Put On Your Work Clothes (Part Two)

Armor of God_final (2)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.

CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end.  They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time.  To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times.  In Philippians he used it twice!  Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.

Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject.  The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

  1. True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)

In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.”  This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated.  Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.

As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength.  In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.  Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis.  POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important.  The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially.  His strength is all we need.  It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.

Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve).  The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another.  Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.

Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil.  He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD.  The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons.  Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.

Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people.  There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other.  While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.

Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.  The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types.  It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.

There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction.  One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality.  It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned.  Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil.  The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven.  That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.

According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND.  The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.

Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming.  Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life.  We needn’t be too literal here.

In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials.  AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen.  Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD.  This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.

Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM.  God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact.  The word means “stand against” or “resist.”

  1. Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)


This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.”  The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.

Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well.  Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding.  Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves.  More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.

It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt.  As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.


Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.”  RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.

The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE.  This is a symbol of close fellowship with God.  To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.


Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND.  Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point.  The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS.  In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.

It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare.  However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace.  Peace is the heart of the Good News.

The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth.  Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie.  In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.”  When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.

Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God.  Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it.  By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.


FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands.  A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands.  A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick.  It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it.  If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows.  This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows.  Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.

In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.”  The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them.  Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.

In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE.  This is a reminder of v. 12.  This is essentially a spiritual war.  Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.

A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations.  Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.


While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.”  God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION.  There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming.  Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.

A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision.  To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).


A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory.  The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil.  (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD.  It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)

On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy.  The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds.  (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.”  This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)

This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).

The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives.  Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.

  1. Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)

(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war.  Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)

Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer.  In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them.  Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer.  The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit.                 Prayer is not a performance or a ritual.  It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27).  The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue.  There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers.  God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray.  so what we can see and hear is only the surface.

Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.

– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.”  One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?”  It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.

– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.”  When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.

– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS.  Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.

WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us.  In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.

To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen.  The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.

Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH.  In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).

SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor.  Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!

Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.  (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!)  It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.

Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS.  Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.

As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.

Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.

Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.

One, we act as if there were no war going on at all.  The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture.  That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church.  However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church.  The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction.  As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.

Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil.  The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.

Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is.  Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy.  In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.

There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there.  This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers.  Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.

In short, we are the Israelites all over again.  We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another.  We accept idols and reject the living God.

For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war.  In part, living is struggling.  We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied.  Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious.  May the same be said of us.



Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Authority Redeemed

Authority Redeemed_vfinal (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 5:21-6:9 in your Bible of choice.

“Benjamin West was just trying to be a good babysitter for his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Benjamin found some bottles of colored ink and proceeded to paint Sally’s portrait. But by the time Mrs. West returned, ink blots stained the table, chairs, and floor. Benjamin’s mother surveyed the mess without a word until she saw the picture. Picking it up she exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” She bent down and kissed her young son.
“In 1763, when he was 25 years old, Benjamin West was selected as history painter to England’s King George III. He became one of the most celebrated artists of his day. Commenting on his start as an artist, he said, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” Her encouragement did far more than a rebuke ever could have done.
“It’s easy to notice the wrong in a child, but difficult to look beyond an innocent offense to see an act of creativity and love. What a challenge to raise our children according to God’s standards, knowing when to say, ‘It’s a mess!’ and when to say, ‘Why, it’s Sally!’” -D. C. McCasland at https://www.preceptaustin.org/ephesians_sermon_illustrations_6

CONTEXT = In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus demonstrated that our relationship with God trumps family, church, and all human relationships.  In v. 21, Paul reminds us that mutual submission is to characterize all relationships in the Church.  Our other relationships flow from our relationships to God and the Church.

Notice a pattern in the three sections of our passage; Paul addresses the follower first, the leader second: the marriage section begins with the word WIVES, the parenting section begins with the word CHILDREN, and the slavery section begins with the word SLAVES.  The Greek adds the article before the noun, but is otherwise exactly the same.  Listing the subordinate member first may be Paul’s way to equalizing their status a bit.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

  1. In redeemed marriages, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed marriages, wives were to submit to the husband’s authority.  Verse 22 plainly states WIVES, SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBANDS AS TO THE LORD.  No one would seriously claim equality with Christ.  (Although, Romans 8:17 tells us we are CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST.)  Paul considered submission a “given” and offered this example to illustrate the principle.  He didn’t argue against the cultural norm, but redeemed it.

An equally plain statement was made in verse 24: NOW AS THE CHURCH SUBMITS TO CHRIST, SO ALSO WIVES SHOULD SUBMIT TO THEIR HUSBANDS IN EVERYTHING.  Paul was always an advocate of order and here he calls for orderly marital relations by bringing an end to competition between husband and wife.  The standard he describes here is theological as it is based on the Church’s submission to Christ, and it is total, as the word EVERYTHING indicates.

In verse 33 Paul added respect to submission: THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND.  This does not mean that RESPECT only goes one way.  Paul’s inspired command challenged a culture where the wife’s only recourse was passive-aggressive forms of disrespect.  RESPECT is commanded for all relationships in the church: 1 Peter 2:17 said, SHOW PROPER RESPECT TO EVERYONE: LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS, FEAR GOD, HONOR THE KING.

In redeemed marriages husbands were to temper the exercise of their authority.  The command to love appears in verse 25; HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH.  Paul directly opposed a Grecian culture that had removed love from marriage and a Roman culture that had made marriage a revolving door.  He held husbands to the highest possible standard of love; the same love that Christ showed His Church, as described in detail in vs. 26-27.

As verse 25 is the maximum standard for love, verse 28 is the minimum: IN THIS SAME WAY, HUSBANDS OUGHT TO LOVE THEIR WIVES AS THEIR OWN BODIES.  HE WHO LOVES HIS WIFE LOVES HIMSELF.  Paul’s appeal was directed at men, who tend to be self-centered.  But they can be counted on to care for themselves.  In this sense, the husband is to love his wife no less than he loves himself.  Paul is not herein approving self-centeredness, he is effectively saying, “If loving your wife the way Christ love the Church seems too difficult at the moment, then at least show here as much care and you show self-care.

  1. In redeemed families, the cultural model was challenged and changed.

In redeemed families, children (a term which included people of elementary age to early 20s) were to honor and obey their parents. (vs. 1-3)  A qualifier is given: IN THE LORD. Obedience is best realized in the context of our relationship with Christ, subject to Him.

A reason is given: FOR THIS IS RIGHT.  Obedience to one’s parents is simply the correct way to treat them.  SUBMIT is not as strong a word as OBEY.

Another reason is given: honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments, the only one with a promise attached; long and productive life.  Thus, a motive for honoring your parents is for your own blessing.

Obedience characterizes the childhood years and fades when our kids become adults.  However, the command to HONOR one’s parents is a life-long directive.

In redeemed families, fathers were to temper the exercise of their authority.  (The Greek word for FATHERS could also be translated as “parents.”)  Specifically, FATHERS were not to EXASPERATE their children.  Children can become exasperated when their will is thwarted; that is natural and is not the responsibility of the parent.  The child is morally responsible for their exasperation on that occasion.

However, exasperation also appears when authority is abused or unfairly applied; when parents are insensitive to the feelings of their children, being legalistic or harsh.  Instead of exasperation, fathers are to give TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION based on the Lord’s teachings.  Parents are to teach the biblical and moral reasons behind the rules so their children’s hearts are attuned to the Lord.

This affirms the teaching set forth in Deuteronomy 6:7, that the family is the primary means of instruction in the faith.  God puts families together (Psalm 68:6) for several reasons; it is the basic social unit of civilized life.

  1. In redeemed households, the practice of slavery was challenged and changed.

In redeemed households, slaves were to obey their masters.  It is estimated that 35% of the people in the Roman Empire were slaves.  Slavery then was practiced in significantly different ways than it was practiced here, but it was no more humane.

Paul qualified obedience 5 ways.





– WHOLEHEARTEDLY or “with goodwill.”

Paul explained the depth of obedience.  It is not superficial, but supernatural.  First, obedience is given even when the master is NOT watching, when it will not guarantee a favorable outcome.  Second, obedience is to be given because doing so earns us an eternal REWARD, not the earthly reward of the master’s FAVOR.

In redeemed households, masters were to treat their slaves with respect out of fear of their MASTER IN HEAVEN.  For Paul to command slave owners to have this kind of attitude was directly contrary to the attitudes and actions of non-Christian slave owners; very radical of Paul.  Notice that even though there is a huge inequality between masters and slaves, masters were ordered to treat their slaves IN THE SAME WAY that the slaves were to treat the masters!  This implies an equality of RESPECT, FEAR, and SINCERITY.

There is a theological reason for this deferential treatment of slaves; SINCE YOU KNOW THAT HE WHO IS BOTH THEIR MASTER AND YOURS IS IN HEAVEN, AND THERE IS NO FAVORITISM WITH HIM.  You could understand if a slave or master felt that God showed FAVORITISM, but Paul assures us that is not the case.  This fits perfectly with Paul’s important statement about equality in God’s sight: THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ONE IN CHRIST JESUS (Galatians 8:28).  In the Old Testament slavery was regulated in a comparatively more benevolent way, but Paul’s teaching here goes beyond that.  He’s saying that in Christ – in every way that really counts – slaves and masters are equals.  Mutual respect should characterize their relationship as well.  A master is not allowed to use threatening or abusive behavior toward his slaves.  His authority is tempered by the love of Christ in his heart.

Authority is redeemed when leaders and followers live as disciples of Jesus.

Throughout this section, Paul wrote candidly about the culture within which he lived.  He did not approve the culture’s practices, nor did he express disapproval.  This is true even in the section on slavery.

Instead, he challenged the Christians in that culture.  Those who follow Jesus Christ were to live to a higher standard, one that was divine in origin.  When the worldly culture left wives no other recourse but passive-aggressiveness, God called wives to win love with respectful submission.  When the worldly culture gave the husband unlimited authority, God’s word challenged husbands to temper their authority with love.

When the culture gave children no protections, God promised a long life to those who obeyed their parents.  When the culture gave fathers absolute authority, God commanded them to be sensitive to the feelings of their children, in keeping with the ultimate aim of bringing them to maturity in life and faith.

When the culture put slaves at the absolute bottom rung of the social ladder, God commanded them to render service to their master by the measure of the service they owed Jesus Christ.  When masters were given the authority of life and death, God commanded them to treat their slaves just as their heavenly Father treated them.

I believe we trivialize this passage when we search for legalisms.  There’s something much more profound at work here than settling the question of who’s in charge.  In this passage, the existing culture is merely noted as inadequate.  God revealed to Paul that there is a higher standard to which God’s people are called.  The principle behind the teaching on all three kinds of relationships is made obvious in verse twenty-one: SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST.  That is the portion of the passage that applies to all relationships and is portable to all situations.  If we seek to know how to order our marital relationships, family relationships, and work relationships, we must start there and find ways to apply the general principle to our unique situations.



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

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, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-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, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-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



Living Light, not Lite

Follow the Light(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

Please read Ephesians 4:17-32.

          In our time, “lite” is am advertising term that connotes a food item with fewer calories or reduced fat.  It has a broader meaning of something that is a less serious or substantial than other (generally original) versions of the same thing.  The word was first coined in 1962 to sell beer.

I’m using “lite” as a symbol of a worldly lifestyle in contrast with the godly lifestyle that Paul described to the Ephesians 1900 years earlier.  It’s a play on words to accentuate the difference between the ways of thinking and behaving that Paul contrasted as “light” and “darkness.”

CONTEXT = In v. 17 Paul began to apply the teachings on UNITY and MATURITY he’d set forth in the previous sixteen verses.  This application was so important he began by asserting his authority; I…INSIST ON IT IN THE LORD.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

  1. Characteristics of life in the darkness.

Living as the GENTILES lived (17).  Most of the members of the church in Ephesus were Gentiles; this comment might have been offensive to them.  “GENTILES” refers to the prevailing culture.  Paul urges them to achieve maximum contrast against their culture in the way they lived.  We would do well to assume the same goal.

They were futile in their THINKING (17).  When it was used, reason was used to deny God and/or make excuses for their immoral living.

Persons on the shadowy path are DARKENED IN THEIR UNDERSTANDING (18).  Sin obscures the truth.

Before they came to Christ, they were SEPARATED FROM THE LIFE OF GOD (18).  Sin is an offense against God.  In His moral perfection, God does not tolerate sin to be in His presence.  A person’s choice to sin leads to deadly separation from God, the Source of life.

Whether innocently or purposely, they were ignorant of the truth (18).  Those who choose the darkness ignore God, choosing to disbelieve He exists, that He is loving, and/or that He is powerful.

Without Jesus, people become hard-hearted (18).  “Psychosclerosis” is the made-up word used at last Thursday’s seminar.  It is a hardening of the attitudes that comes with repeated choices.

Walking on the darksome path makes a person insensitive (19) or “callous.”  They are dull to the pain of others or any feeling that might motivate them to love or believe.

The phrase GIVEN OVER TO SENSUALITY (19) refers to a lifestyle where self-satisfaction is the most important thing: it has become an idol.  When “getting mine” becomes a top priority or pursuing every kind of experience without question is typical, self is worshiped instead of God.  This person is easily identified by their dread of boredom.

Indulging EVERY KIND OF IMPURITY (19) pictures a person who has a passion for everything that is indecent and immoral.  Worse, they have a special lust for everything against God.

Lovers of the darkness are marked as being FULL OF GREED (19).  Greedy people do not care how their selfish ambitions harm others.  They are insatiable consumers.

A FORMER WAY OF LIFE (22) sums up much of this list; it is the way we live before we accept Jesus as Savior.  Characteristic of that way of life is devotion to our OLD SELF.  There is a supposed to be a sharp distinction between our OLD SELF (the way we lived before being saved) and our NEW SELF (24); the way we live after being saved.  Before Christ, we were CORRUPTED BY DECEITFUL DESIRES.  In our FORMER, worldly lifestyle, we were ignorant and easy prey for the charms of the world to convince us to choose selfishness and sin.

Persons on the dark path are given to UNWHOLESOME (“rotten” or “putrid”) TALK (29).  These words betray a rotten interior and have evil effects on those who hear them.

In the church or outside, this kind of person is known by sins that work against UNITY (31).  We are to GET RID of these sins.

– BITTERNESS is grudge-holding, resentment, refusal to forgive.

– RAGE flows from bitterness.  It is a sudden outburst of hurtful frustration.

– ANGER literally means “shouting.”  It is giving full throat to one’s negative emotions.

– BRAWLING is all forms of physical abuse, even those that seem less violent.

– SLANDER is all forms of verbal abuse.  Whether what you say is true or not is not as important as why you say it.

– EVERY FORM OF MALICE includes all manifestations of toxic attitudes, every word and deed coming from a hate-filled heart.

  1. Characteristics of life in the light.

Light-path living is appropriate to the WAY OF LIFE they had been taught by Paul (20-21).  This reminds us that our faith is a heritage.  We begin with a shared tradition born in our history.  This is the starting-point of true faith; we are not welcome to just make it up as we go.  The phrase WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT CHRIST looks back at t moment they were saved.  A change of life began at that time.  The Apostle affirmed THE TRUTH is THAT which IS IN JESUS.  In accepting Jesus, we also accept all that He reveals, the entire truth of who God is and who we are to be in Him.

A renewed ATTITUDE of mind (23) will be present in those who prefer the light.  In Romans 12:2 Paul wrote about a personal transformation that occurred from the inside out: new attitudes lead to new actions.

People walking in the light behave in ways characteristic of our NEW SELF (24).  This is not as simple as a change of clothes (though that is one way Paul symbolized it); it is a total makeover of a person, from sinful to Christ-like.

Recognizing we are CREATED TO BE LIKE GOD IN TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS (24).  The NEW SELF is our true self; it is becoming the kind of person God created us to be in the first place.  It is life based on God’s standard of good behavior and being set apart from the world.

To be in the light of Christ, you are to PUT OFF FALSEHOOD AND SPEAK TRUTHFULLY TO YOUR NEIGHBOR (25).  Having TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS will cause us to speak the truth and stop misleading others.  This is a call to avoid all hypocrisy and lying.   Telling the TRUTH IN LOVE (16) builds up our fellowship.  Doing anything else tears it down.

Behaving as we are ALL MEMBERS OF ONE BODY (25) requires us to put effort into getting along.  God gives us UNITY; we must exercise MATURITY in order to preserve it.

We are to not allow anger to turn into sin (26). Anger itself is not always a sin; what makes it a sin is dealing with it in ungodly ways.  Paul offers two examples of sinful responses to an angry impulse.  First, we are to not allow anger to fester, but should resolve situations without holding a grudge (26).  Sunset is not offered as a legalistic time limit, but a reasonable one.  Remember, the Jewish day began at sunset, so Paul is actually saying, “Don’t start today with yesterday’s anger still unresolved.”

Don’t GIVE THE DEVIL A FOOTHOLD by having unrighteous anger (27). Think of unresolved anger as the edge of a wedge.  Given this tool, our mutual enemy (THE DEVIL) uses anger to split us apart.

Light-living people have a good work ethic (28).  Paul offered three aspects of a good work ethic.

– No STEALING.  Hard work unites people; stealing drives them apart.

– Stop being useless/lazy.  Laziness drives people apart, creating dependency.

– SHARE WITH THOSE IN NEED.  Work enables us to provide for ourselves AND for those who cannot work.

Those who walk in the light will speak ONLY WHAT IS HELPFUL FOR BUILDING OTHERS UP (29).  Truthfulness is not the only virtue for godly speech.  What encourages and edifies is another necessary quality of good speech.  Godly speech is choosing words ACCORDING TO THEIR NEEDS, not your own.  Say what the other person needs to hear in a way they are most likely to receive and understand it.  Godly speech also benefits THOSE WHO LISTEN.  Words are not to be used as a way to get even or achieve any other selfish goal.  Instead, our motive is to benefit others.

God’s people DO NOT GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (30).  All sin causes God sorrow because He knows how we are hurting ourselves.  There is a wealth of theology here we don’t have space to explore, but let us observe that the motive of respect for God is a great reason to walk in the LIGHT.

Remember Paul’s earlier assertion that the Holy Spirit is a SEAL and DEPOSIT guaranteeing our redemption (1:13-14).  The phrase YOU WERE SEALED FOR THE DAY OF REDEMPTION (30) teaches the same truth.  One of the many purposes of the Holy Spirit is to reassure us of our salvation.

Let us be known by virtues that build UNITY (32).  Paul offered three of them.

– Kindness is a sweet, generous disposition.  It is be others-oriented.

– The Gk word for “compassion” literally refers to healthy functioning internal organs – “good guts.”  Here it is the virtual of a godly internal life.

– Forgiveness JUST AS CHRIST FORGAVE YOU.  Here is the highest possible standard for one of the most essential virtues in good relationships.

Living in the light is the outcome of spiritual maturity.

          A life lived in the light will bear an obvious difference from life lived in the darkness and life lived in our surrounding culture.  Life is constant transformation into the image of Jesus or it is not life at all, but death.

Considering the qualities of “darkness dwellers” and “light lifers” the Apostle Paul set forth, where do you see yourself?  Chances are, your characteristic attitudes and actions appear on both lists, as we are imperfect beings always in process.  However, what is the general trend?  Is there enough of a difference between the way you live and our prevailing culture?  Or are you doing a good job of “blending in?”



Message #764

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

Unity, Maturity, and Vice-Versa

Communion Table (1)

Art by James Best, used with permission.  More are can be found at https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.

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

Worth the Effort

Raising the Cross (1)

Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.

          Enthralled with tales of the wonderful life in the country, a family from New York bought a ranch near Eagle Butte, intending to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would-be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we call it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”

“So where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.

“None of them survived the branding.”


This little joke proves that disagreements can be DEADLY.  It’s better to avoid them and better still to exercise “preventative maintenance” by coming together in the UNITY Paul describes in this passage.

CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:

THEN is a small word that marks a change in the direction of the letter.  Paul spent the first three chapters describing our new identity in Christ.  For the final three chapters he will concentrate on exhortations to live out that new identity.

Paul admonished the Ephesians to put some effort into their faith.  He did so AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD.  Is this his way of saying, “Look at all I’ve sacrificed to serve the LORD, how can you gripe about what He expects of YOU?”

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

  1. Christian living requires us to put forth some effort. (1-3)

We must put effort into being worthy of our CALLING (not our salvation, as that is a gift of God’s grace).  I URGE YOU = this word has a sense of comfort that is nonetheless challenging.  Paul appealed to the Ephesians on the basis of the love of Jesus in them.

“Worthiness” here means “appropriateness.”  Appropriateness is measured in degree of conformity to Jesus Christ.  A truly saved person will exhibit a character that is changing into the character of Christ (i.e., showing Fruits of the Spirit; see Galatians 5:22-23).  Paul mentions four virtues in v. 2, four examples, not an exhaustive list.

The first is humility.  There are few vices that are harder on relationships than pride.  Pride and selfishness are the launch pads of a great array of sins that distance us from God and people.  That’s why God despises pride so thoroughly (see Proverbs 11:2; Isaiah 2:11; Luke 1:52).  Prideful people make self an idol; they take glory that should be directed to God.

The second virtue is gentleness.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus described Himself as “GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART,” touching both of these first 2 virtues.  People following His example will develop these virtues. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “meek” but in our time that word means “weak-willed,” describing someone who’s too easily persuaded.  A GENTLE person does not lack courage, but does exercise self-control.  GENTLE people do not lack conviction, they are simply careful how they show it.  Their passions are tempered by love for others.  People who are legalistic, self-centered, impatient, or otherwise ungracious will find gentleness a challenge.  God is described as GENTLE as He leads and teaches His people (Psalm 25:9).

The third virtue is patience.  While anger itself is not a sin, it often leads to sin; sins that are especially hard on our relationships.  Patience is the preventative medicine to anger.  Paul repeatedly called on church folk to be PATIENT with one another (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2).  The Greek word translated as PATIENT is a combination of the words for “anger/rage” and “a long time.”  (James 1:19 commands us to be SLOW TO ANGER.)  This does not condone staying angry for a long time (that would be contrary to Ephesians 4:26-27); instead it means taking a long time to become angry.  Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a defining feature of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), and a virtue God empowers us to practice (Colossians 1:11).

A fourth virtue is forbearance: BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.  Jesus exhibited this virtue in relation to His disciples when their ignorance or unbelief tested His patience (Matthew 17:17).  True tolerance requires loving God and others: this motivates us to overlook the small offenses people give us.  Whether it is sin, immaturity, or a personality quirk, the more we let go without anger and without comment, the closer we are to experiencing the UNITY God wants us to have.  Proverbs 19:11 makes this plain: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

The lives of church folk are to demonstrate good works, are truthful, are motivated by love, and bring glory to God.  “Easy peasey,” right?  Not always.  It is sin that complicates matters and forces us to substitute political machinations and rules to achieve the same ends.

Paul based his appeal on worthiness to our CALLING.  We are called to two things.  First things first , God calls us to salvation.  None of this is possible apart from a real relationship with God.  We can’t be WORTHY until Jesus is our Savior and Lord.  Second, God calls us to sanctification.  Salvation is decided in a moment but we spend the remainder of our days working out its effects.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul exhorted, “WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.”  In v. 4 Paul stated we are called to share ONE HOPE.  Part of the answer to this question of calling is to put all our HOPE in Jesus Christ and nothing else.

UNITY is so important it is worthy EVERY EFFORT to keep it (3).  This UNITY comes from God; it is OF THE SPIRIT.  Here’s a “bumper sticker” truth: “Unity: you didn’t make it so don’t you break it.”

The Holy Spirit creates unity in the Church by recreating the MIND OF CHRIST in every believer.  In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul promised that we share THE MIND OF CHRIST.  That means that we ought to think like Jesus.  If we did that, it stands to reason that we would more often agree and more frequently behave agreeably.

God-given UNITY is kept through THE BOND OF PEACE.  The Greek word literally means “bind with chains.”  This is ironic because during his imprisonment, Paul was often chained to a Roman soldier who guarded him.  Similarly, PEACE should exist between all believers in Christ.  PEACE should keep them together and in relationship.

  1. God has given us a lot in common. (4-6)

An important piece of our unity is all that we share as God’s called-out ones.  Paul lists seven gifts of grace that define our shared identity.  Any one of these is more important than any of the trivia that usually divides churches.

The first gift is the Church; the ONE BODY of which we are all members.  The human body is a collection of diverse cells, organs, and systems all functioning together.  This is a symbol of the Church Paul used frequently (1: 22-23; 2:16; 4:15-16; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Colossians 3:15).  True unity occurs in situations of diversity; the most valuable UNITY in churches built on the greatest diversity.

The second gift is the Holy Spirit; the ONE SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the means by which all the diverse personalities of a church become ONE.  This was an especially important point to the believers in Ephesus.  Because the culture of that city was so superstitious and tended toward the occult, people would have come into the church believing there were many “spirits” in the world.  What Paul wrote here is exactly contrary to that belief.  There is only ONE SPIRIT.

The third gift is a future; we share ONE HOPE.  Paul taught in 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit functioned as a SEAL and DEPOSIT, guaranteeing our hope in God.  He saw these second and third points as being interrelated.  A reason we have HOPE is that God called us out of this world into the world to come.  So Paul’s mention of our CALLING in v. 1 is directly linked to this reference to HOPE.  The hopeful status of the Ephesian believers is directly opposite their hopeless status in 2:12.  Apart from Jesus, we have no reason to have hope.

The fourth gift is Jesus Christ, our ONE LORD.  The Lordship of Jesus Christ is an important theme of this letter (1:2-3, 15, 17; 3:11; 5:20; 6:23-24) and of the New Testament in general.  Jewish believers needed to be assured that Jesus was not a new god, but a fuller understanding of who God is.  The central belief of the Jewish faith is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4, affirming there is only ONE God.  The Gentiles recognized several gods and people back then tended to think and act like all religions were equally real.  (Sound familiar?)  They needed to unlearn that belief and recognize only ONE LORD, affirming there is only one true God. Accepting the belief there is only one God in three persons is central to our faith.  It was a distinguishing mark in Paul’s time and it must be in ours as well.  If we count the notion that all religions are equally true (or equally untrue) then we do not have a saving faith.

The fifth gift is definition to what we believe and how we act upon our belief; ONE FAITH.  Faith is a set of things we hold to be true, which determine our actions.  ONE FAITH means that most of these particulars are non-negotiable and are held in common among all true believers.  A big difference between the Church in Paul’s time and the Church in ours is the depth of agreement they had on matters of theology.  With the exception of false teachers (4:4) and splinter sects, the Church in the first three centuries shared a common faith.

The sixth gift is membership in a local church by means of ONE BAPTISM.  Believer’s baptism by immersion following a confession of faith was the normal practice of the early church (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36, 38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 19:5).  Believer’s baptism was the standard practice and one believer’s baptism was all a person needed.  Baptism is a public identifying with Jesus Christ and by Him having received salvation.  It is a ritual of initiation that provides for membership in a local church.  One’s baptism is a joyous occasion that unites a believer to a congregation of believers. In the history of the Church baptism is a practice that has been a reason for many schisms.  There have probably been more new denominations formed over the practice of baptism than any other aspect of Christian faith.  It’s fair to say that between our denominations BAPTISM is not a gift we all use the same way.

The seventh gift is God Himself: ONE GOD AND FATHER.  Our earlier comments on monotheism apply here.  In perfect continuity, the Bible asserts from beginning to end that there is only one true God.  However, as history wore on and God revealed more about Himself, we came to understand that our one God has three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We created a name for this truth; the “Trinity.”  The sub-points Paul affirmed here – FATHER OF ALL, OVER ALL, THROUGH ALL AND IN ALL – are reminders that God made everything and that He sustains everything.  All that exists continues to exist because of Him.  Therefore we owe Him constant praise and worship. (Romans 11:6)  In contrast to pagan religions of Paul’s day that believed in many gods, Jews and Christians held to ONE GOD.

Though we hold these most important things together, we are still individuals.  That’s where our next message comes in, as we look at the affirmations of individuality in verse 7-16.  To put it another way, 4:1-6 reveal the truth about UNITY, 4:7-16 reveal the complimentary truth about diversity.

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

God gives His Church unity.  We don’t have to create it, but we are responsible to maintain it.  This is not as hard as it may sound, because we have all these things common.  They are far greater than the trivia that threatens to divide us.  Also, love is supposed to characterize our relationships and we have God as our example.

What we need to do is work on our social skills, keep our priorities in order, be patient with one another, communicate in godly ways, be selfless.  Take a moment soon to read John 17:11-23.  This is Jesus’ final recorded prayer.  Count the number of times Jesus prayed we should be ONE.  Understand the depth of oneness He described.  That will give you good perspective on how important the maintenance of UNITY really is.



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