The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians The Church and the Spirit
Within the Christian church today we have available a constant supply of books and booklets to help the new Christian to grow in the Lord. We also have nurture groups set up for this specific education. Most of these studies are a mishmash of scriptures dotted around the Old and the New Testaments. Even to the point of quoting from different translations to make a certain point more firmly, according to the kind of church in which the teaching is being done. Sometimes the new child of God can be more confused by this scurrying around odd texts here and there than they were before. It all seems too much to take in and most of it goes straight over their heads. This wouldn’t be so sad if this did not become the norm. For most Christians, what they hear when the bible is expounded to them goes straight over their heads and they develop an air of inane acceptance and an appetite for scraps and junk food of Christian clichés and smart pithy sayings. Many of which are indoctrinated by the repetition of them in so called songs of worship. The preaching also becomes like music to their ears. Sometimes after a "great service" someone might compliment the preacher. However if you are brave enough to ask them what they thought the preacher said, you would hardly get an answer. My classic example is that when I was young I was foolish enough to try to expound Romans to a Wednesday afternoon Women's meeting. Later that day one of the ladies had occasion to say to me "As you were saying this afternoon, Pastor, God helps those who help themselves." Why should this summary of the book of Ephesians start with this verbal picture of the state of the Christian church when it comes to spiritual food and growing up into mature children of God. Simply because the epistle of Ephesians is a classic nurture lesson for young Christians. Yet such is the spiritual awareness and state of the church that this Epistle is usually put forth by preachers as one of the deep and profound parts of scripture and great words are spoken of the 'cosmos', 'predestination' and 'spiritual warfare'. Yet the apostle Paul wrote this epistle to a young church. His concern for them is evident. To understand the book, one should ponder for a while, what was probably in Paul's mind before he dictated this letter to Tychicus. It would be worth considering also, the supposed conversation that Paul had with Tychicus before they put pen to paper. So a few full readings of the letter would be recommended.
Paul had already written to the church at Ephesus and explained to them, the wonders of God’s eternal purposes and how in recent years knowledge of them had suddenly blossomed out to take in the whole world. Previously it seemed that God was only concerned with the Jewish nation and all his revelation has been given to them and all his plans and promises seemed directed towards those who had been circumcised. But Paul, when he was miraculously converted on the road to Damascus was given a commission to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gentile world. I am sure this would have taken a long time to sink in for this deep-dyed-in-the-wool Jewish Pharisee. The Gentiles had always been regarded as "dogs", outlaws and outcast to all God’s plans and promises. But now Paul began to see the amazing power that has been created by the life, death, burial resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. This gospel included facts that Jesus had come down from the highest and descended into the lowest to gather up all things unto himself. And this included the Gentile world as well. So God had always had a plan for the whole world, though for four thousand years it seemed he had only eyes for the Hebrews. He desires therefore that the Ephesians see that now there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, Christ has broken down that great wall of division, mainly the law, which had marked the difference and separated them in the past. He descended into Hell and arose and gave gifts to men, such as Apostolic ministry, prophecy, evangelising, teaching and pastoring, to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles, No longer were God’s purposes to be fulfilled through scribes and Pharisees, or Jewish rulers saturated in the infinite details of their law and religion, but to any believer in Christ, Jew or Gentile. These gifts were given to believers so that the church might grow into maturity. Paul points out that the church, which is the body of Christ, grows spiritually just as the human body grows. Each different member of the church, ministering their gift to the other members of the body and so building each other up in Christ Jesus. It is as though we all become stronger as we seek to make others stronger by ministering according to the grace and gifts given to us. Paul makes a strong point in that as we appreciate the love of God that has been shown to us, by bringing us from nothing into everything, so we see how all the other members are there by the same gift of grace. In this way we begin to appreciate more fully the love of God. Having received such love we then show the same love to one another and this love acts as the oil (of the Spirit) within the whole machinery of the body parts, causing them to work together. The church should really be like a great love machine. Eph ch 5:1-2: Here is my paraphrase of this fantastic verse. Therefore be followers of God like children after their father or ducklings after their mother. God is love, so we are called to live (walk) after him in love, imitating his loving deeds. His love was shown in Christ who sacrificed himself willingly for us. So we also should love one another with the same sacrificial love- in practical giving until it hurts. In so doing we worship God and the sacrifice of ourselves ascends to God’s nostrils like a sweet smelling Savour. The air and our respiratory system is an expression of the realm of the spirits. God who is spirit breathes in the fragrance of our sacrificial service to one another. Then Calvary has fulfilled its purpose. Then the love of God comes to its fullness as we obey his command to love each other as He has loved us. This is sweet communion with God- which brings us back to the first line, God our Father looks proudly behind when he sees his children following in his footsteps. Within our modern church there seems to be a great emphasis upon "worship" as though it only means to sing sacred songs. But worship in scripture is synonymous with "Service". The principle that "The God we worship will be the God we serve" is rife throughout scripture. Wherever you read about worshipping God, false or real, there will be this usual adage about serving that God also. "Worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve" Rom 12 :1 says that the sacrificing of our bodies is our reasonable "service", which can be interpreted as "worship". Cleaning the church toilets can be an act of worship that (somewhat ironically) ascends to God like a sweet smelling savour. The old fashioned marriage ceremony had a vow "with my body I thee worship" Abraham when told to sacrifice his son, took Isaac up the mountain to "worship". Worship under the law was the offering of sacrifices as well as singing his praises. Angels worship , and angels are "ministering spirits" - to minister means to serve. They serve God by ministering (serving) to the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:14) Sports fans and pop fans worship, and it costs them dearly. It is a fact of creation that man has been made to worship. Man is happy when he worships, and the cost seems well worth it. Our true worship is to serve. We express that love to our christain brothers and sisters. We wash their feet as Christ has washed ours when we clean toilets and wash dishes. We love with the same love that Jesus showed to us - at least we should do. Love joins, love unites. There is only one body. There is only one Lord. We have all been baptised into the one body. All have been shown equal grace and love without measure. All in the body should esteem everyone with the same love that has brought them into the church. What a privilege grace has showered upon us. Oh that the Ephesians might understand the riches of his grace! This is Paul’s prayer for them. Once they were cut off without hope, with no purpose in life, dead to the things that are real and purposeful, but now they had been made alive. Now they could see exactly what was going on, why the world was made, why they were here on earth and most of all who God was and how they could enter into a true and living relationship with him. Truly their eyes had been opened in part but Paul longed for them to have their eyes fully opened to just how much of the riches of God’s grace they had received. Such riches that should bring a response of praise to the glory of God. Like millions of others they could have lived their lives seduced by the things of this world and inevitably living for no eternal purpose. But now they were a chosen part of the purposes of their creator, the Eternal Mighty God. What a privilege was theirs!. What grace they had received through the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
DIVISION: There is quite a strong division among believers, over the meaning of the first 15 or so verses in this epistle. It concerns the subject of PREDESTINATION and the SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD. The bible speaks of these truths abundantly, and all believers will believe these doctrinal truths. BUT how they interpret these scriptures makes all the difference. The argument is too big to write about these things comprehensively here. The two camps of interpretation are usually theologically pigeon holed under the titles of CALVINISM and ARMINIANISM. Much can be found on line. My personal belief in the sovereignty of God is not a balanced "in- between" viewpoint, of both camps but rather more inclined towards a comprehensive combination of both areas of belief. For in certain situations both arguments can bring great reward. Like east and west are supposed never to meet, in terms of a circle. they are one and the same. There is something very circular in the geometry of God. Some, if not most of the best bible teachers of the past few centuries have camped under the "Calvin" banner and some, if not most of the most effective evangelists have camped under the Arminian banner. For many years in the ministry I was never aware of such division of beliefs, so you can imagine my surprise to be told I was an Arminian. But I have always considered that God chose to save all those who would enter into Christ Jesus, just as Noah and his family entered into the shelter of the ark and were saved from the wrath of God. Paul's epistle to the Hebrews seems to major on this necessity. He urges them to enter into Christ. Jesus said we must strive to enter in at the straight gate. Paul speaks of labouring to enter into rest. But surely it simply means that by nature we would rather be independent and work out our own salvation, than choose to rest in what someone else has done. Sin can be defined as independence. God's antidote for sin is Faith. Paul points out in Romans 4:4 that faith is not a work. If it was we would deserve a reward and we would be outside of the possibility of grace. So as God saves us by his grace, without faith we would not be in line for grace. Rom. 4:16. The Calvinist will believe that such faith is a special kind of faith that God gives to those he has arbitrarily chosen to be saved, on the basis of Eph 2:8. They thus describe that special faith as "saving faith". It is not the same kind of faith that Jesus commended in those he was able to heal, when he often said "Your faith has healed you". Nor is it the most common kind of faith that every human beings lives by every day. There is very little that anyone does which is done without faith. Think about it. We begin as children with ultimate faith. then we choose as we get older what to put our faith in. People die eating, flying, walking, speaking, sleeping, working, travelling, but we go out each day believing we will not die. Otherwise we would would not do any of these things. Basically God has made man as a skin bag full of feelings. Most people live by such. Billions are lost because of fraud. Our whole economy is built on faith. Much of it found wanting. The world is swimming in faith. That is why the Armininn will believe that God has made salvation so easily available to anyone. Anyone can believe. or choose not to believe. But the Calvinist does not see it like that. So basically we take our choice which to believe. Usually we tend to believe the first person that taught us. So if one camp is wrong in God's eyes, then many "teachers" will hold great responsibility at the judgement. Fearful thought! Eph 2:8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: The Arminian will believe that the passage in Ephesians ch 2 which speaks of something being a gift, is not referring to the faith but to salvation as a whole. The rest of scripture endorses salvation as a gift. If the subject is new to you then a glance at a comparison chart between the two sides of the argument might help.
"Calvinism " and "Arminianism". You may view the two beliefs at http://www.the-highway.com/compare.html. which appears to be of the Calvinist persuasion; I think that to be so, a their opinion of what the Arminian believes, I personally think, is slightly biased. When you view the two columns of belief, you will see that The Calvinist says that the Arminian " limits the Spirit in the application of Christ's saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them." But the Arminian will argue that the Calvinists limits the abundant grace of God, by believing that Jesus did not die for everyone, but only for the comparative few who have found and walked the narrow way. There is much more information on the net regarding this controversy. Also you can try http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/a/calvinarminian.htm Some people hate any controversy, some like myself find it exhilerating and mind expanding. Provided it does not effect your love for other christians, then the debate can even be enjoyed. I have wonderful christian brothers and sisters in both camps.