Red Carpet Christianity: A Summary and Conclusion to the Book of Ephesians

more-than-we-can-imagine_Red Carpet Christianity (Ephesians 6:21–24)

Since September our church has studied the book of Ephesians. This week, we finished the sermon series with a summary and reflection on Paul’s letter. In particular, I argued that the gospel creates communities of faith that learn how to walk together in love. It’s this love that displays the wisdom of God to the world and that builds up the individual Christian.

To turn it the other way, Ephesians teaches us that individuals need gospel communities (i.e., local churches) to grow in grace and truth. We need one another to grow up in Christ and we need others who model for us what it means to walk in wisdom. This is what we find in Ephesians 5–6, models of godliness in various situations in life.

Still, because the ideals of Ephesians 5–6 are not always found in our homes and workplaces, we also need Christians who have faithfully applied the lines of Scripture to difficult situations. Hence, Christians are built up when they consider the lives of other saints and seek to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7). This is a main point in this sermon and one that unites all that we have seen in Paul’s glorious letter to the Ephesians.

You can listen to the sermon online. Information about the individuals mentioned in the sermon can be found below, as well as links to all the previous sermons in this series. Continue reading

Not Quite the End: Five Pastoral Lessons from the End of Ephesians

jakob-owens-298335-unsplashI love the end of Paul’s letters. Why? Because there is so much missions-mindedness in them. For instance, in Romans 16, Paul lists a few dozen of his gospel associates. In Titus 3 he shows how he is making plans for the gospel to go throughout the Mediterranean. And in Colossians 4, he is again speaking of the laborers who are both faithful and dangerous.

This week our church finishes up the book of Ephesians, and again Paul is demonstrating the way that he scheming for the gospel’s advance and shepherding the church in Ephesus he knows and loves. Though the content of Ephesians 6:21–24 is considerably less than other letters, we can see that his closing words do more than just conform to the epistolary conventions of his day.

In fact, there are at least five ways Paul’s closing words in Ephesians 6:21–24 display his pastoral heart. Continue reading

“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center (Ephesians 6:5–9)

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“As Unto the Lord”: Work with Christ at the Center

Paul is unashamedly Christ-centered. And it seems that in whatever subject he is discussing, he brings it back to the Lord who saved him and commissioned him to preach his gospel.

On this note, we see in Ephesians 6:5–9 how Paul teaches us to bring Christ to work. In five verses written to slaves and masters, he gives us at least five motivations for the workplace. While we have to think carefully about how Paul’s context is similar and different from our own, these verses give us many practical applications for doing work to the glory of God.

You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources, including how to think carefully about Paul’s approach to slavery, are included below. Continue reading

Paul, Slaves, and the Church: How the Gospel Creates a People Passionate for Love and Justice

museum of the bible

In Washington, D.C. the Museum of the Bible has an exhibit tracing the impact of the Bible on slavery, and the impact of slavery on the Bible. Tragically, as the artifact above reveals, slave holders invited God’s judgment on themselves (see Revelation 22:19), in order to control their slaves and defend their institution of slavery.

In another exhibit, Ephesians 6:5 (“Slaves/Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ”)  is cited as one verse among many that were used out of context to control God-fearing slaves. In reading this verse by itself, you can see how it could be misused to do horrendous damage. But how should we understand this verse? Did Paul condone slavery? Are his words to be ignored, rejected, or attributed to some cultural blindness of his day? Why didn’t he speak against slavery?

To be sure, questions like these need answering. But denying the veracity of God’s Word, as some like to do, is not the answer. Rather, we need to understand Paul’s words in their historical context and how his commitment to the gospel both liberated individuals from slavery to sin/death/hell and, in time, led to emancipation for slaves across the Mediterranean.

To get at his historical context, lets consider two questions:

  1. What did slavery look like in first century Ephesus?
  2. What did Paul think of slavery?

By getting a handle on these two questions, it will help us understand Paul’s words and how his witness shows how far pro-slavery Christians deviated from God and his Word. At the same time, by considering Paul’s unswerving commitment to the gospel, we will see how that message (alone) forms a foundation for all genuine pursuits of love and injustice, liberty and emancipation. Indeed, by understanding more clearly the way the gospel works, we can see more clearly the wisdom of God, the goodness of Paul’s words, and the reason why he, as God’s chosen apostle, addressed slaves and their masters as members of Christ’ church, rather than a class of people suffering under an unjust system. Continue reading

Marriage: Counter-Cultural in Every Generation

louis-moncouyoux-3615There are many who have read Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22–33 as an accommodation, or even an appropriation, to the Greco-Roman culture. However, Clinton Arnold in his outstanding commentary on this section, shows why that cannot be true. Taking an extended look at “The Roles of Wives in Roman-Era Ephesus and Western Asia Minor” (pp. 372–79), Arnold shows why Paul’s words are radically counter-cultural—both in his day and in ours.

Writing to a church combatting spiritual powers, Paul is not adopting the idea of patriarchy and headship from the Roman culture. If anything, he is opposing an ancient form of feminism that saw women asserting greater independence. In particular, citing many primary sources, Arnold shows how growing wealth among women, coupled with positions of leadership and the rise of goddess cults all worked to create “freedom and opportunity for women,” which had the effect of creating competition between married men and women (376).

This “new Roman woman,” as Arnold calls it, shows why Paul’s words about marriage and the family in Ephesians are not simply a cultural accommodation. Rather, as he puts it,

Ephesians was thus written to a place and at a time where traditional Greek and Roman roles for women and wives were in a dynamic flux. It is no longer accurate to portray the social-cultural environment as oppressive for women, denying them opportunities for leadership in religious and civic institutions, and extending to them no places of involvement outside of the domestic sphere. Of course, these opportunities would not have been available to most of the peasant and populations. But the same opportunities would have been closed to peasant and slave men as well since their primary focus was on survival. (378)

This is a vast change from the way many have read Ephesians. But we can ask, what significance does this have for our reading of Ephesians? Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom (Ephesians 5:15–21)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 4): Walk Wisely by the Spirit of Wisdom

What is a Spirit-filled church? What does it mean to walk in the Spirit? And if you feel empty of the Spirit, what sort of ‘magic’ does it take to feel full again?

On Sunday, I sought to answer that question from Ephesians 5:15–21, as we considered the last of Paul’s instructions to walk worthy. In some ways this is the pinnacle of his instructions, going back to Ephesians 4:1. In another way, it is the hinge passage that turns from the general instructions (Ephesians 4:1–5:15) to the specific applications (Ephesians 5:15–6:9). 

In any case, there are many helpful points of applications for us Ephesians 5:15–21. You can listen to the sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are below. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt. 3): Walk in the Light of Christ (Ephesians 5:6–14)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 3): Walk in the Light of Christ

Walking seems like such a simple thing until we break a toe or all the lights go out. Thankfully, the command to walk worthy of our calling is not something we must figure out on our own or something we must do in our own strength. Rather, in Christ the Christian has been given all they need to walk in love and light.

Just as important, we have been given a community with whom we can walk. In Sunday’s sermon, it was this community—a community of light—we considered most closely. For those who are laboring to walk with Christ, Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 are vital for knowing what light is and how to walk in light. 

For help on this subject, you can listen to this sermon online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and further resources are listed below. Continue reading

Walk Worthy (pt 2): Walking in (His) Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

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Walk Worthy (pt. 2): Walking in His Love (Ephesians 5:1–5)

After laying out the riches of God’s grace and glory in Ephesians 1–3, Paul turns to the way in which Christians are to walk in their new life. Five times in Ephesians 4–5 he uses the word “walk:— in light of Christ’s work of salvation, Paul calls us to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to walk unlike Gentiles (4:17), to walk in love (5:1), to walk in light (5:8), and to walk in wisdom (5:15).

In this week’s sermon, I consider the third of these instructions, to walk in love. Based on a close reading of Ephesians, we learn that walking in love depends on knowing, delighting, and experiencing God’s love. Only as we walk in his love, can we express love to others—especially love to those who are unlovely.

You can listen to this message online or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

Prayer That Works: Praying to the Father, for the Spirit, to Fill the Church with Christ’s Manifold Love (Ephesians 3:14–21)

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Prayer That Works (Ephesians 3:14–21)

In recent years, few passages have captured my imagination more than Ephesians 3:14–21. That is to say, few texts of Scripture have struck me with such a vision for the need for prayer in the church and prayer for the church, and hence my own need to pray more for the church.

In Ephesians 1–3:13, Paul outlines a glorious vision of the church created by Christ’s cross and unified by God’s Spirit. And in Ephesians 4:1–6:24, Paul instructs the church how to walk with God. But in between, he connects these two halves with a prayer for the Father to give the Spirit in order for Christ’s people to overflow with his love. In addition to being a glorious trinitarian prayer, this prayer sums up all Paul has said about salvation and sets up all he will say to the church about walking in the Spirit.

As I said, for all that I’ve read (and preached) about prayer and the church, no vision of prayer in the church has been more instructive for me than this passage. And I pray that as you study this passage, or listen to this sermon, or dive into the resources below, you too will catch a vision for what God wants to do in the church, and why prayer to the Father, for the Spirit to fill his people with the love of Christ is so vital for triune glory of God to be seen in the church. Speaking personally, Ephesians 3:14–21 helped crystallize the need for such prayer, and I pray it will catalyze you to pray as well. Continue reading

The Father Saves, The Son Suffers, The Spirit Speaks: Seeing the Trinity in Ephesians 1–3

bibleAs to the divine works, the Father is the source
from which every operation emanates (ex ou),
the Son is the the medium through which (di’ ou) it is performed,
and the Holy Ghost is the executive by which (ev ō) it is carried into effect.
— George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 4 —

When the Bible says that salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9), I wonder if we have a bad habit of thinking that God is a singular actor in salvation? That is, when we say (rightly) salvation is monergistic, do we remember how the Father, Son, and Spirit each work inseparably? Or does our mind’s eye see salvation as a thing given by God, but without regard for how each member of the Trinity works?

Rightly, salvation is no way the result of man’s cooperation with God (see Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8–9). But in the truest sense salvation is the indivisible work of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And unless we think of the three persons working together as one (because they are, in fact, one, indivisible God), I fear we may miss the monergistic nature of salvation—the very point conveyed in the testimony, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

In other words, when we fail to remember the triune nature of God in salvation, we are liable to conceive of salvation in synergistic terms—God provides; we respond, with emphasis on our response. The result, though perhaps unintentional, is a failure to see how the Father, Son, and Spirit work respectively to plan, procure, and provide salvation such that is remains God’s work, and salvation remains entirely gracious.

To get a handle on this idea, that salvation is a work of the triune God, we could examine many passages of Scripture, but few are more naturally trinitarian than the first three chapters of Ephesians. Continue reading