Only By God's Grace.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:21-23 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turned his attention to himself. He had written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they were going to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up defending himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, and eventually was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So while under house arrest, he had written this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being and knowing that they were all under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul knew that the churches to which he had ministered so faithfully worried about him. They were concerned with his well-being. They each felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly kept them updated as to his condition. With everything else going on, he did not want them to have to worry about him. So he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Tiomothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He did not want them worrying about him. He knew that they did not need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. He could also be passionately compassionate, encouraging them in their weakness and calling them to not lose faith. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. Paul shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the churches of Ephesus, because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love Paul for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. But the kind of love Paul is talking about is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love, but is a natural expression of the love that God has for us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf. “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). In fact, all three of these attributes – peace, love and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closed his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24 ESV). The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserve His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible. It is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving He and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,

there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.

Grace, grace, God's grace,

grace that will pardon and cleanse within;

grace, grace, God's grace,

grace that is greater than all our sin!

No Solitary Soldiers.

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18b-20 ESV

Paul ended his description of the armor of God with a call to prayer, strongly advising his readers to “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion” (Ephesians 6:18a NLT). Constant communication with the Father is essential for our spiritual survival. Prayer is not simply a tool we use to get what we need from God. As Paul will show, it is not to be used for our own selfish desires either. Throughout this letter, Paul has been addressing the great doctrine of the church. In chapter one, Paul addressed Christ's headship over the church, having earned that role through His sacrificial death and resurrection. “And he [God] put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22 ESV). And all believers are members of that body because they share a common faith in Christ, and that faith was a gift provided to them by God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). The church was the mysterious or previously hidden idea of God, miraculously joining Jews and Gentiles into one body, “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14 ESV). 

It was God who has made us “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). And it is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). It was Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian believers would “know the love of Christ” and be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). Paul knew that God had a divine plan for the church. He also knew that the future success of the church, including all those who would become a part of it through faith in Christ, was totally dependent upon the work of God and for the glory of God. That is why he ended his prayer in chapter three with the words:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

The body of Christ, the church, is a powerful force, but only as long as it remains dependent upon God. It is a God-ordained agent of change in the world, but only when it stays committed to the will of God and connected to the power of God made available through His Spirit. When we lose sight of the fact that God saved us and placed us within the context of the body of Christ, and begin to see our salvation as something individualistic and isolated, we miss the whole point. A self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me attitude has no place within the body of Christ. Even the armor of God, is of little use to the Christian, if worn in isolation and utilized as a one-man army. As Christians, we must come to grips with the fact that we are in this battle together. Even the best equipped, most highly trained army, without unity, will fall to its enemy. And without constant communication with and obedience to its commander, even the mightiest army will fail. So Paul calls Christians to prayer. “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 18 NLT). There is a sense of camaraderie and unity in his words. We are to pray not only for ourselves, but for one another. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet is living in the power of the Spirit and according to the will of God. The body of Christ requires members who are healthy, whole and committed to the cause of Christ. That is why Paul even asks for prayer on his behalf. “And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike” (Ephesians 6:19 NLT). Paul knew that he needed the prayers of the saints in order to stay committed to the call given to him by God. He coveted their prayers. And he longed that they would pray for one another.

What more selfless, loving thing can we do than pray for God to protect, guide, strengthen, and embolden our fellow believers. We must realize that our strength, while provided by God, is found in our unity with fellow believers. It is together that we form the powerful force that can dramatically alter the landscape of the world in which we live. Solitary soldiers, even though well-armored, will have little impact “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). So we must pray. We must seek God’s face, determining to know His will, lifting up our fellow soldiers, and resting in His divine strategy for ultimate victory.


Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. – Ephesians 6:14-18a ESV

Two times Paul told his readers to put on “the whole armor of God.” He was not providing them with a menu of optional items from which to choose. They were not to decide for themselves which piece of God’s divine equipment they were interested in wearing or utilizing. But the sad truth is, that is exactly the way many of us as Christians approach this passage. Whether we intend to or not, we jeopardize our spiritual well-being by self-selecting the armor of God we want to put on. But Paul would have us understand that when it comes to the armor of God, it’s all or nothing. He tells us to “put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT).

Paul uses two Greek words, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi) and ἵστημι (histēmi). The first means “to stand against” and the other means “to stand” (“G436 - anthistēmi, G2476 - histēmi - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). To withstand in the evil day carries the idea of being able to stand your ground in the midst of battle. You are under attack. The enemy has you surrounded, but you refuse to surrender your position. You resist. It is a defensive posture, not an offensive one. The enemy is bringing the battle to you. Jesus told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18 NET). Satan is out to destroy God’s people and has His church under constant assault both from without and within. But Paul calls us to stand our ground, to resist. James uses the same Greek word, ἀνθίστημι (anthistēmi), when he writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).

And Paul calls us to stand. It means to stand firm, immovable, ready and prepared for action. But how are we to pull that off? What is the secret to our standing firm? Paul makes it quite clear. It is the whole armor of God. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes for your feet comprised of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. This six items are to be the indispensable equipment for every soldier of God. You can’t survive without them. It isn’t a question of whether the enemy will attack and you will see battle. His is bringing the war to your doorstep each and every day. And God has given us all that we need to withstand and stand firm in the heat of the battle. The belt of truth is the first and most essential piece of equipment. It most likely refers to the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Truth is key to standing up to the lies of the enemy. Remember, the goal is to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). That word, “schemes” means “deceit or trickery.” Satan is a liar. He is cunning and clever and he uses falsehood as his primary weapon of choice. So truth is going to be one of our greatest assets as believers.

The breastplate of righteousness is probably referring the righteousness of Christ. Like the armor of a Roman soldier, this breastplate would provide protection from the neck to the thighs, covering all the vital organs. As believers, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ. It is His righteousness that has made us right with God. When the enemy attacks and hurls darts of accusations against our self-righteousness, we are protected or covered by the righteousness imputed to us by Christ at His death. Satan can accuse us, but he cannot harm us. We must daily take up Christ’s righteousness and understand that it is what He has given us that protects us from the assault of the enemy.

No soldier would go into battle without shoes. How can you stand firm without proper footwear? And Paul describes these shoes that are “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15 ESV). The gospel of peace, the Good News is what provides us with the ability to stand firm, without slipping or sliding in uncertainty or losing our spiritual footing. Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross, we have peace with God. We are His and He is ours. That is why so confidently claimed, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 ESV).

The shield of faith is not something you wear, but something you hold. Like all of the other pieces of armor, it is given to you by God. It is His armor. Our faith is not self-manufactured, but it is a gift of the Spirit, provided for us by a gracious and loving God. As long as we stand behind our faith, we are safe. It is when we set aside our faith that we become vulnerable to the darts of the enemy. Our faith is our trust in God and in His promises regarding us. He will not leave us or forsake us. He has prepared a permanent place for us. He will fight our battles for us. He has placed His all-powerful Spirit within us. I must trust in these truths at all time. A weak shield is of little use in the heat of battle. Strong faith in a strong and faithful God will provide protection each and every time, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

The helmet of salvation protects our mind. It is the awareness and recognition of God’s ongoing saving work in our lives. It not only refers to our coming to faith in Christ, but to our ongoing sanctification and the daily saving work of God in our lives. Through His Son’s death, he saved us from sin and death, but He is also saving us from the flesh, the world and the enemy. We must keep our minds focused on the saving work of God in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves that He is faithful and strong, and that the battle is already won.

The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It is designed for hand-to-hand combat. The Scriptures are what we are to use when the enemy gets up close and personal. God’s Word provides us with the truth we need to deflect the lies thrown at us by Satan. It is both a defensive and offensive weapon, allowing us to protect ourselves, but also to bring harm to the enemy. Referring to the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “when he come he will convict the world of its sin, and of God's righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8 NLT). The Spirit of God in conjunction with the Word of God are essential in our fight against the forces of this world.

Finally, Paul tells us to keep “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18a ESV). Prayer is nothing more than communication with God. Like a soldier out on the field of battle, timely communication from headquarters is key to victory. We must listen to our heavenly commander, the Lord of Hosts. He is the captain of the armies of heaven and He has a battle plan in place. We are not to act as freelance mercenaries, operating based on our own agenda and implementing our own battle plan. It is through prayer and the reading of God’s Word that we receive instructions. It also provides us with a means of sharing our own needs and news from the battlefield. Staying in touch with God is essential to our survival.

The battle is real. The enemy is powerful. But our God is great and our armor is time-tested and proven reliable in the heat of battle. It has been made by God. It has been given to us by God. And our victory is assured because of God. “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT).

Dressed For Success.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV

Having just addressed the topic of godly submission by illustrating its impact and influence upon three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought to the topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same thought he began when he called them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. For two chapters Paul has been emphasizing the need for believers to live out their faith in everyday life. He has called them to put off their old selves and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. They were to put on their new natures, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). They were to walk in love, as children of light. There were to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and willingly sacrifice their rights in order to selflessly love others as Christ has loved them.

But this was not going to easy. It was not going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature, their flesh, would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord over one another, not submit. They would be prone to pride and self-exaltation, not humility and selfless service. Submitting to those who don’t appear to deserve it or loving those who don’t seem to appreciate are not easy things to do. And to make matters worse, Paul knew that believers have an enemy at work behind the scenes to make our walk of faith as difficult as possible. He was keenly aware that there was a spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes to which most of us as Christians seem to be oblivious. What Paul is asking us to do is impossible to pull off in our own strength. We are not equipped for it. Our human nature, apart from the help of God, is not suited for spiritual warfare. We are like the man who brings a knife to a gun fight. So Paul tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV). Earlier in this letter, Paul had told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly, asking God that they would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). He prayed the same thing for the believers on Colossae: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11 ESV).

When Paul called the believers there in Ephesus to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love as Christ has loved us” (Ephesians 5:1), he knew that he was asking the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and His all-sufficiency. The impossibility of the task should drive them to the reliability of their Father. The life to which God had called them was only possible through the power He had graciously provided for them. And that same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice he refers to it as the whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor is to be left out or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has provided all that we need, but we still need to put it on. And we must always keep in mind that his “armor” is spiritual in nature because “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). In other words, our battle is not against other people. Our enemies are not those on the left or the right, the liberals or conservatives, the Muslims or the atheists, the irreligious or the immoral. Paul reminds us we are fighting “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Sound scary? It should. Because it is real. What we see happening all around us today is an orchestrated effort on the part of the enemy of God to subvert His will and supplant His authority. Satan stands opposed to all that is godly and that includes every single believer. As Jesus Himself warned, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 ESV).

So what are we to do? Paul is quite clear. “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT). Notice that Paul says “to resist,” not defeat. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this all works. He writes, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Humility before God comes before resistance of Satan. Acknowledgement of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy's attack. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is because we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. God has provided all that we need. Our arsenal is complete and each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. And these are spiritual tools designed to fight a spiritual battle. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).

We live in evil days. We have a formidable enemy whose mission is to destroy us. We still have our old sin-prone nature, weak and worthless when it comes to resisting a spiritual enemy. But we have not been left defenseless or devoid of help. Our gracious, all-powerful God has given us His divinely empowered armor to protect us and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to do battle beside us. Like Paul, we need to recognize our own insuffiency, the enemy’s reality, and God’s gracious provision for our security. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

It’s An Inside Job.

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. – Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

As Paul continues to discuss the application of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another, he brings up a particularly difficult relationship for us as modern believers to understand. He has already addressed husbands and wives, and children and their parents. But now he takes on the relationship between slaves and their masters. There are those who would label Paul as a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he does not speak out against it. But Paul, like Christ, was not out to revolutionize civil institutions or bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of those who made up the society. So while it is true that Paul does not speak out against or condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, this does not mean he was a supporter of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he appeals to his brother in Christ regarding one of his slaves, a man called Onesimus. Evidently Onesimus had run away from Philemon and had somehow ended up meeting Paul and, under his influence, had become a believer. He ended up ministering to Paul while he was a prisoner there. And Paul had encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to Philemon, his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul wrote his letter to Philemon to explain the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as what he now was, a brother in Christ.

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

This is exactly the kind of context Paul is addressing in his letter to the Ephesians. Slavery was a socially accepted, legally sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling slaves and masters who came to know Christ to radically change their perspective regarding this institution – from the inside out. The interesting thing is that slaves, who were viewed as property and sub-human in many ways, were coming to faith in Christ. Not only that, they were becoming members of the local churches. It was not uncommon for a 1st-Century church to have slaves and their masters as part of its congregation. And within the context of the church, there was a unity and equality that was unheard of anywhere else in the culture of that day. Which is why Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28 NLT). In the context of the body of Christ, everyone was on an equal footing. But while coming to faith in Christ set someone like Onesimus free from sin, it did not free him from slavery. In fact, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them, “Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ” (1 Corinthians 7:20-22 NLT).

Paul’s primary concern was the behavior of believers. He was focused on their walk – the daily living out of their faith within the context of their existing social relationships. Which he wrote to the church in Ephesus, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ” (Ephesians 6:5 NLT). We see once again, that their motivation was to be Christ-centered, as if they were serving Christ. He became a slave, a servant on their behalf, even dying in their place so that they might be freed from slavery to sin. Now He was calling them to serve their earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Rather than forced subservience, Paul was calling them to willing submission. Paul gives them some very specific instruction about how their faith should manifest itself in their relationship with their masters.

Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. – Ephesians 6:6-7 NLT

Notice that Paul encourages them to do the will of God with all their heart. What would the will of God be in their particular situation? To walk as children of light. To walk in love. To walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Yes, even within their context as slaves. Because in reality, they were slaves of Christ. Their earthly situation was temporary. So they could work with enthusiasm, performing their earthly responsibilities as if they were doing it for the Lord, knowing that “the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free” (Ephesians 6:8 NLT).

But Paul is not done. He also addresses those individuals in the churches in Ephesus who happened to be masters. He tells them, “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). Their faith in Christ was to have a relationship-altering impact on their lives. Their slaves were now their brothers. And everything they did was to be done as to the Lord. This was a game-changing, life-altering moment in the lives of these individuals. Can you imagine what kinds of renewing of the mind and shifting of their paradigm was taking place as they wrestled with the new-found faith in Christ and the reality of the social construct in which they found themselves? This particular relationship between slaves and masters would put the daily application of faith in Christ to the test like no other. 

Jesus did not come to revolutionize the structures of society, but the lives of the people who make up that society. He did not come to radically alter institutions, but to redeem individuals. Political change or legal sanctions do nothing to remedy the condition of the heart. Overthrowing the evil social structures of a society through rebellion or civil disobedience may bring about external change, but it will never fix the problem of sin. Believers living as children of light in the midst of darkness, loving unconditionally, submitting to one another willingly, and obeying Christ joyfully are the true change-agents in the world.

Think Before You Act.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Once again, Paul brings up the issue of our walk. He has already told his readers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He has warned them “you must longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). Back in verse one of this chapter, he wrote, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1 ESV). And then he gave his readers yet one more admonition: “Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true)” (Ephesians 5:8-9 ESV). Now, in verse 15, he provides yet one more more word about the walk of the believer. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

For Paul, belief and behavior in the life of the Christian were inseparable. Faith in Christ was to have a direct impact on every area of life, including the believer’s attitudes and actions. The Christian’s walk and words were to reflect his new nature. But the verses above are all imperatives. Walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Walk not as the Gentiles do. Walk in love. Walk as children of the light. Walk not as the unwise. They are commands, not suggestions. They require forethought and proper consideration. You have to think about them and plan for them to be a part of your life. And like all commands in Scripture, while they are non-optional, they are not always obeyed. We can choose to ignore each and every one of these commands. That is why Paul was so emphatic. He begged his readers to not act thoughtlessly, and he put it in very blunt terms: “do not be foolish” (Ephesians 5:17 ESV). To “be foolish” was to act without reason or reflection. It was to act rashly, without forethought or proper consideration. Living the Christian life requires a bit of brainpower and intellectual capacity. We have to think about what we are doing. It requires planning and deliberation. Back in verse 10, Paul wrote, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). That requires thinking before acting. It means you have to stop and consider the deed before you commit to doing it. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul provided them with a key to making this happen.

Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

God wants to redeem our thinking. He wants us to think like He thinks. But that required knowing His will, what He would have us do. Which is why Paul said, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT). And just in case his readers couldn’t follow his train of thought, Paul gave them a real-life example. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life” (Ephesians 5:18a NLT). Think about it. What good ever comes from getting drunk? Who has ever been proud of their behavior after a night of heavy drinking? A better decision, Paul suggests, would to choose to, “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18b NLT). It should be obvious that when Paul compares being drunk with wine with being filled with the Spirit, he is talking about control. When you’re drunk, you are under the control of the alcohol. It dictates your behavior. You do things you wouldn’t normally do. You say things you wouldn’t normally say. So to be filled with the Spirit is to choose to let Him dictate and determine your behavior. There is a big difference between being indwelt by the Spirit and filled by the Spirit. Every believer receives the Holy Spirit at the point of salvation. And while we have all of the Spirit all of the time, we are not always “filled” or controlled by the Spirit. We can choose to ignore Him. We can determine to disobey Him. But when we are filled by the Holy Spirit and are under His control, our behavior will reflect it. Paul provides a glimpse of what that should look like:

…singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:19-20 NLT

Earlier, Paul had warned, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). We grieve the Spirit when we choose to live our lives apart from His power and without His guidance. We rob Him of His primary role in our lives. He exists to assist and help us as we navigate this fallen world, but when we refuse to live under His control, we deny Him the joy of producing His fruit through us. We end up producing “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander” (Ephesians 4:31 ESV), when He longs to make us kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, thankful, and submissive to one another.

That is the will of God. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians, “For this is God's will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:4 NET). Forgiveness of sins is great. But even an absence of sin does not make someone righteous or holy. God’s intention is to transform us from unrighteous to righteous. From unholy to holy. His ultimate goal is our glorification, when we will be free from all sin and entirely righteous. But we must stop and consider what it is that God is doing in our lives. We must constantly question why we would do anything that is contrary to His will for our lives. He desires for us to be holy, so why would we do anything that prevents that from happening? That is why Paul tells us, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT). Think before you act.

Children of Light.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” – Ephesians 5:3-14 ESV

Darkness is the absence of light. It is what happens when light is removed or unavailable. The term, “darkness” is used by Paul and others to describe the moral and spiritual state of mankind apart from God. Without God, they are left in a state of darkness. The apostle John explained it. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God brings light into the world. He illuminates and eliminates darkness wherever His presence dwells. So the spiritual darkness in which mankind finds itself is the result of an absence of God. And John goes on to say,  “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6 ESV). In other words, our relationship with God should impact our conduct. That is why Paul tells us: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). As children of God, we have been exposed to the Light, Jesus Christ. As John wrote in his gospel, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5 NASB). Darkness and light cannot coexist. So when Jesus, the Light, came into the world, He illuminated and exposed the darkness all around Him. John goes on to say, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13 ESV). There were those, living in darkness, who preferred darkness over the Light. John tells us the sad news: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” John 3:19 ESV).

But some turned to the Light. They received Him. Their sins were exposed by Him and their need for a Savior was made clear to them for the very first time. It is interesting to note that John says, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” The Greek word John used is φωτίζω (phōtizō) and it can mean to “to give light” or “to enlighten, spiritually, imbue with saving knowledge” (“G5461 - phōtizō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Obviously, John was not indicating that every man was saved as a result of Jesus coming into the world. But His message of salvation came into the world, exposing every man and woman to the truth. Some received it, while others rejected it.

Paul’s message in today’s passage is addressed to those who have received the Light. He is calling them to live lives that reflect their new standing as “children of light” – “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). Notice that Paul does not say, “you are in the light,” but “you are light.” They have been transformed. At one time, they were not only living in darkness, they were darkness. Their lives were characterized by the deeds of darkness. But the Light, Jesus Christ, had penetrated their lives and they had become children of light. And Paul was simply calling them to lives as who they were. This meant a change in behavior. Children of light were not meant to live like children of darkness. And Paul was very explicit in what he meant. “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3 NLT). And just in case his audience got a bit prideful and puffed up, thinking they had no problem with those particular sins, Paul dropped a bombshell on them. “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes — these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT). These are those “little” sins that so many Christians excuse as somehow acceptable to God. But Paul says, “these are not for you.”

It is so easy to rationalize our behavior as Christians. We can find it so tempting to justify certain behavior as somehow not so bad. But Paul lumps obscene stories, foolish talk and course jokes in with immorality, impurity, greed and idolatry. They are all deeds of darkness. And Paul says, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him” (Ephesians 5:6 NLT). Those are not the characteristics of those who have become light. They mark the nature of those who are children of darkness. That is why Paul goes on to adamantly demand:

Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:7-9 NLT

Instead, we are to determine what brings pleasure to God and to do those things. We are to live differently than all those around us. The light within us is to produce what is good, right and true. Rather than participate in the deeds of darkness, we are to expose them. I don’t think this means that we are to walk around pointing our fingers in judgment at those who sin, but our very presence as light is to provide a dramatic contrast. Paul says, “their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible” (Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT). Our very presence among those living in darkness and death will provide a convicting influence on their lives. In essence, when children of light live as light in the darkness, our lives become a call to those in the dark to experience the grace we have received: “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14 NLT).


Accomplishing the Impossible.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

These two verses contain two of the most stunning and intimidating admonitions to be found in the entire Scriptures. Paul begins this chapter with the word, “Therefore.” It would be like saying, “With all that in mind…” He was referring back to his earlier call to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV). He was also taking into account all that he had just said about putting off the old self and putting on the new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). He has called his readers to a life of transformation, made possible by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their attitudes and actions should be radically different. Their interactions with one another should be marked by gentleness, kindness, patience, selflessness, and love. He concluded chapter four by saying, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

Now he gives them two simple steps to seeing that their behavior matches what they say they believe: First, imitate God. Second, love like Christ. If we stop long enough to consider what Paul is really saying, our response should be one of incredulity. Are you kidding me, Paul? Have you lost your mind? You want me to imitate God? You expect me to love like Christ loved me? Do you have any idea what you are saying? You are asking the impossible. And in a certain sense, Paul is asking the impossible. There is no man or woman alive who can accomplish these two things on their own. But those to whom Paul was writing were not ordinary men and women. They were children of God, called and gifted by Him, filled with His Holy Spirit and recipients of a new nature. They were free to what they had never been able to do before: live godly lives that please and honor God. And as children of God, it would only be natural for them to imitate their heavenly Father. It would be normal and expected for them to see what He does and do likewise. God is gracious and merciful. So should they be. God is loving and patient. They should be as well. God hates sin. So should they. God is holy. And they were expected to be as well. The apostle Peter wrote, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:15 NLT). But he wasn’t the first to say this. He had heard similar words from Jesus Himself. “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT). And Jesus was basically quoting from Leviticus 19:2, where God said to the people of Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God was not asking for perfection. Neither was Jesus or Peter. What they were encouraging was a life of set-apartness or distinctiveness, a life that emulated the character and heart of God, not of this world. 

When God calls us, He sets us apart as His own. We become His possession. We are adopted into His family and become His children. As such, we are to live according to His terms and to obey His will for our lives. Paul told the believers in Corinth, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV). We glorify God when we live out our lives in obedience to His will and in imitation of His own character. When we extend mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it, we are imitating God. When we show kindness to those in need, we are imitating God. When we love the unlovely and unlovable, we are imitating God. When we despise sin so much that we refuse to participate in it, we are imitating God.

Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples about the coming day of judgment, when God would call all those who had come to faith during the great tribulation. They would come to stand before the Lord and He would say to them:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then these righteous ones will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:34-40 NLT

These men and women who will come to faith in Christ during the most horrific period in human history, will do the unthinkable and improbable. They will risk their lives to show the love and mercy of God to those who are suffering alongside them during the tribulation. And their actions will be in imitation of God and an expression of love to His Son.

Which leads us to the second part of Paul’s admonition. Love like Christ. Actually, Paul says, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT). Our lives are to be characterized by the love of Christ. His love was selfless and sacrificial. His love led Him to give His life. Jesus said that there was no greater expression of love than for someone to lay down their life for another (John 15:13). The apostle John takes this thought one step further by writing, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NLT). The amazing thing about this is that God does not require us to actually die. He simply asks us to die to self, to give up our rights. He calls us to “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). He expects us to “Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV). He desires for us to exhibit “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12 NLT).

Imitate God. Love like Christ. They sound impossible, but they're not. Peter reminds us, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). Paul knew it was possible, which is why he told the Philippian church, “Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philipiians 2:15 NLT). As impossible and improbably as it may sound, we can live like God and love like Christ.


Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Called to Stand Out.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV

Futile minds. Darkened understandings. Alienated from God. Ignorant. Hardened hearts. Callous. Slaves to sensuality. Greedy for more impurity.

Paul doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of the condition of those outside of Christ. But his purpose seems to be less about exposing the sinful nature of the lost, than about reminding the Ephesian believers of their pre-conversion state. Prior to coming to faith in Christ, they had been in the same condition: Lost and alienated from God. Verse 17 is directly linked to verse one of this same chapter. Paul opened up the chapter by telling them, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Now he is telling them how not to walk. As we have seen before, the Greek word translated “walk” is περιπατέω (peripateō) and it meant “to make one's way, progress” and was most often used by Paul to refer to living life. Paul was encouraging the believers in the church of Ephesus to live their lives differently, because they had been called by God. Rather than living selfish, self-gratifying lives like they did before, they were to conduct themselves in such a way that it honored the One who had called them and restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

Paul’s emphasis on his readers’ previous lost condition was intended to emphasize their supernatural calling by God. In their lost state, their minds were a big part of the problem. Without Christ, their minds were futile, which in the Greek meant “devoid of truth and appropriateness.” Their understanding was darkened. In other words, their thoughts, feelings and desires were “covered with darkness.” That is why the apostle John opened his gospel with the words, “In Him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5 NASB). Without God’s help, men were incapable of seeing the Light. They were covered in and blinded by darkness. Like a person trapped in a dark room who suddenly finds himself exposed to the daylight, their eyes are incapable of seeing clearly and distinctly. Their eyes are so accustomed to darkness that the light is painful to them. John goes on to say, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:8-9 NASB).

Paul went on to say that his readers were at one time “alienated from the life of God.” The Greek word Paul used means to “shut out from one's fellowship and intimacy” (“G526 - apallotrioō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV).”" Blue Letter Bible). They had not concept of what it meant to know God or have a relationship with Him. It was King David who wrote:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”     

They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,     

there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,     

to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;     

there is none who does good, not even one. - Psalm 14:1-3 ESV

No one was truly seeking God. They might have been searching for their particular version of God, but they were incapable of seeing or comprehending the one true God. That is why, as Paul writes in Romans, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23 ESV). And Paul makes it clear to the Ephesians that their former alienation from God had been the result of their own ignorance and hardness of heart. The ignorance Paul speaks of is not just a lack of knowledge, but a moral blindness. And that, coupled with their hardened hearts, rendered them incapable of knowing God or His truth. Their perceptions had been dulled and their minds, blunted. As a result, they found themselves addicted to sensuality and insatiably drawn to more and more impurity. 

And Paul’s point seems to be that no one who finds themselves in that condition chooses to seek after God or has the mental wherewithal to choose Christ. No one with a darkened, hardened, futile mind would naturally seek what God has offered to them in Christ. It would make no sense. Which is why Paul told the Corinthian believers, “when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it's all nonsense” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT). Paul told the Ephesians, “that is not the way you learned Christ!” In other words, they had not come to a knowledge of Jesus through their own human thinking. They learned Jesus through what Paul called “the foolishness of preaching.”

God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:21 NLT

It had been the proclamation of the Word of God and the regenerating power of the Spirit of God that had made the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ comprehensible to them. Paul reminded them that “the truth is in Jesus.” And that truth called for them to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Their old natures were corrupt and deceived. Their new natures, provided to them by the indwelling Holy Spirit were capable of new thoughts, attitudes and actions. They were to walk in a manner worthy of their calling – holy, set apart, distinctively different, empowered by the Spirit and in keeping with the will of God. Change is non-optional for believers. Spiritual transformation is not up to us to choose or reject – at least, and not truly be a child of God. Our new natures should crave and desire the things of God. We should want what He wants for us: holiness and righteousness. And our new natures, lived within the context of the body of Christ, should produce a new community that is unlike anything the world has ever seen. Called and committed believers, powered by the Spirit of God and living as brothers and sisters in Christ, should form “a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21 ESV). Our lives, lived together in unity, should prove to the world that the gospel is true and that reconciliation with God brings reconciliation with others. 






Truth and Love.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV

Some Christians thoroughly enjoy speaking the truth. They get a sort of perverse sense of joy out of correcting others and showing them they’re wrong. These kinds of people can use the Bible like a baseball bat to pound the truth into the lives of those with whom they disagree or deem errant in their views. And while the Scriptures are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), they are not meant to be wielded like a weapon. Yes, Paul will later on in this same letter describe the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17 ESV), he intended it to be used against “the schemes of the devil”, not one another.

The truth is vital to the life of the church. In fact, Paul told his young protege, Timothy, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV). The church of God is to be a defender and champion of the truth. In a world mired in relativity and immersed in the lies of the enemy, the church is to be the bastion of truth, based on the Word of God. It was Jesus who said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV). The truth as it pertains to sin can be painful and difficult to hear. But God has revealed the antidote or remedy to mankind’s sin problem: Jesus. The Bible reveals the truth about man, sin, God, and the means of being justified with Him. As the church, we have the truth regarding God’s plan of salvation wrapped up in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we have the Scriptures, which contain all the truth we need regarding everything from how we got here to where we are going. It is the sole source of truth regarding life and death, sin and salvation, God and man, meaning and hopelessness, right and wrong, and every other issue relevant to our existence as human beings.

But the truth must always be accompanied by love. Truth without love can be hurtful and harmful. One of my favorite passages in the Scriptures is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. He told them, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). For years, I only focused on verse 13. I loved its blunt, direct way of commanding men to step up and act like men. It was an in-your-face sort of verse that had a testosterone-laden feel to it. Then one day I happened to notice verse 14: “Let all that you do be done in love.” Oops. I had conveniently overlooked that vital part of Paul’s command. If I attempt to stand firm in the faith without love, I will tend to come across as dogmatic and prideful. I will care more about how I am perceived by others than how much I care for others.

I love how The Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s great chapter on love:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG

Even good and seemingly godly things, done without love, are worthless. Which is why Peter warned, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). Telling someone who is lost that they are a sinner might be true, but it could also be harmful and hurtful. Revealing their sinful state without lovingly introducing them to the hope of the Savior would be nothing short of cruel. In the body of Christ, we are to speak truth to one another, but always in love. Our motivation should not just be for conviction and correction, but redemption and restoration. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).

Paul’s goal for the churches to which he ministered was their growth – not just numerical growth, but spiritual. Certainly, he wanted to see more and more people come to faith in Christ, but he also wanted to see all those who did so grow in their knowledge of and relationship to Christ. And there is really no way for a believer to grow outside the context of the body of Christ. It is together that we make up the body of Christ, with Him as our head. And Paul emphasized that when each part of the body is working properly, according to the Spirit’s gifting, the body grows and builds itself up in love. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s an attitude. It is a relationally-based, God-given power to impact the life and spiritual well-being of another person. Neither truth or love are relative or subjective. God has not left either one up to us to define. We are to speak His truth, not ours. We are to love according to His terms, not our own. And when we blend His truth with His kind of love, the body of Christ grows. Like sun and rain, truth and love are vital to the spiritual well-being of the church.


Gifted For Growth.

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. – Ephesians 4:7-14 ESV

Paul has stressed that the believers in Ephesus live together in unity, recognizing their shared faith and common bond in Christ. They had each been called by God. They had been placed in the body of Christ by God. And together, they were to live their lives in such a way as to bring glory and honor to God. And to make that possible, Paul reminded them that God had given them gifts. Paraphrasing from Psalm 68:18, Paul emphasized that when Jesus ascended back to heaven, He gave gifts to men. This happened as a result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and was first made evident at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit indwells a believer at their salvation, He gives them a gift – a supernatural enablement designed to build up the body of Christ. Paul described the nature of the gifts in his letter to the Corinthians.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV

The gifts of the Spirit are God-given, Spirit-empowered, and not man-made. They are not talents or natural capabilities. You are not born with these gifts.

Here in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul talks about God’s gift of individuals to the church. These are divinely appointed and equipped leaders whom God has chosen for the task of leading His people. Just as God chose and appointed Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and just as He chose David to provide the people of Israel with leadership as they moved from a kingdom of former slaves to prominence as one of the greatest nations in the world. God provided the church with leaders. Paul describes them as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. An apostle was literally a “sent one” or messenger. The original 11 disciples had been commissioned and sent by Jesus to take the gospel message to the world. Paul, though not one of the twelve disciples who had been chosen by Jesus, viewed himself as an apostle because he had been commissioned by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The primary role of the apostles was to spread the gospel and establish churches throughout the known world.

Prophets were “forth-tellers.” They had the divinely enabled ability to speak forth truth as based on the Word of God. They seemed to be responsible for building up the body of Christ, especially the local churches. Paul provides us with some insight into their role in his letter to the Corinthian believers: “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV).

Evangelists were “heralds of salvation.” They were gifted by the Spirit to share the gospel. Their role was essential, in that they played a significant part in leading others to Christ. It seems that some evangelists stayed close to home, ministering in their local communities, while others itinerant, traveling from city to city in order to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

When Paul refers to pastors and teachers, it is believed that he is speaking of one function, not two. It could be translated as “pastor-teacher” – referring to a single role within the church. Regardless of whether Paul speaking of one or two gifts, these individuals were essential in shepherding and teaching the body of Christ. The term “pastor” literally means “shepherd.” His role was to minister to the needs of the flock of Jesus Christ. He was to care for them, protect them, guide and feed them. A teacher was given the responsibility to teach the people of God. He was to instruct them in the Word of God and ensure that they understood sound doctrine. This particular role was essential to the well-being of the church because of the growing problem of false teaching and errant doctrine.

Together, these gifted individuals were to minister to God’s people, equipping them for the work of the ministry. It seems quite clear that Paul did not have in mind a professional clergy who did all the work of the ministry on behalf of the people of God. They were to be equippers and trainers, ensuring that the believers under their care were able to do the work of ministry within the local congregation. It was as individual believers were properly taught, trained, and equipped, that they were able to minister to one another and build up the body of Christ. Just a few verses later in this chapter, Paul describes the outcome of a well-equipped church: “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16 ESV).

The goal is growth. The objective is spiritual health and doctrinal soundness. Jesus did not leave His flock defenseless or alone. He provided us with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit has given the church gifted individuals to lead, guide and equip the body of Christ. Paul has in mind spiritual maturity. There was no place for spiritual stagnation or immaturity. God expected His people to grow and so did Paul. But it was a team effort. Each was expected to do his or her job, selflessly and sacrificially. For how long? “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 ESV).

Live Up To Your Calling.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

The idea of the church had at one time been a mystery, but now that it had been revealed and begun to spread throughout the world, Paul was on a mission to make sure that it lived up to its calling. When he refers to walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, Paul is talking about lifestyle, not physical fitness. He is addressing the church’s need to conduct itself in the world according to the plan God has laid out for it. The NET Bible translates the first two verses as, “I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called.” The calling each believer has received is the same. It is the calling of the Holy Spirit that allowed each and every individual who was once dead in their sins and blind to the reality of the gospel, to be able to hear and respond to the offer of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. Jesus quite boldly and matter-of-factly claimed, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ESV). The Greek word John used is ἕλκω (helkō) and it means, “to draw by inward power, lead, impel” (“G1670 - helkō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It was God who had made it possible for those Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s audience to come to faith in Christ. He is the one who called, impelled and drew them. It was He who placed them in the body of Christ. Now Paul wanted them to live up to that calling. In other words, he expected them to reflect their new nature and standing.

And Paul gets quite specific. He lists out humility, gentleness, patience and love as four visible characteristics of those who have been called or set apart by God. Each of the four are other-oriented. They take into account those with whom we live within the body of Christ. They each require a high degree of selflessness. Paul told the “called ones” in Philippi, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). Then he went on to tell them, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT). What kind of attitude or mindset did Jesus have? He was humble. He was willing to leave behind the glory of heaven and take on human flesh in order to provide redemption for mankind. He was a servant. Even though He was the Son of God and worthy of honor, He put aside His royalty and lived among humanity, so that He could serve those in bondage to sin and death. He was patient. He endured ridicule, rejection, taunts, false accusations and, ultimately, death at the hands of those He came to save. He could have destroyed them, but instead, He died for them. He was loving. As Paul will point on in the very next chapter of this letter, we are to emulate Christ’s example. “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:2 NLT).

Paul wants his readers to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 ESV). There is a oneness and a unity within the church that is like nothing else in the world. We have all been called by God and not a one of us deserved that calling. We were all in the same place prior to hearing God’s call. We were lost. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were spiritually blind. We were separated from God. We were hopeless. And we were totally helpless to do anything about it. But God called and placed us within the body of Christ. He unified us, in spite of our differences. He gave us a common bond and a shared responsibility to live up to our new status as His children and heirs.

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 6:26-28 NLT

Paul told the Colossian believers that he constantly prayed for them, asking God to give them complete knowledge of His will and spiritual wisdom and understanding. As a result of receiving those things, Paul said, “the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9-10 NLT). The way they lived their lives would be honoring and glorifying to God. And that was Paul’s desire for the believers in Ephesus as well.

In verses 4-6, Paul uses the word, “one” seven different times. It would seem that he was trying to make a point. Those believers to whom he was writing all had one thing in common: Their calling by God. But that calling was multidimensional. They were all called by one and the same Spirit of God. They were all placed in one body: the body of Christ. They were all called to the very same hope – their future glorification and the promise of eternal life. They all worshiped one Lord, as a result of one factor: faith. They had all experienced the unity of baptism. And all of it had been made possible by the one God and Father of all.

One God. One calling. One hope. One Lord. One church. One response: Live up to your calling.

Living In God’s Love.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

Paul picks up where he left off in verse one of this chapter. “For this reason…” He repeats that very same phrase, because he is took a brief aside to discuss the mystery of the church in verses 2-13. Now he is ready to make some application regarding this unity of Jews and Gentiles into one household of God. Back in chapter one, Paul had prayed for their spiritual enlightenment. He asked that God would give them “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17 ESV). Now in chapter three, he tells his audience that there is another prayer request he offers up on their behalf. He prays for their spiritual strength. “…that according to the riches of his glory he [God] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). In chapter one, he prayed that they might know God. Here he is praying that they would be “filled with all the fullness of God.” Earlier he prayed that they might know the hope to which they had been called. Here he is praying that their knowledge of that hope would strengthen their faith. The author of Hebrews described faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith and hope go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Faith makes that for what we hope become as real and tangible as if we already possessed it. But hope is not based on what we can already see. Paul told the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25 ESV). Jesus promised to send His Spirit. God has guaranteed us eternal life. Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us. But we can’t see any of these things. We have no tangible, visible proof. They are unseen by us. But by faith, we believe them to be true and real. Why? Because they have been promised to us by God. We trust His word. We rely upon His faithfulness. And the Spirit of God provides us with the strength we need to believe, even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty. Paul’s desire was that Christ would continue to dwell in their hearts through faith. He was not insinuating that they could somehow lose their salvation. But he was concerned that they could begin to lose their focus on the sufficiency of Christ in their lives. He wanted them to know that they were “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17 ESV). They were firmly and securely planted in the love of God through their faith in Christ. But Paul wanted them to fully comprehend that fact. He wanted the Holy Spirit to provide them with the strength necessary for them to fully comprehend just how powerful and vast God’s love for them really was. 

It is one thing to have a knowledge of God. It is another thing to understand and appreciate the love of God. It is when we begin to comprehend His incredible love for us, as displayed in His sacrifice of His own Son on our behalf, that we are able to see life through His eyes, not our own. We stop seeing every little trial as a punishment and start viewing them as opportunities to trust in a loving God who has great plans in place for us. When we begin to focus on all that God has done for us and all that He has promised to do for us in the future, we feel His love and we gain strength for the journey. He has not left us. He will never forsake us.

This all boils down to an understanding of and appreciation for God’s love. It is He who had saved them. In the midst of their sinfulness and helplessness, God had intervened, sending His Son to die on their behalf. Paul put it in simple, yet profound terms: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). The apostle John adds the important distinction that Jesus did what He did out of love as well. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 ESV). The love of God and His Son for us should encourage and empower us. It should flow through us. Paul prayed that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. This is not a prayer that his readers would become gods, but that the very nature of God – His love, mercy, grace, righteousness, compassion, selflessness, and holiness – would fill us and exude from us.

And Paul had every confidence that what he was asking from God would be provided by God. Why? Because He is “able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV). God doesn’t just have the power to save us, He has the power to sanctify us. And He has made it possible by placing His Spirit within us. His power is not just an external force working from the outside in. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides within us, transforming us from the inside out. His love for us not static. It is actively revealing itself in His ongoing activity in and around our lives as He molds and makes us into the likeness of His Son. God is patiently, lovingly working within individuals, but also within the church. He is doing things we cannot see. He is accomplishing works that are invisible to our eyes. But in faith we wait expectantly. We hope confidently. We labor joyously. We endure patiently. We are loved. He is faithful. And He is far from done.

An Unstoppable Force.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. – Ephesians 3:7-14 ESV

Paul saw his role as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ as a gift of grace. He had no right to be the bearer of the good news to the Gentiles. In fact, Paul saw himself as the very least of all the saints. He was morally unqualified to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, but God had mercifully showered him with His grace, transforming him into a worthy messenger of the glorious gospel. And Paul took his role seriously, willingly enduring rejection, ridicule and even physical abuse in order to fulfill his God-given mission. Even as he wrote this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome. Even imprisonment would not stop Paul from preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. Until Paul had begun taking the message of salvation through faith in Christ to the Gentiles, it had remained hidden from them. They were incapable of understanding or accessing the incredible grace of God offered to them through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But Paul spent his life making sure they heard the good news and were given the chance to know the joy of being made right with God through faith in Jesus as their Savior.

One of Paul’s greatest joys was unveiling the mystery of the church, God’s amazing plan to make the Gentiles “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). When we read the New Testament, it is tempting to view the world as divided into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. And it is easy to mistake the word “Gentile” as referring to a particular people group. But that word was an all-encompassing label for anyone outside the people of Israel. It included Greeks, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Phrygians, Egyptians and Romans. Paul was an equal-opportunity evangelist who shared the gospel with anyone and everyone he met. And as those individuals placed their faith in Christ, they became part of “the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV) – the church. And Paul said that it would be through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV). That word, “manifold” is the Greek word, πολυποίκιλος (polypoikilos), which literally means “much variegated, marked with a great variety of colours” (“G4182 - polypoikilos - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). The multi-racial makeup of the church reveals the wisdom of God. The church was not something men would have come up with. It made no sense. The blending together of people from different racial backgrounds and social standings into one homogeneous group was unheard of. The degree of equality and equanimity made possible in this mysterious thing called the church was an anomaly.  Even angels and demons are amazed at what they see in the church. The unifying nature of God’s redemptive work through Christ is like nothing else in the world. No other organization, effort, or man-made institution has the capacity to draw people together in love like the church. And that is why Satan spends so much time trying to destroy the unity within the church. He wants to divide and conquer from within. So he brings in false teaching and harmful doctrines that create schisms and divide congregations. He promotes pride, while God calls us to live in humility and selflessness. The enemy wants us to recognize our differences, while God desires for us to celebrate our oneness in Christ. Satan wants us to dwell on our individuality, while God calls us to live in unity.

The church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural community is like a beautiful tapestry. Its members come from a wide range of colourful backgrounds. No other human community resembles it. Its diversity and harmony are unique. – John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians

. . . the church is to be an audio-visual display of God’s reconciling work. In this primary way she testifies to God’s grace and wisdom. So Paul encouraged living life in Christ in such a way that reconciliation is the dominant feature of church life. – Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Paul's Prison Epistles

The church is an amazing, God-ordained and Spirit-empowered entity that reveals to the world His incredible wisdom and the life-transforming power of the gospel. King David wrote, “How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!” (Psalm 133:1 NLT). And that is true of the church. A common faith in Jesus Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit give believers in the body of Christ a bond that is unlike anything the world has ever seen. This was God’s “eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11 NLT). The church should be an unstoppable force in the world today, illustrating the power and wisdom of God. We should model the love of God. We should exude the grace and mercy of God. We should demonstrate the unity of God as we live together in harmony, sacrificing our individual needs for the sake of one another. When Peter told Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus responded, “upon this rock [his confession] I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). As men and women from all walks of life and every nation on earth confess Jesus as Lord, God builds them into the most powerful force in the universe: His church. And no one or nothing will ever defeat it.


A Mystery Revealed.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles — assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Ephesians 3:1-6 ESV

Something once hidden, but now revealed. That is what Paul means when he speaks of the mystery of Christ. In the Old Testament, the Jews knew of and longed for the coming Messiah, but they viewed Him as the Savior of Israel alone. He was to be their king and redeemer, much like King David had been, leading them to great victories over their enemies and back into prominence as a nation. Any relationship between their Messiah and the Gentile nations would have been in the form of military victories over them and nothing more. The thought of the Messiah coming as the Savior of all mankind never crossed their minds. The only way a Gentile could partake of the blessings of Israel was through conversion to their faith, including circumcision and the rigorous keeping of the law of Moses. In the book of Exodus, God gave the people of Israel instructions regarding the “strangers” or non-Jews who had left Egypt with them. “If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” (Exodus 12:48-49 ESV). While Gentiles could and did convert to Judaism in the Old Testament, it was relatively rare. The requirements for conversion were rigorous and kept many Gentiles from becoming fully-functioning members of the household of Israel.

That’s where the mystery comes in. Paul was commissioned by Jesus Himself to reveal to the Gentiles that they now had access to God. They could worship Yahweh, the God of the Jews, but it would not require conversion or circumcision. Any requirement to keep the law of Moses had been eliminated. But what Paul was preaching was not conversion to Judaism, but entrance into the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He was sharing the good news of salvation made available to both Jews and Gentiles because of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In his letter to the Romans, Paul described the gospel as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV).

With the coming of Christ, access to God was made available to all men through one means: Faith. It is not that faith was a new concept or that prior to Christ men had to gain access to God through works or the keeping of the law. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear in chapter 11. There he describes the Old Testament saints who “by faith” believed in the promises of God and were declared righteous by God. “For by it [faith] the people of old received their commendation” (Hebrews 11:2 ESV). He revealed that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God[, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Ephesians 11:6 ESV). Faith has always been God’s means by which men draw near to Him. And He sent His Son in order to make the life of faith available to all – Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul writes, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6 ESV). From the day of Pentecost forward, the church became the home of God’s people, those who had placed their faith in His Son. The church of God became the holy temple of God containing people from every tribe, nation and tongue. As Paul expressed earlier in his letter, “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV).

The church of Jesus Christ is the dwelling place of God. It contains those who worship God as a result of the access provided to them by the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. It is their common faith in Christ and His death on their behalf that provides them with the righteousness they need to come into God’s presence. No one earns their way into God’s throne room. No one merits God’s favor or escapes His judgment due to their own efforts. As Paul state earlier: “Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us” (Ephesians 2:18 NLT). And as we will see just a few verses later: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence” (Ephesians 3:12 NLT).

None of this infers that God is done with the Jews or that the church has somehow replaced the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. We live in the church age. This is part of God’s plan for this period of redemptive history. But the day is coming when God will fulfill all His promises to Israel. He has not forgotten them. He is faithful and will keep every promise He has made to them. But at the current time, we are experiencing the mystery of the church – Jew and Gentile living together as the body of Christ, sharing a common faith in our crucified and resurrection Savior. We are the beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace and mercy. He has made a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with Him, based solely on His grace as revealed in His Son and made possible by faith.


One nation under God.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:14-22 ESV

To truly understand this passage, you must first grasp the nature of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s world. There was a long and deep-seated animosity between the two groups. To put it bluntly, Jews despised Gentiles. They viewed them with contempt and rarely, if ever, associated with them on any level. The Jews viewed themselves as the chosen people of God. Everyone else was considered a Gentile, an outsider and destined to God’s wrath and punishment. It was forbidden for Jew to marry a Gentile, and in the rare cases it did happen, the family of the Jewish son or daughter would consider their child as dead, even holding their funeral to mark the day. Paul had just told the Gentile converts in the church in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Jesus, the Messiah or Christ, had been promised to the Jews. He had been born a Jew. They had been born outside the commonwealth of Israel, with no access to the covenant promises made to the people of God. So not only were they disdained by the Israelites, they were without hope and without God in the world.

But all that had changed. Paul reminded them, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). The great chasm that had separated the Gentiles from the Jews had been closed by Jesus. He had made it possible for them to have hope and a relationship with God. But amazingly, Jesus had not just reconciled the Gentiles with God, He had reconciled them to the Jewish believers in their congregation. They were now one.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. – Ephesians 2:14 NLT

When God called out Abraham and promised to make of him a great nation, that was the beginning of the Jewish people. God separated them out. He took one man and his barren wife and made of them a mighty nation. He chose them as His own and revealed Himself to them in ways that He had not done with any other people group on the planet. He rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had them through the wilderness. He met all their needs along the way. He gave them His law. He led them the land of Canaan just as He had promised Abraham. He fought and won battles on their behalf. He gave them prophets to speak to them. He provided kings to lead them. He appointed priests to minister to them. And they were to be a light to the Gentiles, a visible example of what it looks like when men live in obedience and submission to God. But they had failed. They couldn’t keep God’s law. They were incapable of remaining faithful to Him. They repeatedly rebelled and wandered from the truth of God, seeking after false gods and the fulfillment of their own selfish desires. And as a result, God punished them. He sent them into exile. He disciplined His chosen people. But He also redeemed them from slavery yet again and returned them to the land of promise. But things would never be quite the same. They would never have another king. They would never enjoy the peace and prosperity of the days of David and Solomon.

Then God sent His Son, the Messiah. After centuries of waiting, the long-awaited One arrived on the scene. But John records what happened. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). Jesus, the Son of God and the descendant of King David, was rejected by His own people. Instead of crowing Him as King, they demanded His crucifixion. But it was all part of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. With His death, Jesus had “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” The law had separated Jews from Gentiles, but it had also separated Jews from God. They could not keep the law. It held them under sin, exposing and condemning their lack of faithfulness to God. But Jesus removed the barrier. He reconciled both Jew and Gentile to God “in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16 ESV). He made it possible for men to be restored to God and to one another. Paul claimed that Jesus “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17 ESV). The very same message of redemption was preached to Jews and Gentiles. Restoration and reconciliation to God would be the same for both. As Paul stated earlier, it was to be by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV).

And now, believing Jews and believing Gentiles were one. No more alienation and separation. No more animosity and hostility. As a result of their shared faith in Jesus Christ, they had become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). The church was God’s plan from all along. It was always His intention to redeem men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation. That is why He had told Abraham that He would make him the father of many “nations” – not just the Hebrew nation. He had also told Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18). And that promise was fulfilled in Christ. “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22 ESV). The people of God, reconciled to Him through a common faith in His Son, and living in the shared power of His Spirit. One nation under God.



Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated 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. – Ephesians 2:11-13 ESV

In these verses, Paul seems to be contradicting a statement he made in his letter to the Philippian believers. There, he told them, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14. Yet, here we hear him telling the Ephesian believers to “remember” – not once but twice. So which is it, Paul? Are we to remember or forget? Should we look back or press forward? Truthfully, I believe Paul would simply say, “Both.” As always when reading Scripture, context is critical. In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Paul was stressing “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 ESV). He was contrasting human merit with God’s grace. He had spent years of his life trying to earn favor with God and make himself acceptable to God. He boldly professed, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6 ESV). But then he confessed, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7 ESV). In other words, all his past achievements and efforts at self-justification before God were worthless when compared to the free gift of grace made available to him through faith in Jesus Christ. Which led him to conclude, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8-9 ESV). So, for Paul, when it came to his right standing with God, there was no looking back. No need to dwell on his past efforts or put hope in his own attempts at righteousness. They were worthless to him. So he chose to look ahead and press on to the goal of righteousness made possible through faith in Christ. His past accomplishments were of no value when it came to his future righteousness.

But when he wrote to the Ephesian believers, Paul had a slightly different goal in mind. In verse 10, he reminded his readers, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV). Good works were not a means for achieving a right standing with God, but they should be a reflection of and response to our right standing with God made possible by faith in Jesus Christ. Good works were not to be meritorious, done in hopes of earning favor with God, but were to be done out of gratitude for all He has done for us. When it comes to works, grace is opposed to earning, not effort.

In the verses above, Paul is specifically addressing the Gentile converts who were part of the local church in Ephesus. He wants them to remember that their salvation had nothing to do with works. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even circumcised. He told them, “Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts” (Ephesians 2:11 NLT). Prior to coming to faith in Christ, they had been on the outside looking in. Paul told them, “You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT). And to make matters even worse, he reminded them, “You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Ephesians 2:12 NLT).

Notice the difference in Paul’s emphasis from his letter to the Philippians and his letter to the Ephesians. One is calling them to get their minds off their thoughts of self-righteousness or any hopes of earning a right standing with God based on human effort. The other is reminding them to never forget what they were before God showered them with His grace. What makes grace so amazing is our total undeservedness. None of us is righteous. None of us deserved to receive God’s grace. And yet, in spite of our undeserving status, God made His Son’s sacrificial death and gift of redemption available to us. Which is why Paul places two simple, yet powerful words right in the middle of this section of his letter: “But now…”

It should remind of us of what Paul had written just a few verses earlier. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV). God stepped in. God intervened on our behalf, out of His love and according to His rich mercy. And Paul wanted them to remember just how bad things had been, so that they would fully appreciate all that God had done for them. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 ESV). Far off…brought near. Outsiders…insiders. Enemies…friends. Condemned…justified. Dead…alive. Lost…found. Sinful…blameless. Guilty…forgiven.

Paul would have us never forget our past. We are not to dwell on it or feel any pangs of guilt because of it. But there is value in recalling just how bad things were before we heard the good news of Jesus Christ. The glory of grace always shines brightest against the dark backdrop of human sin and hopelessness. It is in considering what God has done for us that we gain assurance and confidence in all that He has promised to do in the future. Paul put it well in his letter to the Colossians.

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:21-23 NLT

Be Strong In The Lord.

1 Chronicles 5-6, Ephesians 6

And when they prevailed over them, the Hagrites and all who were with them were given into their hands, for they cried out to God in the battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him. – 1 Chronicles 5:20 ESV

Once again, as we read through the genealogical record found in the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, we find an interesting side note provided by the chronicler. In referring to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, he gives an added detail that provides a unique insight into these three tribes that occupied the Transjordan region. As the Israelites were preparing to enter into the Promised Land, these three tribes asked for permission to settle on the opposite side of the Jordan. Joshua's only demand was that they agree to fight alongside the Israelites and help them conquer the nations occupying the land of promise. Once all the tribes were in their allotted places, they could return to the other side of the Jordan. They had kept their word and settled on the opposite side of the Jordan. And the chronicler describes them as “valiant men who carried shield and sword, and drew the bow, expert in war, 44,760, able to go to war” (1 Chronicles 5:18 ESV). In other words, they were proven men of battle. But he gives us another important insight into their success as warriors. He tells us that “they cried out to God in battle, and he granted their urgent plea because they trusted in him” (1 Chronicles 5:20 ESV). These men were recognized as valiant, brave, and skilled soldiers, but the secret to their success was their trust in God. When facing battle, they cried out to God. They didn't simply rely on their own strength, they placed their trust in God. And the chronicler tells us, “many fell, because the war was of God” (1 Chronicles 5:22 ESV). Their reliance upon God brought victory by the hand of God. It would have been easy for them to lean on their own military might and experience in warfare, but instead, they trusted God and relied on His strength. Later on, in the book of 2 Chronicles, we read the words, “But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down” (1 Chronicles 25:8 ESV). The power of God has always been available to His people. When they were standing on the edge of the Promised Land, preparing to enter in and conquer its inhabitants, God told them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God offers His people His help. He makes available His strength and awesome power. He provides an immeasurable resource into which we can tap at any time. But we must trust Him. We must believe that He is capable of accomplishing all that He has promised. He reminds us to be strong and courageous, not because of our own strength or capabilities, but because of His. What set the people of Israel apart from all the other nations was their God. Without Him, they were nothing. Which was an invaluable lesson they would never seem to learn. Their refusal to regularly rely on Him and trust Him for their well-being would ultimately result in their spiritual failure as a nation and their defeat at the hands of their enemies. But God had always been there for them, ready to put His unlimited, unstoppable power at their disposal. But a big reason the people of Israel turned to other gods was due to their lack of trust in Yahweh. They wanted to hedge their bets and ensure that they covered their bases by keeping any and all gods on their side. The one true God was not enough for them. They never fully rejected Him, but they combined their worship of Yahweh with the worship of all kinds of false gods, in the hopes that these other gods could step in and provide them with aide when Yahweh couldn't or wouldn't. But the apostle Paul reminds us, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV). His recommendation is that we, as the people of God, put our trust, hope, faith and full reliance on God alone.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But when the going gets tough, our tendency as human beings is to place our trust in anything and everything we think may provide us with help – including ourselves. But as God's chosen people, we are to recognize our need for Him. The battles we face in life are not designed for us to showcase our strength or prove our self-sufficiency. They are opportunities to watch God work. They are unique vantage points from which we can witness the power of God and enjoy victories that would have been otherwise impossible. But first we have to trust Him. Paul goes on to say, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV). The battle we find ourselves in is far more than we can handle in our own strength. Left to our own devices, we are ill-equipped to face the enemy who stands against us. We are in a spiritual battle that is far greater than anything we could ever imagine. So we must find our strength in God, not ourselves. We must put on His armor, not our own. Repeatedly, Paul tells us to stand against, withstand, stand firm and stand. But we are to do so based on our trust in God and His strength. We are to wear His armor – His truth, His righteousness, His gospel, His faith, His salvation, His Spirit. Like the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, we are to pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:18 ESV). We are to turn to Him and trust in Him, relying on His strength and exhibiting courage based on His power, not our own.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I have always found it fascinating that God did not just give the Israelites the land He had promised them. He could have easily eliminated the nations who occupied the land without the Israelites ever having to raise a finger. In fact, there are numerous occasions when He did just that. But for the most part, God required that the people of Israel put on their armor, pick up their swords and go into battle. They had to do their part. But He had promised to be with them. He had promised that the battle would be His. He would reveal His strength through their weakness. He would reveal His power through their insufficiencies and inadequacies. The people who lived in the land were great and powerful. The odds were totally against the Israelites and any hopes they had of defeating their enemies seemed slim to none. But they had a secret weapon: God. They would not be fighting alone. They would not be going into battle having to rely on their own strength and military might. They would be led by the Lord of Hosts. And the same thing is true for us today. The enemies we face are great. The odds are stacked against us. But we are to trust in God and go into battle equipped with His resources and wearing His armor. We must constantly remind ourselves that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV). We can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. We can wear the armor He has provided. We can stand on the promise of His presence and the power He provides through His Spirit. We can do battle with the cosmic powers aligned against us because our God is great and His victory is assured. But we must trust Him. We must rely upon Him. And we must constantly remind ourselves that we can do NOTHING without Him.

Father, I get so tired of trying to fight the battles on this life in my own strength. I don't know why I keep trying to trust in myself when I constantly prove incapable and insufficient for the task. I want to learn to stand firm on Your strength. I want to rest in Your power. I want to learn to cry out to You and trust in You. Help me to stand firm, not based on anything I bring to the table, but solely based on Your reputation, power and promises. Amen

How Will You Be Remembered?

1 Chronicles 3-4, Ephesians 5

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV

In chapter 3 of 1 Chronicles we are given a complete listing of the Davidic line of succession all the way up until the time when the people of Judah were taken captive to Babylon. It begins with David and ends with Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. In-between we have a list all the kings who ruled over Judah and it is a fascinating compilation of characters. At first glance, it is just a listing of hard-to-pronounce names. But after having worked our way through the books of 1 and 2 Kings, we know that each of these names represents a particular individual who either sought God during his lifetime or turned his back on God and led the nation of Judah into a lifestyle of unfaithfulness. The original Jewish readers of the book of 1 Chronicles would have been very familiar with these names and their reputations. They would have known of Solomon and his wisdom. But they would have also known about his failure to live faithfully and obediently for God, resulting in the split of the kingdom. They would have been familiar with Manasseh and how he had built altars in the house of the Lord and even burned his own son as a sacrifice to one of the many false gods he worshiped. They would have heard about Josiah, who took the throne at the age of eight, but did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He instituted reforms and attempted to restore the nation of Judah to its covenant relationship with God. Each of the names in this listing represent a life that was marked by a reputation. They would be remembered for the things they had done and the lifestyle they had lived. It's interesting to note that in the middle of this genealogical listing, one name is given special attention. It is the name of Jabez, an obscure individual who is remembered for having been more honorable than all his brothers. He prayed that God would bless him and increase his borders, keeping him from harm. And the text reads, “And God granted what he asked” (1 Chronicles 4:10 ESV). One man who turned to God and asked Him for blessing, protection and provision. His simple prayer illustrates a faithful, committed life lived in obedience to and dependence upon God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Every one of the names listed in these two chapters in 1 Chronicles represents an individual who was a member of the chosen people of God. He had been born into the nation of Israel and was set apart as a worshiper of the one true God. But not all of them lived up to their calling. God had set apart the people of Israel as His own possession. He had given them His name, provided them with His law, and graciously made available His sacrificial system to ensure their forgiveness of sin and the possibility of remaining in a right relationship with Him. He had freed them from captivity in Egypt, led them through the wilderness and provided them with a land of their own. He had given them victories in battle, showed them mercy when they had sinned, exhibited patience when they were unfaithful, and offered them the promise of His blessing if they would simply obey Him. All He had asked in return was that they remain faithful to Him. He had forbidden them to worship other gods or to live like the nations all around them. He simply desired that they live distinctively and differently, illustrating to the rest of the world what it looks like to follow the one true God. Their lives were to have been a visual representation of true godliness in a world filled with false gods. God's expectation of them was exactly what Paul communicated to the believers in Ephesus hundreds of years later. “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-10 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

God has always expected His people to live differently. He has always desired that those who are called by His name exhibit characteristics that are in keeping with His name. But the long list of names found in 1 Chronicles 3-4 contains more than a few individuals whose reputations were far from godly and who lived their lives in darkness rather than the light. Paul exhorts his readers that, as believers, their lives were not to be characterized by sexual immorality, impurity, coveting, foolish talk, crude joking, or unfruitful works of darkness. Instead, they were to try to discern what was pleasing to God. As light, they were to expose the deeds of darkness, rather than participate in them. They were to illuminate the darkness of sin all around them, not take part in it. Paul encourages them to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV). Their relationship with God was to have a direct impact on how they lived their lives. It was to influence every facet of their lives, including their relationships with their spouses. They were to walk in love and mutual submission. They were to imitate God just as a child imitates his father. They were to be known and recognized for who they were – the children of God. But the temptation for all of us is to blend into the woodwork and to become just like the world around us. We find it so easy to compromise with the world and allow our light to become absorbed by the darkness. God had called the people of Israel to be set apart from the world, but they failed to live up to that calling. He has issued that same call to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. He has even given us His Holy Spirit to make it possible. But we must submit to His Spirit. We must desire to live according to His will. We must want to live as light in the midst of the darkness. Like Jabez, we must recognize our need for and dependence upon God to live our lives in this world. We must be willing to ask, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that you hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” (1 Chronicles 4:10 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This life is not easy. This world is a difficult place in which to live as salt and light. It is so easy to allow my reputation to become marred by a love for this world and “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV). But at the end of my life, I want my reputation to be that of a man who remained faithful to His God and who lived in dependence upon His Spirit. I want to be remembered as someone who tried to imitate God and who will be recognized as having been a child of God. I have been set apart by God for His use. I have been made His child and an heir to His kingdom. I have been given His Spirit and have access to His power. My greatest desire should be to live in such a way that i reflect my relationship as His child and reveal His light through my life.

Father, I want to be remembered as Your child. I want my reputation to be honoring to You, not me. I ask that you continue Your sanctifying work in my life, transforming me into the likeness of Your Son, so that I might mirror His character and reflect His light into the darkness that fills this world. Amen