ephesians

Ephesians 6

Today’s reading is Ephesians 6.

This chapter began by continuing to specify what it meant to “walk in the way of love “ (5:2a) for children (vv. 1-3), fathers (v. 4), slaves (vv. 5-8), and masters (v. 9). The rest of the chapter encouraged believers to prepare for spiritual battle (vv. 10-20) and gave Paul’s final greetings. I want to focus on part of Paul’s instructions to slaves. In verse 6b, Paul encouraged slaves to work “as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” Then he repeated the point in verse 7 when he wrote, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people....” These were helpful instructions to people stuck in a bad situation. Neither Paul nor the church at Ephesus had the political power to end slavery and Christ’s mission was not to reform this world’s kingdoms but to save people for his coming kingdom.+ Slavery was a fact of life in a world dominated by the Roman empire but Christians who were slaves could act differently because of their faith in Christ. Although they were in an unjust situation that they could not change, they could change their hearts toward the situation. Instead of cursing their masters, producing as little as possible, and stealing if they could get away with it, Paul urged them to think and work differently because of their faith in Christ.

Instead of doing the work slaves do reluctantly, fearful of being beaten but with little positive motivation, Paul encouraged slaves to “serve wholehearted.” That is, “Act like you want to be there doing this work.” What would motivate someone to do that? Not their human masters who may have treated them like they were animals. Instead, they should act “as if you were serving the Lord, not people....” That attitude makes work, even if it is dull or difficult, an act of worship. The master may not notice or care but God does! Verse 8 says, “because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.”

Do you believe that God sees every act that you do for his glory? If you are taking care of an ill relative, mopping the floors of your employer after the work day is over, showing kindness to someone in the office who isn’t kind on their own, God sees it. Or if you’re faithfully entering data into a computer, steel into a machine, or baby food into your infant’s mouth, it matters--not because it will change the world in some way but because it is done as an act of worship from your faith in God.

If you’re facing a tough day at work today, let these words encourage you and guide you.

+Though Paul recommended freedom for slaves in 1 Cor 7:21b, Philemon 10, 15-16.

Ephesians 5

Today, read Ephesians 5.

I mentioned yesterday that God’s love is a key theme in Ephesians and that, in Christ, we live worthy of the calling by acting in love towards one another. The opening verses of today’s chapter said it directly, “ Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us....” The rest of this chapter and much of the next one specify what it means to “walk in the way of love.” There are all kinds of highly applicable commands in this passage but let’s focus on this one: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” A recent article in the Guardian, a newspaper from the United Kingdom reported dramatic increases in swear words that were used in books. Ordinarily I would link to the article, but it uses the swear words, so I’ll just link to Albert Mohler’s podcast The Briefing where I heard about this study.

Anyway, the Guardian article said that researches searched almost 1 million books written in American English and published between 1950 and 2008. During that time period, one swearword had increased in usage 678 times between 1950 and the mid-200s. Another word was used 168 times more over that time period. This is no surprise to any of us who have been alive for the last half or more of the past six decades. Our society has grown more and more comfortable using words that speak crudely of sex or of bodily functions. Many of these words are used to express a person’s anger. It seems to me that our society has more anger to express than ever before, too, which correlates with the increase in cursing.

One of the ways God calls us to “live a life of love” is to remove obscene, crude talk from our conversation. Paul said in verse 4 that these words are “out of place.” What makes them out of place? The fact that we belong to God, for one, who calls us to be holy like he is (see 3b). Furthermore, knowing Christ changes our outlook on the world and gives us the tools to be angry without sinning. But the most immediate antidote for cursing is given to us in verse 4 as well when Paul says, “...but rather thanksgiving.” You can’t be angry and thankful at the same time; one way to deal with anger biblically, then, is to pivot your thinking from the things that make you mad and want to curse to something you can give thanks for in that situation. Turn your curses, then, into opportunities to bless the Lord for the good things He has done in your life. This will help you to live a life of love, just as Christ himself did.

Ephesians 4

Today’s reading is Ephesians 4.

God’s love is a key theme in this book of Ephesians:

  • God predestined us in love (1:3b-4a).
  • God made us alive in Christ because of his great love for us (2:4-5).
  • God wants us to be rooted and established in his love (3:17)
  • God wants us to know his love, even though it surpasses knowledge (3:19).

Here in Ephesians 4, these truths about God’s love were applied. In verse 1 Paul urged believers “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” That “calling” is the calling to know and love God, to receive the gift of salvation by grace in Christ as we see in Ephesians 1:18b-19: “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Having described that calling in Ephesians 1-3, Paul now urged the believers in 4:1 to “live a life worthy of the calling....” How do you do that? The rest of chapter 4 lays it out:

  • “be humble and gentle” (v. 2a).
  • “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2b).
  • “keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3)
  • Grow in spiritual maturity through the gift of the church and its leaders (vv. 7-16).
  • Put off the old self (vv. 17-22) and put on the new self (vv. 23-32).

I noted at the beginning of today’s devotional that “God’s love is a key theme” in Ephesians and I reviewed the key passages that mention God’s love. Look now in today’s chapter at all the ways “love” is intertwined with living “a life worthy of the calling” :

  • v. 2: “bearing with one another in love
  • v. 14: “speaking the truth ”in love”
  • v. 16: “the whole body...”builds itself up in love

A big part of “living up to the calling” is living a life of love. Just as God loved us and called us to faith, now we live out that faith by loving one another in the church. We bear with each other, speak the truth, and build each other in the body up “in love.”

In our church, who do you find it hard to put up with (v. 2)? (Don’t leave the name in the comments, please!) Living according to God’s loving call in your life means putting up with that person.

In our church, who do you need to speak truth to “in love” (v. 14)? Taking on that difficult conversation in a loving way, speaking the truth for that person’s good rather than avoiding the real issues is how you live according to the loving call God extended to us.

In our church, who do you need to “build up in love”? Who is hurting? Who is missing our worship gatherings? Who needs to learn some life or ministry skills that you could teach them? Building them up in love is how we live according to God’s gracious, loving call in our lives. Just as God loved us when we were unlovely, we should bear with the unlovely “in love.” Just as God spoke truth to us through the gospel, we should speak the truth “in love” to others around us. Just as God is building godliness in us (v. 24b), we should build up each other in godliness because we love God and his people.

These are some of the loving ways we can live a life worthy of who God--in love--has called us to be in Christ.

Ephesians 3

Today’s reading is Ephesians 3.

This chapter begins strangely. Paul started one sentence, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” in verse 1, then began a different thought in verse 2. The thought that Paul broke off in verse 1 is resumed in verse 14. You can see that in the similar language: “For this reason, I Paul...” (v. 1) and “For this reason I kneel before the Father....” (v. 14). In between these two verses Paul set forth his unique qualifications (v. 4: “my insight”) to describe God’s revealed plan in Christ. That plan is “that the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body...” (v. 6). God revealed this plan to Paul (vv. 2-6) and commissioned him particularly to announce and explain the aspect of this plan that involved us Gentiles (vv. 7-11).

Having laid all that ground work, Paul taught that our salvation by Christ allow us to “approach God with freedom and confidence.” After a brief word instructing the Ephesians not to worry about Paul’s imprisonment (v. 13), Paul described for the Ephesians how he prayed for them in verses 14-19. His prayer was that they would be strengthened spiritually by God’s power (v. 16). Specifically, he wanted them to know Christ by faith (v. 17) and go much deeper in love. Notice how love is mentioned in verse 17, verses 18, and verse 19. Christ’s love is what establishes us (v. 17b). Christ’s love for us is immense (“how wide and longs and high and deep”) so we need God’s help to grasp it. It is so great that it “surpasses knowledge” yet God wants us “to know this love” (v. 19a). The result of knowing and growing in Christ’s love is that we will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that sin will damage us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that obedience, not sin, will bring joy to our lives.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that he allows bad stuff into our lives for our good not to cause us pain.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will not fear what people think of us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will want to share his love with other people, even those we think are unlovely.

I’m sure that list could go on and on. God wants you to be holy, he wants you to believe his word, he wants you to live a generous, giving life, he wants you to spread the gospel and live for eternity. But the key that unlocks all these (and other) great Christian truths is the knowledge that God loves you. So, ask him to teach you how much he loves you and pray for others that they might know and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s love for them.

Ephesians 1

Today, read Ephesians 1.

When we left Paul yesterday in Acts 28, he was living in his own rented home and waiting for two years for his trial in Rome. During this house arrest, Paul wrote his “prison epistles”--Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon so this seems like an appropriate point for us to read them.

As we were reading the book of Acts, we saw that Paul spent two years in Ephesus (Acts 19:10) on his third missionary journey. At the end of that journey as Paul traveled to Jerusalem, Paul called for the elders from the Ephesian church to meet with him when he stopped in nearby in Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). I’m bringing all this up to remind you that Paul had a very personal interest and relationship with this particular church. This is why he wrote one of his prison letters to them while in Rome awaiting trial.

The mood of this chapter, Ephesians 1, is ebullient; it overflows with praise for God’s love and blessings (vv. 3-14) and thanks for the faith of the Ephesians (vv. 15-23). Although there are many truths in this chapter on which we could meditate, let’s focus on verse 13b-14, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

God has promised us so much in Christ but how do we know that those promises apply to us? According to verse 13b, it is because the Holy Spirit seals us. This is a way of describing God's ownership. The Spirit tells us that we belong to Christ. As we see the fruit of the Spirit growing and developing in our lives, it reassures us that we belong to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is more than our seal, though, according to this verse. He is also, "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance...." This means that the joy he brings us in Christ, the love that we have for other believers and that they have for us, and all the other benefits the Spirit gives us are reminders, tastes of what eternity will be like. Think of the greatest worship service you've ever experienced, the kind where each song drew your heart closer to God and the message filled you with awe and love for God. I'm talking about the kind of service that made you feel sad when it ended but also made you feel excited to read the word and serve God while singing his praises. This is what eternity with Jesus will be like and the Spirit's blessing in this way is a deposit, reassuring you that you will be there to experience that eternity and giving you a preview of what it will be like.

If the Spirit is the deposit, the down payment of these good things, then when do we get the whole package of good things? According to verse 14 it will be at "the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory." "The redemption of those who are God's possession" is the return of Christ. At that time, Christ will select everyone who has the Spirit--the seal of his ownership--and he will finish his work of redemption by glorifying our bodies and sanctifying our hearts and minds fully. Then he will welcome us into the eternal worship service that never ends.

This is why you have the Holy Spirit--to remind you of all that is coming for us in Christ in eternity. So be encouraged no matter what happens today and walk in the Spirit obediently as a child of God.