Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself. Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal. "I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates three times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker; you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.
How often as Christians have we had the opportunity to use these words: “You have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.” In order to say words like these to someone who has hurt or wronged us, we need to have forgiving hearts and power over our anger. This is exactly what Paul is getting at in our passage this morning. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” we are now well and truly into the second half of Ephesians. We have shifted our focus from grace-filled benefits to grace-filled behaviour, which leads to spiritual unity, maturity and a new life in Christ. Paul spoke to us last week about taking off our old prison uniform of sin and putting on the new suit of Christ. This spiritual transformation must be evident in a believer’s life. Paul tells us this transformation is seen in three stages, which is Godly Conversation, leads to Godly Conduct and is evidenced by our Godly Character.
1. Godly Conversation vs. 25, 29
Paul says that the first stage of Godly transformation is evidenced in our conversation. He says: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body vs. 25.” As Christians, our lives are to be guided by truth. We must have the highest ethical and moral standards. We are to be transparent in all that we say and do. When I began my studies at seminary, one the first things they taught us was the virtue of transparency in the life of both ministers and all believers. Our lectures told us “people will not believe the truth you preach unless they see it evidenced in your life.” This is what Paul is getting at right here; as believers, we have learned the truth is Jesus. His truth has become our truth, for Christ says in John’s Gospel: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me 14:6.”
We must live out this truth in our lives so that people will believe our message because of our methodical pursuit of living out this truth. We all know falsehood or lying means to intentionally mislead someone, or to slander someone’s character. Often we are liberal with the truth and sometimes we think a little white lie won’t hurt. Yet those lies or rumours can break down unity within the church. Often we unintentionally tell a lie, but this is simply because we haven’t cultivated a culture of rigorously telling the truth in all situations. But often even telling the truth can hurt or harm someone if not told with compassion. Therefore, our motive for always speaking with those inside and outside the church must be love.
This is why Paul says: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen vs. 29” This text parallels James chapter 3, when looking at the use of the tongue. James teaches us that the tongue is a restless evil which can set the whole body on fire. The tongue must be used to build up, and not to break down. The word “corrupting” in the Greek means rotten fruit. Remember the saying, one bad apple spoils the bunch? This is what Paul has in mind. How often do we speak negatively about others in the church or grumble about things not going our way? All this breaks down unity in the church, and when the outside world looks at us, they ask how can this Jesus that they claim to believe in, be good? We must continue to speak the truth in love. Frank E. Gaebelein wrote: “Tongue-control? It will never be achieved unless there is first of all heart and mind control... When any Christian comes to the point of yielding to the Lord – in full sincerity, cost what it may – control of his thought life, the problem of managing his tongue will be solved, provided that such a surrender goes deeper than the intellect and reaches the emotions and will. For the Bible makes a distinction between mere intellectual knowledge of God and the trust of the heart.”
2. Godly Conduct vs. 26-28
Having taken the first step and pointing out that we need to have Godly Conversation, we now come to the second step or stage of this transformation. “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold vs. 26-27.” If you remember last week’s sermon, we recalled that Jesus equates anger with murder. However, here Paul says, “In your anger do not sin” because the emotion of anger is not sinful. In the Old Testament, God often becomes angry with the Israelites. Jesus became angry when he saw how the traders had desecrated his Father’s house, by turning it into a den of thieves. But there is a difference between righteous anger and wrathful anger. Our anger is often to do with our own self-esteem, pride, feelings, and self-image, instead of being angry at injustices. Paul says that we should not allow our anger to fester, and to go unchecked, rather it should be dealt with as soon as possible. That is why he says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”. The longer we take to address our emotions, the more of a foothold they seem to get in our minds and lives, and the more likely we are to sin. This gives the devil licence to run riot in our lives. Let me challenge us all, to make it a priority to deal with the anger issues in our lives, so as not to give the devil a foothold.
The last piece of advice relating to conduct which Paul gives us, is this: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need vs. 28.” What Paul has in mind is the breaking of the 8th commandment, in which God set up the right for us to own personal property, and this is the primary focus. I am reminded of what my Pa often says: If a person can lie, they can steal. This reminds us that stealing isn’t just localised to stealing property. If we don’t spend time with God, or do not bring our gifts and talents to Him, we are stealing from God. If we don’t use the talents, time and resources we were given by God, we are stealing from ourselves. If we consistently turn in poor performances at work, or arrive late and leave early, we are stealing from our employers. If we run our own businesses, we steal if we overcharge on products or services. If we damage another person’s reputation, we are stealing from them. Paul clearly tells us to stop this behaviour and to change. This change should not just be a selfish one, so that we can take care of ourselves. Rather it is to benefit those around us, in our church and community, so that we are able to help those in need.
3. Godly Character vs. 30-32
We now come to the final stage of the spiritual transformation that Paul says must be evident in our lives. Godly conversation and conduct should ultimately lead to Godly character. This transformation is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. Paul says that we should “not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption vs. 30” by our sinful conversation and conduct, because by this we break down the Christian body and are unable to witness to the world. The Spirit of God gives evidence that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith and that we serve God. Remember the Holy Spirit is firstly the Spirit of Revelation. He reveals the will and Word of God through the Bible. And through faithful teaching of the Word, he builds up the kingdom of God. We should be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, allow Him to illuminate the Bible for us and to work in our hearts by allowing Him to refine our speech and reform our conduct.
Paul ends with a clear contrast which shows us what true Christian character is. He says: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you vs. 31-32”. Bitterness is the result of anger which has festered and hardened the heart. All the other sinful attitudes that Paul mentions are a part of this process. Bitterness is the devil’s playground. The world often makes us bitter and angry. We think only about ourselves and take offence at any provocation. In a world where trust is so often betrayed, Paul calls on believers to love uncontrollably, live unselfishly and to give tender-heartedly, because all of this reflects a Godly character. This shows that we have put on the new clothes of righteousness in Christ. We have to forgive those who wrong us, accidently or purposefully, not for our own sakes or theirs, rather to bring glory to Christ who died to purchase our forgiveness and to ransom us from our sins.
There are many reasons to work on this process of transformation in our lives. Montgomery Boice reminds us that Paul has spoken about the Holy Spirit in this passage. He says that it is the task of the Holy Spirit “to mould us into the image of Jesus Chris and who is grieved if that is not happening. It is as if Paul is saying, ‘Act like Christians, for God’s sake. And by God’s power as well”.
There is a story about a little girl who, on the way home from church, turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, the Preacher's sermon this morning confused me." The mother said, "Oh! Why is that?" The girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?" "Yes, that's true," the mother replied. "He also said that God lives within us. Is that true, too?" Again, the mother replied, "Yes." "Well," said the girl. "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"
My prayer is for each one of us, that God might show through us in the same way as the little girl stated. So that the Lord’s Godliness will be reflected in our conversation, conduct and character.
“I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, of the vanity of creatures, but also of the sufficiency of Christ. When You want to guide me, I control myself. When You want to be sovereign in my life, I rule myself. When You want to take care of me, I try to look after myself. When I should depend on Your provision, I supply myself. When I should submit to Your providence, I follow my will. When I should study, love, honour, trust You, I serve myself. I fault and correct Your laws to suit myself; instead of looking to You, I look for man's approval, and am by nature an idolater. Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to You. Convince me that I cannot be my own god, or make myself happy, nor can I be my own Christ to restore my joy, or be my own Spirit to teach, guide, and rule me . . . Therefore take me to the cross and leave me there.”
This Puritan prayer encapsulates exactly what Paul’s message is to all believers down the centuries, from Ephesus to the present. We are all called to be living our lives in the light of eternity. We have been saved by God’s incredible grace, and now we are called to reflect this amazing grace in our daily lives.
We come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace.” We have already seen in the first half of the Ephesians the majestic beauty of this grace, and all the riches it bestows upon believers. But in the second half of this book, we focus on the application of the amazing grace-filled riches we have been given. We have seen God’s grace leads to Spiritual Unity and Maturity. From the moment we are saved, we start living this eternal life, right here, right now. As children of the living God, we need to order our lives in light of this truth. So, Paul reminds us we are no longer to be Living in the Past but rather Living in the Future.
1. Living in the Past vs. 17-19
How many of you can remember the movie, Back to the Future? I remember watching it as a kid and being awestruck by all the possibilities which the future would hold. What is so scary is that many of the things we see in the movie, have become reality. Cellphones, Smartphones, being able to talk to someone over the computer face to face, like on Skype or Zoom. However, the more things change, in reality, the more things stay the same. Paul is telling us that, through being saved, God has granted us the gift of salvation. Many of us can trace the moment we gave our lives to the Lord. Yet, there are many of us who claim to love the Lord Jesus Christ, but our lives do not match up with this confession of faith. Paul is calling on us not to live in the past, not to live as if we were unbelievers. To stop messing around with sin. He lists the consequences of rampant sin in the lives of non-believers. This sin has two effects.
The first result of not having a relationship with God is that unbeliever’s “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts vs. 18.” In effect, sin hardens our hearts and shuts out the voice of God. It makes us oblivious that we have broken God’s law. From the moment sin entered the world, every human being has been corrupted by sin, this is what the Bible teaches. In our society, our homes and our churches, we are somewhat careful about sin. We don’t like to talk about sin as a concept, we don’t like others talking to us about our sins, and who wants to listen to a sermon on sin? But the reality is, we are all sinners. There is nothing we can ever do to allow us to stand before a holy and powerful God. Max Lucado invites all Christians to do a simple exercise to determine if we’re sinners. He writes: “measure your life against these four standards from the Ten Commandments. ... You must not steal. Have you ever stolen anything? A paperclip, parking place. Thief. You must not lie. Those who say they haven’t just did. You must not commit adultery. Jesus said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery in your heart. You must not murder. Before you claim innocence, remember, Jesus equates murder with anger. ... We assassinate a dozen drivers on the morning commute.” So we are all sinners, who fall short of the glory of God. Sin hardens our hearts and makes us unfeeling. We do not realise the danger that we are living in.
This brings Paul to the second result. “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed vs. 19.” Sin not only hardens the heart. It makes the heart calloused, unfeeling, insensitive towards the leadings of God around us and the needs of others. The meaning of the word callous comes from the Greek verb meaning “petrify” or “harden.” Paul is saying that the world has wilfully hardened itself towards and against God. People are wrapped in their own spiritual understanding, instead of seeking after God. Sin can be compared to a prison cell, with a door that’s standing wide open. Satan makes life so comfortable and easy for us, that we don’t even realise we’re in prison with the door open and Jesus waiting for us on the other side. All we have to do, is get up and answer his call and go to him. But we don’t. Sin has so hardened our hearts, we’re blind to the prison we’re in. Finally, at the end of our lives, the door slams shut. Only then do we realise that we’ve been in prison. Unfortunately, it is too late and we are condemned to an eternity separated from God in hell. But thanks be to God that he didn’t leave us there! If we listen to Jesus’ call, we can take off our old prison uniform and put on the suit of citizenship, as Paul elaborates in our next section. Let us no longer live in our past sins, but let us continue to glory in our salvation.
2. Living in the Future vs. 20-24
Sometimes we find old photographs of ourselves, taken many years ago. We look at these images of ourselves and think – did I really wear that back then? And why did I ever get that haircut? Why didn’t someone tell me those pants don’t match my shirt? That’s what Paul wants us to think when we look at our old sinful lives. Paul has given us a snapshot of what we look like when we wore our old prison uniform of sin. He reminds us that we were changed when we gave our lives to God, that we have received two things. We have received a renewed spirit and a new life.
Therefore, Paul begins by telling us “with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds vs. 22-23”. We all like the feeling and thrill of putting on new clothes. Clothes that fit perfectly and which make us feel good about ourselves. Paul has something different in mind. When talking about putting off the old self, he is actually referring to taking off grave clothes and putting on new garments, like Lazarus did after he was raised from the dead. If we follow Christ, we are all saved from the darkness of the grave. Our spirits have been renewed - we have been filled by the Holy Spirit. A change must have taken place. If our lives do not change after accepting Christ, we must question whether or not the Spirit is present within us.
Paul tells us in Galatians, in the same way that a tree is known by its fruit, eg. an apple tree bears apples and an orange tree, oranges, so we as Christians, must bear fruits of righteousness. These are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, Gal. 5 vs. 22”. Can others see in you the fruits of the Spirit? This is the hallmark that you have put on the new righteousness, given to you in Christ. A transformed Spirit must lead to a transformed mind. If we are filled with the Spirit of salvation, we must look, act and speak differently. People must be able to see in our actions that our lives are constantly focussed on the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Lastly, Paul has told us what to put off and a renewed mind must lead to a new life. We are “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness vs. 24.” In our Old Testament reading this morning, we read about the vision of Joshua, the high priest, who was serving God when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon and had to rebuild the city and the temple. Though the high priest, like all of us, was sinful, God gives him a new set of clothes, which is a picture of Christ’s righteousness covering our sins and enabling us to stand in the presence of our holy God. But after Joshua has received his new clothes, he is given a command, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. Zechariah 3:7”. Joshua’s new garments meant a new responsibility. In the same way, we also have a new responsibility.
What we do here on earth, and how we live our lives before God, has eternal consequences. One of my favourite movies is called Gladiator and it tells the story of a Roman general, who fights for what he believes in against tyranny and injustice. In the beginning of the movie, as they are about to charge into battle, he says to his troops: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”
You and I, now that we have received Christ, must walk before God in true righteousness and holiness. We must strive to follow Jesus, to follow his teachings, his examples, and his commandments. We are to continually walk in his ways, since our renewed lives are created in the likeness of God. Each day, as we look in the mirror, we should hope to see less of ourselves and more of Christ in us. If that is not happening, we have to question if Christ truly has full control over our lives and if He is completely sovereign within us. He has given us to promise of our future glory when we get to heaven, but we are also given the privilege of living in the future right now. Paul is calling us to stop living as if our past sinful lives are our present, and to begin to live in this future glory.
Michel Greene tells this story: “Soon after a family moved into their new house, it began to show the effects of their slipshod lifestyle. The yard was littered with trash. The lawn withered for lack of care, and, even when replanted, died out again. To enter this house was to enter a shambles. It never was clean or in order. Another family eventually bought the house and moved in. They painted the house, cleaned up the yard, and replanted the lawn. The results were completely different. What had happened? There was a dramatic improvement in the appearance of the house because there was a change in those who lived in that house. In the same way, it is impossible that there not be a change in a person’s life once he or she becomes a Christian—because there is a perfect new resident within: the Holy Spirit”.
God has given us a future and a hope. No matter where or in what circumstances we find ourselves at the moment, we can rest in the certainty of this new life. Let us walk in a manner worthy of this amazing gift, each and every day.
During this time of isolation, many of us turned to puzzles to pass the time. A jigsaw puzzle is an apt illustration for the need for diversity as the basis of unity in the body of Christ. All the parts of the puzzle are of equal importance to the completed puzzle, and without all of the parts the puzzle would be incomplete. However, when building the puzzle, one looks first for the four corner pieces that are foundational to the completion of the rest of the puzzle. So, too, the four gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are foundational to the completion of the mature body of Christ. When the jigsaw is finished, the four corner pieces are of no more value than the rest of the pieces.
Every single believer in church is valuable and has something to contribute. We all have different talents and abilities which God has given to us as individuals. Paul tells us God has given certain foundational gifts to the church. If they are lacking, it will stymie the growth of the church and cause us as believers to remain immature in our faith. Many Christians are far too happy to live on the baby food of faith, instead of being filled with the solid food of God's Word. When I was a child, I thought like a child, and reasoned like a child, but when I became an adult, I put away childish things (1 Cor 13:11). As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace”. We have crossed over the halfway mark in Ephesians. Behind us lies the foundational teachings of grace, before us is stretched out the path of walking in this grace. We have moved from Doctrine, our riches in Christ, to Duty, our responsibilities in Christ. It is when Doctrine leads to Duty that spiritual unity leads to spiritual maturity. Paul tells us this morning, the only way we will mature in our faith is by accepting God’s Spiritual Gifts given to his church in order to bring about his Spiritual Growth in us.
Spiritual Gifts vs. 11-13a
Paul opens by giving us the corners of the puzzle, which Christ decreed as the leadership for the building up of the church. For Christ “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers vs. 11”.
The first corner of the puzzle is the office of the Apostle. They were the foundation stones which God used to lay the New Testament church. The office of the apostle no longer exists today, for they were forerunners, setting the pattern of sound teaching for the rest of the church to follow.
The second corner is the office of the Prophets, like the prophets in the Old Testament. The prophets in the first century assisted the apostles, in both proclaiming God’s Word to the church and helping them to write the New Testament. Therefore, because we have the Bible today, we do not need the prophetic voice, for Christ was the final prophet, who points us back to God. The primary function of prophecy is to declare God's Word to God's people. The office of the Prophet, no longer exists in the church today, like the apostles. But we are all called to be prophetic witnesses to Christ, and to stand up against injustices in our society and to call our leaders, and men and woman in our world today, back to the foot of the cross.
The third corner of the puzzle is the office of the Evangelist, which still exists today. These men and women have been set apart by God, to proclaim the gospel to every corner of the globe. Evangelists and missionaries are your church planters, those who break new ground for Christ. There would be no Presbyterian church in South Africa had it not been for Scottish missionaries. There would be no Trinity had the session of Mowbray Presbyterian church, not had an evangelistic heart to see new gospel work started in Meadowridge. This is why we need to support our missionaries and Evangelists because they are vital to the growth of the church, both locally and further afield.
The fourth and last corner of the puzzle is the office of the Shepherd and Teacher. As the Shepherd, the minister’s is responsible for taking care of the local church; this is by leading and feeding the members on God’s Word. The flock is nourished, directed, disciplined, and brought together through and by the Word of God.
Paul has given us the functions of these four foundational offices for the church. He now gives us the reason; these officers were given to the church “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God 12-13a”. The role of the leadership in the church, and this includes Trinity, is not only to meet the needs of the members, or to give the church direction. Our primary role, as the leadership of this church is to equip every member of this Trinity for works of service. Let us be able to say with Winston Churchill, in one of his famous World War II addresses, ‘give us the tools and we will finish the job’. These tools include, reading the Bible, gaining a deeper understanding of the love of Christ. In our church library, there are so many books, which can help deepen your faith. Books on theology, Doctrine, Christian ethics and the list go on and on. Our faith can never be a simple faith, we need to spend time digging into the great truths which are found within the scriptures. Once our hearts have been captivated by these truths, we will grow in the unity of faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God. For the reason the church is there, is ultimately because of Christ. Although we might not be able to take out books from the church library at the moment, as the leadership we want to support you with tools to help you continue to grow in your faith. Join our twice weekly message of hope online, for example. Reach out for prayer and talk to your carer.
Spiritual Growth vs.13b-16
Christ has given specific Spiritual Gifts to the church, so we, His body, will become the light of the world. However, for these gifts to be fully realised in the believer’s life, there has to be Spiritual Growth. Only once our faith starts maturing, will we be able to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, read God’s Word with new understanding, and gain new insights. So we can reach out to the world in love and with truth. There is a trend in Christianity that we should strive for a childlike faith and many Christian teachers and leaders have endorsed this. Often we hear or even think to ourselves: “I just want a simple childlike faith. I don’t need all this theology.” I’ve also heard many people say that the only thing doctrine does is divide those in the church. Both these statements and ways of thinking are wrong. As the father to a young child, I can tell you that along with faith comes a thirst for deeper knowledge. Any parent knows that one word always on the tongue of young children is “why”. So let us not be fooled into idealising a childlike faith into a childish faith.
Paul says to “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming vs. 13b-14.” Yes, the Bible does call us to trust in God fully and completely, the way a young child trusts his or her parents. However, Paul is more specifically speaking that we should not be simplistic or naive in our thinking. This will allow us to have our antenna up to detect false teaching. There are so many books and television programmes out there, which are marketed with Christian flair, and they kind of smell Christian. But in reality, they're nothing but old heresies dressed up in new clothes. Often it’s self-help books or feel good about yourself sermons, preached to promote self-confidence, when our confidence and trust should be founded on Jesus.
Therefore, Spiritual Growth isn't running after the quick fixes, or being washed away by the latest Christians fad. Spiritual Growth is rather about steadily and consistently following Jesus, no matter what happens in our lives, no matter what is happening in the world, and faithfully listening to him speak to us daily through his Word. If it's not in the Bible, then we shouldn't believe it. We need to be rooted and grounded in the Word of God, and this means coming to grips with the parts of the Bible we like, and the parts we don't. It means allowing Christ to be our guide, for God to dictate how we should live our lives. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we won't be following anyone else. This is the basis of Spiritual Growth. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God 12: 2”
Finally, Paul tells us the indicator of Spiritual Growth is more than just being able to detect false teaching, or how bunch of head knowledge. As the famous author and theologian J.I. Packer wrote: “There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve Him, boldness to share Him and contentment in Him.” The true is indicator of Spiritual Growth, Paul says is “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work vs. 15-16”. The Bible teaches us, we are always to speak the truth and to declare God's truth boldly. We are not to shy away from the truth, for the truth shall set us free, and we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. However, far too often, this is used as an excuse to badger and belittle people. The truth of God is always seasoned with love; this is why we are to speak the truth in love. A minister friend of mine taught me, we are to declare the doctrines and the great truths of the Bible, unashamedly and uncompromisingly but we are to do it in love. When we speak the truth in love, people's hearts will be open, and they will experience the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding.
If you see a baby playing in the dirt, the baby may be dirty but you pretty much don’t make a big deal about it because it’s understood that babies play in dirt. Babies try to eat dirt. Babies scrub themselves in dirt. Dirt is a toy to a baby. But if you see a twenty-one-year-old man playing in the dirt, rubbing himself with the dirt, or trying to eat the dirt, you would rightly be worried about him. The only difference between the two is time. Someone has said that: we have too many Christians, who have been saved too long, that are still playing in the dirt. They play in the dirt and they have fun in the dirt. You can’t come and listen to the Word of God every week and not realize that the dirt is not where you are supposed to be.
Therefore, spiritual maturity is growing from being a child in the faith, to being an adult. It means allowing God to shape every part of our character, so that we may perfectly resemble Christ, who is the head of the church. We are then part of the body, and each of us must contribute to the other. Every member in the church is valuable to God, has been gifted with the Holy Spirit, and called by the Holy Spirit to participate in the ministry of Christ. Every member of the body of Christ is beautifully and wonderfully made and has a special role to play. No one is insignificant or unimportant to God. He knows your circumstances, hopes, fears and worries, even during this time. We can trust Him to equip us so that we are even better prepared to do ministry when we are able to return to churches physically. But that doesn’t mean there is no ministry to be done during the time churches are closed. Ask God in prayer to use you for the glory of His kingdom. You might find your eyes open to all sorts of possibilities – feeding someone who is hungry, sharing a kind word from behind a mask, being patient when others resort to rudeness, sharing the gospel over the phone and praying for healing. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you, because God has prepared good works in advance for you to do, even now. R.C. Sproul says: “there is no such thing as a misfit in the body of Christ because Christ himself, the head of the body, is the one who make sure that we fit together and knit together into the unity of his body”.
On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress on the state of the war in Europe. Much of what he said that day has been forgotten. But at the close of his address, he said that he looked forward “to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” He named them: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These words are still remembered, even though their ideals have not yet been realized everywhere in the world. Romans 8 is the Christian’s “Declaration of Freedom,” for in it Paul declares the spiritual freedoms we enjoy because of our union with Jesus Christ. A study of this chapter shows the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, who is mentioned nineteen times. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17).
What a magnificent Christian truth theologian Warren Wiersbe conveys to us. For today, we celebrate Pentecost. We remember that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit radically changed the lives of 120 believers who proceeded to turn the world upside down through their lives and witness. Those believers experienced the true freedom given to them through the Holy Spirit. They were set free from fear and set loose to proclaim the gospel. This is still the mission of the church and of every single believer; it has not changed in 2000 years and it will not ever change. We are called to be the Holy Spirit’s Witness to a waiting world. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!
When the Lord’s Spirit touched our hearts, when we accepted Jesus Christ as our saviour, our hearts and lives were radically changed. We were not only freed from sin, but we were given a new hope, a new purpose, and a new life. For the Holy Spirit bears witness, with our spirit, that we are indeed children of God. This is such a powerful truth: without the Spirit of the living God coming into our hearts at conversion, opening our eyes to the gospel, we could not be saved.
In most mainline churches, including Presbyterians, the teachings on the Holy Spirit have been sorely neglected. However, since the inception of the Presbyterian Church, there was always a strong belief in the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the church and individuals. We all have preconceived notions of who the Holy Spirit is, what He does and what a Spirit-filled Christian looks like. Today I challenge each of us to listen to what Paul says to the Roman believers and allow the Word of God to guide us in our study and understanding of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that the Spirit Within Us and His Witness Through Us is ultimate test of whether or not we are true followers of Christ.
1. The Spirit Within vs. 9-11
Paul opens chapter 8 by explaining that our freedom has been purchased by Christ, and, with that, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Believers are filled with the Spirit of Christ, while unbelievers are filled with the spirit of this world. A person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ thinks, acts, and lives in a way that is pleasing to God. But a person who is filled with the spirit of this world is hostile to God, wants nothing to do with him. Paul now shifts his focus from the unbelieving person, who is held captive by their sinful nature, to believers who have the Spirit of Christ in them. For he says to believers: “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. vs. 9-11”.
If we are followers of Christ, we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature, for the Spirit of the living God is within us. If the Holy Spirit does not dwell in our hearts, then we belong to this world. When the Spirit of life, given us by Christ, takes up residence in our hearts, we are given a new nature. The Spirit gives us new energy to serve God right here today. Only once the Spirit dwells within us are we able to share in the victorious Christian life given us through Christ. Through the Spirit, we will have no obligation to follow the ways of this world, the flesh, our old life, or our sinful nature which brought us nothing but sorrow. Rather the Holy Spirit brings new life, helps us to repent of our sins when we stumble and fall. He helps us return to Christ daily, and continue to live out the resurrected eternal life granted us at conversion. The Holy Spirit is life, and so He enables us to be obedient to Christ, to live for Christ and to look more like Christ each day as we reflect His glory to the world.
What a glorious difference it makes to our lives when the Holy Spirit lives within us. We begin to experience new life in all its facets. Our physical faculties, our mental capabilities take on a new dimension of experience. Warren Wiersbe says “When evangelist D. L. Moody described his conversion experience, he said: “I was in a new world. The next morning the sun shone brighter and the birds sang sweeter … the old elms waved their branches for joy, and all nature was at peace.” Life in Christ is abundant life.”
2. The Spirit’s Witness vs. 12-17
We have seen, in order to be a believer, the Holy Spirit must dwell within our hearts. Still we can’t look into each other’s hearts to see who is filled with the Spirit. Paul believes that we can; he’s already spoken about the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. So he now lists three characteristics of the Holy Spirit which must be evident in our lives, showing we are followers of Jesus Christ.
The first characteristic: He is the Spirit of Death for “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live vs. 12-13”. Why does Paul say this? Surely, the Holy Spirit’s function is to bring life, and this is true. He regenerates our hearts so we can hear and respond to the gospel. However, He is also the Spirit of death, in that He enables us to put to death the sinful deeds that plague our lives. Through the Holy Spirit, we experience the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: He helps to put to death our sinful nature and be reborn to the fullest spiritual riches.
The second characteristic: He is also the Spirit of Adoption - “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father vs. 14-15”. The Greek word for adoption in the New Testament means becoming or being placed as adult son. When we are born again, we enter God’s family, yet we are treated as adults. Believers have to make a daily choice to follow Christ and to submit willingly to the Spirit. The believer can also pray and call out to God as our Abba, our Father. As an heir, we can also draw on God’s spiritual wealth and grow richer in our faith. An heir is rightfully in line to inherit his or her father’s possessions, so too are we able to receive all that God promises us, these might not be physical possessions, but rather a greater intimacy with Christ and other spiritual joys.
The third and last characteristic is the Spirit’s Witness, for “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory vs. 16-17.” For as we can see, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. This is incredibly important in our understanding of the Christian life. The Spirit makes us children of God and comes to dwell within us, but also does one other thing: He gives us concrete assurance of our standing before God. The Spirit within us shall be a witness to the world, that we love the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have the Spirit in us, people will be able to see it bursting out. It will affect every area and aspect of our lives. This is the Spirit’s Witness: not only that we are children of God and followers of Jesus, we also are children of light, shining out His love. The Spirit’s witness testifies to the world who we follow, why we follow, and ultimately where we will go one day when this life is past. This life goes by too fast, only that done for Christ shall last.
Paul has made it crystal clear that in order to be a believer you must have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you and this must be evidenced by the Spirit witnessing out of you to the rest of the world. Many believers have doubts concerning the Holy Spirit. How can we know that He is within us? From the moment we commit our lives to the Lord, we are given the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches it is impossible to be a believer without the Holy Spirit present in our lives. It is sometimes taught that we need a second spiritual experience during which the Holy Spirit enters us or that we have to be sinless before we can receive the Spirit. This is not true. We are given the Holy Spirit the moment we give our lives over to Christ. However, we all “leak” and we should therefore ask in prayer that the Holy Spirit continually fill us. We can also see clear proof of the Spirit by looking for the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Sometimes it is thought living in the Spirit means to be sinless. We all know this is impossible. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and He equips and enables us to continually battle against sin by convincing us of the victory won on the cross. We are thus freed from the condemnation of sin by trusting in Christ, our Saviour.
Before we become complacent about the Holy Spirit and His presence in our lives, we should cast our minds back to Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever. The believers were freed from fear, freed from doubts, freed from being silent about what they had witnessed. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they went out and changed the world. The same power, the same Spirit resides within us all. We are given the assurance that we do not have to face our lives as Christians by our own power. The Holy Spirit frees us, empowers us, encourages us and raises us up when we realise we cannot do it on our own.
We should also remember the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God. When the Spirit is within us, we have Christ and God dwelling in us as well. We should regard the Spirit with reverence and awe. One of the early church fathers, St. Basil the great said: “What does the Spirit do? His works are ineffable in majesty, and innumerable in quantity. How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages? What did He do before creation began? How great are the graces He showered on creation? What power will He wield in the age to come? He existed; He pre-existed; He co-existed with the Father and the Son before the ages. Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover that the Spirit is even further beyond.” How humbling, how amazing, how encouraging that this same Spirit dwells within us all!
The first long road trip my wife and I ever took together was in 2013, when we drove from Cape Town to Pretoria. Those of you who have made this trip in the past may recall the long lonely roads of the Karoo. I decided to fill up with fuel at all the places where my mom used to stop when I was a kid and we travelled up to Polokwane to visit my uncle. First point was Three Sisters. But as we drove into the petrol station, we were met by danger tape around all the petrol pumps, and an attendant who told us the station was closed that afternoon due to renovations and building work. So we were a little stuck: do we go back to Beaufort West or onwards to Victoria West? We chose to travel onwards. I think this was the longest 65 km of my life. We both sat watching the fuel gage creeping closer and closer to empty. I think we were both praying and hoping just to make it to the next stop. It is a desolate area and there was no one close enough to help us if we ran out of fuel. Fortunately, we made it to Victoria West and, with joy, we refuelled my old faithful Tazz, before continuing our journey.
Sometimes as Christians, we feel we are running out of fuel. We pray for just enough strength to make it through the day, or the meeting, or the test, or the lockdown, or the long night we have to wait with a sick loved one. We all sometimes feel spiritually empty or like we are running on fumes. But Paul’s letter gives us hope. He was writing while he was a prisoner in Rome. He did not know what his sentence would be or how long he still had. Yet he gives all believers these amazing words of encouragement. See Paul doesn’t want us to simply admire our wealth, “the Riches of God’s Grace” which we have been blessed with. He wants us to realise these Riches come with Responsibilities; the great Doctrines we’ve been taught so far must ignite our hearts do our Duty. Paul’s second prayer fills the believer’s tank with a Powerful Faith, through a Powerful Fulfillment, because of our Powerful Father.
1. Powerful Faith vs. 14-17a
As a pastor, Paul cares deeply for this church which he planted. Even while he is languishing in prison, he lifts them up in prayer: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name vs. 14-15.” This prayer is as powerfully applicable today as it was 2000 years ago. For there is little difference, between us and the Ephesians, we need to have a powerful faith. Paul reminds believers that we have one Father, God Almighty, and we are part of one body, the church. He has already made it clear in the first half of this chapter, God has chosen to use the church to display the glory of the gospel proclaimed through the church to the universe. All true believers are part of God's invisible church, which spans the ages.
The gospel makes us one family in the eyes of God. It is for this reason Paul prays to God as our Father to give us “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith vs. 16-17a”. He is asking God to give us a powerful faith. However, this faith can only be powerful if Christ dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit enables us and gives us access to all he has to offer. The power of this faith must have its foundation in Christ. We must have renewed hearts as believers. Most of us, when we gave our lives to the Lord, were told we need to invite Jesus into our heart. This phrase has been used repeatedly as a tool for evangelism. But did you know, this is the only place in the entire Bible which speaks about inviting Jesus to come and live in our hearts.
The heart, according to Jewish understanding, was seen as encompassing the whole person, mind, body, and soul. So when we become followers of Jesus Christ, He comes to reside and reign over our whole being. In effect, God no longer sees us, but Christ who dwells in us. God's righteousness is transferred to us through Christ. So Paul can ask God to strengthen us, to give us a faith which is rock solid, because it is not dependent on us, but on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul wants us to have this powerful faith permeating every part of our being. If Christ dwells in our hearts, then He must have all of us or none of us. We cannot call ourselves Christians, while pushing Christ to the periphery of our lives. Christ must be in the centre of our lives, it must be Christ in us - the hope of glory, He must be our everything.
2. Powerful Fulfillment vs. 17b-19
This Powerful Faith, in which God opened our eyes and Christ renewed our hearts is foundational, but it is the beginning and not the end. Paul tells us, the strengthening of our heart through faith was so “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ vs. 17b-18”. God has given us this faith, so that we can comprehend His amazing love. Without God choosing to justify us through faith alone, we cannot see God. God gave our hearts the eyes of faith, so that we can comprehend God's immeasurable love. Paul uses two beautiful images to express the incredible love that God has opened our eyes to see.
The first image is drawn from nature: this love, which we are given by God, is so that we can be rooted in him. Like the roots of a gigantic oak tree, going deep into the Earth, so that when the wind and storms come, the tree is immovable. God's love for us is immovable. God's love allows us to withstand the hurricane winds which buffet our lives. So, when chaos comes and trouble besets us, because we are rooted in God's love, filled with faith through Christ, we will have the power to endure, like a mighty oak tree.
The second image is drawn from architecture. We are to be grounded love in order to comprehend the dimensions of this love. This is the foundation on which He builds His living temple, the church. The measurements Paul is referring to, “how wide and long and high and deep” may seem strange. Usually we only measure spatial objects with three dimensions. But Paul adds a fourth. The way in which he gives these measurements is similar to the way in which the measurements for the Tabernacle and the Temple were given in the Old Testament. Paul is telling his readers God is building a new temple. A temple where the whole will be more important than the individual parts. A Temple, in which God’s Spirit now resides, not separated in the Holy of Holies, but in every human heart. He is building a body of believers, and the spatial language exalts Christ’s love for His people and His church. This is the strength of a building built by God’s power and in His plans.
Paul declares the Powerful Fulfillment of God's immeasurable love; was his plan all along. His reason for doing this is simple: so we could “know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God vs. 19.” This immeasurable love is not meant to be experienced in isolation, but rather it is lived out in community; by us loving God and loving each other, we express God’s ultimate goal for the church. For the pinnacle of this love is Christ, He is the light and this love surpasses our knowledge. It is both an intellectual and an emotional knowledge, far greater than any other understanding we possess. The love of Christ that surpasses knowledge cannot be seen as either sentimental or sensible, rather as both head and heart bringing glory to the King of Kings. The love of Christ must be worked out in every area of our lives, so that we can experience the fullness of God. So we can taste and see that the Lord is good, experienced in the Powerful Fulfillment of this love.
3. Powerful Father vs. 20-21
Paul breaks into a doxology. This is both the climax of his second prayer, and it draws together all the strands of grace he has talked about so far in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Paul has prayed that we will have a Powerful Faith and find Fulfillment in God’s love. But all of this is only possible because we have a Powerful Father. Paul ties it all together in these final two verses: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen vs. 20-21” The church is the focal point of God’s glory, for we are the bride of Christ. In our modern world, the evangelical church has found it far too easy to focus this glory in other places. We’re happy to leave the job of the great commission to para-church organizations. We’ve become too comfortable in our churches. God will not give His glory to any other institution or para-church ministry; it is to be found solely in the church, which is the light of the world. The whole mission of the church is to glorify God and, in turn, the bride of Christ will be filled with grace, beauty, truth, love, mercy, righteousness, and glory.
In the final two verses, Paul wants to convey the vastness of God’s power through Jesus Christ. Yet still his language falls short. Comparative language tells us that you first have more and then most. But Paul stretches further and uses the words “far more”. The power of God, like the love of Christ, is beyond all human understanding. God can do more than we ask. He can do more than we can even think to ask. He can do far more than we could ever even imagine asking for. This amazing power is already at work within us through the Holy Spirit. This power is with us when life is easy and when we feel we don’t have the strength to carry on. When we come to God in prayer, we only need to ask, He will provide power for us to face all the challenges that this life throws at us. When we feel our tanks are empty and our power is low, His glory and strength are still at work within us. His power is at work in individual believers and through the church as a whole. We need to become a people of prayer who have a powerful faith that will withstand whatever is thrown at it – persecution, ridicule, mockery, tough times. We need to be filled with the love of Christ and we need to glorify and trust our powerful Father. This prayer has been one of thanksgiving, adoration, and intercession for the believers, so that they might continue to grow in their faith.
Today many of us might feel we are running on empty. More and more cases of the Coronavirus are being reported, the lockdown is taking its toll on businesses, and our mental health is suffering and our stress levels through the roof. Yet, we are rooted in God’s love through Christ and built on a foundation that cannot be shaken. Our God is more powerful than anything this world can throw at us. He can do exceedingly more than we can even imagine asking. He is able to do all – above all – abundantly above all – exceedingly above all! So if your tank is empty, do not hesitate to turn to God to refill it. Allow Him to fill you with His love, power and peace so that we can all make it through this crisis together. Ask yourself today, in your prayers, are you praying to the God that can do far more than we can ask or imagine?
At the very first Ascension Day, the disciples watched Jesus disappear between the clouds, bewildered his mission on earth had come to such a sudden end. They had been with him for so long, seen him die and return to life. Now, at the moment when he should be going after an earthly crown, he was ascending to heaven to receive his eternal crown of kingship. He had told them to wait for the Holy Spirit and that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Jesus mission on earth had ended, theirs has just begun. Although they might not have understood his command yet, they would soon be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. He promised them they would be changed, their mission would take them out of their comfort zone, the gospel would be preached, and the whole world would be turned on its head as the kingdom of light clashed with the kingdom of darkness. They were told to wait and then they were told to go.
The same is true with us today. Salvation equals service. If we claim to be saved, and to be filled with God’s Spirit and grace, then this must be evident in our attitude and our actions. Our changed hearts must witness to changed lives. People must be able to see there is something different about us. Something which makes us stand out in the world. Others will know we are Christians by our life and our love. We are transformed by God’s Holy Spirit to turn the world upside down, to be Christ’s witnesses on earth. We are called to go to Meadowridge, to the Western Cape, to South Africa and, if God calls us, to the ends of the earth. Although it might not be physically possible to do this now, there are many ways in which God can use each of our gifts, talents, time, experiences and knowledge to impact the world today, right where we are. Paul tells believers in this passage God’s Spirit has Transformed our Minds, as Members in the body of Christ, for a Mission which is the extension of His kingdom both inside and outside the church.
1. Transformed Minds vs. 1-2
God’s glory is beyond comprehension, His majesty beyond understanding. He created all things by the word of his power. There is nothing and no one who can compare with our holy God. Yet God chose not to leave us in our sinful state, but to send his sinless Son, to be our Redeemer. As we remember his ascension to heaven, we ask ourselves what kind of worship, what kind of offering can we bring to our King? Paul gives us the answer “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will vs. 1-2”. Before we were saved, we used our bodies to fulfill our own sinful desires and pleasures. However, from the moment we accepted Christ as our Saviour, God’s spirit took up residence in our hearts. Our bodies became a temple of the Holy Spirit in which the living God now dwells. So if we have accepted this salvation, our lives no longer belong to us, we belong to God, which means He can do with our lives whatever he pleases. In the Old Testament, the people of God brought sacrifices to the temple or the Tabernacle, not only to atone for their sins but as an act of worship. However, because of Christ’s final atoning sacrifice on the cross, we have peace with God. We no longer need to bring an animal sacrifice, but rather we are to present our bodies and our lives as a living sacrifice, completely and utterly dedicated to God.
As we give our lives to God daily, as a spiritual act of worship, we show the world He has transformed our lives. The world wants to control, our minds and our hearts, but God wants to transform our minds. The word ‘transform’ used here is the same as ‘transfigure’ in Matthew’s gospel. It is from here we get the English word metamorphosis, which describes a change from within. The world wants to press us into its mould, it wants to change and conform, and exert pressure from without. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, works from within, releasing God’s power to transform us. It is only when we yield our wills to God his power can take over and give us both the willpower and the won’t power to live the victorious Christian life. This is achieved through constant communication with God in prayer, and surrendering our minds and our hearts to him. We must pray to God about everything, and let him have his way in everything. This will be the evidence to the world that God has transformed our minds and our lives - this is our spiritual act of worship.
2. Transformed Members vs. 3-5
When God transforms our minds it naturally leads to renewed and changed relationships to those around us, particularly in the body of Christ: the church. Paul was writing to Christians who are members of local churches in Rome. He describes their relationships and responsibilities to one another as members of the body. This is why the Paul says, “by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the other vs. 3-5”. He is reminding us that our ability to do anything in the church comes only by the grace God has given us. It is not our greatness that gives us these gifts, only God’s graciousness. This means we need to keep in perspective who God is, and who we are in relation to God. For when we know who God is, we realise we can do nothing of significance in the world without his grace. We can do nothing apart from God, our significance comes from God, and whatever he assigns us to do is valuable.
But there is a proviso - Paul tells us we need to have sober judgement. This means to take a sober evaluation of our gifts, our strengths, and our weaknesses. However, there is a tendency in the church to go to extremes. Those who are willing to serve are often forced into positions, and asked to perform in areas which they are not gifted or called to serve. Often we do a great disservice to the church and to its people by trying to force people to perform in areas in which they are simply not gifted. The other extreme however, is if we have achieved competency in a certain area, then we expect this area to be the standard. We often exalt our own strengths, believing them to be the only ones that matter. Sometimes we think we are the only ones who contribute to the work of church and that the church would fall apart without us. This way of thinking is deadly poison to the body of Christ. For God has given each person a measure of faith, so they can exercise their different personalities, strengths, weaknesses and gifts for the betterment of the church.
This is what it means to be transformed Members, and to transform the membership of the church for the glory of God. Each believer is a living part of Christ body, and each has a spiritual function to perform, each believer must use their gifts and their talents for the building up of Christ body and the perfection of the members of this body. In short, we belong not only to God, but we belong to each other, we are called to minister to each other because we need each other. Especially during these tough times, we have to reach out to each other. Call your Bible Study members, send a message to those in your care. We all have to be here to support, pray and care for each other.
3. Transformed mission vs. 6-8
This is God’s design for us, as individuals and a church: he transformed our minds for us to worship him and our membership to glorify him. But Paul says it doesn’t stop there for each of us have “different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully vs. 6-8”. The gifts we are given by God, are for the mission of the kingdom. Our minds and members are transformed, so that we can be part of God’s rescue mission to the world. We were transformed for a mission, and every single gift that we are given is not only for the building up of the local church, but is ultimately for the extension of God’s kingdom. Every Christian believer must exercise his or her gift by faith. We might not always see the results of our ministry, but if we follow God’s will, God will bless it. Now it might be frustrating when we pray, preach and encourage a friend or family member, only to have them give their lives to God when they hear the gospel from someone else. Yet, when we accept we are sent to plant seeds and that it is God who transforms hearts, even if we never see the tree grow, we can trust the work to God. This is the true test about whether we are serving ourselves or God.
Remember that encouragement in the church is as vital and important as preaching or teaching. Giving and showing mercy are essential gifts for the life of the church. To some God has given the ability to lead and to others the gift of administration for various functions in the church. Maybe you are a prayer warrior, maybe you are an encourager, maybe you have a passion for children or youth ministry or someone who can organise community action. Whatever gift God has given us, must be dedicated to him and used for the good of the whole church and the extension of his kingdom. We were given these gifts, to bless and build up the church, not to build up our own egos. Yet how often in the church, do we not exalt one gift over another. None of these gifts should be lorded over others, just as none of these should be looked down upon. We should remember the example of the church in Corinth. The various believers were richly blessed with different gifts, but the believers were using the gifts as an end in themselves and for themselves. They had spiritual gifts, but were lacking the fruits of the spirit, for example love, joy, patience and peace. In essence, Paul is telling each of his readers to find out what they are good at. Don’t undervalue your gift, don’t hide it away or be embarrassed about it. As members of the body, we need all the different gifts God has blessed our congregation with and Paul encourages us to use these gifts fully for the glory of God, for the building up of the local church and the ultimate extension of our Lord’s kingdom, right here, right now.
On Ascension Day, we are not called to raise our eyes to the heavens, waiting for Jesus to return. Yes, we wait, with hope and expectation, but we also allow the Holy Spirit to transform us for the mission Christ has sent us on. We are all called to support each other as members of the body, each with weaknesses, failings, and bad days. Just remember that each person also has strengths, experiences, knowledge, and a part to play in God’s plan. Even when we go through tough times, we must hold fast to the everlasting hope in Christ our Saviour. The disciples had to wait 40 days in uncertainty and fear for the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts. We might also feel stuck in uncertainty and fear during the COVID-19 crisis. But we have a choice – we can allow God to transform us, to show us how he wants us to continue to be part of the membership of his church and to give us a new mission. This Ascension Day, I urge us all to come before Jesus with open hearts and minds, so that we might be transformed inside and out. As Christians, we are to have transformed minds, be a transformed member of the body of Christ and use the unique gifts God has given us as part of our transformed mission.
Warren Wiersbe says, “Most of us identify Napoleon Bonaparte as the would-be conqueror of Europe. But not many would name him as a patron of arts and sciences. Yet he was. In July 1798, Napoleon began to occupy Egypt, but by September 1801, he was forced to get out. Those three years meant failure as far as his military and political plans were concerned, but they meant success in one area that greatly interested him—archaeology. For in August 1799, a Frenchman named Boussand discovered the Rosetta Stone about thirty miles from Alexandria. This discovery gave to archaeologists the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. It opened the door to modern Egyptian studies. The “mystery” is God’s “Rosetta Stone.” It is the key to what He promised in the Old Testament, what Christ did in the Gospels, what the early church did in the book of Acts, what Paul and the other writers teach in the Epistles, and what God will do as recorded in the book of Revelation. God’s program today is not “the headship of Israel”..., but the headship of Christ over His church."
Today as we come to our next sermon in our series “the Riches of God’s grace”, take a moment to marvel at what we have been given so far. Paul tells us we have been given every spiritual blessing because of Christ, the true authority. We are offered God’s saving grace, and the church is built on one foundation with Christ as its head. Just like the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone launched a whole new era of Egyptology, so many things which were for centuries hidden, became clear as day to believers. In the same way, Paul tells us the mystery of the gospel has been unearthed and unveiled by God through Christ. That which was hidden in ages past has finally come to light. The word ‘mystery’ in this context refers to something which had previously been hidden, but has always been part of God's plan. Paul tells us this mystery, had been Concealed in the Old Testament, is now Revealed in the gospel, and is Proclaimed through the church to the entire universe.
1. The Mystery Concealed vs. 1-5a
Paul begins by reminding the church he is a prisoner of Christ on the behalf of the Gentiles. He was called by God to be a minister, sharing the light of salvation with them. Had he not shared this light with them, they would still be in darkness. So they need to understand, God had entrusted him with the gospel of grace, which was for them. Paul is opening his heart to this church, expressing his love for them as a pastor, which drove him to share with them the mystery of Christ which had been concealed up to this point. This was why “the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations vs. 3-5a”. In chapter 2 of this letter, Paul declared, the Jews and Gentiles had been reconciled through Christ's blood into one body, the church. This is the mystery of Christ; this was always part of God's redemptive strategy. But this mystery had been hidden, wrapped up in the veils of the Old Testament. God's Messiah was always intended to be a light to the Gentiles. The Prophet Isaiah wrote this concerning the Gentiles “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned 9:2.” This was part of their expectation and hope, but the Jews never expected the Gentiles to be on the same level as them. To be given equal status with those who attended synagogue their whole lives. Yet this is what the gospel does: it brings people from all walks of life together. This mystery had been concealed for generations, now the light had burst forth and the gospel shone. The mystery is that Christ reconciles all believers into one body. The gospel brings us together to serve the one God, through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we are filled with his Holy Spirit.
2. The Mystery Revealed vs. 5b-8
The Gospel, which had been hidden, “has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus vs. 5b-6.” Although concealed in the Old Testament, the truth has now been revealed. We can see the Old Testament like a dimly lit room, full of objects which we can’t quite make out. But when we shine the light of Christ through the lens of the New Testament, we see mountains of God’s precious truth, like gold and silver, shining back at us. For the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, and the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. So through the apostles and the prophets, we have in its entirety the message of the Bible. The Apostle’s teachings merely highlight all which the Old Testament prophets have said. Paul calls both the Apostles and the Prophets holy. This word does not signify that they were more important than any other believers. The word holy simple means they were set apart by God to be his followers and to do his work. Believers today, are still part of this holy and set apart covenant community.
The incorporation of the gentiles into God’s church is not a new plan, but God’s intention from the start. This mystery, revealed through gospel, is that all believers have the same rights and privileges, united into God’s new family as equal heirs with Christ. This is such amazingly good news for the church in the first and 21st century. For believers have and will always will face great adversity, hostility and persecution. But this good news encourages us to persevere in our faith.
Paul continues for “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power...to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ vs. 7, 8b” We must remember Paul wasn’t one of the original 12 disciples. He was, in fact, one of the chief persecutors of the Christians. It was only through God’s mercy and grace that the truth of the Gospel was revealed to him. Through Paul’s Damascus Road experience, he was commissioned by Christ to be a minister to the gentiles. This is only possible through the working of God’s might and the Holy Spirit within him. In the Greek, the word for work is translated Energeia, from which we get the word energy. The word power comes from the word Dunamas, which means dynamic or dynamite. So through the Holy Spirit, Paul is given dynamic energy to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, to travel to the furthest reaches of the Roman Empire, stand before councils and kings to proclaim the mystery revealed in Christ. This power isn’t localised to Paul, it is available to every believer. We are called to be energetic, dynamic, and dynamite Christians. For have access to resurrection power of Christ, therefore we won’t fizzle or fade out, no matter what challenges face us. As Christians, we are also told of the unsearchable riches of Christ. Sometimes this is also translated as untraceable, which means it is impossible to discover their ends. Christ brings us riches which we cannot even grasp or imagine.
3. The Mystery Proclaimed vs. 9-13
Who could have imagined God’s plan of salvation would incorporate all people throughout time? Paul has told us the mystery of Christ was concealed during the time of the Old Testament with the prophets. Now it has been revealed in the New Testament gospel through the apostles. He now tells us the reason for this mystery. It was “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory vs. 9-12” The local church is the light of the world. God chooses to display his glory and his power through a body of flawed believers, who are sick, sinful, and saved by grace alone, working together with all their weaknesses and strengths. Paul tells us that this was God’s plan from the creation of the world: the church would display His glory to the universe.
The words “manifold wisdom”, means in Greek ‘multicoloured’ or ‘multifaceted’, like a kaleidoscope or a beautiful diamond. This should make us take heart in the fact that God is choosing to work through us at Trinity to display his might and glory to our city and our world. Paul even says the heavenly beings are watching us as we come together to worship God through our church service, through our weekly activities and through the way in which we as individuals come together to become the body of Christ.
So as we come to the end of our worship this Sunday, here are a few truths about the mystery to remember:
Firstly, God’s divine plan has always been in place and unfolding throughout all of history. The truth Paul proclaims about the church isn’t some afterthought or Plan B, it was always God’s eternal purpose through Christ to bring all the nations of the world back to Him. When we understand this truth, it gives us great confidence and faith. When we as a church and as individuals understand this mystery and commit to being part of this plan, God works in us and through us for His glory. All God’s divine resources are available to those believers who sincerely seek His will and work for His purposes on earth.
Secondly, God is calling out a people from all across the world to be one in Christ. The early church thought the gospel belonged to the Jews, since it came through them and to them first. This resulted in many preaching and believing they first had to convert to Judaism and then could become Christians. God’s Spirit gradually revealed to the apostles and the church that God was doing something new, this was going to be a new type of church. Paul declares the mystery has now been revealed – there are no more distinctions between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female: we are all called to be part of the body of Christ, our Lord and Saviour. So many people in the world today take a pride in their faith and use it as a club to beat others with. They set themselves up as the super-holy. Yet Paul repeatedly makes it clear that we have no reason to boast, unless we boast in what Christ has done for us. We were all sinners, we were all lost, we were equally condemned, yet Christ died for our sins and saved us. It doesn’t matter if we came to faith from a Jewish heritage or an atheist household. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been Christians for 50 years or one year. We can be confident our salvation was always part of God’s plan. Indeed, although we are all one in Christ, God uses our different testimonies, talents, spiritual gifts and experiences.
Thirdly, when we understand the mystery we are given courage for the difficult times we face. God has given us an abundance of spiritual blessings in Christ. They do not fade when tough times loom. We claim these blessings by faith. If we sin or disobey God, these blessings do not disappear, however we do lose out on the enjoyment and enrichment of them. When we turn back and repent, we again receive all of the spiritual blessings. Paul was a dedicated apostle, he was committed to spreading the gospel, yet he was suffering in prison. Being a “good Christian” doesn’t mean we will never suffer. On the contrary, Jesus actually says we can expect to experience difficult times in our lives. Yet we have a hope beyond what we are experiencing now, an eternal hope and promised home.
God has called us to step boldly out in faith, knowing this is part of the plan for the church. God has planned for all of us to be here, today, since the beginning of time and to be part of His rescue mission for the world.
This year our theme for the church is Building on the Foundation of Christ. This sermon reminds us of this theme. As Warren Wiersbe writes: “People who do not understand God’s “mystery” in His church are trying to ... build with the wrong blueprints. God’s churches on this earth – the local assemblies – are not supposed to be either Gentile culture cliques or Jewish culture cliques. ... God’s church is not to be shackled by culture, class, or any other physical distinction. It is a spiritual entity that must submit to the headship of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.” Let us continue building with the right blueprints to loudly proclaim the mystery that has been revealed through Christ to all believers!
Although at times it seems as though the church is in ruin and rubble, God sees it as a beautiful building. Clinker bricks are bricks that did not quite make it. For some reason or another, they come out of the kiln misshapen or deformed. I read about a Presbyterian Church in New York State that was intentionally built of clinker bricks. Apparently, the congregation wanted to send a message, so they built their church of imperfect, rejected bricks. The message is that we are all clinker bricks, we are sinners, we are imperfect people full of follies and foibles, but through Christ, we become living stones in his church. We do not become living stones because we are so great. It is Christ, who is great. We are connected into his church through him.
When we launched our theme for 2020 - Building on the Foundation of Christ - I reminded us at Trinity that we are the living stones of the church, not the bricks and cement which hold up our building. In our wildest imagination we could never have conceived what we believe in our hearts would become a reality. We are not meeting together in a church, yet we are still the church, the people of God, from every tribe, nation, and tongue, from every nationality, creed, and race. We are the church, built on the one foundation, united by one baptism, serving one Lord, Jesus Christ. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace”, Paul encourages the believers in Ephesus, both Jews and Gentiles, to remember that they are one in Christ. Just as we are, though spread across many homes, many suburbs, many provinces, and many countries. We are still the church and we are still one in Christ. Paul’s message is as relevant today, as it was when it was first preached. Even though the church may seem divided, the truth is we are united, because we are all clinker bricks, sinners saved by grace alone, equal before the cross. This equality means we are part of God's living church: we have One Faith, we are part of One Family and, as living stones, we are built on One Foundation.
1. One Faith vs. 11-13
To feel the impact of Paul's message and understand what it means to have One Faith, it is necessary we understand the context in which this passage was written. For the church in Ephesus isn't much different than our church today. It too was facing the evil of disunity which Satan sows amongst the followers of Christ. Paul begins by addressing the Christians in Ephesus, who were Gentiles. Every one of us, unless we are Jewish, would be considered Gentiles, as we have not grown up with the Jewish faith. So a Gentile is someone who does not have Jewish lineage. “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world vs.11-12”.
God had chosen, in the Old Testament, to set apart the Jewish nation, as his special chosen people. His intention through this separation was so the nation of Israel would display God's glory to the rest of the world and, in doing so, would call the nations back to Him. They had been gifted with so much, God's written Word, the Law and the Mark of the covenant: circumcision. The majority of converts to Christianity in the Ephesians church were Gentile believers. Paul doesn't pull any punches in reminding these believers of what they once were. The Ephesians had formerly worshiped the goddess Diana. Before they heard the power of the gospel, they knew nothing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people believe all religions are the same and all roads lead to God. Paul makes it clear, if a person does not have saving faith, whether a Jew or Gentile, they are outside of Christ and will face God’s Judgement. Historians tell us the ancient world was marked by a sense of hopelessness. None of their philosophies, traditions, or religions could help them face life or death. People longed to receive some sign of what awaited them after death. But there was none in their belief system. They were alienated from God. They were not part of his covenant people.
They would have remained in this terrible and hopeless condition, had they not heard the message of the Gospel, for “now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ vs. 13.” God, who is rich in mercy, would not allow them to remain in darkness, so he sent the light of Christ. Through Christ's blood, those who were once far off, are reconciled with God. In the Greek, this concept of being brought near is encapsulated in the word reconciliation, which means to bring together again. The Gentiles had been grafted into the same vine as the Jews, which is Christ. Jesus says in John: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 15:5.” Through Christ's blood and His finished work on the cross, He had abolished the distance and the enmity between Jews and Gentiles, between sinners and a holy God. Think of the cross: Christ creates a bridge (the vertical line) between us and God. He also bridges the gap between men (the horizontal line). Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles are part of one faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, serving one God, filled with the same Spirit. This morning regardless of our background, our creed, our nationality, our culture or our race, we can celebrate because we have one faith. We are one church, serving one Lord, Jesus our Messiah.
2. One Family vs.14-19
Christ's blood has not only brought us reconciliation with the Father, and given us One Faith, but also brought us into One Family. For through the bloodstained cross, Christ “himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility vs. 14, 15b, 16”. The Temple in Jerusalem was the heart of the Israelite worship. It was divided into the Holy of holies, where only the High Priest could go. Then there was the Holy Place, which was only for Jews. When Paul says Christ breaks down the dividing wall of hostility, it is not referring to the curtain which separated the holy of holies from the most holy place. Rather it refers to another barrier, one which separated Jews and Gentiles. For God-fearing Gentiles could only worship God in the outer court of the Temple. There was even a sign up to warn Gentiles. If they were caught beyond this point, they ran the risk of losing their life. This wall of division separated the Gentiles from those who were full members of God's covenant.
Jesus obliterated the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. He has created one body of believers, with himself as the head. He wants us to be reconciled to God, but also to other people. For through the cross, this hostility has been put to death. There is no room, for us to think we are superior, just because, we have a better education, have spent more time in the Bible, can quote longer theological phrases, and have better education or economic standing. Before the cross, every believer is equal; we are part of One Family of Faith. Paul’s words to the Colossians emphasises this: “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all 3:11.
The Jewish and Gentiles believers are called to work and worship together, for the glory of God. They were now One Family who “both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household vs. 18b-19.” Paul is telling us of the amazing gift given to each Christian. The same Holy Spirit comes to reside in our hearts. He binds us together and works in us so God may be glorified. The Ephesians are no longer foreigners and strangers in the Kingdom of God. They are now citizens of the new covenant of God, they serve the true King. They are members of the household of God. Not only do we serve the King of all creation, we are also members of His family. We are all brothers and sisters, no matter our physical distinctions or historical separation between us, the Ephesians and believers throughout the ages. We are all part of the household of God.
3. One Foundation vs. 20-22
As Paul closes his message, he has told us believers are united by One Faith and are part of One Family. Now he reminds us the Church has One Foundation, God’s Word and God’s Son. God’s Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit vs. 20-22.” When God created the world, He walked with his people in the Garden of Eden. He dwelt in the tabernacle during the Exodus to lead his people. But their sin caused God’s glory to leave the tabernacle. Next, his presence could be felt in the temple built by King Solomon, but again the nation sinned and God’s glory departed. So his glory came to rest inside the body of Jesus Christ who lived with the people. He was rejected and nailed to the cross. But praise be to God, now His Spirit dwells in the church. Not a building, but in the hearts of those who have put their faith and trust in Christ and in the church collectively. The Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles teach us that the One Foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. But Christ is not only the Foundation; he is also the Chief Cornerstone, which holds the whole building together. Man made temples, like those in Jerusalem, the ancient world and even Trinity’s one day, have and will crumble into dust. But the Church of Christ will last forever. The Holy Spirit builds Christ’s universal church by taking living Clinker bricks, giving them a new purpose and a new life, and creating a beautiful structure, which brings glory to God. Each brick and part fits perfectly into God’s plans to accomplish his will.
I don’t know about you, but the isolation is starting to get to me. Some days we can still pretend all is normal and carry on with work and family life. But there are days when I really miss the church and our services. I imagine it is the same for most others. Yet, as Paul’s message reminds us, although we are physically apart, as believers we are united. We can take comfort knowing we have One Faith, we are part of One Family and Christ is Our Foundation and Cornerstone. If you are feeling lonely or lost this week, reach out to someone from church. Let us support and pray for each other.
There are also two important lessons we should graft into our lives.
Firstly, we should glory in the cross. What Christ has done for us by his death should always be in our thoughts and on our lips. Through the cross, we are freed from our old lives and made new, brought into a new family. As Stuart Olyott says: “We were once separated from God, but now we are united to him; what a wonder! We were once separated from each other; now we are one nation, not many; now we are one building, not just separate bricks, unconnected to each other.”
Second, the church is unified. Although we might be physically apart, we are still united in Christ. Our Saviour has redeemed us. We are united by the gospel under One Faith as One Family and held firmly together by One Foundation. Let us praise God for the privilege to all be part of a faith that spans continents and time. Let us praise God that our cornerstone and our foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
In his book Facing the Storm Eddie Askew writes, “The fisherman had been fishing down at the river for several hours. At last, it was time to go home. He packed up all his rods and gear, and the last thing he did was to go to his net which was in the river with the fish he had caught. As he lifted it out of the river, it almost exploded with energy. There must have been a dozen fish inside it, several a respectable size. He looked at them with quiet satisfaction for a few seconds, and then gently released them into the water, giving them their freedom. This made me think of Paul's words to the Christians at Ephesus, "By grace you have been saved,” he said. When they were caught up in never ending tangles of selfishness, thrashing around without purpose or hope, God provided the way out. He opened the net, restored them to the freedom He had created them for, but which they had lost. He gave them freely, graciously, what they had no power to achieve for themselves.”
No matter how hard we try, or the amount of energy we expend, we cannot save ourselves. We are trapped in our sins, caught and caged, and cannot get free. This is what makes God’s saving grace so truly extraordinary towards believers. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” we must never forget, this amazing grace on which the church is founded, with Christ at its head. All believers, from the Ephesians to the present, were destined to face God’s judgement. Yet He acted in love towards us by sending Jesus to pay for our sins and set us free. God did all this in order to bring us back into fellowship with him. Paul exhorts all believers in this letter to accept God’s grace and to live out this grace in their daily lives. God’s loving kindness lies at the heart of our passage. This Saving Grace reminds us, What We Once Were, What God has Done and What We have Become.
1. What We Once Were vs.1-3
Many of us would consider ourselves good people. We pay our taxes, we listen to the government even though we don’t always agree with them, we give to various charities. Generally we try to look our for our fellow man. If you were to ask the average person, do they think they are good enough to get into heaven, their immediate answer would be ‘yes’. Paul’s answer, however, would be ‘no’. He states the human condition clearly, when he writes about what we once were: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath vs. 1-3”. Paul tells all believers how their lives had been marked by loyalty to sin. All of us were at one time under the influence of our sinful natures. Paul warns this devotion to sin had one outcome: God‘s judgement seen in three stages.
Stage one: “you we were dead in your transgressions and sins vs. 1.” We had been spiritually lifeless because of our sins even though we are physically alive. Sin had corrupted every part of our lives, our bodies, hearts, and minds. We were previously like a convicted murderer waiting for the sentence of death to be carried out. We had been without hope or salvation, destined to spend eternity in hell.
Stage two: this how “you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air vs. 2a.” When we lived according to our sinful nature, we were actually following Satan. He is the ruler of the kingdom of the air. We become his slaves; our sinful nature pushes us to do Satan’s will. God’s spirit works things which are pleasing to him. So Satan’s spirit works in the hearts of those who have given themselves over to their sinful nature. We had pursued the desires of our flesh, and the immorality of our minds. We had become his supporters, though we may never have realized it. For the devil’s ultimate purpose is to keep as many people as he can from turning to God.
Stage three: Therefore, through our unwitting allegiance to Satan we became God’s enemies and “we were by nature deserving of wrath vs. 3.” God is totally justified in his anger towards sinners. He is the righteous King of all the earth, holy and perfect. Those who break his law fall under his judgment. How terrifying it must be for sinners to fall into the hands of an angry God. So at one time, all believers had been God’s enemies.
So to sum up, all of us sitting here in Trinity were at one point: spiritually lifeless, enemies of God and allies of Satan, we were objects of God anger and under his judgement. This is the outcome of devotion to sin, in the heart of every person.
2. What God has done vs. 4-7
Fortunately, this isn’t where our story ends. Paul declares to all sinners the most wonderful news. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus vs. 4-7.” God displays his love towards us in three ways.
Firstly, “God, who is rich in mercy vs.4,” has chosen to be compassionate to us sinners. He does not treat us as we deserve. God chose to reconcile us back to himself. Everything God does is always motivated by love. He does not desire the death of a sinner. But rather they should turn from their sinful ways and be saved. God will never lessen one aspect of his character for another. His justice is never compromised for the sake of his amazing love. If there is to be reconciliation between God and man, more than justice is required; mercy needs to take place. This is vividly seen in Jesus Christ. By sending Jesus to die on the cross, God’s justice is upheld and humanities’ sins are paid for. God merciful act of love in Christ has led to our reconciliation with the Father. How beautiful is the mercy of God, how little we deserve it, and how much we rejoice in it. God’s judgement is always tempered with mercy.
Secondly, the outcome of God’s love and mercy to us is “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead vs. 5a.” The word “alive” in the Greek means to revive someone, to bring them back to life. We have been given a spiritual heart transplant. New spiritual life has been infused through the grace of God into those who were formally dead in their sins. We have been revived because of the work of Christ in our hearts.
Thirdly, the reason for God’s grace towards these believers was “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus vs.7.” God salvation to his children, both the Ephesians and us, is an encouragement to other people, wherein he shows His mercy towards sinners. For the immeasurable riches of God’s grace is on display through believers. What God has done for the Christians in Ephesus; he has done for all believers throughout the ages. For through God’s love and mercy, we have been given a new life and a new hope. His favour towards us is truly extraordinary. Only God can transform a heart of stone into heart of flesh though the power of the cross. No words can describe God’s awesome majesty and our eternal gratitude for his love towards us.
3. What we have become vs. 8-10
Paul comes to the climax of his message. He writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do vs. 8-10”. God’s compassion towards us has resulted in our deliverance. Grace stands for, God’s riches at Christ expense. This is the gift we had been given. We contributed nothing to our salvation, except our sin. It is easy to think of faith as being something we offer to God, yet Paul makes it clear that we cannot make the decision to follow Christ by ourselves. We were so totally lost, we were dead in our sins, that we couldn’t even reach out for the help we needed. Think of a drowning man, going under the rough seas. He is so tired, he doesn’t have strength to hold on to the rope thrown to him. A rescuer must dive into the waves to pull the drowning man to safety. So even when it might seem like we make a decision for God, he chooses us from the foundation of the world and through his grace grants us the faith by which we take hold of all his promises. Whilst this does not diminish the human element of coming to faith, we must always remember it is through Jesus Christ that God builds his church.
Paul firmly excludes every possibility of self-achieved recovery by stating “not by works, so that no one can boast.” There was nothing we could have done to earn or deserve God rescuing us. God saved us in Christ. Through our faith, we have chosen to partake in the blessings of the Gospel. There is no room left for boasting about our abilities or power as though we deserve to be saved. Let those who boast, boast only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his work on the cross.
Paul finishes by telling us why God has saved us: so we could do “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Some Christians are taught once they have given their lives to Christ, they must repay his grace and mercy through now doing good works. That would be like a parent telling their toddler, look at what I’ve done for you – how are you going to make it up to me? As the parent of a young child, I can tell you how absurd it is. Our good works are not in response to God’s grace, rather they are a part of it. Other people think we live good lives in order to be saved – no, we live good lives because we are saved! We are being called to share God’s grace within our families, to our friends, with colleagues, and all those we meet. We are to make the most of every opportunity to advance God’s kingdom through love and fellowship. These works will be the evidence of God’s grace in our hearts.
God has placed each of us in unique circumstances, in different places where there are a whole series of good works to be done. There is a joke going about where Satan says to God during the Covid-19 lockdown, “Look, I’ve closed all the churches”. God responds: “No, I’ve opened a church in every home.” In each of our homes there is good to be done. Words of encouragement to be spoken to friends, hope to be shared, donations to good causes to be made, jerseys or hats to be knitted, God’s message of grace and mercy to be shared. In each of our homes or work places, if some are returning to work this week, there is good to be done. God wants us to set about doing them. This is part of His plan. As Stuart Olyott writes: “He has made us new; and he has done it that we might live as new people in the very place where we find ourselves today.”
God has a purpose and a plan for each of us, so his glory may be displayed to the world. God’s love is powerful. By simply showcasing this compassion to others, God can affect a greater change in their lives than we ever thought possible. God’s grace is truly magnificent. He has saved us, just as the same way the fisherman freed the fish. How wonderful is our God who saved us by grace alone. We are to praise God for his spectacular love and worship him alone. Look at what we once were and what we have become. May we now go out and walk in a manner worthy of the grace which God has given us. For by grace, we have been saved, so let us rejoice in God, our Saviour.
“Rediscovery of the New Testament life for the church can never take place as long as men and women who make up the church are satisfied with the status quo or cling to the conviction that they are capable of solving its problems and renewing it through their own efforts and ingenuity. The church in Century One was new and alive and powerful and miraculous, not because it had more clever members than we do, or better-trained leaders, or less to distract it from its commitment – but because everything it had was given to it by God and everything it had was produced by Christ in it and everything it did was done through it by the Holy Spirit. It saw itself as nothing and having nothing apart from Jesus Christ.”
These words, by Rev Charles Gordon, echo Paul's pastoral cry, not only to the church at Ephesus, but to all believers throughout the ages. He is locked up and in lockdown in Rome. However, his heart is free in the knowledge of God’s unending love and grace. Physically Paul is prisoner, but he is still a pastor. He desperately wants to encourage the Church to soldier on in the face of adversity, to hold on firmly to Christ because of His great love and Lordship over their lives. This is a message we as a church in the 21st-century need to discover anew. As we come to our next sermon in our series “The Riches of God’s Grace,” Paul’s prayer for believers in Ephesians is in response to every spiritual blessing we have received from our gracious triune God. He now turns from praising God to prayer, which is marked by his Appreciation and Appeal to all believers to recognise Christ as the true Authority over the church.
1. Appreciation vs. 15-16
The building blocks of a Christ-centred church are the marks of faith and love. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, love for God and for our fellow believers. Paul shows his appreciation to this church: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers vs. 15-16.” He begins his prayer by reminding them of their salvation, brought by God, purchased with Christ's blood and sealed through the Holy Spirit. He cannot contain his joy, he is so encouraged to hear this early Christian community is not only demonstrating their faith in Christ, but actively putting this faith into practice by loving one another. The universal mark of the church, throughout the ages is true faith must lead to love. Faith which is not accompanied by love is not faith at all. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing 13:2-3”. Faith which is absent of love is not genuine faith, even if it believes all the great theological truths of the Bible. This kind of faith becomes nothing more than a clanging gong and a resounding cymbal; it makes a lot of noise, but has no substance. Genuine faith, on the other hand, is faith which is always characterised by love - love for God and love for each other. Paul cannot contain his excitement to see this faith rooted in love growing and bearing the fruit of the spirit in the believer’s lives.
These marks of faith and love are as essential in the 21st-century church as they were in the first. By fanning into flame our love for God, we will by definition love each other, and this love will radiate out of our church too all around us. This is my constant prayer, that people outside the church would say that we are characterised by faith and love. Let us continue to fan into flame the gifts that we already have, so the fire of God's love would spread out and ignite many hearts to come and worship him.
2. Appealing vs. 17-19a
Paul continues his prayer for the church by asking: “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe vs. 17-19a”. He is appealing to God for three things, which would strengthen the believer's faith.
First, he asks God to give us the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better vs. 17b.” Paul is speaking to believers so he is not referring to the opening of our spiritual eyes to the truth of the gospel. Rather he is referring to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. The Spirit’s role is that of a teacher who guides us into all truth. The Old Testament teaches us the reverence of the Lord leads us into all knowledge. The final verse of Psalm 111 makes this clear: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise vs. 10”. We can only receive true knowledge when we see everything through God's eyes. True wisdom comes when we realise God alone is to receive our fullest devotion, our adoration and our reverence. Paul is praying the wisdom of God may increase, as the Spirit works in our hearts, through God’s divine revelation in the Scriptures. Rev R C Sproul says, “God’s Word is the source of all wisdom and the Spirit inspired that Word. He is the one who reveals the truth of God in the first instance and then illumines our minds in order that we may grasp it properly”.
Second, he petitions the Lord that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened vs. 18a”. In many parts of Scripture, we are told the heart is sinful above all things. Paul prays for the Holy Spirit to regenerate our hearts, so we can become open to his leadings. Sin tends to befuddle our thinking and confound the desires. God's Spirit always needs to do open-heart surgery, so we can be open to the things of God, allowing his truth to dwell more fully in us.
Third, Paul requests for us to “know the hope to which he has called you... his incomparably great power for us who believe vs. 18b-19a”. Our understanding of the word hope, in our modern English, is very different from its usage in Scripture. We use this word to describe an ideal future: Hopefully, we will come out of lockdown, or it’ll be sunny or rainy tomorrow. We can hope for these things, but we know in reality they may not materialize. The Christian hope, as described in Scripture, is always connected with the coming of Christ. In Christ, the Christian’s future hope is certain, for he is the faithful one who fulfils his promises. Paul prays that we might know this hope, that we might understand it fully, so that our rock-solid hope will be in Christ alone.
3. Authority vs. 19b-23
Paul ends this powerful prayer for both believers and the church by expressing joyous appreciation at the church’s dedication for living the Christian life. He has also appealed to God to give all believers the spirit of wisdom, so the eyes of their heart may be open to know the future hope they have in Christ. Paul now tells us Christ alone is the only true power over the church. The demonstration of this power was seen when the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead. This same power now resides in the heart of every believer. Therefore, God has seated Christ “at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way vs. 20b-23”.
Christ’s Lordship is evident. Paul uses four words to express Christ’s might: rule, authority, power, and dominion. The right hand seat was always the seat of power. This is no mere human kingdom’s right hand – Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. His rule is universal, now and in the age to come. That should be a comfort to all of us, since it means Christ is in control, even now in these uncertain times. He has power right now, his power extends into the future, he has victory over all evil rulers and powers. The battle was fought and won on the cross. Although we might still struggle each day against temptation, fear, or spiritual battles, we know the ultimate victory belongs to Jesus Christ. We can rest easy in his authority and power. The Bible tells us that through this power, He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” and it allows us to “make the most of every opportunity.” Paul also tells us all Christ’s authority and power is for the church, because Christ is also the head of the church.
Christ is the rightful leader of the universal church throughout the ages. Christ’s headship over the church is for the benefit of his people, those who believe and trust in him, and his reign is to further the interests of believers. The death, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ are in part to show God’s extraordinary love for His people. He cares for us, not just as an aloof leader, but as part of the church. Christ is the head and we are all members of his body. This metaphor teaches us about the closeness of Christ to the church; we are connected to him in a truly wonderful way.
For the church is Christ body “the fullness of him who fill everything in everyway vs. 23.” What this means, is that Christ regards himself as incomplete until every person God, the Father, has given him is joined to him in living faith. Our Lord is represented in the world by his body, the church. Therefore the church is not only intended to be, but must be a full expression of Christ to the world. As Stuart Olyott says regarding Christ: “of him ‘who fills all in all’; of him who reigns over the whole universe, and whom the whole creation will at last acknowledge to be Lord alone; of him who, by his Spirit, is present everywhere, and whose name is the only one which will be praised eternally”. Christ needs the church and the church needs Christ to attain a fullness or completeness. Believers in God’s church were called before the foundation of the world in Christ, because Christ has authority over the church and Christ without the church is missing something.
Everything Paul has said in this prayer sounds so beautiful, so blessed. Yet when we listen to the descriptions of faith and love, of opening our eyes and our hearts, we wonder if we fall short. Would Paul have prayed the same prayer today? The answer is yes. We all have access to the glory of God’s riches through His Son’s saving grace. Every believer, from the moment their heart is given to Christ has this same power dwelling in their hearts. We need not chase after super-spiritual experiences because our conversion to Christ was the greatest spiritual experience there is. So when we pray, when we read our Bibles, when we tell others about Jesus, we are part of the universal church throughout the ages, even though we are currently not attending a church. Therefore Paul’s prayer in the past for the Ephesians, is his prayer for us in the present and will be his prayer for future generations until Christ returns or calls us home. Here in the power of Christ, we stand. Christ is the head, according to God's grand design, and we, believers, are his body - the church. Jesus is in charge of Trinity, nobody else. We need to submit all our decisions, our plans, our motivations before our King. We need to allow Him to be the one who rules and reigns not only in the church, but in our lives as well. For Christ alone is the true authority of all things.
As we come to the end of our time together, let the words of the song by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, In Christ Alone encourage us. “In Christ along, my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my son. This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease. My Comforter, my All in All. Here in the love of Christ I stand!”