American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright © 2011, J.W. Carter. Scripture quotes from KJV
Temple of Hadrian, Ephesus.
As one of his "Prison Epistles," Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus from his imprisonment in Rome. Paul spent three years with the Ephesian church during his third missionary journey. It was shortly upon his return to Jerusalem from that visit that Paul was arrested for allegedly defiling the temple, languishing in prison until his appeal to Caesar. It was this appeal that brings him to Rome as he is awaiting that appeal. He spent a considerable time with the people in Ephesus, and kept a close watch on them. The reports he was receiving of their faith were encouraging to Him, yet it is evident from the contents of this letter that Paul saw much room for spiritual growth among its members. Though there was an encouraging level of sincerity among the members of the church, there was a need for a deeper understanding of their faith and a greater wisdom that comes from a more intimate knowledge of, and relationship with, God.
There were many similarities in the first century church and the church of today. The modern church also contains many people who are sincere in their faith, but they live in a society that, like in the first century, is evil, hedonistic, and persecutes those who express faith in God. Most of the members of the Ephesian church were called out of that lifestyle and brought that baggage into the fellowship. The influences of the world weighed heavy on the people of the church. Again, the same is true today, with some churches demonstrating a willingness to compromise the truth of the gospel for acceptance by this culture.
Paul desires the Ephesian church (and note by the salutation on this letter that he is also writing to all of the faithful in Christ), to become more established in their faith, to "get off of the fence" and commit themselves fully to God. We can do this when we fully gain an appreciation for who God is and respond by turning our lives over to Him, making God the supreme authority in our lives.
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;
"Wherefore" implies that this statement is a continuation of thought from the previous statements that Paul made in this letter. In these verses, Paul described the wide range of blessings that are experienced by those who have faith in God, and he expressed a great deal of praise to God for those unmerited gifts. It is in this context that Paul is thinking about the members of the Ephesian church, as he has been hearing reports of their faith and how they have expressed true agape love for one another, and for all Christians. It is a wonderful experience to be a member of a church that truly loves one another. These are not the churches that are struggling to survive. These are the churches that are stable or growing. People enjoy being in a loving fellowship, particularly one that is a fellowship of faith. It is certainly appropriate that we give thanks to God for the presence of such a loving spirit in the congregation. It is also appropriate that we pray for such a church. The deeper our relationship is with God, the more we are going to spontaneously thank God and pray for one another.
17That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:
What was the content of Paul's prayer for the Ephesian church? What was lacking in their fellowship? Though they demonstrated love, they still had need of growth in wisdom and knowledge of God. What happens if our experience of faith is solid in love, but weak in wisdom or knowledge of God? We will find that our commitment to God will be weak, our understanding of God's will in our lives will be limited, and our lack of total commitment to known truth will leave us sitting on the fence with one foot on firm spiritual soil, and the other firmly entrenched in the things of this world. The people truly love one another, but their feet are not yet fully established on spiritual soil. Love for one another is not a substitute for loving God, and the Ephesian church lacked the wisdom and knowledge of God to overcome this error.
Some of us might be familiar with the Mugwumps, those who could not make a decision to place their lives under the authority of King George, or that of the newly forming United States of America. (With their mug on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.) This label may be effectively used as a metaphor for the less-mature Christian life, for many Christians also sit on the fence. We desire the riches of God's kingdom, but have not completely let loose of the chains of worldly bondage. It is this bondage to the desires of our sinful nature that becomes excess baggage that we carry in the race toward the mark of the high calling of Christ, slowing us down, and leading us to fall short of the goal.
How many of us here can confidently state that we have placed both feet firmly on the solid foundation of Christ, and have totally committed one’s self to Him? Rather, how many of us clearly know that we still have a firm foothold, or maybe only a toe-hold on the world. Jesus may be Lord, but you have not surrendered all of your life to him. Some have said that “Jesus is Lord of All or He is not Lord at all.” Jesus is either your Lord, or He is not. That is a tough criticism that may deserve some thought and prayer. If we are, to some extent, a spiritual Mugwump, then there is an unavoidable conflict in our lives. The Holy Spirit is drawing us to the complete joy of God's calling, but we are still listening to the lies of the evil one who would keep us from experiencing that joy.
It is evident that Paul could see this conflict in the members of the Church at Ephesus. Apparently, it was a problem that endured. Take a look at the description of the situation at the Ephesian church as referenced in John's Revelation:
Rev. 2:1-5. Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Do you feel that you might fit in the church from Ephesus? The Lord commends their actions, their hard work for the Kingdom, and their patience in a wicked world. They do not tolerate wickedness or false theology. They have done all these things in Christ's name, and have endured. Yet, there was a problem: they left their first love. What does this mean; what has been left behind? The people in the Ephesian church did strive to put their lives totally in the Kingdom, but over time they reestablished a firm foothold on the old world. By looking back at their lives before Christ, and returning to some of its allure, they had become spiritual Mugwumps. What was the consequence of their sin? According to John’s Revelation, God would remove the “lampstand” or “candlestick” from their place. The lampstand was the body of their Christian fellowship (Rev. 1:20). By returning to their wordly ways the church would ultimately lose the spirit-led leadership that God had placed there, leaving them to be reabsorbed into the world. The church may exist as a social club, but would no longer be a viable body of Christ.
Look at a similar example of the consequences of sitting on the fence between the world and the Kingdom.
Philemon 23-24. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.
Again, the letter to the Ephesians was written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment. During this time he also wrote the letter to Philemon asking for is mercy concerning his returning slave, Onesimus. He lists the names of some of his fellow workers. Who were they? (Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.) So, note that even though Paul was in prison, these men stood with him and continued working with him in ministry. Though it may not be of great importance, Demas is mentioned prior to Luke.
The book of Colossians was written later from the same imprisonment. Again, Paul lists his fellow workers. Who are they?
Colossians 4:14 Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.
By this time Mark and Aristarchus had apparently left Paul to continue ministry elsewhere. Paul was set free from that imprisonment, and later when in his second imprisonment in Rome, towards the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy.
2 Timothy 4:9-10 Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
Paul is facing what he knows to be the greatest crisis of his life. Though there are no substantive charges against him, his status as a prisoner is all that Rome needed by this time to execute him. Paul had served as a mentor for several leaders who spent time with him, but now at this important time, where is his friend Demas? Demas seemed to be initially faithful to the fellowship of the Paul and his friends. He benefited from hearing solid doctrine, could see the gospel in action all around him, yet what happened? He kept one foot in the world, and eventually when things got tough, he deserted Paul, returning to the worldly lifestyle. There is no evidence in scripture that Demas ever grew enough in his faith to the point of making any contribution to the kingdom. Instead he has become an example to all of us by his desertion of the ministry.
Finally, a third example of spiritual Mugwumps exists in the church of Laodicea. Going back to John's Revelation, Chapter 3:
Rev. 3:14-19. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 2
The people of Laodicea had a foot so firmly planted in the world that they felt secure in it. The result was a luke-warm faith. How does God respond to such a faith? Like lukewarm water that is only good to be spat out; it provides no useful purpose for the kingdom. Needless to say, it is not God's will that we sit on the fence. We don't need a miraculous vision from God on this one; His Word is clear. So, how do we get off the fence? In Paul's letter to the Ephesian Mugwumps, we get an answer:
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
What was the first request in Paul's prayer for the Ephesians? His hope was that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened. What does this mean? Like the Laodiceans, they have been blinded to their present state. They are not even aware that there is a problem. A drowning person is not going to reach for a life-preserver if they do not know they are in danger of drowning. The frog in a warming pot does not know that he is about to be scalded and will not jump out of the warming water. Likewise, a Christian is not going to move forward in their faith if they think that they are already where God wants them to be. We must first take an honest look at our own personal relationship with God, and ask Him to reveal to us our spiritual state in the light of where God wants us to be. God has called each one of us to a plan he has already set in place (Eph. 2:10). Do you know what that plan is?
The key to this verse is in the word, "know." This term refers to an intimate knowledge of God, His calling, and the true implications of the inheritance He has provided for us. Many Christians are satisfied with a very shallow knowledge of God, and a similarly shallow relationship with Him. Some do not want a relationship with God that interferes with their worldly hopes and desires. However, an intimate knowledge of God serves to change those hopes and desires to ones that are consistent with His calling on our lives.
Paul writes, then, of the importance of having a full understanding of hope; the hope of attaining that which God has provided for us, described as riches of His inheritance. One of Satan's great lies sits on our hearts when we try to compare ourselves with one another. We try to compare our spiritual state with that which we think we see in the lives of other Christians. We see others exercising spiritual gifts, and think that because we are not given that specific gift, we are in some way diminished. We cannot see ourselves in their shoes, and our hopes are dampened or destroyed. What is clear about Paul's prayer is that our hope is not in God's calling of someone else. Your hope is in God's personal calling of you. He has given you a unique set of gifts and interests and can work them together to exercise those gifts. When our eyes are enlightened and we see the truth clearly, we will then experience more of the peace and joy that is part of the abundant life (John 10:10) that God promises to those who are obedient. When we understand God better, we will realize that the blessing of this inheritance is something we should want to shout about, something that we would want those around us to also experience.
If we were to suddenly receive an inheritance of a hundred million dollars, everyone who knew us (and many who do not) would become aware of it immediately, for our lives and testimonies would immediately change. Our lives priorities could be profoundly changed. We would start to tap into that great resource of wealth and pay off debts, purchase a new home, and use that money for the purpose it is intended. Yet, every Christian has received an inheritance that is far beyond any monetary amount to encompass, and the power of that inheritance is largely untapped.
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
One of Satan's great lies robs us of seeing the great power that God has placed in us. We look at other Christians exercising spiritual gifts, and think "I am nothing, I can't do that." It is as though the demon whispers in our ear, "You are nothing, you can't do it, you are stupid, you are ignorant, you don't know the scripture..." and on and on. We feel powerless. The irony of this is that Satan's lie is veiled in a subtle truth. It is true that we are powerless. It is not our own personal power that God is tapping into in order to attain His purpose. If this were to be done in our own power we would all be doomed. I recall sitting in the front row at my first annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of New York. I had committed to the task of leading the worship and music for their conventions and conferences. I sat there watching these well-known and confident preachers and theologians, knowing that my name was listed on the proceedings with them. Furthermore, my part in the program was coming up, and I could not stop my knees from shaking. I could not breathe, and my heart was pounding out of control. The demon was whispering, "you are not qualified, you are not one of them, who do you think you are accepting this task." I knew at that moment the veiled truth. On my own power I could not do what I was about to do. In my own power, I was near to collapse. So I sat there and prayed for God to calm my spirit, because in my heart I knew that I was where I was called to be. When my part of the program came, I confidently stood up, took my place, and conducted the task to which I was called. When the program was over, I was thoroughly exhausted from the spiritual battle that was waged, but encouraged and strengthened to see that God was able to use me, despite my frail humanness, for his purpose.
It is not our power that God is using. It is His own power, through the Holy Spirit that lives within us, that can give us the confidence, courage, and strength to stand up and take our place, conducting the task to which we have been called. It makes no sense for a Christian to live in weakness and defeat when all of the power of God is given to us, through His Holy Spirit, to overcome that which would defeat us. The next few verses continue to describe that power.
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
The power that God has given us, dwells in us as one of the attributes of the Holy Spirit. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that is the force behind all of God's demonstrated actions. How is that power described in these verses?
(1) It is that which works through His mighty strength. The Spirit's power in us is the same power that we see demonstrated as God's mighty strength. We saw that strength in raising Jesus from the dead and assigning him with authority from God. Likewise the Spirit has in us have the power to perform miracles, even raising someone from the dead. When we fail to appropriate that power, we cannot participate in the simplest of spiritual tasks. We find ourselves frustrated when we fail, or experience the fear of failing when we expect to achieve success in spiritual endeavors on our own.
(2) That power is above all rule, authority, power, and dominion. What does that mean? The power that is in you in the person of the Holy Spirit supercedes all worldly power. The four types of power mentioned include all power outside of the Kingdom for eternity: principality, power, might, and dominion. It is simply another form of expressing the conflict described in Chapter 6:12 and following where those powers are described and the tools for defeating that power are metaphorically illustrated.
It has been said that we only use 5-10% of our brain power, and those who are considered to be a genius use as much as 20%. We are physiologically limited in our ability to tap into the full resources of our mind. In the same way, how much of the power of the Holy Spirit that is described in these verses has been tapped into your life? Do we use 10%, 5%, 1%, less? What is stopping us from tapping into this power when, after all, Satan himself has no power against the Spirit? We, by choice, do not tap into it because God has given us the opportunity to refuse. Without such choice, there would be no faith. The power is available: we must simply recognize it and be submissive to it.
22And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Knowing God is knowing Christ. God gave the risen Jesus authority over all spiritual things, and is head of all things concerning the church for the benefit of the church. The Christian church is the very representation of Jesus, as His body on this earth. As the "fullness" of Jesus, the church is called to be all to this world that Jesus would be if He walked its streets today as he did in Galilee.
We see the fulfillment of God's purpose for Christians is empowered far above anything we can imagine. If we truly know Him, and have an intimate relationship with Him, we cannot continue to sit on the fence when the power of the Holy Spirit is loosed in our own spirit. When we tap into that power, our desire to know God yet even more will be insatiable. Our desire to do His will will be unbounded. If we walk through life, like the Ephesians, full of love for one another but lacking in our love of God, we will find ourselves forever in conflict with the knowledge of where we are, and where God wants us to be. Let us put away our foolish pride and turn to God, asking His forgiveness for our self-centeredness, and ask Him to help us focus on being Christ-centered so that we will grow to know God more, and love God more. When we do this, we will find peace and order in all of those other areas in life that we are so stubbornly trying to control on our own.