Museum or Zoo?

Please read 1 Peter 2:1-12 in your Bible.

Museum or ZooImage by James Best, (C) 2020,

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the White Witch had turned several inhabitants of the fictional world of Narnia into statues.  Aslan, the lion, defeated the White Witch and then went to the courtyard were all the statues had been placed.  He breathed life into them, restoring them to living beings.  To quote from the book,

“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo.  Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd.”

Take note of that first line.  It is the basis for this message’s title.

The thing about museums is that if they don’t keep changing their exhibits and holding special events, who’s going to visit a second time?  Museums are quiet, consistent places dedicated to the past.  They hold artifacts of bygone days, some of which are so arcane, young people can’t guess at their use!

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at zoos.  Do people repeatedly visit a zoo?  Possibly; at a zoo one rarely gets to see all the animals in a single visit.  Life at the zoo can be a little unscripted; you may see some sides of animal life you didn’t really care to see.  But at least at the zoo, the exhibits are alive.

So – is our church a museum or a zoo?  Is our emphasis on the trophies of the past, or do we exhibit a living faith?  Which approach is going to be more attractive to unchurched folks?

CONTEXT: In v. 1, Peter offers a sample of the sin that must not be on display in churches.  Before getting into the eight virtues we’re about to describe, he commanded us to get rid of ALL MALICE, DECEIT, HYPOCRISY, ENVY, AND SLANDER.  These vices are contrary to the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in our midst and therefore must be put away.  These are examples of the SINFUL DESIRES from which we are to ABSTAIN, according to v. 11.

Peter described seven human exhibits that can be found in churches.

NEWBORN INFANTS (2).  In Ephesians 4, Paul used infants as a symbol of spiritual immaturity.  But Peter’s symbolism is different.  NEWBORN INFANTS are morally innocent.  Peter urges them to a diet of PURE SPIRITUAL MILK, with the emphasis on PURE.  The truth of the Bible encourages us to moral purity and sustains our growth INTO SALVATION.  (This is an example of how biblical symbols are not always used in the same way.  We need to be careful to study the passages in context, so we can get it right.)

LIVING STONES, BUILT UP AS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE (5).  Followers of Jesus follow His example; as He is a LIVING STONE (4), we are LIVING STONES (5) too.  Together, we make up a SPIRITUAL HOUSE, a temple, a place in the world where God dwells.

This SPIRITUAL HOUSE is also a people among whom God may be found.  Note that individual stones aren’t useful until they are brought together.

A CHOSEN PEOPLE (9).  The word “chosen” speaks to divine initiative; God chose us first, provided salvation without our help.  As He chose Israel before her, God chose the Church for salvation, obedience, and service.  This is never a point of arrogance.

A HOLY NATION and a HOLY/ROYAL PRIESTHOOD (5+9) I have put these exhibits together as this is something of mixed metaphor.  One would expect the words HOLY and PRIESTHOOD to go together as they are both religious terms.  Similarly, you’d expect ROYAL and NATION to be put together as they are both secular/political terms.  We can guess why Peter mixed the metaphors; my guess is Peter is showing the distinction between “sacred” and “secular” is not important as the believer is to exhibit godliness in both arenas.

The first of two modifiers of the word PRIESTHOOD is HOLY (5).  “HOLY” means to be set apart from worldly uses to God’s specific use AND to be morally pure.

The second modifier is ROYAL (9).  We are promised that we will be able to rule as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10 + 20:6). Our royalty comes from being adopted into the family of the King of Heaven.

The Latin word for “priest” (pontifex) means “one who builds bridges.”  Peter’s symbolism changes from building SPIRITUAL HOUSES to building spiritual bridges between God and people, and between people, to join us all together in Christ.

The term “HOLY NATION” brings to mind what God wanted Israel to be; a nation wholly devoted to Him, a light to all the nations of the world (Isaiah 42:6).  This term is very similar to the next exhibit.

A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION (9+10).  All of us were once spiritual loners.  In Christ, we are adopted into a faith-family.  The phrase HIS OWN POSSESSION can be taken two ways I can see.

Firstly, in our world, sometimes the value of an object is not determined by the value of the object itself, but by the person who owned it.  For example, a pink Cadillac has value depending on the age and condition of the car.  A pink Cadillac owned by Elvis Presley has a value regardless of its age or condition.

As God’s people, our value is not based on any worldly standards such as accomplishments or wealth.  We have priceless value because we are God’s POSSESSIONS.

Secondly, God the Father has welcomed us into His family.  Our identity is based on that most important family relationship.  We are His PEOPLE because God is the Father of our family.

The terms SOJOURNERS (11) and EXILES (11) are so similar I have put them together as one exhibit.  We do not conform to the world’s standards or make up our own as it is not our home.  An illustration of the Church is the Kingdom of God.  Regardless of what earthly nation we call home, our true citizenship is heaven.  This means in relation to this world, we are SOJOURNERS and EXILES.

Have you ever sung, “This world is not my home, I’m only passing through…?”  That’s what a “sojourner” is: a traveler who’s passing through.  The journey is important and so is the destination.  This word is also translated as “strangers;” the word used for Abraham in Canaan (see Genesis 23:4).

Worldly-minded people do not understand or like heavenly things or God’s people.  It is their rejection of things of God (including us) that makes us EXILES.  For an example, think “green card;” God’s people are in this world on a temporary visa and work permit.

EXILES can also be translated as “pilgrim;” a traveler for religious reasons.  Whether SOJOURNER or EXILE, it is clear that God’s people are “Just visiting” this world.  It’s like playing Monopoly when your token lands on the outside border of the “Jail” square on the “Monopoly” board.  Remember what it says there?  “Just Visiting.”  Landing on that space makes it permissible for you to mock and tease other players whose tokens are, at that time, in jail.

The last of these seven exhibits is the Blameless Saints (12).  This exhibit is the key to this study.  These words do not literally appear in the text, but summarize Peter’s teaching in v. 12.

Peter did not hold up moral purity as an end in itself, but as a means to an end.  We are to pursue holiness as a means of witness to those outside the faith.  It can be said that modern American Christianity is too inwardly-focused.  We present ourselves as just one more kind of self-help group, sometimes promising prosperity in return for our sacrifices of faith.

People outside the faith must see the truth of Jesus in what we say and do.  We are to witness with both words and deeds and they had better match!

We are to think of all this as preparations for the DAY GOD VISITS US.  That would be Judgment Day, folks.  We want as many people as possible to join us in heaven.  The thing is, the DAY of God’s visitation is not known to us, so we cannot procrastinate.  We must be active in our witness right now or risk missing the opportunities God is giving us.

Peter described seven human exhibits that can be found in churches.

Whenever someone asks you – on any subject – to choose either…or?  Ask, “Why not both?”  Why can’t we be both a museum AND a zoo?  Why can’t we continue to celebrate our history and traditions and at the same time tell the story of Jesus in a way that is compelling to modern audiences?

In Sioux Falls, SD, we have an attraction called the Great Plains Zoo, which is a combination of zoo and museum.  The museum portion exhibits a collection of stuffed animals and other natural artifacts that describe the science of our world.  The zoo exhibits live animals that are displayed in various buildings and outdoor enclosures.  I’m not sure what African animals think about South Dakota winters, but they do a good job of surviving.  The Great Plains Zoo is a place people want to visit again and again.

Perhaps it should be our ambition to be both a museum and a zoo!  We should aim to be people whose purpose is rooted in the past but spreading branches into the present, with buds prepared for the future.


The Zondervan Bible Commentary, “1 Peter,” G. J. Polkinghorne


Paul’s Collection

Paul's Collection (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

Let’s start out with a little lesson on finance.  We’ll learn the difference between “disposable income” and “discretionary income” because, on the surface, those terms look very similar.

Here’s how the website “Investopedia” defines them.

“Disposable income is the net income available to invest, save, or spend after deducting income taxes.  Disposable income is calculated by subtracting income taxes from income.

“Discretionary income is what a household or individual has to invest, save, or spend after taxes and necessities are paid.  Examples of necessities include the cost of housing, food, clothing, utilities, and transportation.”

(Stephen Nikolas, Investopedia. com, April 30,2020.)

Now here’s my question: does your tithe/offering come out of disposable or discretionary income?  The answer will depend on whether or not you view your monetary gifts to God as a “necessity” or not.  If you understand support of our church as being one of the necessary expenses of life, then it is neither disposable nor discretionary.

A problem with giving is that we put our gift in either the disposable or discretionary category.  We think of church as one more thing that we pay for, one more resource that we purchase and consume.  It is not.

Our relationship with money is a mirror that reflects our relationship with God.  Our use of money will reflect the degree to which we love Him and have matured in our spiritual life.  It is a brutally honest mirror, as we tend to put our money where our heart is.

Take for example, collections like One Great Hour of Sharing.  It turns out the practice of taking collections for those in need has been observed in the Church from the beginning.  It was done in the Jerusalem church and later, at Paul’s direction, to benefit the Jerusalem church.  We’ll take a brief look at what Paul did to organize a collection among the Grecian churches in which he ministered.

Love involves caring for those in need.

  1. The need for a collection.

In AD 48, Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem for the first-ever Church council (Galatians 2:1–10 and Acts 15:1–29).  The reason for the council was to decide whether Gentile converts had to become Jews first.  Paul and Silas argued it was unnecessary as they represented the church in Antioch of Syria.  The decision of the council was that non-Jews were full members of the Church without any additional requirements.  Paul summed it up in Galatians 2:10: ALL THEY ASKED WAS THAT WE SHOULD CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THE POOR, THE VERY THING I WAS EAGER TO DO.  Paul demonstrated his eagerness by organizing this collection.

While he was in Jerusalem, Paul became aware of a famine in Judea.  He saw the need and organized a response.  See Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; 2 Corinthians 9:1-5 for examples of Paul’s teaching on this subject.

  1. The means of collection. (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)

Paul’s instruction to take a collection ON THE FIRST DAY OF EVERY WEEK assumes the practice of a Sunday worship service.  See John 20:19+26; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 for more information on the practice of Sunday worship in the First Church.

EACH ONE OF YOU SHOULD SET ASIDE A SUM OF MONEY IN KEEPING WITH HIS INCOME fits with Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 9, that offerings should be a percentage of one’s income rather than a fixed amount.

SO THAT WHEN I COME NO COLLECTIONS WILL HAVE TO BE MADE is consistent with wise stewardship; it is better to have a habit of generosity than to rely on special appeals.  Regular and systematic giving happens when we don’t rely on fund-raisers and emotional appeals creating a “crisis” mentality.

In vs. 3-4 Paul expresses flexibility on whether or not he is with the group who delivered the collection.  (He did go with them.)  This was a project on which Paul had worked for years and with many congregations.  He even had to endure opposition from church folk who accused him of padding his own pockets!  (See 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2; 7:2; 8:20-22; 12:14–18.)

That’s why Paul was careful in these verses to distance himself from the money.  He was willing to accompany those delivering the collection, but the responsibility belonged to men the Corinthians approved.  The men they selected were to take with them LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION from Paul if Paul did not accompany them himself.

These steps were taken primarily to protect Paul from accusation, but he also had to be careful to not offend some of the believers in Jerusalem who might be reluctant to accept help from Gentiles!  It’s strange to think of that kind of pettiness in the church back then, but human nature was no different back then than it is now.

  1. The outcome of the collection. (2 Corinthians 9:10-15)

Supplying the generosity of God’s people (10-11).  God supplies both the seed and the harvest (BREAD); He can be counted on to supply all kinds of material needs.  SEED TO THE SOWER AND BREAD FOR FOOD is a phrase Paul borrowed from Isaiah 55:10, where the prophet used it to show that God will accomplish His purposes.  One of his purposes is to provide for His people so that His people can provide for others.

Above and beyond that, God can be counted on to INCREASE and ENLARGE t RIGHTEOUSNESS of the church family, supplying spiritual needs.  In fact, God’s supply is so generous they will become RICH IN EVERY WAY (materially and spiritually).  Their riches will fuel their generosity.  Their generosity will, in turn, RESULT IN THANKSGIVING TO GOD.

SUPPLYING THE NEEDS OF GOD’S PEOPLE (12) is Paul explaining the process of meeting the needs of people. God’s supply => their generosity => human needs met => thanksgiving to God.

The outcome is OVERFLOWING IN MANY EXPRESSIONS OF THANKS TO GOD (12-15).  Worship (glory given to God) should be the outcome of everything we do.  Prayer should accompany everything we do. THANKS is to be given to God – not exclusive of gratitude to the giver – but in greater proportion.

Paul appealed to the believer’s most enlightened motive; we do things not to solicit the praise of others, but to direct their attention to God.  After all, God made our generosity possible by means of His supply; we are merely giving what has always been His. God has set for us the greatest possible example of generosity and grace.  In our own circumstances, God wants us to use all our resources to keep the example He has set.

Love involves caring for those in need.

A commentary I looked at illustrated this passage with a picture of an ancient paving stone, one that had been unearthed in the city of Corinth.  It says “Erastus paid to pave streets in Corinth.”

Isn’t that interesting?  Paving stones is a fundraiser we use in modern times.  For some strange reason I’ve been contacted with an offer to buy a paving stone for the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium.  As if I would do such a stupid thing!  Here we have an artifact that survived from antiquity.  The streets Erastus paid to pave have not survived, but his stone thank you has survived!

Will you be remembered as a person whose love was revealed in generosity?  Have you ever heard anyone remembered fondly as a “good money manager?”  Does stinginess ever have a positive reflection on a person’s legacy?  What parts of you will survive because you made a positive and generous contribution to the needy around you?  To what degree do you inspire people to praise God?  Generosity is not optional; it is commanded by God for all His people and commended by all people as well.


Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh & David J.A. Clines

Community Appeal

220px-CharlesAChristophersonPlease read 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 in your Bible.

Today we want to pause and thank God for the blessing of ministering here in Sioux Falls and all the communities in which our members and friends reside.  It may help to hear what our one of our forebears said about our community.

Charles Christopherson was elected to the US House of Representatives from South Dakota’s first congressional district, serving from 1919 to 1933.  Prior to that, he served as a representative in the South Dakota house, where he was elected Speaker in 1915.

Born to Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Christopherson moved to Sioux Falls in 1889 and became a lawyer, living at 1000 S. Phillips Ave.  He died in 1951 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery.  I want to read to you some excerpted remarks that he read into the Congressional Record for 1924.

Mr. CHRISTOPHERSON: “Mr. Chairman, last winter South Dakota passed through an economic storm that closed a number of our banks. In my home town of Sioux Falls, a splendid enterprising commercial city of 35,000 people, four banks closed their doors within a period of three weeks. Articles have been written that conveyed the idea that South Dakota is in financial distress.  I refer especially to the article that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of April 12, 1924 entitled ‘That Pain in the Northwest.’  That article was based upon a superficial investigation and without any real information as to the true conditions.  Perhaps the writer was indulging in a little humor at our expense in order to make his article readable; nevertheless we of South Dakota resent the implications contained in that article.

“We who live in South Dakota know that it is as sound as gold coin.  Our land and South Dakota with its broad productive acres if all cultivated intensively could [produce] enough food for all the people of our country.  For this reason we who live in the State have abundant confidence in its prosperity.”

These stirring and proud words were spoken on the floor of the US House of Representatives in response to an article appearing in the Saturday Evening Post.  Rep. Christopherson may remind you of another politician who frequently takes exception to what is reported in t media.

CONTEXT = This is the beginning of Paul’s APPEAL to the believers in Corinth to resolve their differences in a Christ-like manner.  In v. 10 Paul made his APPEAL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, invoking the name under which they were to live as one.  The word APPEAL has a range of emotions, from “exhort” (a more assertive approach) to “entreat” (a passive approach) with “encourage” in the middle.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

  1. God’s standards for community (10).

First, persons in community must be in agreement.  Experience teaches us that agreement is a product of people doing the hard work of communicating and compromising.  This Greek word literally means, “say the same thing.”

Second, persons in community must be without DIVISIONS.  This word (schismata) literally meant “tears” or “cracks.”  This word means “cliques;” exclusive but informal social groupings, not organized parties.

Third, persons in community must be PERFECTLY UNITED IN MIND AND THOUGHT.  The word PERFECTLY obviously refers to a depth of relationship impossible in human terms. Paul is writing about a unity that only God can bestow.  MIND AND THOUGHT seems redundant but it may be Paul’s way of emphasizing the divine degree of unity.  UNITED is also translated as “knit together,” a word used for healing broken bones.

  1. The Corinthians fell short of the standard (11-16).

Their division was ostensibly over which teacher each group followed (11-13).  However, the fact that divisions existed at all was a denial that they were organized around any of the four names listed.  QUARRELS are an indicator of worldly thinking, the influence of evil.

Though there was never a quarrel between any of the names given in verse twelve, people attempted to justify their divisions by identifying with one of the four.  They might have rationalized their choice as follows:

Paul was the founder of the church and deserved loyalty.

Apollos represented the next generation and was a brilliant preacher.

Cephas (Peter) walked with Christ and commanded great respect.

Some were ultimate name-droppers and claimed to follow none but Christ.  Perhaps this covered over a rejection of the authority of the other three men.

None of these four would approve a party mentality that put the people of the church at cross-purposes.  This is what Paul meant in his rhetorical question, IS CHRIST DIVIDED?  The obvious answer is “No.”  Quite the opposite; He is one with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Two other rhetorical questions follow.  WAS PAUL CRUCIFIED FOR YOU?  “No;” such a thing was not historically true, nor could Paul provide salvation if he were crucified for them.

WERE YOU BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF PAUL?  “No;” according to Acts, they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  This question denies that Paul was seeking to make converts for himself.  False teachers were trying to build their own “kingdoms” but Paul was trying to build the kingdom of God.  These three questions could have easily named Apollos or Cephas and the answers would have been the same.

The divisions involved baptism (13-16).  Elaborating on v. 13, Paul went into a lengthy recollection of his own practice of baptism.  He showed that he performed very few baptisms and therefore no one could accuse him of baptizing anyone into his name.

The three names given here are also mentioned in Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians as being among the first converts in Corinth.  As Paul appointed leaders in the local churches, he turned over pastoral functions (like baptizing) to them.  This is the way missions should be done.

  1. What’s at stake: why living in community is essential (17).

Paul was commissioned to PREACH THE GOSPEL, not to baptize, except as baptizing served his preaching.  In his preaching, he chose to not employ WORDS OF HUMAN WISDOM.  He did not cultivate a turn of phrase at the expense of the truth.

Great orators of the time would attempt to mesmerize their audience by clever turns of phrase or twists of logic to earn the applause of people.  Paul saw this as something akin to trickery and avoided it.  He wanted conversions to be genuine; created by the Holy Spirit, not persuasive speech-making.

Reliance on HUMAN WISDOM will result in THE CROSS OF CHRIST being EMPTIED OF ITS POWER.  The word of God has its own power to persuade people to follow Jesus.  The process is corrupted if we rely on psychology, sales techniques, technology, or any other aspect of HUMAN WISDOM.  There is a place for knowledge of human nature and these other things, but it is not first place.  First and foremost, we rely on the Holy Spirit to provide the words for preaching and to reach the heart of our listeners.  There is room for all kinds of “styles” of preaching, but in all cases a preacher’s aim should be to present Christ.

We have the very best reasons to practice community.

          In the Church, we are given all we need to live together in love.  What’s required of us is to get self out of the way so the Holy Spirit can lead us in words and deeds that build community rather than tear it down.

And – we can export what we have in church to build the communities in which we live.  Good citizenry is part of godly living.  When God commanded each of us to love our neighbor, He meant that to be taken literally as well as figuratively.

“Community” is the word we use for healthy, life-giving relationships.  Generally speaking, the things that contribute to community require putting others ahead of self.  Building community is hard work.  It is achieved by joining with others, especially those with whom we disagree.

I leave you with the challenging words of Jesus;

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly father is perfect.” (MTW 5:46-48)


(The Lakota name for Sioux Falls is Íŋyaŋ Okábleča Otȟúŋwahe; “Stone Shatter City.”)



Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul T. Marsh

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol. 10, W. Harold Mare

The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay

The Congressional Record of 1924  (Obtained at

What’s Your Function?

(Fair warning: this post will be lengthier than usual

because it’s two Sundays messages combined into one.)

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

          One of the positive aspects of aging is the whole gift giving and receiving thing becomes less and less important.  Whether we’re talking about Christmas or birthday, it just feels like too much trouble to go out and buy a gift for somebody else and after years of receiving crummy gifts, you give up on ever getting something you want.  So – eventually – you say, “Ah, who cares?”

A way to breathe some life into stale gifting is to give “joke” gifts.  That’s always fun, right?  I found a website that offered 42 “hilarious gag gifts” and after weeding out the stuff that’s not church-appropriate, here are my top ten.

#10 = Bacon Bandages.  Band-aids that look like strips of bacon.  If you combine this with bacon hand soap, you will become irresistible to dogs and hygienic too!

#9 = An Emergency Clown Nose.  Because no one wants to be caught without a clown nose when you really need one.

#8 = Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Cats.  Only for cats who deserve to be ridiculed.

#7 = The Bathe & Brew Coffee Maker.  The box appears to contain a coffee maker with an attached shower head, to allow you to make coffee as you clean up.  However, the whole thing is a prank as the note inside informs the recipient.

#6 = Screaming Goat Figure.  For what-ever set of reasons, screaming goats are an internet thing.  This little goat figure will scream every time you push the button.  Fun at home or at the office!

#5 = Edible Insects Bag of Edible Bugs.  Trust me; no one will care if the expiration date is passed!

#4 = Yodeling Pickle.  You will likely be the first on your block to be the proud owner of a battery-powered plastic pickle that yodels.  It’s all the rage is Switzerland!

#3 = A Chia Pet Donald Trump.  Here’s a nostalgic return to the 80s that will appeal to friends in either party.

#2 = Dynamite Fire Starter Sticks.  Enliven a boring old camp fire when you take out a box labeled “dynamite” and light it up!

#1 = Spam Can Diversion Safe.  As the average thief spends less than 6 minutes in a place he’s burgling, it seems unlikely he will waste a second look at this authentic-looking SPAM can.  But will it keep your valuables safe from a hungry thief. (See

OK, let’s get serious about gifts.  In Matthew 7:11, Jesus promised that our heavenly father knows how to give good gifts to His children.  His most important gift is salvation through Jesus Christ.  After that gift is accepted, the Father gives Spiritual Gifts to His children to enable each and every one of us to serve Him through the Church and in the world.  It is this set of Gifts we will examine in this message.

  1. We all have different Gifts. (Romans 12:4-6a)

In verse four Paul used the human body to illustrate how God intends the Church to function.  Science tells us that a human body is made up of cells, organs, and systems.  These “members” work together to give life to a person.

Similarly, the Body of Christ (the Church) has many members with different functions (5).

Each local church needs all its members on hand to maintain the life of the church and cause it to grow.  This teaching is intended to counter the ego, pride, and individualism that is typical to human nature.  The Bible emphasizes the gathered and united people of God.

Here and in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul used this symbolism to teach 3 things about Church.

– Its diversity = a diverse set of Gifts and personalities are required.

– Its unity = all the people working toward the same goal – making disciples – while using their diverse Gifts.


The church is not meant to be a loose association of those who hold similar views, who merely put up with one another.  Instead, a church is a set of people who are bound together in a deep and spiritual way; we’ve got to be devoted to each other and devoted to Jesus.

God’s GRACE determines which Gifts each individual member is given (v. 6a).  Let us first observe that Paul launched into this section with the words BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO YOU: this is a reference to Paul’s apostleship.  He means to say, “By God’s grace I have the authority to tell you the following things about Spiritual Gifts.”

The other understanding of GRACE is that it is the means by which we receive these Gifts.  Every time he wrote about Spiritual Gifts Paul wanted to make that clear.  The Gifts are not to be confused with “talents.” or “skills.”  On the contrary, all the Gifts are “Spiritual” in the sense that they are given by means of the Holy Spirit, not by our choice.  While some of the Gifts are more clearly supernatural and some feel more ordinary or natural, all of them are not something the Gifted person could do on their own.

This list in Romans 12 is not meant to mention every Spiritual Gift.  We need to compare Paul’s lists, note the similarity of some Gifts, and list the unique ones separately.  I have done that and come up with 14 Gifts.

  1. Here are some of the Gifts. (Romans 12:6b-8)

Prophesying (6b).

The definition of this Gift is also based on 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4 where it is listed.  Prophecy may take either of 2 forms:

– “Foretelling” (supernatural accurate prediction of the future).

– “Forth-telling” (relating God’s word to His people in ways similar to preaching and teaching).  This is the most common form of prophesying in the Bible.

Here in Romans 12, Paul explained that the Gift of Prophesying is to be exercised IN PROPORTION TO the FAITH of the Gifted.  This means that true prophecy springs from FAITH, not from emotion (1 Corinthians 14:32) and presents itself in an orderly fashion (1 Corinthians 14:30).  Persons using this Gift speak for God and obviously always tell the truth.  Since they are not speaking to please themselves or their hearers, prophets don’t pull punches.

PROPORTION was a mathematical term, so this phrase could also mean that the prophet needs to speak only the messages that come by faith; it would violate the trust of the people if he/she were to speak out of self-interest, wishful thinking or outright falsehood.

Examples of ways this Gift might be put to use in a local church include Supply Preacher, Worship Leadership, giving Testimony, and Deacon.

Serving (7).

This Gift is not well-defined; to distinguish it from the other Gifts, we might say it is sensitivity to need and insight on how to support others.  It is based on the Greek word diakonia, which was used in Acts 6 to refer to the newly-created officers called “deacons” who waited on tables.  They were both administrators and workers in the program of feeding widows.  Examples of ways this Gift may be used in a local church include church and community service programs and social action agencies.

Teaching (7).

Identified as a Message of Knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12 and with the office of Teacher in Ephesians 4, this Gift enables knowledge of the Bible and an ability to communicate it effectively.  A difference between Prophesy and Teaching is that prophets relate truths that come to them personally from God.  Teachers use the already-existing word of God; the Scriptures.  In a typical church, this Gift is needed in all programs of Christian Education.

Encouraging (8).

Identified as a Message of Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12 or Pastors Ephesians 4, this Gift enables the Gifted to help other believers grow in spiritual maturity.  The Greed word for “encourage” can also be translated as “comfort” or “exhort”.  This opens up a range of emotional approaches, all of them valid in the scope of this one word.

– On one end of the spectrum, the word “exhort” has an assertive feeling

– On the other end, the word “comfort” has a passive feeling to it.

– “Encourage” is somewhere in the middle, demanding change or affirming as the situation demands.

Examples of use in a typical church includes Christian Education, Mentoring, Discipleship, Small Groups, and Visitation.

Contributing (8).

Sometimes called “Giving,” this Gift  provides the means and motive to use God-given resources to meet human needs and do ministry in a way that is timely, generous, and strategic; all to God’s glory.  In Romans 12, Paul qualified the Gift as being directed at THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.  His qualification of the Gift is that it should be exercised GENEROUSLY.  This refers to giving that is done without mixed motives.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira made a generous gift to the church, but they did so with the motives of pride and greed.  They paid the ultimate price for their deception.  There are many ways in which the Gift of Contributing might be useful in a church: Tithing, Stewardship Ministries, Financial Officers, Trustee.

Leadership (8).

Also known as Apostles (Ephesians 4), this Gift enables management of God-given resources to achieve His will.  The Greek word for “leadership” literally means “to stand before others.” Paul called on Gifted leaders to work DILIGENTLY.  They are to serve with purity of motive, not abusing the benefits of office and/or neglecting the responsibilities.  They are to govern with integrity.  Any Church Office or Ministry Team or Committee would provide opportunity to use the Gift of Leadership.

Mercy (8).

The command associated with this gift is cheerfulness; it may be a “contagious kindness” that lifts up the virtue of patience and the practice of forgiveness. This word is associated with helping the sick and needy.  Help should be offered CHEERFULLY so it does not impart a sense of obligation or insult upon the people being helped.  In a local church, this Gift would be useful in small groups, auxiliary organizations, and in all kinds of Visitation.

  1. Here are the rest of the Gifts.

There are five Gifts that are unique to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.  All five of them are the most supernatural of the fourteen Spiritual Gifts we will identify.

Faith (9).

Everyone needs faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior to be saved.  This cannot be that kind of faith.  Instead, this Gift is a boldness and confidence to express one’s faith and live by faith.  The Gift of Faith provides an ability to perceive God and His will (“vision”) and trust Him even “common sense” may disagree.  This is a degree of faith that accomplishes more supernatural things.  In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul referred to a FAITH THAT CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS.  This echoes the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 17:20 where He promised that a faith no bigger than a mustard seed could move a mountain.

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, the Apostle Paul noted the manifestations of the Spirit are GIVEN FOR THE COMMON GOOD.  This reminds us that all the Gifts are designed to benefit everyone when they are used.  In this case, it is the exercise of the Gift of Faith that calls God’s people to a vision of God and what He is doing among us.  In a local church, the Gift of Faith might be exercised in groups setting forth a vision and/or writing a Mission Statement, in prayer meetings and groups, and in all leadership positions.

Healing (9).

This Gift provides miraculous deliverance from illness, injury, even death.  This Gift cures all aspects of illness; physical, mental, and spiritual.  Paul listed this as GIFTS (plural) OF HEALING.  It seems likely he chose the plural form to indicate the multifaceted aspects of healing we have just mentioned.  In other words, Healing is not just for the body, but for the mind and spirit as well.

We see numerous examples of healings in the book of Acts; chapters 19+20 highlight Paul’s healings.  Examples of the uses for a Gift of Healing include Hospital, Hospice, and Homebound Visitation.

Miraculous Powers (10).

Miracles are acts accomplished outside normal human power or the laws of nature.  In the Greek, this expression is literally translated as “acts of power.”  I see it as a general term that covers supernatural phenomena not expressly covered under the other Gifts.  Biblically, miracles are a means of validating the testimony of a person or church, that they truly represent God.  This was true of Jesus’ ministry as well (see John 14:11).  Given the broad definition of this Gift, examples of use are a little difficult to nail down, but I would love to have someone with this Gift leading service ministries and prayer ministries.

Distinguishing Between Spirits (10).

Also called “discernment,” this Gift allows a person to sense the true nature of persons and things, identifying their source and purpose as spiritual good or spiritual evil.  The Gifted is given insight into the true moral and spiritual nature of people and things.  All believers are commanded to exercise good judgment and not accept claims of being in Christ at face value (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1).

This Gift would be useful in examining expression of the other Gifts, making certain they genuinely come from God and are not counterfeits.  Other uses of this Gift could include advocacy on social Issues and spiritual leadership in a church, such as Deacon or Elder.

Tongues (see also 1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Another word for TONGUES is “languages.”  As he did with Healing (GIFTS OF HEALING), Paul listed this Gift in plural form too; DIFFERENT KINDS OF TONGUES.  I believe he was thinking of two KINDS of this Gift: the public kind, appearing in worship and the private kind, appearing in prayer.

Paul observed two sides to this Gift.  First, “Speaking in Tongues” is the supernatural use of a language the Gifted does not know, done in a public or private context.  The first instance of Speaking in Tongues was in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the very first time the Holy Spirit was given to all God’s people.  On that occasion, the worshipers spoke in known human languages that were recognized as such by bystanders.  Other instances are recorded in Acts 10:46 and 19:6, where we are not told what specific language was used.  In 13:1 he referred to THE TONGUES OF MEN AND ANGELS; these two kinds of languages may be the KINDS to which Paul referred in verse ten.

Second, “Interpretation of Tongues” is a supernatural ability to translate a language not known by the speaker and the interpreter.  In 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, Paul set a limit on speakers (2 or 3 at a time) and required an immediate interpretation.  When an interpretation was lacking, Paul required the speaker to be silent.

The Gifts of Tongues (Speaking and Interpreting) became a fixation and source of division in the Corinthian church and that’s why Paul devoted more of his writing to these Gifts than to all the others combined.  Paul attempted to curtail their use in worship in two ways (1 Corinthians 14:27-28); he set a limit on the number of speaker (no more than 2 or 3 at one time) and required an immediate interpretation or the speaker should be silenced.

Combining all the teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we emerge with an understanding that Tongues is a Gift to be used in worship but in a controlled way, so as not to bring disorder or disunity (see 14:33+40).  Paul preferred the Gift of Prophecy to the Gift of Tongues (14: 1, 5)because intelligible speech has an obviously greater value in communicating truth.  Whether the Speaker speaks in a human language or an angelic one, an Interpreter must understand what was said and translate it for the benefit of the worshipers.  Speaking in Tongues is also manifest in private prayer (14:4) and in that context requires no interpretation.

The Give of Evangelist is found in Ephesians 4:11-13.

All believers are called to be witnesses to their faith.  Our Christianity is not something to be kept “private,” but it is to be on display in everyday actions and conversations.  Persons gifted to be Evangelists are better equipped and enjoy more success in making new disciples.  In Ephesians 4 passage Paul developed a teaching about the unity of the Church by listing some of the officers of the Church. The diversity of Spiritual Gifts demonstrated unity because they had all the officers were appropriately Gifted and they had received their equipping from Christ.  It is their shared job was to build up the Church into maturity.  Echoing the language of Romans 12 which linked grace and the Gifts, verse seven says that GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each of us by Christ.  The Gift of Evangelist would be useful in positions of ministry in outreach and service-oriented witness.

The fourteenth Gift is Workmanship, found in Exodus 31:1-6.

This Gift empowers the use of one’s mind and hands for the creation and maintenance of physical items and the house of worship.  This is for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s people.  Take note of God’s words in verse three: “I HAVE FILLED HIM WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WITH SKILL, ABILITY AND KNOWLEDGE IN ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.”  The crafting ability that Bezalel demonstrated in creating the tabernacle and all its furnishings was based on the filling of the Spirit.  By means of the Filling of the Spirit, God endowed this man with the knowledge and ability to create items with ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.  This kind of language is unique in the Old Testament but fits with what we’ve studied about the Gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament. For this reason I have chosen to list Workmanship among the Gifts even though it is the only Gift not included in Paul’s lists.  This Gift may also be the most practical; it is useful in maintenance and improvement of a church’s facilities; a Gifted person could also perform acts of service outside the church building, doing good work for the needy.

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

(The following story is from an article entitled “Living Our Spiritual Gifts: The Challenge of Carl” by Dan R. Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference, UMC.  What appears below is an abridged version.  The unabridged version may be found at

“Once in a great while God grants us the opportunity not only to hear the gospel, but also to meet it incarnate. For me, one such experience materialized in the form of a huge, lovable, mountain of a man named Carl.  Carl stood fully seven-foot tall, wide as a doorway, with a bushy beard — reminiscent of Bluto from the old Popeye comic strip.

“Over time, this small congregation embraced Carl in spite of itself. He was so friendly, kind, generous, and lovable that he was met, first with tolerance, but soon with real affection.

“Through our time together, we determined that Carl’s gifts were evangelism, exhortation, and shepherding. He once said, ‘God gave me a car with four seats in it, so it would be poor stewardship to show up at church with one of the seats empty.’

“Longtime members were often distressed about the people Carl invited. They saw disruptions to their comfort where Carl saw children of God.

“[It came to a head one Sunday when Carl entered the sanctuary] followed by seventeen inmates and four armed guards from a nearby correctional facility. The prisoners were in prison uniforms and leg irons.

“Carl’s ‘prison ministry’ brought everything to a head. I fielded dozens of phone calls and visits in the first twenty-four hours after the service. Carl himself came by on Wednesday and said, with tears in his eyes, saying that might be a good idea for him to look for another church. Twisting a baseball cap in both his mammoth hands, Carl looked me in the eye and asked, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I received word a few years ago that Carl had passed away. Rarely a week goes by that there wasn’t a place for Carl in a church I pastored.”



Expositor’s Bible Commentary #10, Everett F. Harrison

The Communicator’s Commentary #6NT, D. Stuart Briscoe

Thru the Bible #4, J. Vernon McGee

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Gen. Editor

Messages #338 & 761

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh

Talking About Christ and the Church

Please read Ephesians 5:21-33 in your favorite Bible.

Wedding Cake (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019,

Some social commentators express grave concern over the state of marriage in our culture.  I believe there is good reason for our concern as several cultural shifts have weakened our national commitment to marriage.

However, we don’t hold a candle to the depravity of the culture in which the Apostle Paul lived.  In Greek culture, wives were kept in the house, their sole function to bear and raise children and manage the household.  Prostitutes met the husband’s desires for intimacy and companionship.  In the first 500 years of the Roman republic there was not a single recorded case of divorce.  Under the emperors, Roman culture degenerated to the degree that marriage was a revolving door.  The historian Jerome wrote of a woman who was married to her 23rd husband and she was his 21st wife.  Juvenal told of a woman who had eight husbands in five years.  Against the backdrop of such depravity, our situation seems rather tame.

Into that setting the Church arose and dared to say that marriage was a life-long union between one man and one woman for their mutual love and joy!  You can imagine how some received that teaching.

CONTEXT = Having set forth the principles of godly relationships in 3:14-5:20, now he uses three types of relationships to illustrate what difference all that teaching makes.  He used the relationship between husbands and wives (5:22-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and slaves to masters (6:5-9) as examples of how the principles of unity and maturity work in each set of relationships.

But there’s something about the marriage relationship that sets it apart from the other two kinds of relationships: Paul used the marriage relationship as a symbol of the relationship of Jesus Christ and His Church.  Our title uses Paul’s plain statement in v. 32: I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.

This will be our approach this morning.  Rather than waste time trying to resolve the “battle of the sexes,” we want to draw out the theology of the Church that Paul taught by using marriage as a metaphor.  In order to understand the metaphor, we have to look at it from that point of view, not from our cultural perspective.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

  1. Christ is the Head of the Church. (21-24)

We demonstrate our REVERENCE FOR CHRIST in mutual submission.  This is a statement of general principle and there is no distinction of gender or any other factor.  Mutual submission is the counter-cultural norm in the churches that worship Jesus Christ.  In mutual submission, everyone submits to everyone else, putting the needs of the church and the other believers ahead of their own needs.

Mutual submission is motivated by REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  Because we put Jesus first, we put His people second, and self last.  Any rearranging of these essential priorities exposes a claim to faith as false.

The word SUBMIT is key: let’s understand it the way Paul understood it.  It meant giving voluntary subordination to someone deserving RESPECT (v. 33).  The phrase AS TO THE LORD (v. 22) sets a high standard for the one deserving respect and it casts the whole teaching in the brighter light of the Church’s relationship with Christ.

In Paul’s culture, the submission of the wife to the husband was normal.  Verse 22 calls all believers to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we think submission will be easy because Jesus is an “absentee landlord;” He’s in heaven, removed from earth.  Not so.  Jesus is very involved in all our lives.  In the same way that a wife’s submission to her husband’s authority was required in order to form a marriage, so is submission to Jesus’ lordship a prerequisite to true faith.

Verse 23 sees a husband as a symbol of Jesus Christ in two ways.  First, they saw the man’s decision to take a wife as the first cause of the formation of a family.  Similarly, the word HEAD means the Church exists because Jesus decided to form it.

Second, the word HEAD carries a sense of authority.  No one disputes that Jesus is HEAD OF THE CHURCH in much the same way people of Paul’s day assumed the husband to be “head” of the family.

But there’s a theological element in v. 23 as well: Christ is the SAVIOR of the Church, whereas the husband is not the savior of the wife.  This theological element prevents us from turning Paul’s use of metaphor into a legalism that determines marital relationships in our own time.

In verse 24 Paul reversed the metaphor.  In vs. 22+23 he started with marriage as a metaphor of faith.  In v. 24 he started with faith and used it as a metaphor of marriage.  The way he intertwines and compares the two, Paul’s intent is clearly to talk about more than marriage.  In all this, he’s explaining how the standard of mutual submission is similar to the marriage relationship.

His purpose is certainly not to establish a law for marriage, as that would be contrary to all the clear statements that are contrary to the law that he made in numerous places in his letters.  He’s merely using marriage as it was known to himself and his readers as a reference point to explain that submission to Jesus is what’s expected.

  1. Christ demonstrated his love by self-sacrifice. (25-30)

As the husband is the symbol for Christ, he is appealed to in v. 25.  Paul’s appeal is to practice a self-emptying love, a sacrificial love that puts the beloved before self: HE GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.  Verses 26-27 list specific ways Jesus enacted His sacrificial love.

TO MAKE HER HOLY is the first.  The word HOLY has different meanings, but based on the context, I’d say Paul is emphasizing HOLY as moral/spiritual purity.

People assume the phrase CLEANSING HER BY THE WASHING WITH WATER THROUGH THE WORD refers to baptism.  I don’t believe so.  Instead, I believe Paul referenced Ezekiel 16:1-7, a touching passage where God found orphaned Israel, cleaned her up, and took her as His bride.

Jesus’ ultimate purpose in this is to PRESENT HER TO HIMSELF as His bride (Revelation 19:6-9).  Through a process similar to the one allegorized in Ezekiel 16, she will be a RADIANT CHURCH, not aglow from anything in herself, but reflecting the glory of God.  The Church will be WITHOUT STAIN OR WRINKLE OR ANY OTHER BLEMISH, being forgiven all her sins and everyone cleansed from all unrighteousness.  Set apart to Christ alone, the purified Church will be HOLY AND BLAMELESS.

In vs. 28-30, Paul returned to the use of the HUSBANDS as a symbol of Jesus.  As men, husbands practice self-care.  Most men attend to matters of hygiene and health on a daily basis.  As husbands, most men attend to providing for their family’s needs on a daily basis. 0 In a similar way, Christ cares for His Church (29).  He provides for us and protects us, and nurtures life for our sake.  We are all – both male and female – MEMBERS OF HIS BODY (30).

  1. Saving faith requires us to leave the world and love the Lord. (31-33)

Verse 31 quotes Genesis 2:24, the portion of the creation account where God instituted marriage.  The phrase FOR THIS REASON does not refer to the reasons any of us have for getting married, that’s relatively trivial.  When we go back to Genesis 2 the context gives us the reason: God created men and women to relieve loneliness and create a partnership that would facilitate humanity fulfilling His command to BE FRUITFUL AND INCREASE IN NUMBER (Genesis 1:28).

This means the Church fulfills similar functions: the Church was created to relieve loneliness and be a partnership that extends the Kingdom of God all over the world.  Becoming ONE is not an end, it is a means to that end.  Unity and maturity are virtues, but they are means to fulfill our mandate to make disciples.

In v. 32 Paul used the word MYSTERY, a word we explored back in chapter 3.  It means something that was previously unknown coming to light.  Anyone who is married will acknowledge that marriage is a MYSTERY, but Paul made it plain this teaching is about something more PROFOUND when he wrote I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.  (This is our Key Verse.)  In the next two sections, Paul does not analogize the relationships as he does in this marriage section.

This sets the marriage section apart and proves that Paul has more in mind here than instructing married couples.  There is both theological and relational teaching here.  The analogy is completed in v. 33, where LOVE is what Christ (as the “husband”) bestows upon the Church and the Church (as the “wife”) returns His love with RESPECT.

God’s standard for marriage is related to Christ’s relationship to His Church.

The best way to understand the Bible is to first understand what the words meant to the writer and his original audience.  We have to get into their culture, their language, their situation to really appreciate what these words MEANT to them.

Having been diligent in that first step allows us to recognize the eternal truths that are conveyed in that original context.  With these principles in hand, we can apply them to our own situation, using words and symbols that convey that meaning to people of our own time and culture, in language that best communicates those principles.

Paul is clearly calling husbands and wives to a higher standard of relationship.  By using marriage as a symbol of Christ and His Church, Paul exalted the marriage relationship above that of the parent-child relationship and the master-slave relationship, which he mentions but does not use as a theological illustration.



Message #369

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Wise Guys (and Gals)

Please read Ephesians 5:15-20 in your go-to version of the Bible.

Wise Guys and Gals (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019,

I came across this bit of wisdom that has undoubtedly made the rounds on the internet but also bears repeating:

The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
The THREE most important words: “After you, please.”
The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
The ONE most important word: “We”
The LEAST important word: “I”

This set of important words is the kind of attitude the Apostle Paul commanded the Ephesian church to have.  This is the last of the section where he urged them to behave in these ways and will next turn to three specific sets of typical relationships where these imperatives may be applied.

CONTEXT = Much of the book of Ephesians is about relationships and that may be another good reason for closely studying this book.  Having good relations does not come automatically; sometimes they don’t come easily.  Being wise, spiritual, and knowledgeable makes relationship-building better.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

  1. Wise people make best use of every opportunity to build relationships. (15-17)

As is often done in the book of Proverbs, Paul explained wisdom by comparing it to foolishness.  The first of two comparisons is between the wise and foolish person.  Paul didn’t directly describe the UNWISE/FOOLISH person because the point is the UNWISE person fails to do what the wise person does.

Paul does give details about “wise guys/gals” in these verses.

– They are CAREFUL how they LIVE.  Wise people are proactive, sensitive, and motivated by love to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

– They make the MOST OUT OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY.  In the Greek, this is a word picture of a savvy businessman who sees the condition of the market and acts in a way to make a profit.

– They recognize THE DAYS ARE EVIL.  To follow up on the meaning behind the phrase MAKE THE MOST, Paul implied sensitivity to our situation is necessary for appropriate action and thereby success.  In this case, the wise person sees THE DAYS ARE EVIL and makes the most of every opportunity to do GOOD to counter-act the evil.  These DAYS ARE EVIL because they are full of worldly enticements to sin and because the times as we know them will soon end.

– They UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS.  When God gives us unexpected insights into His will, that’s called prophecy.  That’s one way we understand His will.  Most of the time we come to an understanding of God’s will by putting in time and effort of our own, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Activities that increase our understanding are prayer, Bible study, conversation with brothers and sisters, and acts of service and witness.

  1. People Filled with the Holy Spirit share in building maturity and unity. (18-20)

Here is the second contrast: drunkenness versus the Filling of the Spirit.  There are at least two big problems with drunkenness.  One, the Bible identifies it as a sin.  (See Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:21; 1 Timothy 3:8.)

Two, as Paul observes here, it leads to other sins: it LEADS TO DEBAUCHERY.  DEBAUCHERY means “wild living;” it is indulging every fleshly appetite.  The relationship between drunkenness and sin is obvious and has been proven many times in human experience.  Alcohol is a depressant and it has the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions.  In a state of impaired judgment, people are more likely to do the wrong thing.  Drunkenness often makes a person more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Instead of being “under the influence of spirits,” wise people are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The “Filling of the Spirit” is a word picture of spiritual maturity.  If maturity could be measured as a volume, the maturing person is “filled” with the Spirit, where an immature person has little or none.

Paul listed three ways in which Spirit-filled people help each other mature in the faith.  To one degree or another, these three examples happen in the context of shared worship.  The first is to SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER in worshipful, musical ways.

– PSALMS are songs of praise that are preserved in the Old Testament book of Psalms.

– HYMNS refer to epic ballads sung by pagans in praise of their gods and heroes; in this case, offer praise to God instead.

– SPIRITUAL SONGS can be the opposite of secular songs or spontaneous, Spirit-inspired music.  Either way, it’s SPIRITUAL because it comes from God.

No matter which kind of music we make, the objective is to SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD.  Truly worshipful music is sincere (it comes from the inner person, the HEART) and is directed to the Lord.  As someone observed years ago, we tend to think of worship the wrong way.  We see God as the director, worship leaders as performers, and the people as the audience.  Biblically, the worship leaders are the directors, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!

The second way we can help each other mature is to encourage the attitude of gratitude in each other = ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER FOR EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.  Contra Unitarians, let’s note all three members of the Trinity in are mentioned in 18-20.  Let’s note the two words that make this command unconditional: ALWAYS and EVERYTHING.  Let’s notice that gratitude motivates our worship.  We gather because we are grateful for what we’ve done.

I’m saving v. 21 for next Sunday, so I’ll only briefly mention this third way believers help each other: mutual submission.  While it is good in some contexts, competition is inappropriate and can be toxic in the church.  Mutual submission requires humility, the death of pride, and putting others ahead of one’s self.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

Ironically, the last 25 years has seen a proliferation of communication technology and a decrease in communicating.  What we’ve also seen is an emphasis on emotional intelligence to facilitate better relationships while our culture isolates us from each other.

That said, the emotional intelligence industry is a good thing.  While it’s not biblical, it gives scientific insight into human nature that is consistent with what the Bible reveals about people.

For example, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutchendorf suggests six habits of relationship-builders.  Here’s an abridged version of his article.

  1. BECOME A GREAT LISTENER. Most people are too busy thinking of what they want to say next to really listen to what the other person is saying. We naturally bond with people who really listen, hear us, and that we’d want to relate to.
  2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. The best way to let people know that we hear them is to dig deeper and ask questions.
  3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHOLE PERSON. Focus not only on the words, also the tone of their words, but also facial expression and body language.
  4. REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO OTHERS. Remembering people’s names, what is important to them, keeping facts accurate.
  5. BE CONSISTENT AND MANAGE EMOTIONS. Regardless of how we are feeling, we need to be able to temporarily put those feelings aside to fully listen and engage others. If we are experiencing strong emotions, we are better off letting this individual know what is going on.
  6. BE OPEN AND SHARE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. To build strong relationships we need to be able to pace ourselves and share when it’s appropriate to the depth of the relationship.



Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Message #778

Unity, Maturity, and Vice-Versa

Communion Table (1)

Art by James Best, used with permission.  More are can be found at

Please read Ephesians 4:7-16.

          A ladder is a common household item.  But – can you name the parts of a ladder?

The steps or “rungs” are the most familiar part as that’s where we put our feet.  But what are the side pieces called?

Rails.  The rails are the vertical pieces to which the steps are attached.

The spreaders are the hinges which connect the front and rear rails, allowing the ladder to open and close.

There are lots of NT images for the church, but I felt lead to offer a ladder as a metaphor.  Here’s the point; what part of a ladder can you do without?  Steps without rails are useless.  Rails without spreaders would make the ladder unstable.

So it is with the church.  All the parts are indispensable.  Whenever any of the parts fall away, a local church becomes something less useful than it was before.  There is nothing in the Bible that makes attendance and activity optional; just the opposite; we are to be on campus and in service as often as possible.

CONTEXT = V. 7 starts with the word BUT, indicating a contrasting idea is about to be introduced.  In verses one through six Paul examined the topic of UNITY from the perspective of all we have in common.  In verses seven through sixteen he will explore it from the perspective of what makes us diverse.

In this passage the important mark of diversity is a supernatural one: Spiritual Gifts.  As Paul made clear in Galatians 3:28; the superficial distinctions of nationality, gender, and economic status are irrelevant in Christ.  What matters in the Church instead is the diversity of Spiritual Gifts.  As we will see later, Spiritual Gifts are God-given abilities to do ministry. Paul refers to them here as GRACE.

All who believe in Jesus share the “ONE” items listed in vs. 4-6.  BUT, GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each believer individually, as Jesus wills.  GRACE (charis) is close to charismata in the Gk; the word translated as Spiritual Gifts, it literally means “a manifestation of grace.”  Paul will explain this statement after he digresses on a brief theological interlude.  For now, it’s enough to know that Jesus is in charge and He has a plan.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  1. A theological interlude. (8-10)

This is a long “rabbit trail.”  Only here and in 1 Peter 3:19-20 does the New Testament seem to teach that Jesus went to some kind of underworld to preach to dead folk.  That is a provocative statement and it may be new to you, but it’s been talked about for a long time: it’s in the Apostle’s Creed.

There is no productive way for us to touch this discussion in our time this morning.  Instead, we’ll just observe Paul’s line of reasoning and move on.

– In vs. 1-6, he described unity by noting all we share.

– In v. 7, he introduced the idea that we have diversity in our unity, a teaching he will complete in vs. 11-16.

– In vs. 8-10, he introduced a new idea, seeming to go off on a tangent.

This paragraph is here to show that Christ exercised authority, the kind of authority that allows Him to apportion GRACE.  Verse eight quotes Psalm 68:18 which refers to a king who gives gifts to his subjects.

Paul’s thought might be paraphrased in this way; “Considering all God has given all of us – all that we share – we must be unified.  On the other hand, we’ve also been given GRACE – gifts for ministry – that underline our diversity.  Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  After all, He’s the only one who’s come from heaven to earth, gone under the earth, and to back to heaven again!”

  1. We have a diversity of gifts in order to promote maturity in each other. (11-13)

Let’s don’t overlook the little words and phrases in verse eleven.  IT WAS HE: Jesus, who descended from heaven and ascended back, He is the one who APPORTIONED GRACE to every believer.  Don’t miss the word GAVE; these are Spiritual Gifts we’re talking about.  SOME refers to “some individual believers,” but not to all.  Here’s where diversity runs parallel to unity, both to the benefit of the Church.

What are these “Spiritual Gifts?”

The subject can be a little confusing.  Though these verses list five offices in the Church, the Gifts and the offices are not always the same.

The Gifts are, at the same time, individualized and universal.  The Gifts enable some to do things all believers should be doing.  For example, Paul lists “Teacher” as a Gift.  All of us have opportunity to teach and we must all be prepared to do so.  Not having the Gift of Teacher does not relieve us of that responsibility.  It does mean that persons with that Gift will be better suited to teaching and be more successful at it.

The Spiritual Gifts are particular endowments that God grants to individual believers.  Followers of Jesus will have individual combinations of Gifts.

These five are offered as examples; they are not an exhaustive list.  If we cull Gifts from other listings and eliminate the duplicates, then we have about 20 different Spiritual Gifts.

APOSTLES = In 2:20, APOSTLES were one of the two foundational roles in starting new churches.  The word apostle means “one who is sent.”  Their authority rested in being sent by Jesus.  In our time we might call them “church planters” and “missionaries.”

PROPHETS = Also mentioned in 2:20 as foundational in new churches.  Their function is not often telling the future.  Prophets give messages of strengthening, encouragement, and comfort to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-5).  We would call a prophet a “preacher.”

EVANGELISTS are gifted with messages directed primarily at non-believers, to help them accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Evangelists aid church members by calling them to take their eyes off themselves and their comfort to keep working to make Jesus known outside the church walls.

PASTORS is a role we mix with preacher, but the two were seen by Paul as separate offices and Gifts.  This is the only place in the New Testament to use this word for a church leader; in Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25 it was used as a title for Jesus Himself.  The work of a pastor tends to focus on people who are already Christians, helping them mature in their faith.  The role is a nurturing position not unlike shepherds to their sheep.

TEACHERS = All four of the other roles will require a person to teach Bible truths.  In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, he required the ability to teach as a qualification for all church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9).  Godly teachers do not just pass on intellectual content, but they also exhort and encourage the hearts of their students, and provide an example of their teaching lived out.  This is a big responsibility and is no doubt part of the reason James warned against aspiring to be a teacher (see James 3:1).

The diversity of Gifts serve a single purpose: maturity.  The Gifts are used to PREPARE GOD’S PEOPLE FOR WORKS OF SERVICE and build up the BODY OF CHRIST.  In contrast to our modern version of church (with its professional clergy versus laity distinction), the leaders are not to be the ones DOING the ministry for the members, they’re to be preparing the members to serve each other and people outside the faith.  Serving others has the effect of “building” the church by maturing the believers and converting the unbelievers.

Building each other up is a process of growth measured by experiencing UNITY achieving MATURITY.  UNITY is manifest in a church in two ways.  First, in UNITY IN THE FAITH.  This means that we share the same views and values.  Sure, there is room for different opinions about doctrines that are on the periphery.  (Verses eight through ten are a prime example.)  But on the central parts of our faith, the things that are only true or false, we must have perfect agreement.  (The doctrine of Jesus Christ (verse thirteen) is a prime example.)

Second, UNITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD. Our beliefs about Jesus are central and on these there can be no compromise.  Salvation is at stake.  Our experience of UNITY is one of the things that create MATURITY.  MATURITY is one of the things that enable UNITY.  Logically, the two virtues are two sides of the same coin.

  1. How we recognize maturity. (13-16)

Paul supplied five benchmarks of maturity.

The first is in verse thirteen: ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.  Paul never lowered his expectations for the Church; he always set forth perfection as the goal.  As perfection is a state only possible in God, this goal forces us to rely on God.  You don’t get a higher ambition than the WHOLE MEASURE of the FULLNESS of CHRIST.  Paul promised the eternal perfection of the Church will occur when Jesus comes again (5:27).  For now, it only occurs in part.  But having the ambition raises us higher than having a lower ambition.

The second is in verse fourteen: NO LONGER INFANTS.  INFANTS are believers who are immature, ignorant of what the Bible teaches and thereby easy targets for false teachers.  Maturity brings a stability of character because it is developed by learning the Bible and correctly understanding the experiences of life.  To put it another way, immature people are characteristically credulous and are also easily bored; they tend to shift to follow what is new and exciting whether it is true or not.  Paul is not warning against innocent misunderstandings, but against those who deliberately distort the truth by the CUNNING AND CRAFTINESS seen in the DECEITFUL SCHEMING men do.

Paul pictured immature instability with the image of a ship adrift at sea; it is not going in a direction chosen by anyone.  Instead, its heading is determined by the forces of WAVES and WIND.  (James 1:6)

The third is in verse fifteen: we will counter evil falsehood by SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE.  SPEAKING THE TRUTH without LOVE is legalism and shows none of the humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance Paul commanded in verse three.  On the other hand, showing LOVE without SPEAKING THE TRUTH excuses sin and removes our need for a savior.  To avoid these deadly and false extremes, followers of Jesus must be careful to uphold both TRUTH and LOVE in their relationships in and out of the church.

The fourth is also in verse fifteen: we will GROW UP (mature) into greater Christ-likeness.  Where TRUTH and LOVE are actively practiced, MATURITY will follow.  In 2:21 the verb “to grow” was used to encourage numerical growth.  Here it is used to encourage spiritual growth, greater maturity.

Paul did not leave the virtue of MATURITY undefined; he defined it in the person of Jesus Christ.  Mature people will bear more moral, emotional, and spiritual resemblance to Jesus Christ than immature persons.

The fifth mark of maturity is submission to the authority of Christ.  After all, Christ is the HEAD (source and ultimate authority) of the Church.  As we are the BODY below the HEAD, we do nothing apart from Christ.  The local church as a BODY of CHRIST functions well when all the parts build each other up in LOVE and as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.  It’s not a matter of love OR work; both of these virtues are necessary for the building up of the BODY.  It’s not a matter of waiting around passively for God to do something.  Our partnership with Christ is God’s will and it is the primary way things get done in this world.  Things that happen that don’t have some human agency are called “miracles” and they are rare.

Back to UNITY and DIVERSITY.  The WHOLE BODY benefits when all the parts are healthy and working together, as God designed them to do.  EACH PART refers back to the Spiritual Gifts, the diversity of the members being equivalent to the diversity of parts in the human body.

Maturing is a way of life that starts in LOVE.  It grows because we stay in the TRUTH and connected with Jesus our Head.  LOVE is a virtue that is best expressed in community; loving God together is God’s command and the very best way to live.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.


Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Paul: Mystery Man

Summertime Sermon Series: Return to Ephesus (Part 9)

The Apostle PaulPlease read Ephesians 3:1-13.

CONTEXT = FOR THIS REASON refers back to the previous section, which taught us that unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  Unity is given to us as an act of grace through the Holy Spirit.  For our part, we are to maintain that unity by acting in accord with one another and avoiding sins of the tongue and all other sins that cause discord.

It’s a little surprising Paul used the word MYSTERY so frequently in this passage.  It was a term that was much-abused by “mystery religions” of his day, cults that prospered around the ancient world, and probably in Ephesus especially.  People involved in the mystery religions claimed to know something that nobody else knew.  To join the group, you had to be taught their secrets, their mysteries.

When we started this series last summer we learned there were a number of occult groups like this in Ephesus.  The people in Ephesus were infamous for their fascination with magic and the occult.  I believe Paul used this word deliberately, choosing to confront the false teachers by using a word they misused to deceive people.  We have already seen how Paul’s enemies reacted to his brave practice of telling the truth; they incited a riot!

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

  1. Paul’s qualifications to reveal the MYSTERY.

He was a PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS (verse one).  Politically and physically, it would be more technically correct to say Paul was a prisoner of Caesar.  He wrote this letter in AD 61 or 62, while he was imprisoned in Rome, awaiting an audience with Caesar.

Spiritually speaking, Paul was a “prisoner” of Jesus in the sense that he was dedicated to doing the will of Christ.  This expression is meant to remind the reader that Caesar could do his worst, but Paul belonged to Jesus, who ultimately decided Paul’s actions and outcome.

Paul was a PRISONER for the sake of the GENTILES (v. 1).  This phrase gives us a “big picture” view of Paul’s incarceration.  Even though his imprisonment can be traced back to his situation in Jerusalem and his decision to appeal his case to the emperor, it was for the sake of the Gentile churches that God allowed it to happen.  Paul’s unwavering commitment to serve God in the Gentile churches was part of the reason he was imprisoned.

Paul’s qualification to be the “mystery man” was based on God’s grace, not on his own merit.  Paul explained this in verses seven and eight.  Paul was an apostle and an administrator of the MYSTERY THROUGH GOD’S GRACE GIVEN ME THROUGH THE WORKING OF HIS POWER (v. 7).  We are obviously operating under GRACE when we’re doing something we are not personally qualified to do.  God gets the glory when His power is most evident.  This is the way Paul understood his ministry – God’s strength substituting for his weakness.  In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he wrote from God’s perspective, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Think about it.  Why should we bumble along in our own strength when our Creator offers HIS?!!

This was Paul’ humbling experience; ALTHOUGH I AM LESS THAN THE LEAST OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, THIS GRACE WAS GIVEN ME (v. 8).  Though he had achieved so much, Paul had the faith and the good sense to give all the glory to God.  An understanding of how GRACE operates precludes all pride.  People who have received grace don’t waste time reciting their religious “pedigree.”  They thank God instead.

This is NOT Paul trying to impress anyone with false humility.  It is a recollection of his past – how he used to persecute the Church – as otherwise making him unfit for service.  Apart from GRACE, Paul would not have been so successful in making disciples and planting churches.

All of this was for the Ephesians.  For their sake, on their behalf, he received an ADMINISTRATION OF GOD’S GRACE (v. 2).  This is how ministry works: God’s grace empowers some of His people to serve Him by serving God’s church.  GRACE is always God-centered; it is given, not earned.  In fact, the most obvious examples of GRACE are gifts the recipient could not otherwise possess. The ADMINISTRATION to which Paul refers is the work of making God’s offer of salvation by GRACE known to those outside the Church and the maturing of those inside.  When you read ADMINISTRATION, think “application:” God wants us to apply His truth to our daily living.

God’s purpose in showing GRACE to Paul was to equip him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles.  Paul describes his message with two phrases: TO PREACH TO THE GENTILES THE UNSEARCHABLE RICHES OF CHRIST (v. 8).  Though a Jew himself (in fact, a “Jew’s Jew,” see Philippians 3:3-8), Paul’s ministry was to non-Jews; TO THE GENTILES.

The word UNSEARCHABLE refers to the limitless generosity of God.  He makes rain fall on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45), a symbol of how salvation is offered to all people, whether we think they deserve it or not

The aim of Paul’s teaching was TO MAKE PLAIN TO EVERYONE THE ADMINISTRATION OF THIS MYSTERY (9).  When you think about it, making something UNSEARCHABLE become PLAIN TO EVERYONE is a tall order!  Attempting it without relying on God’s power would be ridiculous, illogical.

As he speaks about his preaching and his ministry in other letters, Paul consistently downplayed any strengths or gifts he brought to proclaiming the Gospel.  His ambition was to make the truth PLAIN.  Anyone who preaches while depending on technique, charisma, intelligence, or any other human power is preaching something other than Christ.

  1. What Paul revealed about the MYSTERY.

The content and true understanding of the MYSTERY had been MADE KNOWN to Paul by REVELATION, the personal witness of Jesus Christ (v. 3).  I believe Paul is referring here to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and what he learned subsequent to that.

It was a MYSTERY because had not been MADE KNOWN TO MEN IN OTHER [previous] GENERATIONS (v. 5).  Here Paul seems to divide human history into two epochs: “BC” (Before Christ) and “AD” (After His Death and Resurrection).  (Of course, these are not the abbreviations we use.)

In the BC time, God’s plan to save humanity from sin had been hinted at, revealed in part, but not fully explained.  All through that part of history, God had promised salvation and was working to bring it to pass, but had not revealed it fully to all people.

Repeating this truth in a slightly different way, Paul wrote in verse nine, IN AGES PAST WAS KEPT HIDDEN IN GOD, WHO CREATED ALL THINGS.  KEPT HIDDEN = the Bible is a “Progressive Revelation;” as time passed, God revealed more about Himself and about His plan for humanity.  As we read from Genesis through to Revelation, we progress in our understanding of what God was saying.  We understand the Old Testament as we read it in light of what God revealed in the New Testament.  Both parts of the Bible are inextricably linked.  Because the fullness of God’s revelation did not enter into human history until the person of Jesus Christ, what appeared before was partial and predictive.  It was not the whole story but the foundation for what was to come.

Paul reminds us that God CREATED ALL THINGS to reinforce this point: God is in charge.  All of history is moving in the direction He wills.  God is working all circumstances to the end He has planned.

He was given insight into THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (v. 4).  Paul is not setting himself up as anything special, a holder of secrets.  He is not a priest in a “mystery religion.”  Instead, he set mystery religions on their head by doing the opposite; he shared the insights he’s been given with the widest possible audience, making God’s plan known to everyone.  For example, read 1:17, where Paul prayed for all people to know God better.

God’s MYSTERY had been REVEALED BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD’S HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS (v. 5).  Paul lived in the “AD” time of divine history.  In Jesus, the fullness of God’s plan for salvation had been revealed and accomplished.  The major revelation came in the person of Jesus, but God also announced it through the HOLY APOSTLES AND PROPHETS, the people tasked with leading the Church.

According to God’s plan, the Church is to be His means of revealing His MANIFOLD WISDOM TO THE RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS (v. 10).  Often we’re guilty of thinking too small.  We fuss over details and ignore the fact that our shared ministry is part of God’s plan to save the world.  Case in point: Paul’s mention of RULERS AND AUTHORITIES IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS means that our ministries have eternal consequences.  Spiritual forces beyond our control are affected by whether we are doing our jobs or not.  Think about that: no pressure!

If we weren’t living by GRACE, if we were instead asked to do this on our own strength, such a notion would be intimidating.  However, as we have repeatedly noted, God gives us GRACE to do these things.  This means there is no room for intimidation or distraction by petty, worldly things.

To further establish the centrality of Jesus in the revelation of the MYSTERY, Pal revealed in verse eleven that God completed His ETERNAL PURPOSE IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.  The word ACCOMPLISHED means “realized, achieved.”  The passage makes it clear that God made His plan before creation, completed His plan in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and will one day bring it to a complete close when Jesus comes again.

Take a deep breath and let that sink in: you and I are partners with each other and with Jesus Christ.  All of creation is in its last days.  Everything we do has eternal significance.  The powers of heaven and hell are waiting with bated breath.  What we say and do MATTERS!

Here we come to it at last.  What we’ve all been waiting to find out.  What is the MYSTERY?  The MYSTERY is the formation of a single people of God.  Clinton E. Arnold wrote, “God’s people will now be identified by their togetherness in a multiethnic loving group endowed by the Spirit of God rather than circumcision, ritual purity, and bloody sacrifices.”  The distinction of Jew and Gentile is void.

This is what Paul meant by the phrase THROUGH THE GOSPEL THE GENTILES ARE…HEIRS, MEMBERS, and SHARERS with Israel, all in verse six.  When at one time God set apart a nation for Himself, now He has set apart a people, called out from all the nations of the Earth.

– HEIRS TOGETHER WITH ISRAEL = In 1:14 Paul stated the Gentiles were, along with the Jews, inheritors of the Holy Spirit.  He used this word picture again in 5:5.  It is a thread running through the letter.  Nationality no longer determines a person’s membership in God’s family.  Now it is faith in Christ that make one an heir.

– MEMBERS OF ONE BODY = Paul made up an entirely new Greek word (susoma) to say “with one body.”  Paul frequently described the Church as the Body of Christ in this letter (1:23; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).  In Corinthians, he used this figure of speech to emphasize how different parts (people of different nations) form one body (the Church).

– SHARERS TOGETHER IN THE PROMISE IN CHRIST JESUS = What Paul had in mind was the Holy Spirit, whom he referred to as “the Holy Spirit of promise” in 1:17.  In John 14 Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers as the chief sign of salvation and the most important means of following Jesus’ teachings.  In Galatians 3:7, 26-29, Paul wrote how believing Gentiles are part of the fulfillment o/t promises God made to Abraham.

An important benefit of this revelation is the confidence we can have in prayer and in trials.  (This is our KEY VERSE on this Religious Liberty Sunday.)  In verse twelve the inspired apostle wrote, THROUGH FAITH IN HIM WE MAY APPROACH GOD WITH FREEDOM AND CONFIDENCE.  The greatest expression of FREEDOM is the ability to pray to God.  Prayer is the practice that brings all this GRACE to bear on our daily lives.  Without prayer, none of these Kingdom of God things get accomplished.  With prayer, the resources of heaven are put at our disposal!

The word CONFIDENCE in the Greek pictures a citizen rising at a meeting to speak his mind to an issue.  Or think of a friendly relationship you have where you can speak candidly without fear of being rejected.  Having that FREEDOM means we treasure it and would never abuse it.  We have that feeling out of gratitude, not fear that it might be taken away.

Notice this verse says twice IN HIM, making clear the source of this FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE is Jesus Christ.  In the Progressive Revelation of the Bible, this is closeness to God that previous generations did NOT enjoy.  We are very privileged God put us in this time and place!

The Ephesians did not need to be DISCOURAGED BECAUSE OF Paul’s SUFFERINGS FOR YOU, WHICH were for their GLORY (13).  Paul presented all this theology in its grand scope and concluded by making it completely personal in verse.  This is to be our practice every time we sermonize and study the Bible.  Learning factoids is fruitless if we do not take it personally. We must apply (administrate, as above) the truth.

In this case, Paul does not want his Ephesian friends to feel badly about his imprisonment.  Instead, he wants them to be consoled, knowing that his SUFFERINGS serve two important purposes in the plan of God.

First, it serves the purpose of enabling Paul to write this letter.  If he had not been imprisoned, he would not have had the time to devote to it.  In this way, God used Paul’s SUFFERINGS to benefit the believers in Ephesus.  By the way, at the time of this writing, Paul had been imprisoned 3 or 4 years!  Discouragement would have been a real possibility for those who cared for Paul and looked on.

Second, his SUFFERINGS brought about GLORY.  Remember GLORY is the presence of God somehow manifest in human experience.  Sometimes His presence was manifest in brilliant light, sometimes in dark clouds.  But in every circumstance, the GLORY of God blessed His people, drawing them into deeper fellowship with Him.

Interestingly, Jews of Paul’s day believed that the plan of God required a certain amount of suffering be experienced before God’s plan would come into consummation.  He may have been thinking of this when he wrote that his SUFFERING was “for” the Ephesians.  This belief is implied in Colossians 1:24; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10).

Paul revealed the MYSTERY OF CHRIST to the Gentiles.

          This passage gives us a perspective on Paul’s ministry as an Apostle to the Gentiles.  It is his perspective.  His imprisonment provided opportunity to reflect on all God had done during His ministry, understanding the source and measuring its impact.

Because of GRACE, the MYSTERY has been solved.  Because we have FREEDOM and the CONFIDENCE that a loving relationship bestows, we can pray with authority.  Because God is in control, we do not have to be DISCOURAGED.  Just the opposite; we should be encouraged beyond doubt and fear to have an adventurous and joyous experience of faith in our daily living.  Who needs Sherlock Holmes?  We have Mystery Man Paul explaining the will and work of God in providing us with salvation.



Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold



Cleaning House

temple cleaner

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

          Even a quick look around our house would cause you to observe that I have no business preaching a message entitled “Cleaning House!”  I’m afraid matters are worse after Wednesday night.

This sad story begins with God giving me a warning on Tuesday when Dawn stopped by the office to accuse me of working overtime.  Of course I denied it.  In the course of our conversation, she mentioned how they had to quick get the hose back on their sump pump discharge because it had started running with all the snow and ice melting outdoors.

That is something I had never thought of doing.  Take off your sump pump hose?  Who does that?  The Lord sent Dawn to warn me to check my own hose.  But I did not catch the warning, so when I got home after Bible study Wednesday night, it finally occurred to me to check.  The answer was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs: at least a half-inch of water all across the basement floor.  The sump pump couldn’t run because the hose outside was frozen shut.

So now we have some serious house cleaning to do, especially in the basement.  This experience confirms a pair of my sayings:

“Snow is rain on credit.  You’ll pay for it later.”

“A basement is a hole under your house for catching rainwater.”

Jesus never had to use a wet-dry vac, but today we’ll look at a time He set out to do some cleaning out of the house of God.  It was a dramatic, aggressive act on Jesus’ part but entirely necessary.  Let’s see what we can learn from His example.

CONTEXT: This passage follows Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine (vs. 1-12) and precedes His instruction of Nicodemus (3:1-21).  In John’s Gospel, these are all precedent-setting events; the first miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power, the cleansing of the temple His authority, and the encounter with Nicodemus the substance of His teaching.

  1. Jesus’ actions invited opposition. (vs. 13-17)

The PASSOVER was the ideal time to launch a new ministry and that’s how this incident is used in John’s gospel.  The PASSOVER was one of three annual festivals godly Jews were required to attend.  At that time the city swelled with pilgrims from around the ancient world. The event probably occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, the most public place in Jerusalem.  All lights “green” for launch!

The people doing business there were “authorized sellers” in one sense or another.  The sellers of sacrificial animals (CATTLE, SHEEP AND DOVES) were authorized by the Law: Deuteronomy 14:24-26 allowed those traveling a great distance to sell the animal they intended to offer, converting it to cash.  Upon arrival at the sacred place, the cash could be used to buy another animal to be offered to God.  This avoided the inconvenience and expense of transporting live animals.

The MONEY CHANGERS were not authorized in Scripture, but were deemed necessary under Roman occupation.  Roman coins depicted Caesar and described him as god.  They were considered blasphemous, unfit for use in the temple.  Every adult Jewish male was expected to pay the “temple tax” of a half shekel to support the temple and the priests (Exodus 30:13).  Specially minted coins called “temple tokens” were used.  The exchange rate always benefitted the exchangers.

No weapons were allowed in the temple or its courts.  When Jesus MADE A WHIP, he likely bundled together some of the ropes used to contain the cattle.

He DROVE ALL out.  This stampede was a severe disruption of “business as usual.”  Jesus threw the tables and coins of the MONEY CHANGERS into disarray.

Why did Jesus do it?  The gospels advance three explanations:

Jesus told the sellers of DOVES they’d turned His FATHER’S HOUSE INTO A MARKET.  Zechariah 14:21 promises an ideal future where NO MERCHANT would be found in the temple, so turning the temple courts into a marketplace was bad all on its own.

The disciples believed Jesus’ ZEAL for God’s house consumed him.  They saw Psalm 69:9 as a prediction, Jesus’ actions as the fulfillment.

In Matthew 21:13, Jesus condemned them for making the temple into A DEN OF THIEVES, quoting the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11).

  1. Jesus’ actions were opposed. (18-22)

Matthew’s reference to THE JEWS in verse eighteen is shorthand for the religious/civil leaders of the Jewish people.  They demanded Jesus give them a SIGN – a miracle – that would prove his authority to disrupt the ordinary business of the temple.

Jesus did offer them a SIGN, just not the kind of SIGN they were expecting.  Referring to His own body, He offered His resurrection as the ultimate proof of His authority.  When they killed Him, he would not remain dead, but be raised to life.

In Jesus’ reply John used the word RAISE, unlike the other Gospels, which used the word REBUILD.  RAISE is a more typical figure of speech for “resurrection.”  After Jesus was raised from the dead, the DISCIPLES understood Jesus’ intended meaning and believed all had taken place as God had predicted in the SCRIPTURES (22).

THE JEWS’ misunderstanding is in evident in verse twenty.  They thought Jesus was referring to the temple.  Jesus’ words were later turned against Him: during His trial, Jewish leaders cited them as a threat to the temple (Mark 15:58; Matthew 26:61) and people used them to mock Him at His crucifixion (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:40).  After Jesus returned to heaven, this charge was repeated when Deacon Stephen was on trial (Acts 6:14).

  1. Jesus backed up His claims with miracles. (23-25)

Ironically, Jesus would not give the Jewish leaders a SIGN when they demanded it (18), but He gave several to the people (23).  In reaction to Jesus’ MIRACULOUS SIGNS, MANY PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIS NAME.

In JHN 1:12 the phrase BELIEVED IN HIS NAME described those who faith was adequate for salvation.  But here, the same Gk words describe people who did not possess true faith.  This use of the same words to describe very different spiritual conditions illustrates the difficulty we have in knowing people’s hearts.  However, Jesus knew the difference; HE KNEW ALL MEN.  There’s no fooling Him.

Knowing their faith was merely superficial, Jesus did not consider them to be trustworthy followers.  Their excitement about the miracles would not carry them through the real work of following Him.

The Pharisee Nicodemus is offered as an example of these fair-weather disciples.  In fact, He began the conversation referencing the miracles, “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.”  The good news is that he did come to true faith.  In John 19:39 Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus’ body.

Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.

At this point we should all be asking ourselves, “What would Jesus if He walked into our church right now?”  Would He thank us for our faithfulness or chase us out of here with a broom?  I would expect most churches fall somewhere between obviously faithful and obviously false. And that is a big reason why churches can be so hard to sort out.

Dr. Thom S. Rainer is a church consultant.  He published an article on his website five years ago identifying nine traits of “mean churches.”  Based on his experience and training, he offered these insights as a means of prayerfully and carefully considering our own life together.  Take a moment to think about each one as I merely list them.

Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness. 

The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly.

Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power.

There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures.

Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit.

A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.”

Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled.

Many people in the community view these churches negatively. 

Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. 


How are we doing?  It’s not realistic to think that churches are only going to be places where nice people are nice to one another.  Real people in real places having real relationships will often be quite messy.

That said, the point is that we have chosen a direction aimed at Jesus: that we are characterized by love manifest in forgiveness and cooperation.  That kind of fellowship is the kind that will attract and retain new life.  The question is never “What kind of church do I want?” instead it is “What kind of church is Jesus working to make us?”  Like Jesus, we must not let the Pharisees have the final say.



The Anchor Bible Commentary, Raymond E. Brown.

Doing Our Jobs


Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          Today is Church Vocations Sunday and Installation Sunday; we are celebrating and supporting those who give leadership to our church.  It’s wonderful to see the leaders of the church cooperating with one another to show a congregation the way Jesus wants them to go.

For example, I’m reminded of a church where the trustees took out the old paper towel dispensers and replaced them with modern hot-air hand dryers.  For their part, the deacons added signs above each dryer which read, “For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”


CONTEXT: Our passage this morning is the second of two threats to the unity of the First Church.  The first, in ch. 5, was hypocrisy.  Ananias and Sapphira pretended to sell their home and give all the proceeds to the church.  In a demonstration of how much God hates hypocrisy, this lie cost both the husband and wife their lives.  As we will see, the second problem was complaining.

We will also note the selection of deacons set up the next two sections of Acts as the spotlight falls on two of the newly-elected deacons, Stephen and Philip (chs. 6-8).

  1. The problem. (vs. 1-2)

Part of the problem was the rapid growth of the Church = THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES WAS INCREASING.  References to church growth bracket this narrative.  A great problem to have, right?  The Church added people faster than they added the leadership to take care of them.

How fast?  Note 3,000 converts were mentioned in 2:41 and the 5,000 members in 4:4, we know for certain that the Church numbered in the thousands in a city of 100,000 residents.  That’s a lot for twelve guys to administrate!

The other part of the problem was complaining = THE GRECIAN JEWS COMPLAINED AGAINST THE HEBRAIC JEWS.  At this point the Church existed only in Jerusalem and was made up only of Jews.  It was considered to be a sect of Judaism.

At that time, there were two kinds of Jews.  Luke referred to one group as GRECIAN JEWS; they were people who converted to Judaism or were born Jews, but came from other parts of the world.  HEBRAIC JEWS, on the other hand, were people who were born in the region.  The primary difference was the fact they spoke different languages.

The out-of-town Jews believed that their widows were not getting their fair share of the daily soup kitchen.  This is not a small thing: Ministry to widows, orphans, aliens, and other down-and-out types was a big focus of the early church.  It was where a lot of their money was spent.  It is no coincidence that the first complaint in church life involved widows – the Old Testament commanded care for widows (i.e., Deuteronomy 10:18).  Jesus taught neglecting the care of widows was evidence of disobeying God (Luke 7:12-14).

The result was that the Apostles’ time was being spent waiting on tables when they should have been ministering the WORD.  The same Greek word translated here as DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD appears in 1:17+25 as the MINISTRY the Apostles received from Jesus.  This linguistic connection makes two things clear.  One, the TWELVE did the work of waiting on tables.  Two, waiting tables and proclaiming the Word were both considered ministry.  Both were important work.

Why were the Twelve doing all this themselves?  Sometimes it’s easier for leaders to do things themselves than it is to recruit people to do them.

What’s more important in this case, is that the Twelve demonstrated wisdom by recognizing taking care of this problem themselves was not a good idea.  When it came down to a choice between waiting tables or ministering the WORD, they knew which was part of their calling and which was not.

Again, both these were ministries were important to the church.  But the Twelve realized they were called to minister the word, not administrate a social program.  It was not RIGHT for them to WAIT ON TABLES because that would have required them neglecting their true ministry.  Somebody needed to do it, but it needed to be somebody else.  Here is an example of a situation where spirituality and practicality both need to be heard.

  1. The proposal. (vs. 2-6)

They proposed the congregation choose seven godly men to WAIT TABLES.  The Twelve created the proposal but they left it up to the members to decide who would administrate this program.

They proposed a group of SEVEN men because seven is seen as a symbol of completeness; that’s all that was needed.  Social scientists tell us seven is just about the ideal number for any working group.

The Twelve set forth the qualification the Seven were to be KNOWN to possess: FULL OF THE SPIRIT AND WISDOM.  True wisdom comes from God through the Holy Spirit.

The DISCIPLES (the members, the congregation) chose seven men from among their own number.  The fact that they all have Greek names does not prove that all Seven were GRECIAN JEWS, but if they were, that was an extraordinary accommodation by the HEBRAIC JEWS to the GRECIAN JEWS.

Luke describes only two of the Seven in any detail.  His mention of Stephen as A MAN FULL OF FAITH AND THE HOLY SPIRIT set up the account of Stephen, the first martyr, starting in verse eight.  The other mention is Nicolas, a CONVERT TO JUDAISM.  This proves that not all of the church members were born Jews.

Delegating authority was not a new idea: in Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 11:1-25, and Deuteronomy 1:9-18, we read about 70 Israelite men who were selected to assist Moses in settling disputes among the people and to train them in faithfulness to God.

The phrase WAIT ON TABLES is the Greek word diakonein, from which we derive our word “deacon.”     Though Luke does not refer to the Seven as “deacons” in this passage, he will by chapter 21.  It’s ironic how the church has turned this word upside down.  The original deacons were table waiters; workers in a soup kitchen that delivered daily meals to the needy.  Their jobs were practical.  In the modern American church, deacons are responsible for spiritual ministry while the practical work is given to “trustees.”  Biblically, it ought to be the other way around.

If the proposal were accepted, the Apostles would have more time to pay ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD.  PRAYER is a separate ministry.  It includes public worship and private visitation.  MINISTRY OF THE WORD includes preaching and teaching; discipleship that occurs in public and private situations.

As we stated earlier, this division of labor does not imply any kind of elitism.  The Twelve and the Seven had two different kind of work but BOTH were considered ministry.  The fact that the Seven were commissioned for ministry by the laying on of hands (v. 6) is further evidence of this variety of callings without a hierarchy of callings.

  1. The product. (vs. 5+7)

For possibly the last time in recorded history, all the church folk were happy at the same time.  The Greek word for PLEASED denotes a kind of satisfaction with the actions of another.  Our objective is to aim to please God, not any individual or group in the church.  So if everyone’s happy, that’s gravy, not our goal.

Luke listed two signs of God’s approval of the way the problem had been resolved.  He wrote, THE WORD OF GOD SPREAD.  On a practical level, the Twelve had their time freed up by turning the food ministry over to the Seven.  On a spiritual level, God registered His approval by giving them more opportunities to speak the word to those outside the church.

He also wrote THE NUMBER OF DISCIPLES INCREASED.  This is the other bracket that frames this passage; the Church was growing in number before the complaint and it continued to grow after they faithfully resolved the complaint.

The text supplies two qualifiers of the growth the First Church experienced.  The word RAPIDLY implies the Church’s growth gained speed.  A LARGE NUMBER OF PRIESTS were added to the membership.  These were men who had a vested interest in the status quo and were trained in the Scriptures.  And they overcame all that to choose to follow Jesus!

Churches thrive when members do their jobs.

          That’s not important.  What is important is the example set for us by the early church. Every believer is given their individual set of spiritual Gifts and other resources they can contribute to the life of their local church.  When all the believers make their contributions, the church prospers.  We need a variety of contributions and a depth of contributors in order to be faithful to God and the mission He has given us.  Church is not a spectator sport.  Everyone’s contributions differ slightly, but everyone contributes.  With love, we assemble these offerings of various resources and expend them in ministry to our people and the people outside our walls.

Here’s their example for us to follow:

– When a problem is announced, the leaders are responsible to see if it is a problem and take reasonable steps to resolve it.

– The leadership formulates a proposal and presents it to the membership, requiring them to share responsibility for a solution.

– Working together, the leaders and followers enact the solution with prayer and good sense empowering a godly way forward.

– When we are faithful, God makes us fruitful.  It may not be immediate, but it is inevitable.



Message #1291

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Eckhard J. Schnabel