There just seem to be some sections of the Bible that are full to overflowing in good stuff. Ephesians, especially chapters 4-6, is one of those spots. Again, I’m going to have a hard time paring things down to just a few things to comment on lest I compose a full-blown Ephesian commentary. Suffice to say that you’ve got a real gem for reading today; don’t neglect it, do absorb it, and let it change you.
Preserve the unity of the Spirit — Eph. 4:2,3
Chapter four could easily have started like Romans 12:1, “I urge you therefore brethren by the mercies of God…”, because it begins a practical application of the doctrinal matters that he just finished talking about — in this case the joining of Jew and Gentile into the new Israel, the new Temple of God. Unity was really important to God then and it remains important to God now. Consequently, Paul uses some specific words that apply to them and us:
- walk worthy of your calling
- with all humility
- and gentleness
- with patience
- showing tolerance for one another
- in love
- be diligent
Of all these commands, I’ll focus on the last, “be diligent”. The word means to be alert, to work hard, to focus — on unity. It takes diligent humility, diligent gentleness, diligent patience, diligent tolerance, and diligent love to have biblical unity (which I’ll talk about in the next section here). Nothing short of this sort of diligence will really ever be successful — and that is why the world of Christendom is so today so fractured and divided! What if we were to be diligent in first of all appealing to the Scripture only (not to anyone’s creed, dogma, disciplines, or catechisms) to follow the Lord’s pattern; and then diligently sought humility (service), gentleness with each other, patience with each other, tolerance toward each other, and love. Unity really is possible, it just takes more diligence than we want to give.
One — Eph. 4:4-6
Lest there be any kind of question about what the Lord meant here about unity, Paul talks about it clearly. There should only be one body (church), just like there’s only one Holy Spirit. There’s only one hope (it’s not a buffet) — the resurrection of the righteous and Heaven — just like there’s just one Lord Jesus. And there’s just one faith (in this context this is referring to a set of doctrinal teachings that Christians must believe — found in the New Testament) and one baptism (the word means immerse, which was the practice of the first several centuries in Christianity, and is in Jesus’ name for forgiveness of sins, Acts 2:38), just like there’s only one Father God. And all this was being said, if you’ll remember, to a group of Christians that would have been happy having a Gentile church and a Jewish church; “It’s all really one,” they might have said. Paul profoundly disagreed. The present denominational world looks at the division that is Christendom and tries to put a happy face on it by saying that it’s really all one, but (as they say) denial is more than just a river in Egypt. That is not unity, not the way it is described here. We need to get diligent, don’t you think?
Lay aside the old self — Eph. 4:22-24
From here Paul continues with his practical application with the very practical matter of how one really gets serious and effective in changing one’s life. Paul illustrates by using clothing — taking it off and putting it on. The principle is deceptively simply and extremely effective, if we’ll really practice it — you must not only stop doing the sinful thing (putting off and laying aside), but you must also replace it with something good (put something else on)! That’s why they suggest eating 10 pounds of green beans on a diet (OK, I slightly exaggerated here). The principle is not merely to stop eating the high sugar things, but to start eating the better things — until you are full of the better things. Someone has well said that if we were to do ALL the thing that we’re supposed to be doing as Christian, we wouldn’t have time to do the bad. And that’s the principle right there in a nutshell. And from here on Paul gives a whole list of things to stop doing and the appropriate substitute:
- lay aside falsehood — speak truth
- don’t sin while your angry — so something positively about it immediately
- don’t steal — work, make money, and give it away
- don’t speak unwholesome things — say things that build others up
- put away angry speech — say kind things, forgiving things
A cappella — Eph. 5:19
For over a thousand years Christianity worshipped God through a cappella music (singing without instrumental accompaniment). In fact, such singing became so identified with the church that the very word “a cappella” means “in the manner of the church”. Historically, the Catholic Church didn’t adopt instruments until AD1000. And protestant groups didn’t adopt instruments until the early 1800’s; famous protestant leaders like Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and others strongly opposed instruments in worship. And the reason is because of a word used here and in Colossians 3:16 — the Greek word “ado”, which means to sing without instrumental accompaniment. The proof of this truth is found not only in history, but also in the practice of most of the Orthodox Greek Church, who, of course, read directly from the Greek text. A cappella is the music that God, according to Scripture, prefers. Some would object that a cappella doesn’t sound good; I would answer, first of all, that is false, and second of all it doesn’t matter, if a cappella is what God wants. God’s ear is attuned to hearts and obedience not whether someone is singing on key or not.
Nobody’s a doormat — Eph. 5:21-33
As I premarital-counsel couples, I almost always get a bit of a “look” from the bride-to-be, when we start talking about the biblical teaching of who gets the last word in the home. We turn to Eph. 5:22 and read and I can almost visibly see her ears “switch off”. I once was told in a letter by a bride that I had ruined her wedding day, because I had made her say, “love, honor, and submit” in the vows; she was mortified in front of her friends. I told her that whether she said the words or not, God was still expecting her to do that — marriage is not a make-up-the-rules-to-suit-yourself affair; the rules are established by God and are non-negotiable.
The looks etc. probably come from the lie (usually coming from the liberation orgs. propaganda) that traditional marriage and traditional vows of submission make marriage into slavery — where the wife becomes the doormat. The truth is — and I always emphasize this — if everyone (husband and wife) is doing what their supposed to be doing, nobody is a doormat. That’s why v.21 is in there — submit to one another. Yes, a wife should submit to her husband and let him have the last word. But husbands are supposed to love their wives like Christ loves the church — a self-sacrificial love that has her best interests at heart always. Paul even puts it a second way for guys: we should love our wives like we love our own bodies and make sure that all our bodies’ needs are met — we get this illustration especially well. So when everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to the wife submits to her husband’s loving rule, because she trusts that he’s looking out for her and the family’s best interest.
By the way, the young woman who wrote wasn’t married long. Irreconcilable differences, I heard. I wasn’t surprised. And neither should any of us be, if we decide to do things our own way.
Stand firm — Eph. 6:11-17
The Christian armor passage has a lot to say to us, but the part that I wanted to focus on is 1) our enemy and 2) our job. We are not merely at war, we are in the war. The enemy seeks to take us down at every possible opportunity. He has recognized his ultimate defeat from God and that he cannot take down the church (God’s people), but is determined to take as many individuals as he can (Rev. 12:17). We must therefore, be wary, because he won’t come looking like a bad guy (2 Cor. 11:14,15). And secondly, our job is to stand firm. Ancient warfare was usually muscle against muscle and the expectation of the soldiers was to stand firm against the advances of the enemy. So also we need to stand firm against Satan, stand firm right where God has put us — in Scripture, in the pattern of the church, in unity, in teachings, in mission, in righteous living, in good deeds, etc. Stand firm.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.