What Does Unity in the Church Look Like? Ten Truths from Ephesians 4

 

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And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:11–16 —

Few things are more important for growth as a Christian than learning how to walk in unity with others. And, at the same time, few things more confused than discussions about unity in the church today. Indeed, how many seek Christian unity without the foggiest idea of what Scripture says about the church, and thus they seek unity in the church with definitions and desires formed without the light of Scripture.

Still, unity in the church is a goal that biblical churches must pursue. Jesus prayed for it (John 17), and Jesus died for it (Ephesians 2). And thankfully, Scripture speaks of it in passages like Ephesians 4. Therefore, consider ten truths that we find in Ephesians about what church unity is and is not.

  1. Unity is a gift from God.
  2. Unity is maintained, not created by man.
  3. Unity grows over time.
  4. Unity is most opposed by pride and self-interest.
  5. Unity is a uniquely Christian adornment.
  6. Unity requires a doctrinal center – the gospel.
  7. Unity does not mean uniformity.
  8. Unity depends on grace and gifts.
  9. Unity grows when it is stretched, pressured, and even threatened.
  10. Unity glorifies God and attracts unbelievers.

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

Praying for the Inner Man: D. A. Carson on Ephesians 3:14–21

huy-phan-100866For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
— Ephesians 3:14–17 —

When I preached through Paul’s prayers a few years ago, I read D.A. Carson’s A Call for Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His PrayersIn that book, Carson recounts how we should think about Paul praying for the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). That section struck a deep nerve with me, and as I prepare to preach that passage this Sunday, I share it with you.

Most of us in the West have not suffered great persecution, but all of us are getting older. In fact, sometimes we can see in elderly folk something of the process that Paul has in mind. We all know senior saints who, as their physical strength is reduced, nevertheless become more and more steadfast and radiant. Their memories may be fading; their arthritis may be nearly unbearable; their ventures beyond their small rooms or apartments may be severely curtailed. But somehow they live as if they already have one foot in heaven. As their outer being weakens, their inner being runs from strength to strength. Conversely, we know elderly folk who, so far as we can tell, are not suffering from any serious organic decay, yet as old age weighs down on them they nevertheless become more and more bitter, caustic, demanding, spiteful, and introverted. It is almost as if the civilizing restraints imposed on them by cultural expectations are no longer adequate. In their youth, they had sufficient physical stamina to keep their inner being somewhat capped. Now, with reserves of energy diminishing, what they really are in heir inner being is comin out.

Even for those of us who are still some distance from being senior citizens, the restrictions and increasing limitations of the outer being make themselves felt. My body is not what it was twenty years ago. Every time I take a shower, a few more hairs disappear down the drain never to be seen again. I have arthritis in two or three joints; I have to watch my intake of calories; my reaction times are a little slower than they used to be; in a couple years I shall need reading glasses. And someday, if this old world lasts long enough, I should waste away, and my outer man will be laid to rest in a hole 6 feet deep. Yet inwardly, Hall insists, in the inner man, we Christians are being “renewed day by day.”

The Christians ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s Mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven. (184–85)

Few reflections on prayer or the spiritual life have arrested my attention like these words. Why? Because as a man still young in ministry and relatively young in my Christian walk (compared to those who have walked with Christ for 30, 40, an 80 years), I wonder, “Is my outward maturity more a mark of spiritual strength or a good memory? Do I obey the commands of God because faith motivates love, or because disobedience would impugn my reputation?” 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

Ten Things Ephesians Teaches About Christ and his Church

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So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, . . .
— Ephesians 3:10 —

The ESV Study Bible has a succinct list of ten ways Christ and his Church are related and described in the book of Ephesians (p. 2267). For anyone wanting to dig deeper into what Scripture says about God’s people, Christ’s body and bride, and the Holy Spirit’s temple, the book of Ephesians would be an important starting place. Keep an eye out for these verses (listed below) and you will gain great insight into how Paul understands the church for which Christ died and is now building.

Christ is the head of the church 1:22–23; 4:15; 5:23
Christ is the cornerstone of the church 2:20
Christ is the Savior and sanctifier of the church 5:23, 26–27
Christ gives the church ministry workers 4:11–16
Christ loved and sacrificed himself for the church 5:25
Christ nourishes and cherishes the church 5:29
the church and her members dwell and grow in Christ 2:21–22; 4:15
the church is a means through which God manifests his manifold wisdom 3:10
the church submits to Christ 5:24
the church is Christ’s body, and individual believers are members of his body 1:22–23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Onur on Unsplash

The Church as Christ’s New Creation: How a Multi-Ethnic Church Fulfills God’s Promises to Israel

tung-wong-70780This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:6 —

In Ephesians 2 Paul spends a great deal of time explaining how the Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided by covenant or country, but instead have become in Christ ‘one new man in place of the two’ (v. 15). This “two becomes one” theme culminates and crystalizes in Ephesians 2:18–21, when he says that the temple Christ is building is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. He writes,

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Amazingly, in these verses, Paul highlights at least three ways in which the temple is comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

  1. He says that Christ preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near (v. 17), which is to say Christ preaches peace by his Spirit to far off Gentiles and near(er) Jews. There is not a different message for each group and there is certainly not a different covenant. Rather, the same message of Christ-centered peace is offered by Christ to all people—whether Jew or Gentile.
  2. He says both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Indeed, in Christ those who were once near do not have a greater access than those who were far off. Like John and Peter (John 20:4), one may have arrived at the empty tomb sooner than the other, but the first one to Christ did not get a greater blessing. So it is with Jews and Gentiles in Christ—both have access to the triune God and neither have more access than the other.
  3. He says Gentiles, who were once separated from the blessings of God (Ephesians 2:11–12), and Jews, who once clearly had multiple advantages over the Gentiles (see Romans 3:1–2; 9:4–5) are now fellow citizens. Indeed they are fellow members of the household of God, such that only with one another can the temple of God be joined together.

In short, Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2 of reconciliation makes clear that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but instead there is one new covenant people who possess all the same blessings in Christ. Continue reading

Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church (Ephesians 3:1–13)

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Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church

Most of the time when we read the Bible we seek to make direct application to ourselves. Because the Bible is for our instruction and sanctification, this is absolutely right. Sometimes in Scripture, however, we find that the first application is not to ourselves. Ephesians 3:1–13 is one of those instances, and yet it is also a passage bubbling over with grace for the believer.

As I preached on Ephesians 3:1–13, I sought to show the grace of God in Paul’s ministry, the grace of God’s in Paul’s gospel, and the grace that culminates in Christ’s Church. In short, even though this passage Paul reflects about God’s grace to him, it can strengthen our confidence in God’s grace as we understand how God has worked in church history and in what God intends for the church today.

Because my sermon deviated so much from my original notes, I am not including those this week. But you can find the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below.  Continue reading

More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading

God’s War Memorial (pt 2): How a Diverse Christian Community Displays Christ’s Glory (Ephesians 2:11–22)

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God’s War Memorial (pt 2): How a Diverse Christian Community Displays Christ’s Glory 

The church is more than just a collection of individual Christians or a consumer-oriented store for the religious. It is a people created by the cross of Christ, joined together in Christ to display his power and grace to the world. For this reason, the church is called a temple. As we learned last week, temples display the power of the God who dwells therein. And in the case of the church as God’s dwelling place, we are to bear witness to who God is in worship and in the way we live.

This week’s sermon tackles this foundational matter, and with a little help from Theodore Roosevelt, we learn how the unity of a diverse army brings glory to the commander. And because Christ is our great captain, we as his people ought to linger over how we can follow him and be his church.

For this week’s sermon you can listen online or you can read the sermon notes. Discussion questions and additional resources are listed below. Continue reading

Paul, Timothy (Keller), and the Making of Good Arguments

grant-lemons-82179In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul engages the skeptic about questions concerning resurrection of the body. In verse 35 he writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?'”

To this he turns to nature to make his argument. Instead of simply rejecting the error of “the fool” (v. 36), he argues for the plausibility of the resurrection from a commonly held belief—that plants rise from the ‘dead’ when the seed is planted in the ground.

Here’s how he argues. First, Paul uses the farmer’s field to explain the resurrection in terms of seed and plant (vv. 36–38). Then he points to the various kinds of flesh on earth and the various kinds of glory in the heavens (vv. 39–41). In order to begin taking steps to show how the dust of earth might be raised up and transformed into glory (see vv. 42–49), he appeals to nature to explain their plausibility. In these two analogies, therefore, Paul moves from shared belief in nature, to greater truth revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Materially, Paul’s words makes a strong argument for how the resurrection will happen. But formally, Paul’s approach to the skeptics is a vital lesson in how to communicate truth to a doubting world. In this approach to skeptics, we can learn much. Continue reading