The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Author: Allan Babcock (page 2 of 73)

Praying for an Enlightened Heart

Are my prayers tiny?  Too temporal?  Next to Paul’s, they seem almost trifling.

After greeting the Ephesians and west Asia churches, Paul bursts into unparalleled praise to God for giving in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (1:1-14).

Even imprisoned in Rome, he’s received good reports about the churches, so he tells them how he thanks God for them . . .

“Therefore I also, knowing the faith in the Lord Jesus and the love to all the saints that is among you, do not cease giving thanks on behalf of you, making mention in my prayers . . . “ (Ephesians 1:15,16).

Let’s not miss the implication here.  While Paul is grateful for his readers’ faith and love, he knows that ultimately that faith and love are given by the God whom he thanks.

Calvin comments . . .

“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. . . If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Ephesians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore that everything comes from God.”

“ . . . in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in a full knowledge of him . . . (Ephesians 1:17).

Many versions (NIV, NRS, NKJV, ESV) translate pneuma with a small “s”.  They suggest Paul is asking God to give the Ephesians a quality or disposition of wisdom and revelation.

But I think Dr. Gordon Fee’s reasoning prevails. He says, first, Paul’s words seem to derive from Isaiah 11:2 where the prophet declares:  “ . . . the Spirit of the LORD will rest on [Messiah]– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding . . . “.  Paul is praying for that same Spirit for the Ephesians.  Second, Paul here emphasizes “revelation”.  That’s the Spirit’s work.  Third, one might have a “wise spirit” or “wise disposition”; but how can one have a “revelation spirit” or a “revelation disposition”?

Two additional points should be made.  First, Paul’s readers already know God.  Paul prays that they might enjoy a fuller knowledge of him.  Two, Paul’s readers already have the Spirit.  As believers, they are his “temple”.  But the Spirit’s work goes on, often in ways we don’t perceive.  So Paul prays that the Spirit might do a deeper work, or a “fresh” work, or an increasing work in them.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church that preached “the baptism in the Spirit” as an experience subsequent to salvation.  Once one “had it”, there was little more to “have”.  But the Spirit’s work should be ongoing, like a wind that may change direction and decrease or increase, but never dies out.

 “ . . . having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you should know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19a).

The Spirit enlightens the “eyes” of the heart.  Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says the heart is “the core of both the spiritual and mental life of a person, including emotions and will.”

Specifically Paul prays for the Spirit to give understanding and insight regarding their future.  That they should know “what is the hope of his calling”.   “Hope” doesn’t mean “when I wish upon a star”.  It means “the expectation of a God-provided future to which he has called us”.

Paul wants the church to know “what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints”.  If this means what I think, it’s staggering.  We are God’s inheritance—redeemed, sanctified, glorified. (For the concept of our being God’s inheritance, see Deut. 4:20; 9:26,29; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51,53; Ps. 28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 106:5,40; Isa. 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer. 10:16; 51:19).

Finally, Paul wants the church to know “what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe”.  Hostile powers oppose them, but even now God’s power is theirs—now and on into eternity.

“ . . . according to the working of his mighty strength, which he has worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name being named not only in this age but also in the coming one; and all things are subjected under his feet, and he was given to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him which is filling all things” (Ephesians 1:19b-23).

This “excelling greatness of his power” proclaims “the working of his mighty strength” with which he raised Christ from the dead and exalted him with power and authority to reign over the entire universe forever.

Paul declares that the exalted Christ is both the church’s head and the Father’s gift to the church.

By the “fullness” of Christ,  Paul is probably referring to the glorious revelation of Christ’s presence and power.  The church embodies Christ’s presence to the world.

Christ’s sovereign reign (his “fullness”) pervades all humanity, the angelic realm and the evil powers, bringing all to their God-appointed end.

So Paul’s prayer-report to his readers trails off into his ecstasy over God’s power revealed in Christ–a power that is for us who believe.

* * *

O God, our Father and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how small my prayers seem compared to Paul’s!  Yet my small prayers reveal my heart’s concerns–for me, for Lois and for my family.  When I pray for their salvation and my healing, I know I’m asking for big things, things I think are in line with your will. Still,  I want to pray like Paul. 

Since retiring, I’ve seldomly thanked you for the church.  But today I give you thanks for your church all over the world–for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for one another.  I thank you how together they embody Christ in the world, however imperfectly. 

I intercede for them.  Give them (and me), O God, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we will know you fully.  Enlighten the eyes of our  hearts so we may know the certainty and glory of the hope you’ve called us to.  So we may know the wonder of how you are making us your inheritance.  And so we may know the excellent greatness of your power toward us who believe.  May we not only know Christ’s resurrection as a glorious historical event; may we know the same power that raised and exalted Christ to reign, is for us now and fully forever.

This prayer glorifies you because it centers in what only you could have done and will yet do.  But this prayer is also good for me.   It lifts my heart’s eyes from temporal trivialities to the eternal significant acts of your grace.  It reminds me I have a future that you’ve called me to.  It reminds me I’m part of a group of justified sinners who will one day be glorified and become (how can this be?) your inheritance.  And it reminds me in my abject weakness of your power toward us, the power of the Spirit in me that will explode and raise my body from the dead to live in eternal wholeness!

I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and exalted.  Amen.”



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Longing to Die to Be with Christ

Theologians call it “the intermediate state”.  It’s that temporary time between our dying and Jesus’ Second Coming.

That’s what I started writing about–about what that intermediate state is like.  Then I read one of the few texts telling about that time.  And it pulled me in a different direction.

Before looking at that text, let me explain my interest in the intermediate state:  simply, if we’re Jesus-believers  and we die before he comes again, that’s where we’re going.  So I want to know what it’s like.  Now if I were God, I’d provide photos in the back of our Bibles.  Instead, all we have are slim texts from which to infer a picture.  I started with the one below–and it pulled me away.  Maybe blew me away is more accurate.

” I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . . ”  (Philippians 1:20-23).

The writer is Paul.  He’s in a Rome house, chained 24/7 to a Roman guard, awaiting trial before Caesar.  Here’s what Paul reveals about the intermediate state.

1.  Wen we enter the intermediate state through death’s door, we gain.  It’s “better by far”.  Unnormal thinking!  I sit here musing on what I’ll lose– my wife, my children, my grandchildren, other significant relationships, and a thousand  things I’ve enjoyed here.  But Paul, on the other hand, looks ahead, forward to the gain that awaits.

2.   When we pass through death’s door, we believers are immediately with Christ.  Anthony A. Hoekema (20th century professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary) explained: “Analysai (to depart) is an aorist infinitive, depicting the momentary experience of death.  Linked to analysai by a single article is the present infinite einai (to be).  The single article ties the two infinitives together, so that the actions depicted by these two infinitives are to be considered two aspects of the same thing, like two sides of the same coin” (The Bible and the Future, p. 104).  Depart and be with Christ.

3.  “[W]ith Christ” is what makes dying gain.  “Christ”  makes the intermediate state “better by far”.  Christ is such gain that Paul admits, “I desire to depart and be with Christ . . .”  Paul longs to die to be with Christ.

This is where I’m pulled away.   Think.  What fuels Paul’s longing?  What makes him count dying gain? “For to me, to live is Christ.”  Dr. Gordon Fee writes, ” . .. since Damascus [Road), Christ became the singular pursuit of his life.  Christ–crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming King; Christ, the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship to God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.”

Paul himself expounds on this  . . .

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians3:7-14).

Again, Fee comments: “Thus if Paul is released as he expects, he will continue (now as always) in full pursuit of knowing Christ and making him known. Likewise, if he is executed, the goal of living has thus been reached: he will finally have gained Christ.”

Can you see why I was pulled?  I started to search for a picture of what the immediate state is like.  I ended up with a picture of what my life should be now.

I admit I’ve been pursuing healing more than Christ.  Somehow, by God’s grace, by the empowering of his Spirit, I have to change my aim.  I can still pray for healing.  (At this point, I can’t not.)  But pursuit?  That must be singular.  That must be Christ.

And for that I need no photos of the intermediate state.






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More Feast

Full from the first feast (–Ephesians 1:3-6)?  There’s more coming.  We’re not only chosen in Christ.  Not only adopted in Christ.  But . . .

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding(Ephesians 1:7,8).

“In [Christ] . . . ”  Paul uses that phrase (or some form of it) 10 times in 12 verses.  Every spiritual blessing that God has given is “in Christ”. They are not in whatever we believe God to be.  They’re not dropped from heaven by angels.  They don’t come through our sincerity or religious practices.  They are in Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood . . . ”   In the movies, a man “redeems” himself by righting a past wrong.  Real redemption, though, runs deeper. The Greek word Paul uses is apolutrosin–“release from slavery by a ransom payment”.

Harmonizing with redemption is “the forgiveness of sins”.  Whoa!  Sin is an archaic non-issue, right?  We admit to “not being perfect”.  But we’re certainly not slaves to sin—slavery from which we need a Savior to ransom us!  Forgiveness, like redemption, is God’s work, for we all have sinned against him—and couldn’t stop if we tried.  We need Christ to release us from sin’s slavery by paying the ransom for us ”through his blood”.  Even God couldn’t just pronounce us forgiven.  Justice demanded a ransom be paid.  We have that “through [Christ’s] blood.”

This, Paul explains, is in accordance with “the riches of [God’s] grace [unmerited favor] that he made abound (Greek, perisseuo—“gave excessively, bestowed in extravagant quantities”) toward us.”

Lois loves to give Christmas gifts, especially to our grandchildren.  So when the family gathers to celebrate, she has presents piled under the tree and, not all fitting there, stacked around the room.  That’s how God is with his grace in Christ—lavish.

And, writes Paul to the church, God made his grace abound to us “in all wisdom and prudence”.  This is the manner God gave us his grace—wisely and prudently.

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:9,10).

“[M]ystery (Greek, mustayrion)” refers to something long hidden, but finally God-revealed. This mystery of God’s will is God’s purpose or plan “in Christ”.  And, writes Paul, God was delighted to make this mystery of his will known.

What is this “mystery of his will”?  It is “ . . . to bring all things together under one head, even Christ”.                      “ . . . bring” translates the Greek anakephalieo-o.  It means “to gather everything together under the control of one person, unify, make into one”.  Thus the NLT says, “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth”.

But revelation of God’s will isn’t execution of God’s will.  Only “when the times will have reached their fulfillment” will God put this mystery into effect.  F.F. Bruce comments:  “ . . . when the time is ripe for ‘the consummation of his purpose’, in his providential overruling of the course of the world, that consummation will be realized.”

Paul is telling the church that God is in charge of human history.  He’s orchestrating and administering events and direction to fulfill his purpose. And his purpose is to unite all things under the control of Christ.

Herman Bavinck (19th century Dutch Reformed theologian) wrote . . .

“’Round about us we observe so many facts which seem to be unreasonable, so much undeserved suffering [such as child abuse], so many unaccountable calamities, such an uneven and inexplicable distribution of destiny, and such an enormous contrast between the extremes of joy and sorrow, that anyone reflecting on these things is forced to choose between viewing this universe as if it were governed by the blind will of an unbenign deity, as is done by pessimism, or, upon the basis of Scripture and by faith, to rest in the absolute and sovereign, yet however incomprehensible wise and holy will of him who will one day cause the full light of heaven to dawn upon these mysteries of life.”

“In him we were also chosen, {Or were made heirs} having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11,12).

We have been chosen in Christ.  We have been made heirs of an eternal inheritance in Christ.  Though both are true, the Greek in this sentence is unclear.  Whichever Paul meant we were “predestined” for it.

And this predestination is “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.  This is a breathtaking clause.  God has a plan (Greek prothesis—purpose, design).  According to that plan, God works out all things “in conformity”(Greek, Boulay—counsel, resolve) with his will/purpose.  It’s an echo of Romans 8:28,29 . . .

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God is sovereignty.  And his sovereign purpose is clear:  “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”  By “we, who were the first to hope in Christ” Paul means Jews who believe in Messiah Jesus.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13,14).

Consequently, “you also were included in Christ” refers to Gentiles who “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”.   Gentiles “believed [and] were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit . . . ”  The “seal” is the “Holy Spirit” who identifies believers as belonging to Christ.  Furthermore, the Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession . . . ” 

As a “deposit”, the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers, is a portion of the total purchase price paid in advance, a promise that the full payment will come in due time.  When Lois and I bought our house, we deposited 20% of the total price—the balance (plus interest) was to be fully paid in 30 years (we did it!).

John Eadie, 19th century Scottish theologian comments . . .

“The earnest (deposit) , though it differ in degree, is the same in kind with the prospective inheritance. The earnest is not withdrawn, nor a totally new circle of possessions substituted. Heaven is but an addition to present enjoyments. Knowledge in heaven is but a development of what is enjoyed on earth; its holiness is but the purity of time elevated and perfected; and its happiness is no new fountain opened in the sanctified bosom, but only the expansion and refinement of those susceptibilities which were first awakened on earth by confidence in the Divine redeemer. The earnest, in short, is the ‘inheritance’ in miniature, and it is also a pledge that the inheritance shall be ultimately and fully enjoyed.”

Paul here writes of “redemption” as our future experience, as he does in Roman 8:23 . . .

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

The fullness of the inheritance will certainly bring great joy to us.  But God’s ultimate purpose is “the praise of his glory”.

* * *

The heavenlies hold blessings belonging to God the Holy Spirit.  They’ve come to us in Messiah Jesus.  How foolish that sounds to unbelieving ears!  How narrow!  God’s blessings fall from heaven like snowflakes on everyone who needs them!  No, they’ve “fallen” in Christ.

We, who believe, who know these blessings have come in Christ, don’t appreciate the feast we have.  That’s why we have to prayerfully, thoughtfully read this gospel again and again.  It’s like studying how the feast was prepared–so that, when we sit down to “eat”, we don’t presume it’s cheap fast food.








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Today’s “Briefing”

I often listen to Dr. Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing”–a daily look at world events from a Christian worldview perspective.  Mohler first looks at Planned Parenthood.  It’s an organization I’ve come to despise because of its abortion and baby-part-selling industry–one we help support with our tax dollars!

By the way, the recent budget passed by both Repulican houses of Congress and approved by President Trump continues that massive support.

I suggest you listen to the first “look” and the other two as well.  Mohler, as usual, is insightful and clear about how our Christian worldview stands in stark opposition to non-Christian view.  This is almost a must for thinking believers in Christ.


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When our family celebrated Easter, all the women contributed food.  Which meant our dishes were overflowing.  I think of that when I read Ephesians 1—so much blessing, it overflows.  Taste after taste of delicious gospel truth.  Hard not to make a meal of each sentence.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul begins by nearly exploding with praise—long praise (one sentence, verses 3-14, 202 words in the Greek text!)  “Worthy of praise (meaning in context of the Greek eulogaytos) is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

What has God done to deserve such praise?  God “has blessed us (graciously lavished his favor on us—meaning of euloyaytos in context) with every spiritual blessing (a blessing coming from the Holy Spirit) in the heavenly places (literally, in the “heavenlies”).

According to Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City), “‘the heavenlies’ are where Christ is, where we are (in spiritual union with him), where demons are, and where God is revealed! In other words, ‘heavenly realms’ does not refer to a physical location but to a spiritual reality, God’s world, in which believers have a share and which evil forces still seek to attack . . . It is a way of saying that this world is not the only reality”.  From that spiritual reality, Christ came to open the way for believers to be blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Note:  These spiritual blessings in the heavenlies that come to us are “in Christ”.  Just as God is not whomever we make him to be but the God who is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” so God’s blessings can be found in only one source—Messiah Jesus.

 Nor are “spiritual blessings” vague or merely emotional.  Paul lists them, beginning with what theologians call “election” . . .

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4a).

 God chose (Greek, eklego) us in Christ before the creation (Greek, katabolays—“foundation”) of the world “that we should be holy and blameless in his sight”. 

Since God chose us before creation, no created thing or person had any bearing on God’s choice.  No merit, no circumstances affected God’s choice. He  didn’t choose those who now believe because we merit it or because circumstances demand it.  Storms writes, “We must still believe in Jesus, but our belief is itself the historical and experiential fruit or effect of God’s pre-temporal elective decree (see Eph. 2:8). The religious implications of this are profound, for either a person thanks himself for his faith, because it resulted in his election, or he thanks God for his election, because it resulted in his faith.”

God’s choice came with purpose: “that we would be holy and blameless in his sight.” 

Paul may be thinking of the present as the Spirit progressively sanctifies.  But Ephesians 5:25b-27 suggests his purpose will ultimately be fulfilled at the end of the age . . .

 Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (Ephesians 1:4b,5).

Having chosen us believers before the world’s creation, God destined us “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”. Adopted”—a powerful, emotional, life-changing experience.  And God adopted us “[i]n love.  Adoption is especially staggering given that by nature we were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:2,3).

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12,13).

 Paul explains that God not only desired (“will”) to adopt us, but it was “his good pleasure”.  As a father is delighted to bring a hurting child into his family, so God was delighted to destine us for adoption.

 “ . . .  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

Here stands God’s ultimate purpose in choosing us sinners to be made his holy and blameless children:  that the glory of his grace might be revealed, and revealed, praised.

Note: God freely gave the glory of his grace “in the One he loves”—that is, in Christ.

Just last night we watched a TV show where a wayward young lady was convinced she was going to burn in hell for the wrong she’d done.  The minister’s wife in the story assured her, “God’s not like that.  He’ll forgive you.”  But God is only “not like that” in Christ.  We can’t trust God to forgive us, only God in Christ.

* * *

So we believers  sit at a feast.  A table filled to overflowing with every blessing of the Spirit in Christ.  Chosen by God before anything else existed, so that corrupting, killing sin would be undone by holiness and blamelessness.  Can we wrap our minds around that?  Before we were born God chose us.  Did he look down a mental list of names and check us off?  (By the way, our faith in Christ Jesus is proof of our election.)

Then he was delighted to predestine us for adoption as his children (not everybody’s a child of God).  God’s not only God, but our Father.  Among other things that means we’re joint-heirs with Jesus of an eternal inheritance in a new creation with new immortal bodies.

Illness now leaves me feeling impoverished, a beggar without a crust of bread.

But when I read Ephesians1:3-6, I realize God has welcomed me into a table heavy with a lavish feast fit for a child of the King.



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Dear . . .

“Dear Reverend. Dear Allan.”  Letters or emails, I always gloss over the salutation.  We do the same over New Testament letters’ salutations, too.  On to important stuff—the letter’s body!   But, wait!  The salutation’s important, too.  Look . . .

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1a).

Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” An apostle (Greek, apostolos) is a “sent one”, a “messenger”, an “envoy”, a “commissioned representative”.  In the New Testament, the apostle represents Christ and is charged with planting and establishing churches.

The New Testament uses apostolos of the Twelve (11 plus Mathias replacing Judas)–a unique, closed group.  It also uses it of Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), Andronicus (Romans 16:7), Junias (Romans 16:7), as well, of course, of Paul.

By what authority does Paul claim to be an apostle?  Victor Furnish (Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Southern Methodist University) explains . . .

“When he describes himself as ‘an apostle by the will of God,’ he is not emphasizing his own obedience or response to a divine call. He is, instead, emphasizing the call itself, God’s sovereign initiative in establishing him in an office to which he was destined even before his birth (Gal. 1:15) and for which, apart from the grace of God, he is in no way qualified. The apostolic authority about which he reminds his readers is based not in any personal merit of his own but solely in the grace of God which had been given to him.”

John Stott (20th century English Anglican priest and acknowledged leader of the worldwide evangelical movement) commented on “by the will of God”:  it means we “must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility. For we must regard its author neither as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church’s greatest missionary hero, but as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’, and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes”.

“To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1b).

As he describes all believers, not just an elite few, Paul addresses his readers as “saints” (Greek, hagiois)–“holy ones”.

And he calls them “faithful”, meaning not that his readers are reliable, but that they are full of faith.

They are saints and faithful “in Christ Jesus”.   I view “in Christ Jesus” to be the realm in which Paul’s readers are both “saints” and “faithful”.  He is the power in which they are transformed.  His Spirit, his character, his purposes shape their lives just as being “in sin” once shaped their lives .  Here’s what Paul wrote later in this letter about in- sin lives . . .

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.  All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are no longer “in sin”.  The realm of our life is “in Christ”.

Now, a point about manuscript. A manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of a Bible text.  The New Testament boasts over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, far more than any other ancient work.   The point?  “in Ephesus” doesn’t appear in the best manusripts.  This has led to the general consensus that  Paul is writing an “encyclical”—a letter he wants shared with all western Asia Minor churches.   Of course, now in God’s providence, it has gone global.

 “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:2).

Paul’s greetings are more than form.  “Grace to you . . . ” is Paul’s sincere prayer for “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” to pour out favor and power into the lives of his readers.  Listen to John Piper’s comment . . .

“Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read — ‘grace [be] to you.’”

“ . . . peace” reminds Paul’s Jewish readers of the Hebrew “shalom”, an inner sense of wholeness and tranquility.”  Again Paul is praying for his letter to be the conduit of peace to his readers “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 *  *  *

Much is in a salutation, if we pause to look!  But, what shall we do with it?  Pray . . .

God our Father I pray that as we read this letter you will pour grace upon us.  May we hear Paul’s words as Christ’s.  May your unmerited favor be lavished on us through this letter.  And may the peace that passes understanding guard our hearts and minds in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In his name and for his glory I ask, amen.


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Take a Look at This Beauty!

You visit a dealership to buy a car.  You’re welcomed (accosted?)  by a salesman who leads you to a shiny new vehicle and  points out the car’s best features.  That’s what we’ll do today with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians—introduce it by pointing out just a few important features .

We left Paul in his rented house in Rome chained to a Roman guard around the clock awaiting his trial before Caesar.  While there, Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (60-62 A.D.)

Paul had evangelized in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1) fall 52 A.D. to spring 55 A.D.  In that city, he received the most violent opposition yet (Acts 18:23-41; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).  But among a population  of at least 250,000 he planted several house churches, with more in villages not far from the city and larger churches in Asia Minor cities like Laodicea, Pergamum and Sardis.  Scholars generally agree Paul intended Ephesians to be circulated among all those churches—a considerably large body of believers.

Ephesus, though, was the recognized center of religious and political life in the area of the Roman empire.  The imperial cult was everywhere present in the city—temples of Claudius, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, and Augustus for Romans to pay homage to their emperors.

The temple of Diana (or Artemis) stood as the largest building in the region and the city’s primary religious site. The platform on which it was built measured more than 100,000 square feet, the temple itself was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. Made entirely of marble with pillars overlaid with gold and jewels, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Not surprisingly, Ephesus was a center for magical arts and various occult practice, the chief of which was “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata), six magical terms said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.

One popular story told of an Ephesian wrestler unbeaten in the ancient Olympics because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankles.  Officials discovered and removed them—the wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.

Among Diana’s attributes was power over demons of the dead.  Her followers invoked her authority to raise the dead, heal the sick and protect the city.

Perhaps the presence of pagan temples and belief in a goddess like Diana led Paul to write that well-known text, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul explains our “struggle” (Greek–palay, “wrestling, conflict, fight”) is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  What struggle?  The fight of faith, the fight of obedience, the fight of living a life worthy of our calling, even the fight of living a moral life as an unbeliever.  We are opposed and that by spiritual powers of evil.  “Bad things” can’t be ultimately caused by “bad people.”  More than human wrongdoing accounts for “wrong” in the world.  We might say there are ghosts under our beds.  And only Christ can defeat them.

During and after Paul’s ministry in Ephesus Gentiles joined the Jews in the house churches.  Coming from popular pagan religions, they needed grounding in the gospel and in Christian living. The influx of Gentiles also created tension in the churches, especially since Gentiles didn’t particularly value the Jewish heritage of the faith and Jews treated them as outsiders.

That situation likely prompted Paul’s powerful words . . .

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:12-22).

Racism remains a cancer in America. Paul announces it can overcome (Jew/Gemtile; black/white; etc.P not by educatio, or protests, or government programs, but by Christ’s transforming work that makes all believers “one new humanity . . . thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”  The local church should be the body where all races find unity in their new Christ-identity.

John Piper has called Romans “the greatest letter ever written.”  If so, Ephesians is a close second.  It’s been called “the crown of St. Paul’s writings” and “Pound for Pound . . . may well be the most influential document ever written.”  Sounds like we’re in for a mind-stretching, soul-feeding, Christ-exalting walk through a breathtaking letter.

With that in mind, the most excellent way to end this brief introduction  is by praying one of Paul’s magnificent Ephesians prayers–a prayer I pray God will answer in part through our study . . .

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (1:17-19).


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Two Marys make their way
to Jesus’ tomb,
as morning sun breaks the horizon,
the third day since the horror.
They step quickly over killing ground,
crosses standing close,
memories raw with grief.
They turn away, forcing thoughts
to focus on why they’ve come.
A  proper burial for the Master,
spices and oinment and wrappings.
Joseph and Nicodemus,
who had sorrowfully taken Jesus’ body down,
had no time as the sun set
and hope died
and night threatened falling.

“Who will roll away the stone for us?”
they wondered aloud as they neared the place.
Women could do no such thing.
A tomb-sealing burial stone
was a massive mountain
to seal in the dead
and seal out grave robbers.

But, close now,
they saw the stone rolled  aside,
the tomb unclosed.
Their fear as yet unfelt,
drawn as they were to look.
Caution to the wind,
they bent and stepped inside.
A white-robed young man sat there then,
his presence now signalling danger.
He spoke calmingly, knowingly:
“Don’t be alarmed.
You seek Jesus of Nazareth,
the crucified one.
He is not here; he is risen!
Look!  This is where he lay.
Now, go tell his disciples,
‘He goes ahead to Galilee
where you will see him as he said.'”

The Marys ran, then,
ran without thinking,
from fear quaking
with fright trembling,
by terror impelled.
They were afraid,
their tongues stark still,
said nothing to anyone.

Soon, though, they will speak,
breaking their silence
with news too wondrous to keep.
Soon their fear will turn to great joy,
and their trembling to praise-full celebration.

But today, the third day from the cross,
they tremble with fear.
How different from us!
How removed from our routineness!
The grave was empty,
the young man an angel,
Jesus risen.

How many times we’ve heard it all.
Only rousing music stirs us;
not black words on white page–
even from the Holy Book.
Jesus conquered death.
Unless it’s near us,
it moves us not.
Or if it does,
it does reassuringly comforting for that day.

But tremble we don’t,
fearful we’re not.
Awe of the almighty
doesn’t grip us.
Our mouths don’t hang open,
our tongues aren’t shocked still.
Of course, we sing in celebration,
Christ has triumphed over death for us!

But still, here is place for reverence,
reverence so reverant it borders on fear–
fear of power so shattering,
it raises the dead
and drives open a tomb.

So, come, with two Marys.
Find the massive stone rolled away.
Unthinkingly enter and find the young man.
Listen to his words:  “Jesus is not here; he is risen!”
And tremble in awe at the power of the Almighty–
power exceeding even the unrelenting dominence
of death itself!



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The soldier hammered spikes
an agonizing three times,
once in each wrist
and once in his pressed-together feet.

Skin split sending rivers of blood
down his body
and onto the cross
where they stretched him out
on the hard ground.
Those rivers were joined with others
that ran down from his crown of thorns.

The pounding hammer was merciless,
the pain pulsating,
mingling with the searing wounds
from whipping that opened his bones bare.

Romans hoisted the cross then,
dropped it into a hole where it stood,
twice a man’s height,
under which family and friends gaped
in helpless grief as morning hours dragged.

Passersby mocked; through agony he heard:
“He saved others; he can’t save himself.”
“Let this Christ come down now
that we may see and believe.”
But come down to save himself he couldn’t.
He could have called ten thousand angels
to destroy the world and set him free.
But last night in the lonely garden
he’d yielded to the Father’s will
and now would not turn back.

At noon darkness swept the sky,
angry, foreboding, wrathful.
It suffocated everything, refused to relent.
Mothers hurried children inside.
Grown men’s stomachs churned.
Priests lit candles and mumbled prayers.
But darkness overruled the light—and reigned.

At the ninth hour, three in the storm-dark afternoon,
a cry of anguish rose,
an inhuman animal shriek.
From the cross it pierced the dark,
with words from David, darker still:

“My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”

In those moments the Son of God
bore the sin of the world
and absorbed the holy wrath of the Father
against mankind’s treason.
In those moments the Son
hung central in the will of the Father,
loved to the uttermost.
Yet from his only Son,
the Father turned away,
absolute holiness unable to abide,
absolute sinfulness in its world-weight.

From eternity Father, Son and Holy Spirit
enjoyed love-oneness—
always until now.
In these black moments,
the Father tore away in grieving separation
from the Son of his eternal love.
And the Son hung abandoned,
bearing the weight of sin without God.

He could have called ten thousand angels.
But he died alone for you and me.



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It happened in Simon the Leper’s home
in Bethany, two days before Passover.
A woman appeared during supper
carrying a beautiful jar of expensive perfume.
Jesus, disciples and Simon sat silent.
The woman too said nothing.
She broke the seal on the jar
and poured the perfume over Jesus’ head.
It seeped into his long hair,
streamed onto his clothing.
The sweet aroma filled Simon’s home.

But that was not all the filling.
Several indignant voices rose from the table,
as the woman cherished what she’d done.
“Why waste such expensive perfume?”
“She should have sold it and fed the poor!”
Harsh, scolding words poured from their lips.
The woman dropped her head in shame.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied,
defending the woman
and bringing a slight smile to her lips,
as angry men towered over her.
“She has done a good thing to me.
You always have the poor to help;
but you will not have me long.
She has done what she could
to anoint my body for burial.
She will be talked about
wherever the Good News is preached.”

It happened as the chief priests and law teachers
were looking for a chance to capture Jesus secretly
and put him to death.
They had an accomplice, a traitor,
who stood from Simon’s table
at Jesus’ rebuke
surrounded by the sweet smell
of burial anointing perfume.
Judas strode out
to arrange with the chief priests
to betray Jesus to them.
The priests welcomed him with delight
and promised a rich reward.
So from that night
Judas began looking
for the right time and place
to hand Jesus over.

Mark, pray tell,
who is this woman?
And why does she offer
such an extravagant gift?
But Mark stays silent.
We can only guess such a gift
was an act of love and heartfelt thanks.
Jesus had lavished on her God’s grace;
he had freed her from  some devilish past.
And she had come to honor him,
not knowing it portended his death.

It had been a wearying week of conflict.
At its start, Jesus had ridden a donkey’s colt
into the teeming city, where he’d die.
Passover pilgrims had welcomed him
with palm branches and messianic praises,
while priests plotted his death.

All week, from Jesus cleansing the temple
to the Jews public attempts to belittle him
to his end-of-age-judgment
to Judas’ betrayal,
conflict ruled the days and nights.
But this night came a humble woman
yearning to show love
to the Savior who had first loved her.
She gave what she had
and the sweet smell filled Jesus’ heart.
Unknowingly, she was preparing him for burial
by honoring him from her treasure.

This is Holy Week–
a week we should set aside
to meditate on it
and on what Jesus said and did
as he suffered and died.
But we don’t, can’t.
Work must be done,
church activities must be attended.
And soon it’s Monday
and while we’ve worshipped him in song
and heard a sermon of his death and rising,
we’re hardly more knowing than that woman.
We’ve ceased to sit still and ponder deeply
what Jesus said and what Jesus did
that warring week of his awful, wonderful death.

Would that, like this grateful woman,
in the clamor of a busy life,
we would quietly approach Jesus.
And while others busyed themselves,
we poured whispered praises on Jesus,
as his words and deeds of that week
sank deep into our hearts.
That woman could be our model,
and her perfume our rivers of praise,
spilling down on our Savior’s head.



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