argue for various forms of God’s love, but that seems to be importing philosophical categories into the Scriptures…categories that are not consistently found within the Scriptures and thus can make understanding God’s character rather subjective. It seems better to simply say that God brings blessings into the life of the just and the unjust alike  (Matthew 5:45) and that the blessings upon the life of the unjust come primarily as a byproduct of God’s blessings on the just. Did not God say to Abraham that the nations would find their blessings through his line (Genesis 12:3)? Have Christians not inherited the promises of Abraham (Galatians 3:29; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22)? Are we not the continuation of true Israel (Romans 9:6-7)? And, those crumbs that fall to the dogs (Matthew 15:26-27), will it not cause the reprobate to be doubly accountable for their sin?

Indeed, one of the great blessings is that Christ in us through faith does not rest on us, but that it rests upon the foundation of God’s love for us through Christ. While our love varies with our every disobedience to God’s covenant (John 14:15), God’s love does not vary. There is no shadow due to change (James 1:17). And that should instill in us a desire to praise and to serve Him.

The Increase

“in order that he may give you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strong by his power through his Spirit in the inner person,”

(Ephesians 3:16)

How do we grow strong in our faith? We certainly know that trials and other aspects of the Christian walk are designed to teach us to rest in Jesus Christ himself and to help our faith grow stronger. Paul, though, gets at the heart of the matter. We are made strong by God’s power for his glory. In other words, if we are strong and mature in faith, it is God’s doing. Yes, we are called to participate in the process and to strive to eat meat and not content ourselves with milk, but it is the power of God behind it all.

How ought that make us feel? It ought to humble us. How quickly professing Christians tend to try and take at least some of the credit for the things that God has done. Indeed, as the Apostle Paul will write to the Corinthians, we may plant or water, but we account for nothing — it is God who brings the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). We are simply humble servants sent to work the fields.

Praying for the Peoples

“On behalf of this I bend my knees before my Father, from whom every family in heaven and on the earth is named,”

(Ephesians 3:14-15)

What is the “this” of which Paul is speaking? In context, Paul is referring to the trials and tribulations that the people of Ephesus (and by extension, the whole church) are facing and by which they will be refined in their faith. For it is God who has named every family or people — the Greek term here is πατριά (patria), meaning any body of people that can be connected by birth or lineage to a given line: families, peoples, nations, etc… Those in heaven (the elect who have died and entered glory) have been so named by God. Those remaining on earth (the elect who are the church militant along with those elect in whom God has yet to work to give them rebirth) also have been named by God. We have been so chosen and named by our Father in heaven because we are not our own, but belong to Him.

It should be noted that Paul is using a little wordplay here to reinforce his point. Paul bows his knees before his Father — πατἠρ (pater) — on behalf of the families — πατριά (patria) — of the heavens and earth. In a sense, he is saying, “I bow my knees to the Father on behalf of those who descend from fathers.” And, of course, the operable question with which we are left is whether we follow the Apostle’s model. Do you pray for the peoples? Do you pray for the lost? Do you pray for the church? Do you pray for your pastor? If not, you ought. You must.

Tribulation and Glory

“Therefore, I ask that you not become discouraged in my tribulations for you, for this is your glory.”

(Ephesians 3:13)

How is it that Paul’s tribulations are for the glory of the Ephesian church? True, it has been through Paul’s sufferings that the Gospel has come to the city. Yet, there is more to this statement if we read a little deeper. The term θλῖψις (thlipsis) always refers to severe times of trial and distress — persecutions and affliction in the life of the church. Paul faced persecutions throughout his ministry and the Ephesian church, if they proved faithful, would face persecutions as well. And, it is often the model of those who have gone before us that encourages us to face those trials that we find in our paths. 

Our temptation, of course, is to presume that we are the first persons to encounter the kinds of persecutions that we face. Yet, truly, there is nothing new under the sun and the saints of the past have seen what we have seen (and in many cases, far worse). And so, by looking back at their lives, we can draw encouragement for the awful trials that lie ahead of us. Yet, when we neglect to take courage from the past, then we often sacrifice the benefits that come from their example on the altar of our own vanity.

We must make one more note here in terms of the idea of trials and tribulations. Somehow we have fallen into the trap of assuming that the Christian life is one removed from trial. Yet, Jesus said just the opposite (John 16:33). In fact, God has always strengthened his church through times of persecution. Though it does not feel like a blessing when we are enduring such times, it is one of His blessings to the church. The notion that some Christians hold, that God will remove the church in the end times to spare them from tribulation is the notion that God would withhold the blessings of His refining fire. To borrow the language of C.S. Lewis, to ask for less tribulation is to ask God for less love and not more. 

God promises the blessings — even the glory — of rule with Him as His grand bride to those who overcome. Yet, to overcome, there must be something for you to overcome. And such are the tribulations that God permits to strike us. Take courage, Christian, from those who have walked this road before you and from the one who has ultimately paved the path on which you walk. It is a path to glory, but this path can only be traversed while bearing the cross that has been placed upon you.

A Loosened Tongue

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the rulers and to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

Because the Gospel has been realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, that reality does have a significant manner in which it is played out. Indeed, we are called to be sanctified and to be engaged in good works, these we have already seen here in Paul’s letter. What we see now is that the Christian will respond to the work of Christ with boldness due to having the freedom and confidence to enter into God’s presence through faith.

The idea of boldness — in the Greek, παρρησία (parrasia) — is not just that one has confidence and fearlessness to take an action, it also includes the notion of loosening the tongue so that it can speak freely and honestly in a given situation (John 16:29). This does not mean that the Christian is to be brash, rude, or disrespectful of others, but that the Christian will not hold back speaking truth when they are in the midst of others, not fearing hindrance of men (Acts 28:31). 

If this sort of boldness were the litmus test that was used to determine the true Christian from a false one, how would you fare? How would many in our churches fare? Do your neighbors know that you are a Bible-believing Christian? What does your silence say about your boldness? What does it say about your confidence when it comes to entering into God’s presence?

An Eternal Plan

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the rulers and to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

“According to the eternal purpose that is realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Herein lies one of those great and profound statements of the Bible. The revealing of the Gospel took place because it was purposed (or planned) by God. Was this something that God decided upon as he watched human behavior? No. Was the revealing of the Gospel a reaction to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus? No. This is the eternal plan of God. Thus, before God created, when it was just God that existed in eternity prior to creation, this plan existed in His mind. 

The implications of this truth should be apparent in that they reject the theology of Open Theism, much of Dispensationalism, and much of Wesleyanism. It rejects the notion that Adam and Eve could have remained sinless and chosen not to disobey. God had all of these things planned before he even began to create because he had planned the way the Gospel would be revealed from eternity. As Election is a part of how God laid out and worked out his plan, it also clearly rejects the notion that election was a result of the Fall, even in terms of the question of theological priority. That plan was then realized in Christ and in the work that Christ did (and exactly the way He did it). And notice, it does not say that God realized it with Jesus and it is up to us to choose him…

How easy it is to fall into the trap of making God’s plan out to be something like we would want it imagined rather than what God has clearly set forth in His word. How simple it is for us to be attracted to those ideas that we like rather than to what is true and plainly taught in the Bible. God sovereignly saves his Elect and that plan was part of God’s eternal design, worked out in Christ Jesus. 

Powers and Authorities

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the rulers and to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

So, who or what are the “rulers and authorities in heavenly places” to whom the wisdom of God is being made known through the church? To begin with, it is useful for us to define some terms. The first is ἀρχή (arche), which most commonly refers to the beginning of something (cf. Matthew 19:4,8; 24:8; Mark 13:8,19). Occasionally, it is used to speak of the authority of someone in a position of power as in Luke 20:20, hence we have translated it here as “rulers.”

In Ephesians, Paul will again use this term in chapter 6 when he is dealing with spiritual warfare and those with whom we are at war. In both cases, spiritual powers, not necessarily earthly powers, seems to be in view, though, outside of Ephesians, Paul does not exclusively use this term in this way. 

The term έξουσία (exousia), which refers to those who have a state of control over something. If we can speak of ἀρχή (arche) in the sense of having a position of authority, then έξουσία (exousia) speaks of the ability or resources — the “might” — to rule over peoples or places. Again, in Ephesians, Paul uses this term exclusively to refer to spiritual authorities against whom we do battle. In Ephesians 2:2, even using this term to refer to the “Prince of the Power of the Air,” who is the spirit now in work in the “sons of disobedience.” 

So, how then is the “manifold wisdom of God” being made known to these spiritual forces “through the church”? The simple answer is that through the clear preaching of the Gospel, the church advances like an army at war, tearing down the gates of Hell and removing every lofty idea that raises itself up against the knowledge of God. As we fight the spiritual battle with sin that is within us as well as with sin that is all around us in the world, then these spiritual forces take notice. It is said that the Devil is not too concerned about what you do if he does not see you as a threat. Truly, that is the way the enemies of Christ think of the church.

So, if the world does not see the church as a kind of threat to their way of life, then the church is not doing its job. My grandfather, a Methodist minister, used to say that “if you are not stepping on people’s toes, you are not preaching the Gospel. Though we ought not go about life looking for fights, if we live faithfully, those fights will find us. The world will see us as a threat if we are truly making known the mysteries of God.

Through the Church

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

How does God make his mystery known to the world? Paul states very clearly that it is “through the church.” How that statement needs to be heard today and echo through the ears and hearts of every believer. Because of the errors the church has made, many have abandoned the church and sought to find their spirituality elsewhere. Yet, that is not Christianity. People will say, “But I don’t need the church to be spiritual.” Indeed, that is true. You can be a new-ager and define your own spirituality outside of the church, but you cannot be a spiritually mature Christian outside of the church. The church is the body of which we are a part and it is the body that is established upon the testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

Now mind you, church is not a building nor is it an institution as it is often understood today. Church comes from the word, ἐκκλησία (ekklasia), which refers to an assembled body or gathering of people. By the very definition of the word, it means that we are a people that must gather together. Now, whether we gather with one another in a larger group or in a smaller, house-church model is irrelevant. A gathering is taking place. The gathering, too, shares a common purpose — to be a pillar and buttress of the truth, to tear down the strongholds of hell in our midst, making every thought captive to obey Christ, and to worship. The church gathered is a holy convocation as is often mentioned in the Old Testament.

The challenge today is that too many congregations of people that call themselves Christian churches are not so. That may be a hard word for some to stomach, but it is very much true. Historically, there are three marks that identify the true church from the false church. The first is the “pure doctrine” of the Gospel is preached. If the word of God is watered-down, if it is only taught in part, or if the whole Council of God is ignored (or misapplied for one’s own purposes), then it is not pure. So, ask yourself when you listen to a sermon: “Is the pastor teaching us from the Word of God or is he just talking about his own ideas?”

The second mark of the true church is that the sacraments are administered as instituted by Christ. One must ask, what are the sacraments meant to do and how are they received? Are they seen as a mark of the Covenant of God with the congregation or just something that the congregation does? Books can be and are written on the nature of the Sacraments; the question here is whether they are practiced and understood in a manner faithful to the Scriptures or whether they are being conformed to the ideas and preferences of men.

The third such mark is that church discipline is practiced for the correction of sin. Here’s the rub in many cases. It is not just good enough that the pure doctrine be preached; it must be lived out by the believer. Church discipline is designed to train and encourage people to live out their faith faithfully. If sin is ignored in the life of the church and if some are given a “free pass” due to their money, influence, or family relations, then the church is not a true church. The confessions call upon us to flee such places and to seek out a true church.

The sad reality is that many churches function more like social clubs — an expensive one at that! Churches also tend to exist to meet their own needs rather than to build the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Even the worship of many of these churches is more driven by the whims of men than by the direct command of God. People think that things are open game, so long as they are not overtly sinning, but when it comes to worship, if we do not worship as God tells us to worship, are we not in open disobedience? And is not disobedience another way of talking about sin? God has told you, oh man, what he expects from you… Will you do it? The true church is God’s agent to share the mysteries of God with the world. 

Hidden from the Eons

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

It may seem that we are beating a dead horse with this idea, but if we are beating a dead horse, it is only because Paul keeps bringing it up. From when has the mystery of the Gospel been hidden in God? Paul writes that it has been hidden “from the ages.” The Greek word used in this case is αἰών (aion), which is the origin of the English word, eon. This word refers to the ages past or to the beginning of time — “the earliest ages” as the scholarly lexicons would read.

While it is true that this term does not need to refer to eternity past and can speak of long ages ago, the same point can be made. God has sovereignly chosen and decided his mystery — his plan of the Gospel and to redeem the Gentiles as amongst his people — from the ages. God did not change his mind and include the Gentiles when the Jews refused the Son as many dispensational theologians would teach. He also decide the best course of actions in response to human choices as open theists and free-will theologians would teach. God ordained a plan from old and worked out that plan in time and space, revealing it ultimately in His Son and proclaiming it through the Apostle Paul and through others. God had his plan before the foundations of the earth, as Paul has already mentioned in this letter, and is working it out in time.

Handling God’s Revelation

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-12)

“Light” is a common word picture used in the Bible to describe truth. Light illuminates, it makes things visible, and it highlights truth from error. It reveals the dark lies and half-truths of the enemies for what they are. Such is the case with truth. So, here, when Paul refers to himself as being given the charge of giving “light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God,” this is that of which he speaks. Truth revealed into the darkness o unbelieving lives.

But, from where did Paul get this truth? In Paul’s case, he received it from direct revelation from God (Galatians 1:15-17). It raises, then the matter of revelation. The reason that Paul is revealing truth is not because Paul has discovered some insight; it is because God revealed that insight to him. Further, the reason that this insight was truth is not because Paul had some great personal understanding of God’s plan; it is because God revealed this plan to Paul so that it could be made known.

In today’s culture, revelation tends to be undervalued. The Bible, which is the record of God’s revelation to man, is treated as a mere book that can be edited, interpreted, and re-interpreted according to cultural bases and personal preferences. Further, it is assumed by many that the Bible exists for man’s purposes, allowing people to pick and choose sections that they prefer and to utterly ignore others. rose yet, people assume that it was written by the church to create a power base by which they can control the culture. They treat it more as a book of philosophy to be debated than as a composite of God’s words to us.

Yet, from beginning to end, the Bible presents itself not as the works of men but as the Word of God. Even here, Paul is writing that God has given him this light to reveal to the nations — light that at one point had been hidden in the mind of God. Truth is hidden in God’s mind, it can only be God who reveals it. Further, as God is perfect, that which he reveals is also perfect. If God is incapable of error, so is his revealed Word. And as such, the Bible must be treated differently than we would treat the work of the ancients; it is the revealed Word of God itself. Further yet, as it is Truth, it is not for us to evaluate its relevance or truthfulness; it is for us to submit to that which is revealed. 

Let us take it one more step. If you wrote a letter to me and if in my response, I totally misinterpreted your words, how would you feel? Frustrated? Irritated? Angry? If I intentionally misinterpreted your words to suit my interests, now how would you feel? If I totally ignored sections of that letter, what then? Would you be downright mad? Maybe I even denied that you wrote the letter in the first place and suggested that the mailman had written it as a hoax. Then what? Were it me, I would be very upset — no, I would be downright angry. What then do you think is God’s attitude toward those who deliberately distort the Word of God for their own ends? What do you think is God’s disposition toward those who ignore sections or treat them as cultural anomalies? What do you think is God’s disposition toward whole bodies and groups who reject his word (or parts of it) because it does not fit into their paradigm or their agenda for ministry? Beloved, judgment is coming. Let us not be guilty of mishandling the Word of God but let us strive to be workmen able to rightly handle the word of Truth.

Incomprehensible Riches of Christ

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-9)

Only twice in the New Testament is the word ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) ever used and only three times in the LXX translation of the Old Testament. Always it is used in the context of God’s redeeming work. Always it is used in the context of giving God praise for the extent of his mercies. Always it is used with a sense of revered awe when it comes to the fact that God saves a people for himself. The other place this term is used in the New Testament is Romans 11:33. In the LXX, it is used in Job 5:9; 9:10; and 34:24. Always marveling at the amazing plan of God.

What is significant about this term? Ἀνεξιχνίαστος (anexichniastos) literally refers to something that cannot be measured or traced — it is incomprehensible or inscrutable in measure. What then better description of the plan of God? What better description of the Word of God? What better description of the redemption that God has offered you and me?

And here’s the rub. Too often, professing Christians treat this redemptive work of God as commonplace and as something that everyone really deserves. Thus, they suggest that God is being unfair to elect some to salvation and to reprobate others to damnation. Yet, we all deserve reprobation and none of us, not even the smartest or wisest of us, will ever truly comprehend the wonder of God’s mercy that he would elect to save some to show his grace and mercy. It is worth a lifetime of wonder and awe. No, it is worth a thousand lifetimes of wonder and awe and still its depths will not be grasped. And what a privilege it is to tell others of the grace of God.

So, why are Christians silent so often if they really believe what it is that Paul is saying here? Why do we not speak of this incomprehensible gift to people that we meet? Is it not a joy to do so? Paul says it is. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Yet, any difficulty in sharing the truth of God’s redeeming work in the Son is merely a result of our sin or unbelief – an effect of the fall is that what we most ought to desire, we don’t — even if that thing is the most worthy object of our desire. Christ is worthy of our desire and telling others of God’s redemptive plan is something in which we ought to rejoice. Why remain silent?

Least Significant of the Saints

“To me, the least significant of all the saints, this grace was given to declare to the nations the incomprehensible riches of Christ and to give light for all of the plan of the mystery hidden from the ages in God who created all things, in order that the manifold wisdom of God through the church may now also be made known to the authorities in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom the boldness and freedom to enter with confidence through faith in him.”

(Ephesians 3:8-9)

We are going to need to break this down some, but in the original Greek, this forms one sentence, so I wanted also to preserve the flow of thought. This morning, though, I want to talk about the very curious language of Paul being the least amongst the saints. How do we understand and measure this? Is this just a sense of false humility or is there something else going on here?

I think it can be safely affirmed that there is no false humility in Paul’s language…here or anywhere. Such would be disingenuous and sin. Far be it from the Apostle to adopt such a tone in his letter. Often, people point out that it is Paul who led persecutions of Christians and that he was present at the martyrdom of Stephen. Indeed this is both true and plays into Paul’s personal testimony. God has made the murderer of the saints a saint himself; what an ironic twist in the plan and design of God. Yet, I think that there is more at play.

In the Jewish mind there was a certain “pride of position” in the world. Indeed, God had given them the Law and they had stewarded it faithfully across the generations even though they could not understand the mystery it contained, which pointed to Christ. Yet, Paul, a Jew, was not called to be the Apostle to the Jews; he was called to be Apostle to the gentiles — people whom the Jews considered to be unclean. From a Jewish perspective, Paul would have remained ritually unclean for the majority of his ministry.

Note: Paul is not complaining about his situation, but celebrating it. Shall not the last be first in the Kingdom of God? Is it not the servant of the most lowly that God honors? Has not Paul been given one of the most abased roles (from a Jewish perspective) exactly because God was using him mightily in the kingdom? Yes, indeed, Paul is “least” in significance from a human perspective and thus God will use him in mighty ways from a divine perspective. 

God’s ways are not our ways, beloved. How often we look to preachers with mega-churches or massive ministries and celebrate them when we ought to celebrate the humble minister who faithfully guides and instructs his flock across the years. How often the church confuses position when it comes to God’s kingdom. Yet, those who are first in the eyes of man will spend eternity as last in the eyes of God. So, for what will you strive?

The Mystery taking Effect

“For you are able to read this to recognize my understanding in the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to those of other generations of the sons of men as now it is revealed to his holy Apostles and Prophets in the Spirit, that the gentiles are co-heirs and part of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel of which I was made a servant according to the gift of the grace of God given to me according to the working of his power.”

(Ephesians 3:4-7)

It should be noted that in the Greek text of this passage, verses 1-7 are a single sentence, binding the ideas together as one. To whom did God not unfold the mystery? The generations of the sons of men prior to the coming of Christ is the answer given. That does not mean that God gave them no hints or indications of what would come, but it means that the fullness of such has come after the resurrection of Christ. Jesus is the Rosetta Stone when it comes to understanding the Bible and the mystery of God. If you reject Jesus, the mystery remains clouded.

By what means is the mystery being made known? By the Prophets and Apostles. We have seen this language already for it is upon the writings of such that the church is built. If the church strays from the clear teaching of Scripture, it loses its foundations and will collapse. If a church seeks to add to that which has been laid down in the scriptures, it is building on the foundation of men, not that of the Prophets and Apostles and once again, it will collapse. How do we know? We are seeing it all around us in the world today.

And what is the heart of this great mystery? It is God’s plan to redeem a people from amongst the gentile nations in Christ and to make us fellow heirs and part of the same promise of God. As we have noted before, it is a great error to presume that the church and Israel are two separate peoples; we are bound together as one, through faith in Jesus Christ. 

How is this accomplished? It is done by the outworking of God’s power. It is not about the work of men…it is all about God and His work and his design. It is his plan.

A Prisoner of Jesus Christ

“For the sake of this, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you gentiles, if indeed you heard of the stewardship of the grace of God that was given to me for you, that according to revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I wrote formerly in brief.”

(Ephesians 3:1-3)

There are a few points in these verses that need some highlighting. For instance, while we know that Paul was most likely writing this letter from prison, you will notice the Paul does not write that he is a prisoner of Rome. No, Paul writes that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the gentiles. Ultimately, Rome has no control over the person or the body of Paul. Jesus does. Whether Paul lives or dies, it is for the Lord’s glory, as he would write to the church in Philipi. How is it that Paul is in prison for the Gentiles? It is God’s calling on his life to evangelize the Gentile people, just as Peter is the Apostle to the Jewish church (Galatians 2:7-8). Thus, he is a prisoner of Jesus, a captive of the Gospel and commissioned to take that Gospel to the gentile churches to the praise of God.

The stewardship that Paul speaks of here is a reference then to the Gospel of Grace of which Paul has just previously spoken. As Ephesus is a dominantly Gentile church, Paul clearly writes that this Gospel was given to them. And, how did Paul receive this Gospel? He received it by revelation, as he records in Galatians 1:11-17. 

Why is this called a mystery? The question of how God was going to redeem his elect from amongst the nations was veiled in the Old Testament and fully revealed in Christ. Paul’s job is to reveal to those who will listen, that which has been formerly hidden. What is this that Paul wrote formerly? It seems as if there was an earlier letter that Paul addressed to this church, which the Holy Spirit has not preserved for the church. This reference likely should not be understood as the words earlier found in this chapter, as some commentators suggest, for προγράφω (prographo — “to write in advance”) commonly carries with it a chronological sense.

If there is a former letter written to Ephesus, why is that not Canon? If we ever found it, would it become Canon? The answer to the first is one that belongs to the Holy Spirit. He did not preserve it and as such, we can infer that this former letter was not inspired. As it was not inspired, even were it to be found, it would not be part of the Canon of Scripture. There is a principle here, which the church has long held and understood. God has preserved his Word through the church as he intended it. Nothing can be added, nor anything taken away. It is God’s gift to the church through the Spirit.

A Holy Temple

“in whom the whole building, being joined together, increases into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also have been built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”

(Ephesians 2:21-22)

The “in whom” found in each of these verses, of course, speaks of Christ of whom the previous verse spoke. And here we have two parallel ideas that are really Biblical-theological notions. The parallel is simply that we the true church, born again in Jesus Christ, are being formed together not only as a single body, but as stones of a new temple (also see 1 Peter 2:4-5). Notice the emphasis that Paul places here on our being bound and tied together as a single Temple made up of both Jew and Greek to the glory of God. And, as a temple, the church is called to be a holy place — a place set apart for God’s use. Remember, this is not speaking of the bricks and mortar of a physical structure, but of the bricks and mortar of the lives of believers. We are the church building set apart for holy use, not worldly purposes.

This, of course, is where the conversation needs to transition into Biblical theology. When the Temple of Solomon was destroyed, people lost all hope and God promised them that a Temple would be rebuilt that would be greater in glory (Haggai 2:9). Of course, what we know from history was that the rebuilt Temple never rose to the glory of the former. Herod tried with all of his worldly might to do so, but that which made the Temple glorious was the Shekenah Glory of God — the glory of God dwelling with his people in the form of the Glory Cloud. And God’s glory never returned to the Temple…at least, not as the people expected.

The glory of God did appear in the Temple briefly in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the Son of God, who is the radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3). Yet, when Jesus entered the Temple, it was for judgment and condemnation at the idolatry that was found therein. This new Temple that was to be of a greater glory was the temple of his body (John 2:21) — a body that would be resurrected to glory on the third day. Yet, the story does not end. As we have already discussed, the church is called the body of Christ, so we are participants in the fulfillment of Haggai’s prophesy. As members of the body we are part (stones) in the new Temple a place wherein God dwells in His Spirit (sounds like the Shekinah Glory, does it not?). In principle, that should be manifested in the church.

The real question is whether we reflect that in our lives, especially when the church is gathered. Are we a holy people, indwelled by the glory of God? Do we live like it? Are our bodies consecrated for God’s purposes and not for the pleasures of the flesh? Truly, this will only be seen in its fullness when the church reaches its fullness in the new creation, yet do we strive to live out this principle in our lives. Sadly, I fear that it is often the case that the church does not. Even more sadly, in some places, this is the last thing that is on the corporate church’s mind. 

Saturday Word Study: To Teach Systematically

Teaching in the Church: κατηχέω

It is never good to jump to conclusions, but after last weeks beginning word study on how the New Testament uses the idea of preaching, I think that it is fair to show my hand. In short, I think that the Scriptures tend to apply preaching more in the context of evangelizing the lost while teaching is reserved largely for the church. Don’t get too excited, we still have more words to explore in the Bible before any serious conclusions are drawn, but if my premise is correct, it shapes how the sermon ought to be structured depending on your context — for example, the difference between the street preaching I did at the homeless shelter in Jackson, MS and how I approach a congregation of confessing believers. It is something to think about at least.

Rather than start with διδάσκω (didasko), which is the ordinary Greek word for teaching, I thought it appropriate to begin with κατηχέω (catecheo), which is the word from which we get the modern word, “catechism.” Literally it means “to teach or instruct” but it also implies that instruction is given in a systematic manner. It is also found 7 times in the New Testament.

Luke 1:4 — Luke’s purpose in writing: “so that you may have certainty in the things you have systematically been taught.”

Acts 18:25 — Paul speaking about Apollos and how he had been “systematically instructed” in the way of the Lord.

Acts 21:21 — The accusation against Paul that he is “systematically instructing” the Jews to put aside their customs.

Romans 2:18 — Paul is focusing his accusation against the Jew who insists on teaching others but will not apply the Law of God to himself. Yet, here, an idea should be noted, as Paul connects the idea of systematically teaching the Law with knowing the will of God, an idea he will return to in Romans 12:2. It is just one more reminder that the Law should be systematically taught in the church, and as John writes, “lawlessness is sin” (1 John 3:4).

1 Corinthians 14:19 — Paul’s famous statement that in church he would rather speak five words with his mind than 10,000 in a tongue. Not only is this a devastating blow to pentecostalism, which glorifies what they call “tongues,” but it clearly teaches us that in the context of the church life, systematic teaching is essential.

Galatians 6:6 — Here is one of the spots in Scripture where we are reminded that those who are systematically taught the Word of God should bless those who teach then by sharing their resources (this verse uses κατηχέω twice). This is more clearly articulated in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14.

An Inference: To be able to “systematically instruct” means you need to have a body of information to teach — arguably, a body of information that is consistent with Scripture and approved by the church. We see this developing in Acts 15 and in 1 Timothy 3:16. Nevertheless, I would also hasten to add that it is upon this principle that Church Councils were formed and Canons were written to address issues in the church. It is also the principle from which Creeds and Confessions are drawn.

The Church’s One Foundation

“having been built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, having as the cornerstone, Christ Jesus,”

(Ephesians 2:20)

The language of the church being like a great building and temple goes all of the way back to the prophesies of Haggai, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. They are also picked up by both Peter and Paul in their epistles. Christ is the greater Temple of which Haggai prophesied and we (believers) are the building blocks from which it is built (1 Peter 2). Yet, buildings are established upon a foundation…in this case, that of the Apostles and Prophets — the authors through whom the Scriptures are given to us. And Christ is the cornerstone — he is the first stone laid on the foundation with which all of the subsequent building blocks must be aligned. In other words, if we do not align ourselves with Christ, the writings of Scripture will make no sense.

Before we go too far, it should be noted that some theologians have enjoyed poking fun at the old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” because it speaks of Christ being that foundation (in contrast to what Paul writes here). In defense of the hymn’s author, he was speaking of 1 Corinthians 3:11, where Paul speaks of Christ as the foundation, not of this passage here. Maybe the author could have clarified his text somewhat, but it is not inconsistent with Scripture to think this way (sorry R.C.). Nevertheless, in Ephesians, Paul further clarifies the word picture somewhat to speak of Christ as the cornerstone and the Apostles and Prophets (the inspired Writ) as the foundation on which the church is built.

The question should be asked, then, as to what it means for a church to be built upon the Scriptures. Certainly, most churches would say that they were, but if we raise the question, I fear that most congregations fall far short from the scriptures. So let us start by the notion that if a church is built upon the scriptures, every part of what it does is then dictated and governed by the scriptures. That includes the church government, church discipline, the sacraments, and the attitude toward confessions and creeds (what Jude refers to as the faith that was “once and for all time delivered to the saints”). This includes activities in the church life. This includes the whole of worship. What is read? What is preached? What is sung? What governs our prayers and elements of worship? If it is not the word of God, then the church is not built on the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets. How does your congregation hold up? Are you in a position to bring reform where needed? If not, flee to a congregation which is intentionally built on these things.

I grant, that sounds a little harsh to our western ears, but listen to a few additional things the the Bible says about this foundation and its cornerstone. This church is chosen and precious to God and made to be a spiritual household, holy, set apart for God’s purposes and not men’s. God is zealous toward his church. He has chosen her unconditionally, but he does not leave her in her rough form. Stones must be shaped prior to being useful in the building of the Temple. Isn’t it interesting that when Solomon’s Temple was being built, the stones themselves had to be shaped (chiseled) away from the Temple Mount — in the world (1 Kings 6:7). What a picture that presents for those of us still being sanctified. We are being sanctified in the world to be prepared for eternity in God’s presence. Sanctification does not take place in heaven nor in the new creation; it takes place here in the fallen world. Thus, if we are to be useful to God, shall we be content with the rough-cut stone all around our being and in our church? Or, shall we desire to be properly dressed and ready for use in the Temple?

We are also told that there is a seal laid into the firm foundation of the church (2 Timothy 2:19). This seal makes two very strong statements about those who are part of the house. First, it reads, “The Lord knows those who are his.” This, of course, speaks very clearly of Election and the fact that when Jesus made atonement for sins, he did not do so for some unnamed masses, but he did so for those whom he knew. Just as the High Priest knew for whom he made atonement and only made atonement for said persons, so too, our great High Priest only made atonement for the elect of God and knew precisely for whom he atoned.

The second part of the seal on the foundation of the church contains the words, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” The life of a Christian is to be such that sin is contended against. For the Christian, being content with indwelling sin is never an option. And that idea really brings us full circle to where we began. For, if a church is contented with functioning in a way not dictated by the Scriptures and they become aware that they are doing so, the right response would be repentance. Yet, such is a rare trait. Most, instead, content themselves with compromise rather than submitting to the will of God.

Aliens and Outsiders

“Thus, we are no longer aliens and outsiders but we are fellow citizens with the saints and the family of God,”

(Ephesians 2:19)

Anyone who has traveled abroad and finds themselves alone in a country or land where the culture and customs are very different from his own understands how disconcerting it can be. My first time traveling to Ukraine found me navigating my way through airports in languages that I did not know and amongst a people who were not overly friendly toward Americans that did not know their way. Even though I did not look that different than most of the people around me, the fact that I was an alien stood out like a red flag. It was awkward and uncomfortable and I am grateful for the little graces that allowed me to navigate successfully.

As Christians, that is how we should feel in this world. We are outsiders and have a custom that is not common in the land in which we live. What Paul is stating is that in Christ, we have been made fellow citizens and part of a family — that family and citizenry is expressed in the context of the church. And, as we reach out to one another, as we cling to one another for safety and sanity, we find ourselves making our way through this world toward our eternal home. 

What is sad is that oftentimes, the professing church has become at home in the world. They have adapted their ways and synchronized their habits in such a way that they don’t stand out quite so much. For instance, they may attend church in the morning but the whole day is not set apart for rest and worship. They may have mastered their tongue at home and amongst other Christians but not in the workplace. They may live in accordance to the Law of God when convenient, but when it is inconvenient, it is put to the side.

No, beloved, the world should not feel comfortable with us any more than we feel comfortable with the world. In fact, a sign that we are doing the right thing is that the world will hate us, not love us. A mark of Biblical fidelity is oftentimes persecution not only in the world, but also in the secular church. Yet, we rally together with the True Church as we make our way through this world, seeking to take dominion over it through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this together, as fellow citizens and as part of the family of God (and note that all humans are not God’s children — that is a lie and it comes from the fires of hell — consult 1 John 3:4-10 for clarification on this notion).

The Gospel of Peace

“Also, having come, he preached the Gospel of peace to you who are far off and peace to you who are near, for through him we have access, both of us in one Spirit, to the Father.”

(Ephesians 2:17-18)

It strikes me as odd that people do not seem to notice that as America moves further and further away from the Christian faith, we have become more violent and more divided than ever. To the Christian, who understands that the Gospel is a Gospel of peace and of reconciliation, the correlation should be obvious. Yet, it does not seem to be. People keep looking for a political solution to our problems; that may, at best, put a bandage on some of the wounds, but it does not get at the heart of the problem, which is sin. That sin separates us from God and from fellow man and if there is a time for the Gospel to be heard, that time is now. So, while I do vote, and commend Christians to do the same, I vote for those who I think will best uphold those Biblical values upon which my life is built, but I am under no delusion in thinking that one politician or another is going to bring a time of revival and overall spiritual wellbeing to our country.

In context, Paul is still addressing the unity that Christ has worked between God and man as well as man and man. It is no longer a matter of being Jew or Gentile or Barbarian; if we are in Christ, we are one person by the work of the Holy Spirit and are presented to God in peace — free from the penalty of sin. Jesus has paid that in full for His elect.

So, whether we were far off (the Gentile nations) or near (in Jerusalem or Israel), God has brought us together through this Gospel that brings peace. We must be clear that the primary sense of this peace is peace between man and God. But, when we are at peace with God, joined together as one body with others, then we will find ourselves at peace with one another. The world is to know that we belong to Jesus by the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35). The easiest way to determine whether a person is a true Christian is to observe how they behave toward other true Christians, for if they do not love those who are in the body, they truly do not have God in their heart (1 John 3:10). This, of course, John has said in the same context as making a practice of righteous living. If you want to know whether someone is a true Christian or just a scoundrel using the church for his own ends, this is as good a starting place as any. So, how does it describe you?

One New Man

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is the one who has “made both one” as well as breaching the dividing wall so that the two might be created into one new man. But who are the two being made one? In context, it is Jew and Gentile. Two groups of people who have had very separate paths — the Jews though, with the benefit of the Law (Romans 3:1-2) and all of the oracles of God. Whether they had the benefit of the divine revelation or no, both groups fell into sin and were under God’s wrath. Thus, Jesus’ death was to save both and to bind the two into one people — Jew and Gentile alike. 

This is one of the errors of the dispensational system of theology. They maintain that Jew and Gentile are yet two separate peoples in the economy of God’s plan. Yet, Paul plainly teaches here that we are made one. Chrysostom makes the analogy of two statues, one silver and one lead, being melted down and recast as a single, golden statue. It is true that the Jew had the great benefit of the Word of God (hence they are the statue of silver), but they were just as lost as the gentile due to sin. Both Jew and Gentile needed the same remedy and Jesus provided that remedy to both in the same way — the cross. And now he makes his faithful into one body. The analogy is not that Jesus has multiple bodies running about, but that he has one — and that he has one bride. Will Jews be saved in abundance in latter days? Indeed, just as Paul writes in Romans 12:23-24. Yet, notice that even here, Paul speaks about the Jew needing to cease in their unbelief. They come to faith in the same way that we do — God the Father draws them to God the Son through the regenerative work of God the Holy Spirit. Was that not being done in Paul’s day? Is that not still being done today? Indeed, it is.

So the dividing wall has been broken down. Paul speaks of the hatred or enmity of the flesh and the commandments of the law being nullified. Salvation is by the grace of God given to his elect though faith. Works of the Law do not earn us merit in the eyes of God. Whether there be circumcision or no; whether there be obedience to the ceremonial law or no, those dividing walls have been broken down in the person of Christ who fulfilled the law for his own people, making us one bride and one body. How is this done? It was done through the cross whereby we were reconciled to God and our hatred of God has been brought to an end.

Hatred? Yes, hatred. Jesus says that the way we demonstrate our love for Him is through obedience (John 14:15). And so, given our disobedience, what other word but hatred is appropriate. As the Heidelberg Catechism clearly teaches, our nature is to hate God and our fellow man (Question 5). In Christ, our hatred of God is broken down and the fruit of obedience grows freely. And so, one of the marks of the Christian is faithful obedience to God (or at least an attempt at it). Those who refuse to repent of their sins and obey the Word of God betray their unregenerate hearts.

He is Our Peace

“For he is our peace, the one who has made both one and breaching the dividing wall which divided — the hatred in his flesh, the law in commandments nullified — in order that the two might be created in him into one new man making peace and reconciling both in one body to God through the cross, killing the hatred in him.”

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

Jesus is our peace. What a wonderful sentiment to meditate upon. How often we try and find peace in matters of earthly security — wealth, a career, etc… Yet, our peace only ever will be found in Christ. The rest of this verse approaches the question of why Jesus is our peace, but it is worth spending time meditating on the notion that if we wish to find peace in life it will only ever come in Christ and by being in His will. Security does not come from men or from the works of men; it comes from Christ.

Paul, of course, is borrowing this language from the prophet Micah (Micah 5:5). Here is one of the many promises of a coming Messiah — in this case, one who would be born in Bethlehem and who would shepherd the people of Israel (True Israel that is). Micah 5:4 speaks of him shepherding Israel in the strength of the Lord and his people finding a place to dwell securely in Him. For he will be their peace.

Scripture is full of references like this — the final verse of Psalm 2, for example, that says, “Blessed are those who take refuge in Him.” Ask yourself, what steps have you taken in life to try and secure peace by the works of your own hands? How successful have they been? I would wager that they are unsuccessful. What is holding you back from truly making Christ your source of peace and the pursuit of Christ, wherever that might lead you in this life, the direction of your life? Often we confuse peace with comfort. The first is found in Christ alone and is eternal. The second can be worked with our hands but is fleeting and unsatisfying. Choose this day what it is that you will pursue.

Saturday Word Study: Preaching

In the New Testament, there are primarily two words that are typically translated as “preach.”

The first of those terms is εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), which means to evangelize or to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is very clearly on that of pointing lost souls to Jesus Christ and to call them to faith and repentance.

The second of these terms is the word κηρύσσω (kerusso). Similar to εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo), this term means to declare or to proclaim aloud some information, though the terminology is a little more general and does not necessitate that the Gospel is being declared. For instance, that is the language used by the Apostles in Acts 15:21, when speaking about people in every city “proclaiming” or “preaching” Moses.

There is a great deal of debate as to what the goal of preaching ought to be. On one side, there are those who say that the sermon ought to be evangelistic in nature. In this worldview, evangelism is primarily a practice of inviting people to attend church with you so they hear the Gospel and come to faith in Jesus Christ. For indeed, how are they to believe of those they have never heard and how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14-17) — κηρύσσω (kerusso).

On the other side of the debate, there are others who believe that the purpose of the sermon is to be a matter of discipleship — namely, that of teaching believers to obey everything that Jesus has taught them to do (Matthew 28:18-20). In the great commission, the word for “preaching” never even shows up. Jesus does not say that we are to preach to the nations, but to disciple them unto obedience. In this worldview, evangelism is the work of the church during the rest of the week — sharing the Gospel with those they meet along the way. In turn, the role of the gathered church is discipleship — a place where learning and growing in faith takes place.

In the first model, preaching tends to “lower the bar” so as to reach everyone in the room, believer and unbeliever. In the second model, preaching tends to aim at “raising the bar” for all who are present because those present now have a commitment to Christ. True, there will be varying degrees of commitment reflected in the church body, but there is at least a basic assumption that those who are present desire to learn and grow from where they happen to be.

The question, then, has to do with how the New Testament uses this terminology, particularly in those areas that are descriptive and do not just presume we, the reader, understand of what is being spoken. In my seminary years, I had a dear friend who used to remind me that “preacher” is never spoken of as an office in the church nor is it one of God’s gifts to the church — “shepherds and teachers” are, though. 

Because the term εὐαγγελίζω (euangelidzo) is primarily used in the context of evangelism — declaring the Gospel, it seems to make more sense to focus on the term, κηρύσσω (kerusso). Also, we will not be looking at all of the uses of this term in the Greek New Testament, but will instead simply focus on those places where definition is given to the purpose or content of the preaching.

Matthew 3:1 and 4:17 — here we find both John the Baptist and Jesus spoken of as preaching. In both cases, the message is also the same: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Clearly, in both cases, the message is evangelistic in nature and the message is spoken out of doors — or at least apart from the traditional synagogue setting. 

Matthew 4:23 is a key verse to wed to the previous ones, for in this case, wed to preaching is the idea of teaching (διδάσκω — didasko — which is the root word from which “disciple” is formed in the Greek). Here, we see Jesus spoken as teaching and preaching in the synagogues. Still, the message of the Kingdom is being proclaimed, but there is a teaching/discipleship element that is present.

Matthew 24:14 — “The Gospel of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in the whole world…” This seems to tie in nicely with the Great Commission, especially when we realize if there is a kingdom, there are laws and commandments that go along with the kingdom and which will be impressed on those who are members of it. Thus one should recognize that even though the word, “teach,” is not included in the text, it is implied.

Mark 1:4 — What was the content of John’s preaching? “a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.” Herein is the first part of discipleship as is stated in the Great Commission.

Mark 1:45 — While some translations say he was talking about what Jesus had done, the Greek term is κηρύσσω. Thus, the Leper is preaching as he shares the good news of Christ.

Mark 5:20 — We find the former Gerasene demoniac going about and preaching through Decapolis. When we compare this with the parallel in Luke 8:39, we see Jesus commanding the man to go and tell but instead, he goes and preaches.

Mark 13:10 — Before the return of Christ, the Gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth.

Luke 24:47 — Repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name will be preached to the whole world, starting with Jerusalem.

Acts 8:5 — Philip preaching in Samaria.

Acts 9:20 — Saul/Paul preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. Here we see both the evangelistic side and the teaching side as Paul’s approach is often described as him “reasoning with” the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (e.g. Acts 17:2,17; 18:4,19).

Acts 10:42 — Peter speaks of Jesus’ command to preach to all of the people and to solemnly declare that Jesus is the judge over the living and the dead.

Romans 2:21 — here we have a context where preaching is used in the context of discipleship, for preaching and teaching are found in parallel.

1 Corinthians 1:23 — Paul preaches Christ crucified. This is immediately pointed toward evangelism, though with ramifications that extend into discipleship. For, if Christ is crucified, how now must we live?

1 Corinthians 9:27 — Paul disciplines himself so that by his actions (discipleship) he does not undermine his preaching.

1 Corinthians 15:12 — Christ is preached as raised from the dead.

1 Timothy 3:16 — This is one of the earliest Christian creeds, one that speaks of Jesus being preached in all the nations.

2 Timothy 4:2 — Perhaps this is the most important passage when it comes to defining what preaching is: reprove, rebuke, exhort with patience and teaching. While this does not rule out evangelism, it does carry with it a notion that teaching is an important part, for how can you reprove, rebuke, and exhort if you do not first teach others what God expects of us first?

The next part of this word study needs to address the role of teaching in the church and how the two fit together. We’ll leave that for next week. What we can say with certainty is that preaching is evangelistic in nature, though that evangelism seems to largely take place outside of the boundaries of the organized church. It should also be noted, as we have seen here, that teaching and preaching are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Next…teaching in the context of the church…

Drawn Near to God

“Yet, now in Christ Jesus, you who were at one time far away have come near in the blood of Christ.”

(Ephesians 2:13)

“There is no one who comprehends; no one who seeks after God.”

(Romans 3:11)

“No one is able to come to me if the Father who sent me has not dragged him; yet, I will raise him on the last day.”

(John 6:44)

The drawing near to God is clear, obvious, and to be celebrated. Yet, we must always be reminded as to why we have drawn near. It is not because we chose to draw near to God; he has drawn us to himself. Too many people like the pride of saying that they have done so, that they have chosen to pursue God, or that they have accepted Christ in faith. No, my friends, that is not the case. We have been brought close by God himself and the means by which he has made that possible is by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Herein these words we also find the ultimate fulfillment of God’s prophesy through Zechariah:

“The one’s far off shall come and build the temple of Yahweh and you shall know that Yahweh of Armies has sent me to you. It will be if you hear and obey the voice of Yahweh your God.”

(Zechariah 6:15)

Certainly, in the immediate context, Zechariah is speaking of the coming of Ezra and then of Nehemiah. Yet, there is an eternal fulfillment to these words as well. For all Christians are as stones formed by no human hand to become the greater Temple of God that would replace the temple which Solomon built (1 Peter 4-5). Truly, the latter glory of the house will far exceed its former glory (Haggai 2:9).

The True Church and being Citizens of Israel

“Remember that you were formerly gentiles in the flesh — called the uncircumcision by those called the circumcision in the flesh by hands — that you were at that time without Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and a stranger to the covenant and the promise, being without hope and an atheist in the world.”

(Ephesians 2:11-12)

One more note before we move to verse 13…what is this language about the citizenship of Israel? Is this a reference to becoming part of national Israel as some would suppose? What is Paul referring to here?

First of all, no. In Romans 9, Paul has already distinguished between national Israel and True Israel, the latter being the children of the promise who are the spiritual children of Israel (Romans 9:6-9). This, in context, is a reference to those God elected to save (Romans 9:10-13). In Galatians 3:29, Paul refers to all of those who are in Christ as the ones who are Abraham’s offspring and thus heirs according to the promise (a.k.a… Children of Promise spoken of in Romans 9). And thus, all of the promises of God to Israel find their fulfillment in Christ and are directed toward the Christian church (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). 

So, in the absolute sense, this is not just saying to the gentiles in the church in Ephesus that they were apart from the Jewish nation of Israel; this is saying that they were outside of True Israel and hence they lived amongst the sons of disobedience.

This raises an important point as to the significance of the church. Christians are not called to be “Lone Rangers” as it were; they were called to be part of a unified body with Christ as the head. Any time we are outside of that context, we find ourselves in a place of separation from the covenant and promises of God. Within it, those promises are meaningful and true, belonging to us.

Yet, in the west, we have embraced the notion of rugged individualism. And while that is an admirable thing in secular culture, it is an idea that is alien to Christian living. We have also embraced a form of commercial mentality when it comes to our church attendance. We go here for a while so long as the preaching pleases us and then we go there. That does not mean there is not a right time to leave a church, but leaving should not be predicated by whether you enjoy the preaching or the activities of the larger body. Leaving should be based on the question of whether the church which you are attending is a true church. If it is a true church, remain. If it is not a true church, flee to a true church.

What constitutes the true church? What distinguishes the gathering of the Children of Promise? There are three things found in the Scriptures and laid out for us in the Belgic Confession (Article 29): the pure doctrine of the Gospel is preached, the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and church discipline is exercised for the chastening of sin. If the whole council of God is not preached or if the doctrines of men are preached instead of the doctrine of God, then it is a false church. If sacraments are treated casually and not with prayerful introspection and commitment, then it is a false church. If church discipline either is ignored or if it is practiced to create a legalistic caste system in the church, then it is a false church. If the church leadership are confronted with their failure in one or more of these areas and they refuse to repent, then you are in a false church from which you must flee. 

They may have good intentions in that false body, but of what value are good intentions when the Apostle Paul condemns that church body as “accursed”? If you graft a healthy body part into a body where the whole of the body is diseased and gangrenous, of what benefit is the healthy part? Will it not too become diseased and gangrenous? If you cling to the doctrines of men, will they save you? Of what hope can they bring? 

While it is true that no church is perfect according to the standards of God, the question is, for what are they striving? Will they repent if their error is shown to them or are they committed and bound to human traditions? What is preached? What is taught? What is sung? What is their foundation? Shall it not be God’s word in all of these areas? Shall we set aside Divine Writ in favor for the ways of men? Is this honoring to God? I would say, “no,” and I would say that such an approach betrays the fact that you are committed to being outside of the citizenship of True Israel. 

If you are tempted to doubt the concept of True and False churches. Maybe you just see me as a grumpy theologian who prefers to sit in his own corner and grump (sometimes I feel like that anyway), then I ask you to look at what has been held by the church fathers through the ages. You will find that they would speak very much like I have spoken. You will find that this notion of rugged individualism is an anomaly when it comes to the history of the church. Look to the confessions, look to the creeds, look to the ancient councils of the church. Over and again you will find that they proclaim the same message, that in salvation we are bound to a body and that there are things that define a true Christian church body, separating it from the false ones. Sometimes it is a matter of doctrine and sometimes it is a matter of practice. But, believe whatever you want to believe “just so long as you love Jesus,” is a notion alien to the church in history and it ought to be anathematized today.