Category Archives: Ephesians

Gifts to Men

“Therefore, it says: ‘In ascending on high, he led many captives; He gave gifts to men.’”

(Ephesians 4:8)

Curiously, we have arrived at one of the most contested verses in the book of Ephesians and many have sought to make this verse teach that which it does not…namely that Jesus descended into Hell after his death on the cross to lead the Old Testament Saints into Heaven. That interpretation is not supported by the context of Jesus on the cross (for he promised to the thief would join him in paradise on that day) nor does it fit the context of the rest of Paul’s teaching (which speaks of being absent from the body and present with the Lord). Finally, it does not fit the immediate context and explanation Paul offers in this very text. So, if it is not a reference to Jesus descending to Hades, what then does it mean?

To begin with, the citation itself is taken from Psalm 68:18 (verse 19 in the Hebrew text), which reads:

“You ascended to the heights; You took many captives, receiving gifts by men and also from the rebellious, that Yahweh God may dwell there.”

It should be noted that the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates this Hebrew fairly closely, so differences are not to be found in the Hebrew versus the Greek in the psalm, but in the inspired Apostle’s application of the psalm itself.

In context, Psalm 68 is a psalm about God delivering his people by his great and almighty hand. Specifically, verse 18 is a picture of God leading his people out of captivity in Egypt and to the mountain of Sinai for worship (and the Law!). Of course, God will lead them from that mountain to another one (Mount Zion), which once again becomes a place of worship for God’s own. What about the gifts? In Psalm 68, it speaks of God receiving gifts both from those captives he has delivered and from the rebellious ones — the implication being the pagans will offer honor to God (remember that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 is that the nations of the earth will find their blessings in the people of God thus it is right for them to give God praise and blessing — see psalm 117 and Isaiah 60). Psalm 68:28 mirrors this idea as well.

Yet, we see a change in the way that Paul quotes this text with respect to these gifts. The psalmist speaks of God receiving gifts from the people; Paul speaks of God giving gifts to the people. Of course, there is a reminder here that God is the owner of all things and thus before we give a gift, we need to have received that good thing from God in the first place. Yet, is there something more going on here? I think that there is.

In the context of Ephesians 4, Paul is speaking of the church and how God is building the church up to his glory. This, he does through gifts to the church, much as he teaches the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and of which he will speak in verse 11. The context is also addressing how the church is built up to maturity through the use of such gifts. 

If we put these pieces together, I think that we see both a parallel here as well as a heightening of what is being addressed (the basis for what theologians call “typology”). Psalm 68 speaks about the ascending of Moses on Sinai and the ascending of the High Priests on to Mount Zion. Christ, at his resurrection, ascended to the right hand of God the Father on High — higher than any earthly mountain might ever stand and more glorious by infinite degree. In the type, or the shadow, that takes place in the Old Testament, the focus of worship is on the sacrifices that the people bring into the Temple. In Christ, we do not bring the gift of the sacrifice, for He has made that sacrifice on our part. We have empty hands because the gift to God has been fully satisfied in the work of the Son. Yet, God gives gifts downward for the purpose of building His Church. All we can offer is a sacrifice of praise and a life of obedience. The gift has been given by Christ.

Humble Unity in Christ

“But to each one of us was given the grace according to the measurement of what is given freely by Christ.”

(Ephesians 4:7)

Paul has just been speaking about the unity of the body in the unity of our faith and then puts an exclamation point on what he is saying by reminding the people that the gift that they have been given is based fully and entirely on the work of Christ — that gift that Christ gives freely to God’s elect. It is nothing we have earned, it has been given. It is nothing to which we contribute; Jesus has given it freely. 

The notion of unity in here is a subtle one, but an important one to bring forth. Given that none of us has done anything to be made a part of Christ’s glorious body — it is a work of God’s grace — we all are on the same humble footing before the Lord. There are not kings and princes amongst us in this Kingdom. There is one King — King Jesus. There is one Prince — the Prince of Peace. There are no High Priests amongst us — we are all priests and we have a High Priest in Jesus Christ. And, there are no prophets in our midst — we have one Prophet in Christ Jesus who is greater and fuller than all of the human prophets that came before Him. We are all on equally humble footing and there is no place for arrogance or boasting in our midst.

You see, unity naturally flows out of right doctrine, but so often we humans become rather arrogant in the doctrines we hold — especially amongst those who are leading the church astray. Over the years, people have often opposed things that I have sought to teach and while that can be frustrating at times, I have sought to make it my practice simply to point to the text and say, “But what does the Bible say?” I may be well-read (and Christians — especially pastors — must be!), but ultimately, I don’t care what men have said unless it aligns with what God has said. I have also often said, “If you don’t like this teaching, please don’t get upset with me, take it up with God because He is the one that said it.” These statements are not meant to be snarky or to avoid the debate, but simply to remind all that it is God’s Word that we are called to be stewards of — I confess that I don’t know all things and I don’t always get everything right, but don’t try and convince me by personal preferences; convince me by the Word of God.

There are many in our culture who puff themselves up for their own ends. There is no place for this in the church. There are many who pursue and cherish titles and degrees and status. There is no place for that in Christ’s church. There are indeed, different gifts and those gifts are given in different proportions. Yet, none of these gifts are for the building up of man; they are for the glorification of Christ and the building up of Christ’s body as a unified whole. These words of Paul’s reinforces the notion that there is no room for boasting in Christ’s kingdom…none whatsoever…unless we are boasting in Christ. We are fellow servants, united not just in the knowledge of God, but also united in a position of humble worship before Christ’s throne.

I Believe Propositional Truth

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and  through all, and in all.”

(Ephesians 4:5-6)

If you are thinking ahead, you may notice that within verses 4-6 you have the framework behind what we know better as the Apostles’ Creed. How does the creed begin? “I believe in God the Father…” Here, we have the language of God as Father, we have the language of one Lord, which is a reference to Jesus Christ, the second section of the creed, and then we have a reference to the Holy Spirit and the work of the Spirit in calling and baptism, all covered by the third part of the Apostles’ Creed. Indeed, the creed develops these ideas further and with more Scriptural ideas and references but we can already see the workings of what we find in this universally accepted declaration of the faith.

Is the Apostles’ Creed inspired as are the Scriptures? No. But inasmuch as the creed itself reflects the plain teachings of the inspired writings, then it is binding on the life and teaching of the Christian. The word “creed” itself, derives from the Latin word, creedo, meaning, “I believe.” In other words, these creeds are designed to articulate in summary form those things that are believed by Christians and that must be believed by all who would proclaim themselves to be Christian. And again, as mentioned before, it is clear even from these words that there is propositional content that is part of what it means to be a Christian. Much more could and should be said regarding the language found here, but we will leave that for another time; for now, affirm with the Apostle that true Christianity does not find unity by diminishing the doctrine or dogma, but it finds unity by clearly articulating those things that must necessarily be true if one will claim faith.


“One body and one Spirit, just as you were also called in one hope of your calling;”

(Ephesians 4:4)

Isn’t it interesting that immediately after the Apostle speaks of guarding the unity of the church, he starts inserting doctrine into the mix? As was alluded to already, there can be no unity unless there is maturity of faith and maturity of faith includes understanding the doctrines of Jesus Christ — so much so that the demonstration of one’s understanding is found in the way they live out our Lord’s commands. 

The first part of this is a direct reference to the language Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in the twelfth chapter of his first letter. There is one body of Christ — his body is not divided between Jew and Gentile, slave and free. No, we are many individual persons saved by grace, united to local congregations, and bound together as one body if we are truly Christian. And, indeed, it is the Holy Spirit who does that binding (and gives the gifts to the church so that the church can function…noting that the gifts are given to the church — or, to understand the language from a different perspective, if you are outside of the church, you ought not expect such gifts to be present).

We have already discussed the nature of the hope of our calling as Paul has previously used this language (1:18). We are also reminded by Peter that we are to be able to defend this hope (1 Peter 3:15), which is the basis for apologetics. Here, again, Paul is setting forth some doctrinal principles that everyone in the church is called to hold onto and defend as part of what it means to be Christian. Unity of faith yields a unity in doctrine and vice versa. Such is how Paul begins laying forth this ancient confessional language.

Keeping and Protecting Unity

“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, enduring with one another in love, doing one’s best to guard the unity of the Spirit in the chain of peace.”

(Ephesians 4:2-3)

Guarding the unity of the Spirit? If we can be honest with one another, I think it is safe to say that we have not done a good job of this task. Every man believes what is right in his own eyes and thus denominations abound, churches pop up on every corner, and it would seem that nobody is in agreement as to what those essential matters are, which define Christian unity. There’s a book in that…actually, there are several books in that. Lord willing we will see a couple of them come to fruition by the end of the year. For the moment, a few points of interest from Paul’s text in these verses. 

First, unity is worth defending (and fighting to restore when broken). This does not mean that unity is to be achieved by the wishy-washy ecumenical movement that rejects doctrine and diminishes Christianity to one’s personal preferences. No, that is not the unity that Paul is addressing here in this passage. In fact, that is no unity at all because it is based on a spiritually immature view of the faith (as Paul will further develop). No, unity that is based in the Spirit of God is a unity that binds like a chain — it is strong, unyielding, and will keep those who are prisoners of Christ, well, prisoners of Christ. Indeed, that chain is here described as a chain of peace. Peace is only found in proper relationship with Christ and we will not remain in a bond of peace with one another if that relationship with Christ is not first addressed. No, that is not the unity of ecumenicalism nor is it the unity that is found in much of evangelicalism today. In fact, much of evangelicalism, in their goal to distance themselves both from Rome and from ecumenicism, has turned a blind eye to the whole notion of unity.

You might be tempted to say, but what about the humility, gentleness (πραΰτης — prautes, which refers to strength that is under control), patience (μακροθυμία — makrothumia, which more literally translates to “long-suffering”), and enduring with one another in love? Indeed, all of these are essential to keeping or preserving the unity that is had. Yet, they are unable to produce unity in and of themselves. They are essential once unity is attained, but if unity is not present, they are little more than benevolent feelings and well-wishes.

And so, Paul gives us the basis for how unity is guarded and in the verses that follow, Paul gives us the basis for what unity is in the church of Jesus Christ. The real question is whether or not we are willing to submit to the Word of God and seek that unity as is prescribed in Scripture rather than the unity that is feigned by men.

The Caller and the Called

“I exhort you, therefore, as a prisoner in the Lord, walk worthily of the calling to which you are called,”

(Ephesians 4:1)

All too often, we only look to the Bible to apply things to ourselves. Remember that while this passage does contain personal application, this is directed publicly to the church (a church that is made up of individual believers). Thus, just as the individual Christian is called to walk in a manner that is worthy with his or her calling, so too is the church as a body and as an institution. In other words, not only has God called you and me to live in a certain way, he has called his church to function in a specific manner.

This applies to the way we function, the way we worship, and the way in which we set priorities as a church body. The problem we face in America is that we have embraced the mindset that churches can pretty much do whatever they want to do. Yet, is this a manner that is worthing of the calling to which the church was called? 

How do we know what that “worthy manner of walking” happens to be? Well, if there is a calling, that means there is one who is doing the calling. The caller, of course, is God. As the caller, he also has the authority to establish what that calling is to look like and how it is to play out. And so, we must look to the explicit teachings of Scripture to determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable for worship, for church government, and for church practice. If the church looks to its preferences, it simply will cease to be a church of Jesus Christ. It will become like every other institution in the world around us — and many have. 

To drive this point home, many churches have polled their members to see what their members want in worship and in the life of the church. Should they not be asking God? Should they not be asking Christ, who is King of the Church? As parents, do we poll our children to see what kind of discipline and upbringing that they want? That is insanity. It is equally insane to ask church members what the church should be doing when God very plainly teaches the answer to that question and Paul drives that point home in this section of his letter to the Church in Ephesus. We would do well to pay close attention to what the Apostle has to say while comparing it with what the church you attend happens to practice. If they do not match, will you be salt and light to point them to submission to the Word?

Getting to the Amen

“Now, to the one who has power to work far beyond all things which you can ask or comprehend according to the power that is at work in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations to the ages of the ages, amen.”

(Ephesians 3:20-21)

And so Paul closes this section of his letter with one of the glorious doxologies of Scripture. It is to God that the glory belongs both in the church and in the work of Christ, and it is God who is working in us in ways that we cannot comprehend — even more wonderfully than we can ask. And so, to that, we say with Paul, “Amen!”

But, as with so many things, saying this or reading this, is often easier said than done. Truly, when all things are going our way, perhaps, but when we are struggling through fears, grief, loss, or other trials, that is an entirely different matter. Indeed, if God is able to work far beyond what we can ask or comprehend, why does he often do what we ask for and can comprehend? The answer is often a bitter pill to swallow, but it is precisely because God is able to do that for which we cannot ask and cannot understand that he does so. His ways, most ultimately, are good.

That is not always an easy position to get to…at least emotionally…but it is the only place we will find peace in the midst of turmoil. We are not the adults who have all things figured out — there is a great deal we cannot comprehend about God’s perfect plan. We are the children standing on the ledge of the swimming pool needing to learn to trust our Father who calls out to us from the deep end, “Follow me!” At first, the deep water looks frightful and intimidating, but we will never fully understand the ability of the strong hands of our Father to keep us afloat until we let go of our fears and trust him enough to jump. The saying is easy; the doing is often quite another thing. Yet, until the doing is done, we will not utter the hearty “Amen!” with the Apostle. 

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. 

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).