The Insatiable Thirst For More

1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Pleasure, laughter, wine, work, possessions. Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for meaning in life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of being able to afford all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. Enough was never enough. Despite all of his purchases, possessions, and pleasures, he remained discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction.

So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the contributing factors to Solomon’s dilemma was likely the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a time in Israel’s history when the nation enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation, and his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he went on a building spree. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built a temple for Yahweh, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon didn’t stop there.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects brought him lasting satisfaction. So, he set his sights on the pursuit of pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism. His pleasure quest was well orchestrated and the byproduct of an inquiring mind. Like a scientist in search of a cure for a deadly disease, Solomon was looking for the source of man’s satisfaction and significance.

Being king was not enough. He had discovered that great wealth and unparalleled wisdom were insufficient sources for providing satisfaction. So, he attempted to fill the void with pleasure. He dabbled in wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to satisfy his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers.

Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived by the motto: “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it brought lasting satisfaction. He describes his efforts as producing nothing more than vanity or futility. It had no more profitable than trying to chase and capture the wind. It had all ended in a dead end of frustration and futility. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but the void in his life remained. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but Solomon was a lonely and discontented man.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was probably satisfying, for the moment. But the satisfaction didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content.

Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation are lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’ – 1 Kings 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign were marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant and began to fill his life with everything but God. He even began to worship other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them.

Solomon forgot God and he lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. The minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like a man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awestruck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that possessions always end up possessing their owner. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus, a descendant of Solomon, would speak these powerful words of warning:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and made the fateful mistake of placing his hope in anything and everything but God. He found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ends in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Peace, Love, and Faith

21 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. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:21-24 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turns his attention to himself. He has written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of allegedly bringing Gentiles into the temple and defiling it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they wanted to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up having to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, and King Agrippa. Eventually, he was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So, while under house arrest, he wrote 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 because he knew they were 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 was also aware that the believers to whom he had ministered so faithfully worried about him as well. They were concerned with his well-being and felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly them about his circumstances. With everything else going on in their lives, he didn’t want them worrying 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 Timothy 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 knew that they didn’t 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. But he could also be deeply compassionate, encouraging them in their weaknesses, and calling them to remain faithful. 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. He 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 Ephesian church 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 for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. And that kind of love 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 expressed to 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

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 closes 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 deserved or earned 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 and it is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving Him 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!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Suit Up, Stand Up, Speak Up!

18 To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 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, the body of Christ. 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 and is the mysterious or previously hidden idea that God would miraculously join 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 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 later 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 God has 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 he wears it in a futile attempt to act 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 as well. We should desire that each and every believer on the planet lives 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.

Not surprisingly, Paul asks his flock in Ephesus to pray for him. He is writing his letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before the emperor. But Paul doesn’t request that they pray for his timely release. While there’s little doubt that Paul longed to be set free so that he could continue his ministry, he also saw his confinement as a God-ordained opportunity to share the message of Jesus Christ with a “captive” audience. In his letter to the Philippians, he mentioned those he had been able to lead to faith in the household of Caesar.

The brothers who are with me send you their greetings. And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household. – Philippians 4:22 NLT

Paul had been busy while under house arrest in Rome. He had been bemoaning his circumstances or complaining about his sorry lot in life. No, he had been spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone.

I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear. – Philippians 4:12-14 NLT

Paul was an equal-opportunity evangelist. He was ready, willing, and able to share the gospel with Jews, Gentiles, Romans, freemen, slaves, guards, and even emperors if given the chance. No one was “safe” when Paul was around. So, instead of asking that his friends in Ephesus pray for his release, he asks them to pray that he will “keep on speaking boldly for him” (Ephesians 6:20 NLT). He desires strength, endurance, and a fearlessness to boldly proclaim Christ even in the face of possible rejection and ridicule.

Paul knew that he would need just the right words to speak in each situation. He was totally dependent upon God to provide him with just the right message at just the right time. Paul didn’t preach a one-size-fits-all kind of gospel. He allowed the Holy Spirit to custom-fit the message for each individual. That is why he asks that the Ephesians pray that God would give him “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 didn’t ask for release from confinement, but instead, he asked for Spirit-empowered communications skills. He wanted to make the most of his time while under house arrest. He viewed his situation as part of the sovereign will of God, and not as some kind of difficulty from which to escape. He was in God’s hands and what he desired most was the Ephesians’ prayers so that he might have God’s help in proclaiming the news of God’s Son.

Paul‘s prayer request reminds me of the words of an old hymn that echoes the same sentiment. Oh, that we would have the same perspective as Paul and share his desire to be used by God no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth thou sendest clear;
And while the wavenotes fall on my ear
Everything false will disappear
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my mouth, and let me bear
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with thy children thus to share
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready, my God, thy will to see
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Battle-Ready

14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 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. It was not up to them to decide which piece of God’s divine equipment they were interested in wearing or utilizing. But the sad truth is, that’s 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 divinely ordained weapons of our warfare, 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 find yourself 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 so he launched a constant assault against the church of Jesus Christ. And the enemy is clever. He knows that the quickest way to destroy the church is by infiltrating its ranks. That way, he can  attack 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, and prepared for action. But how are we to pull that off? What is the secret to 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. These six items are 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. It is inevitable and unavoidable. He brings 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 probably refers to 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. Christ’s righteousness is readily available to us and provides us with protection from the relentless assaults of the enemy. He is out to put a dagger in our hearts, robbing us joy, peace, contentment, and any hope of living the abundant life that Jesus promised.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10 ESV

No soldier would dare go into battle without shoes. How can you stand firm without proper footwear? And Paul describes these shoes as “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 Paul 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. 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. And we must trust in these truths at all times. 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 comes 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 and 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 the 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).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Resources to Resist the Enemy

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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. 13 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 on three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought as he brings up the seemingly unrelated topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same train of thought he began when he called the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. Throughout 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 had loved them.

But this was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature or flesh would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord it over one another, rather than 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 worthy of it 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 their walk of faith as difficult as possible.

He was keenly aware that there was an unseen spiritual battle taking place to which most of us as Christians were blissfully oblivious. What Paul was asking the Ephesians to do was impossible to pull off in their own strength. They were not equipped for it. Their fallen human nature, apart from the help of God, was not suited for spiritual warfare. Without the assistance of God, they would be like someone bringing a knife to a gunfight. So Paul tells encourages them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV).

He doesn’t tell them to gut it up or get busy. Paul doesn’t berate or belittle them for their lack of effort and determination. No, he calls them to place their hope and trust in the all-sufficient strength of God. Earlier in this letter, Paul told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly. His request was God would empower them so that might 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 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 them to do the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and God’s 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 the good news is that the very same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice that he refers to it as whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor was to be left off or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped with the divine protection God has provided that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has given us the armor 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’s meant to be because it’s true and the enemies are very 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 because the Spirit of God lives within them. 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 go on the attack. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this is all supposed to work. 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 the resistance of Satan. Acknowledgment of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. By putting on the armor God has provided, you are acknowledging your need for Him. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is that we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. We think we can survive without it.

But God has provided a complete set of armor that must be put on and depended upon. Each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. They are spiritual resources 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 insufficiency, 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

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

A Radical Change in Relationships

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

Paul continues to discuss the practical implications of walking as children of light, in love and in submission to one another. But in doing so, he brings up a relationship that is particularly difficult for 21st-Century believers to understand. He has already addressed the relationship between believing husbands and their wives, and he has covered God’s will concerning children and their parents. But now he takes on the the rather awkward topic of slaves and their masters. But in keeping with the rest of his letter, he is still focusing his attention on believers. So, in this case he is addressing slaves who have come to faith in Christ but still find themselves in the same hopeless position they had been in before their conversion.

Based on this passage, there are those who have accused Paul of being a proponent of the institution of slavery, because he refuses to speak out against it. But Paul, like Jesus Himself, was not out to revolutionize the civil or cultural institutions of his day. Nor was he out to bring about social upheaval. He was interested in redeeming the lives of all those who made up the the variegated fabric of society. So, while it’s true that Paul did not condemn the socially accepted practice of slavery in his day, it doesn’t mean he was in favor of it. In fact, in his letter to Philemon, he makes an appeal 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 in Rome. Under the apostle’s influence, Onesimus became a follower of Christ.

He ended up ministering to Paul while he was under house arrest. Eventually, Paul encouraged Onesimus to do the right thing and return to his master. Slavery was legal in Paul’s day and Onesimus was obligated to return to Philemon or face severe punishment. But Paul sent his letter to Philemon explaining the change that had taken place in the life of Onesimus and to ask Philemon to see his former slave as 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 and legally-sanctioned part of the culture of the day. And yet Paul was calling those slaves and masters who had come to faith in Christ to radically change their perspective regarding their relationship and the institution that determined dictated it. 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.

This 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 had set Onesimus free from sin, it had not freed 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. This is reflected in what 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. Jesus had became a slave 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 their new-found faith in Christ and its impact on 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 He came to dramatically transform 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.

As modern-day Christians, we find Paul’s discussion of slavery to be distasteful and outdated. After all, we live in a nation that outlawed slavery a long time ago. But in Paul’s day it was alive and well. And becoming a believer did not set slaves free from slavery. It didn’t change their circumstances, but it did radically alter the way they were to live their lives. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, slaves were expected to do their jobs differently. They were expected to relate to their masters differently. They were to obey with “deep respect and fear.” And they were to do it as they would serve Christ. Their subservience was now to become willing submission, performed for the Lord, not for their earthly masters. Their work ethic was to be motivated by their love for the Lord. They were still slaves, but they were slaves who had been changed by Christ and had a new capacity to love – even within the context of their slavery. And those masters who happened to be believers, were to treat their slaves with dignity and respect, knowing that they would one day be held accountable by God for their actions.

Paul makes a significant statement regarding God’s view of slaves and masters. He says, “remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites” (Ephesians 6:9 NLT). God doesn’t see as man sees. While He has ordained there to be order, structure, and degrees of authority in the world, He sees all men as equals. He views husbands and wives as equals. He regards parents and children as equals. And He sees slaves and masters in the same way. The key issue is how His Spirit can radically change each of the individuals in those relationships and give them a new capacity to interact and interrelate so that He is honored.

Spirit-filled, Spirit-controlled believers bring a whole new meaning to their earthly relationships. They view their roles and responsibilities differently. They see their positions as opportunities to serve others and honor God. They do their work as unto the Lord. They serve others as they would serve Christ. They submit to others as they would submit to Him. They love as He would love. They obey as if He were the one giving the command. Living under the influence of the Spirit is a life-changing, relationship-altering experience.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Turning Homes Into Lighthouses

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV

Next, Peter turns his attention to the parent-child relationship, where the filling of the Spirit could help the believers in Ephesus to dispel the darkness engulfing their community. A home where godly parents and children lived in submission to the will of God would be a beacon of light and life to the lost. Their Spirit-empowered interactions with one another would bring glory and honor to God as they lived in keeping with His good and perfect will.

Paul begins by addressing the children within the Ephesian church. He calls on them to obey their parents “in the Lord” (en kyrios). In his earlier passage addressed to believing wives, he called on them to submit to their believing husbands “as unto the Lord” (hōs ho kyrios). The idea is the same here. Paul is calling on children to obey “in the Lord.” The obedience of the children was not to be dependent upon the belief of their parents, but they were to obey because it was the will of God. Paul was essentially telling young children who came to faith in Christ, “you need to understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17). Regardless of age, every member of the body of Christ was to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 ESV).

It would seem that Paul has believing children in mind because he calls them to obey “in the Lord.” He seems to assume that these children are old enough to understand their Christ-honoring commitment to submit to their parents in the same way they would submit to Christ Himself. And Paul quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures to drive home his point.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. – Deuteronomy 5:16 NLT

In this passage, Moses is reciting the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, and this verse, he shares God’s command that His people show proper honor and respect to their earthly parents. This commandment was applicable to children of all ages, including those who had reached adulthood. In a society that had no welfare system, it was the responsibility of adult children to take care of their elderly parents. God was ordering His covenant people to treat their loved ones with dignity and respect, and He tied future fruitfulness to present faithfulness. If they continued to treat their parents with honor all the days of their lives, then they would enjoy a long and fruitful stay in the land of promise. This is why Peter refers to this as a “commandment with a promise” (Ephesians 6:2 ESV). As long as the people obeyed it, they would enjoy the blessings of God. Faithfulness to do the will of God would be accompanied by fruitfulness.

It’s interesting to note that, in his second letter to Timothy, Paul included disoBelibedience to parents among the list of godless characteristics that will mark the end of the age.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

It seems that Paul is describing people who are old enough to know what they are doing. Their behavior reflects the status of their hearts. Their outer actions are simply byproducts of their inner condition. Jesus made this point quite clear when He stated, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

Paul doesn’t seem to be focusing his attention on small children. They were not the problem. It was those children who were old enough to come to faith in Christ but also old enough to be tempted by the inevitable allure of autonomy and freedom from their parents’ control over their lives. He is calling them to remember their commitment to do that which is pleasing to God. They were to emulate Christ, who willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30 ESV

Paul states that children who obey their parents are doing what is right. The Greek word is dikaios, and it means “that which is righteous, in keeping with the commands of God” (Outline of Biblical Usage). To obey earthly parents is righteous because it is in keeping with our Heavenly Father’s will. It is what He desires, therefore, it is right and good.

This command is intended to last a lifetime. It doesn’t end at the age of 18 or whenever the child moves out of the home. No, it lasts as long as the parents remain alive. And in a culture where the family unit tended to stay intact for much longer periods of time, this command carried special significance. It was not uncommon for young married couples to take up residence in the home of the husband’s parents. Multiple generations would end up residing under the same roof, making obedience to this command more essential than ever. A home where parents, children, and grandchildren lived together was the perfect environment for displaying the Spirit-filled lifestyle to which Paul was calling his audience.

And it was within this kind of familial context that Paul called on fathers to treat their children with love and respect, raising them in accordance with the will of God. And that included “the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). Once again, Paul is emphasizing the need for all believers to do things according to God’s will, not their own. And they were not to use the prevailing cultural context as their model for godly behavior. Paul has already warned the Ephesian believers not to pattern their behavior after the world.

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, they were to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 NLT). And for fathers, that meant leading their children in such a way that it produced godliness rather than bitterness. Paul demands that father’s not “provoke” or exasperate their children. Believing fathers were to submit themselves to the will of God and minister to their wives and children in a loving and self-sacrificing manner. Their God-ordained role as the heads of their households didn’t give them the right to lord over those under their care. They were to be servants and shepherds. They to were to model Christ-likeness as they provided instruction in godliness.

God holds Christian fathers responsible for the care of His flock. A godly father is to recognize that his children are gifts from God.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him. – Psalm 127:3 NLT

And because God has assigned believing fathers with the role of shepherding His young lambs, He will hold them responsible if they fail to care for them well. The warning that God applied to the spiritual shepherds of Israel can be applied to those Christian fathers who abdicate their God-given responsibility to shepherd their children as God has commanded.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-6 NLT

And God went on to describe what He would do to those shepherds who failed to carry out their God-ordained role.

“I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.” – Ezekiel 34:10 NLT

In a similar way, Paul is pleading with the fathers within the church at Ephesus to step up and do what they have been called to do. They were to model the self-sacrificing love of Christ. They were to teach their children to honor God by demonstrating it through their own lives. Their homes were to be lighthouses, illuminating the darkness of Ephesus with the glory of God’s grace and the life-changing power of His Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Practical and Personal

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV

Paul has strongly stressed the need to know and obey the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17). He has called each member of the congregation to live as a light in the midst of the darkness of Ephesus by submitting to the control of the Holy Spirit within them. Together, they were to shine the light of God’s life-transforming glory into the dark recesses of the sin-soaked society around them. The fledgling church in Ephesus was to be a beacon of hope as they allowed the Holy Spirit to fill them. His presence and power would overflow and impact all their relationships. Paul indicates that this Spirit-empowered change in their corporate interactions will leave them singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts” (Ephesians 5:19 NLT). As the Spirit makes the will of God known and then empowers the Ephesians to obey it, they will see their relationships radically changed, and their gratefulness to God increase. But it will all begin with their willingness to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

It’s interesting to note how verse 21 is often overlooked or ignored by those who take issue with verses 22-24. In the modern-day church, there are many who find Paul’s words regarding wives submitting to their husbands as old-fashioned and heavily patriarchal. They view them as antiquated and no longer applicable in today’s more modern and enlightened context. There is little debate that, when taken out of its context, Paul’s teachings about submission within the home can sound like he has a low regard for women. But nothing could be further from the truth. Paul is not suggesting that wives have less value or worth than their husbands. He is not treating them as second-class citizens or subjugating them to an inferior role in the marriage relationship. He is simply continuing his discussion on knowing the will of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to apply that will to everyday life so that the Ephesian believers might be lights in the darkness.

Paul brings up the institution of marriage because it was something the Ephesian believers shared with their unsaved neighbors. Marriage was an accepted part of everyday life in Ephesus. Christians were not the only ones who participated in the God-ordained institution of marriage. But Christians were the only ones who could demonstrate what God’s will was concerning marriage.

Within the 1st-Century context of Greek culture, Paul’s teaching regarding husbands and wives was radical and unexpected. The prevailing view of the day held that wives were little more than property. Oftentimes, they were treated more like slaves than helpmeets. In general, women were seen as inferior to men and accorded little honor or respect.

“After centuries of Christian teaching, we scarcely appreciate the revolutionary nature of Paul’s views on family life set forth in this passage. Among the Jews of his day, as also among the Romans and the Greeks, women were seen as secondary citizens with few or no rights. The pious male Jew daily said a prayer in which he thanked God for not making him a woman. And he could divorce his wife by simply writing ‘a bill of divorcement’ (which must include the provision that she was then free to marry whomever she wanted). The wife had no such right.” – Leon Morris, Expository Reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians

But Paul was not attempting to write a commentary on gender equity or trying to rectify centuries of ungodly thinking about the role of women in society. His interest was in helping Christian husbands and wives apply the will of God regarding marriage to their own homes. And his words must be kept within the context of his call to mutual submission found in verse 21. That’s the key to understanding verses 22-33.

Don’t forget how Paul opened this section of his letter.

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

How are mere humans supposed to imitate God? How can fallen men and women model their lives after a holy and completely righteous God? The only way they can do it is through a relationship with the Son of God. It is only through faith in Christ that anyone can be made right with God. And as believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, their lives inherently imitate God because they emulate the One who “expresses the very character of God” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT).

Paul opened this chapter by calling the Ephesians to imitate God by demonstrating the same kind of sacrificial love that Christ poured out on them. God so loved the world that He sent His Son (John 3:16), and He “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT).

Now, in verses 22-33, Paul is taking this call to imitate God by loving like Christ and applying it to the institution of marriage. He is focusing his attention on the one place in society where love and submission could and should be practiced and prove the power of the Spirit of God to apply the will of God to everyday life.

Paul begins by addressing the wives, telling them to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). It’s amazing how often the last four words of his statement are left out by those who take issue with this passage. They also overlook his emphasis on wives and their own husbands. This is not intended as a blanket statement regarding the relationship between all women and all men. This has less to do with gender than it does with the God-ordained institution of marriage and the divine definition regarding the roles of husbands and their wives. And it only applies to Christian marriages. What Paul is prescribing here is only possible when both husband and wife share a common faith in Jesus Christ. 

When Paul calls the wife to submit to her husband, he is not issuing a command to subjugate herself to a lower or inferior status in the relationship. He is not suggesting that the wife is of lesser value or importance to God.

“People often misunderstand submission. It does not indicate inferiority or involve losing one’s identity and becoming a non-person. Some women fear that submission will lead to abuse and or a feeling of being used. Submission does not mean blind obedience or passivity. It means giving oneself up to someone else.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ephesians

Paul is teaching the will of God concerning the marriage relationship. A Christian marriage is to look distinctively different than a non-Christian marriage. A husband and wife who are also a brother and sister in Christ are to model a radically different kind of marriage. Their interactions with one another are to be in keeping with the will of God and empowered by the Spirit of God. And it begins with a willingness to submit to or come under God’s providential plan for the marriage relationship.

These 12 verses, when taken in their context, reveal that the Christian marriage is to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. This must not be overlooked or discounted. That is the whole point of Paul’s teaching. The wife is intended to represent the church, the holy and spotless bride of Christ. The husband represents Christ, who demonstrated His love for His bride by laying down His life. Jesus gave His life so that His bride might have fulness of life. He died so that His bride might live. He sacrificed His body in order that the church might be cleansed and made holy. He modeled selflessness in the form of sacrifice.

In the same way, the wife is to model selflessness in the form of willful submission. The church, the bride of Christ, willingly submits to Him because it is God’s will. And when a Christian wife submits to her Christian husband, she is doing so “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Or to put it another way, she submits to her husband in the same way that she submitted to the Lord – through faith – trusting that God’s will and His ways are best. Paul doesn’t suggest that she submit only when her husband acts like Christ. That is where faith comes in. She is expected to do God’s will whether the conditions are perfect or the outcome looks predictable. That’s why Paul added, “as to the Lord.” Ultimately, she is trusting that obedience to God’s will is preferable to her own desire for autonomy or self-will.

What Paul is suggesting is not only difficult, but it is impossible – without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No one likes to submit. There is no human being that likes the idea of coming under the authority or leadership of another. Yet we all do it every day if we feel like we will receive some benefit from having done so. Employees submit to their bosses, in order to get a salary. Citizens submit to their governing authorities, in exchange for protection and the preservation of their rights and freedoms. You might call it a form of quid pro quo.

But Paul is suggesting something altogether different. He is calling husbands and wives to follow the example of Christ. He willingly submitted to the will of His Father, even to the point of laying down His life (Philippians 2:6-8). He willingly sacrificed His life so that His bride might be made holy, righteous, and pure. And when a husband and wife, two people whom God has formed into one, do the same thing, they bring Him glory. They reflect His will and imitate His very nature – together.

And Paul sums up his teaching by calling it a “great mystery…an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one” (Ephesians 5:32 NLT). On a human level, it makes no sense. It seems illogical and impractical. To today’s modern sensibilities, it seems out of date and out of touch with reality. But Paul is revealing God’s will, not marriage advice. And he does sum up his teaching about this great mystery with some rather simple advice:

So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Spirit-Filled, Not Self-Obsessed

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

Wake up and live carefully. That’s Paul’s simple but straightforward admonition to his readers. He is alerting them to their need for wariness and wisdom as they attempt to conduct their lives in this world. He has made it clear that their behavior was to be markedly different than that of their unsaved peers. They were to have discarded their former lifestyle of sin and replaced it with the Spirit-empowered capacity to model Christ-likeness and imitate God. Paul has already urged them 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 all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 ESV).

Their lives were to be characterized by love, moral purity, selflessness, and obedience to the will of God. With the help of the Holy Spirit, their lives were to appear as shining lights in the prevailing darkness that engulfed the city of Ephesus. Their very presence would provide a stark contrast to the immoral and godless behavior plaguing the city, exposing sin and providing living proof that the gospel of Jesus Christ was powerful and transformative.

But they would have to remain constantly vigilant and eager to discern the will of their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:10). That would require wisdom and insight. It would hinge on their willingness to submit their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Every moment of every day was to be considered an opportunity to walk in lockstep with God. But to live in keeping with God’s will they would need round-the-clock input from the Spirit of God. They were surrounded by evil. Their community was plagued by wickedness and their fellow citizens were enemies of God who had “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5 ESV). The small band of Christians who made up the church in Ephesus found themselves surrounded and outnumbered but they were far from helpless. But the key to their survival was knowing and obeying the will of God. That’s why Paul told them, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15 ESV).

The wisdom of God was going to be essential to their success. And Paul asserts that failure to understand the will of the Lord is tantamount to foolishness.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. – Ephesians 5:17 ESV

It is almost as if Paul has in mind Proverbs 1, where the author personifies wisdom as a woman crying out for someone to heed her offer of knowledge and counsel. She offers everyone the opportunity to become wise but she can find no takers.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

And later in the same Proverb, the author paints a sad picture of the fools showing up too late for the party. Having spurned wisdom’s original offer so they could live according to their own wills, fulfilling their own desires, they find the window of opportunity has closed.

“When they cry for help, I will not answer.
    Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.
For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.
For simpletons turn away from me—to death.
    Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.
But all who listen to me will live in peace,
    untroubled by fear of harm.” – Proverbs 1:28-33 NLT

For Paul, the key to knowing the will of God is submission to the Spirit of God. Unlike the image painted in the Proverb where wisdom calls out to the people from the street corner, Paul portrays wisdom as having taken up permanent residence in the believer’s life in the form of the Holy Spirit. But Paul reveals a vital point regarding the Spirit’s presence within the life of the believer. Jesus repeatedly told His disciples that, upon His death and resurrection, He would send the Holy Spirit to live within them.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:16-17 ESV

According to Jesus, the Spirit’s presence would be complete and permanent. Earlier in his letter, Paul reminded the Ephesians that their salvation had been accompanied by the sealing of the Holy Spirit “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:14 ESV). But later, in chapter four, Paul stated that they could “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). The indwelling presence of the Spirit is guaranteed and permanent in nature. But that doesn’t mean that believers always live in obedience to the Spirit. That’s why Paul warned the Galatian church about the need to live in faithful reliance upon the Spirit’s leading.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. – Galatians 5:16-18 NLT

Like the woman portrayed in the Proverb, the Holy Spirit cries out, offering to believers the wisdom they need to live in keeping with the will of God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit provides all the power necessary to make obedience to the will of God possible. And in order to describe this reliance upon the Spirit, Paul uses the metaphor of intoxication. Oddly enough, he compares obedience to the Spirit with drunkenness.

To be drunk is to be under the control of alcohol. Once consumed, it dictates one’s behavior and virtually eliminates any capacity for self-control. A person who is drunk on wine, says and does things that are contrary to his normal behavior. His actions and attitudes change, usually for the worst. And Paul is suggesting that the filling of the Spirit should produce a kind of altered behavior that reflects the Spirit’s control.

“The baptism of the Spirit means that I belong to Christ’s body. The filling of the Spirit means that my body belongs to Christ.” – Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul attempted to portray the contrast between being filled with or under the control of the Spirit and living according to our sinful nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

When the believer ignores the Spirit, he ends up “drunk” on the influence of his own sinful will and the outcome is anything but pretty. But Paul goes on to reveal that the one who submits to or comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit produces a completely different set of outcomes.

…the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

And to the Ephesians, Paul portrays this filling of the Spirit in terms of its corporate or communal aspect.

be filled with the Holy Spirit, 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 5:18-20 NLT

The filling of the Spirit produces unity, joy, gratitude, and a spirit of worship. His indwelling presence flows out in praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done. The one who gets drunk on wine is ultimately self-consumed. He cares nothing about how his behavior will impact those around him. He is driven by his own desire for self-gratification and personal pleasure. But the one who allows the Spirit to fill and control him is under the influence of God’s will, which is always other-oriented. To imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) is to live a life of selfless, sacrificial love for others. It is to put the needs of others ahead of your own. And this will set up the next section of Paul’s letter, where he provides practical examples of what a Spirit-controlled life should look like. It all begins with submission to the Spirit but it shows up in submission to others. That’s why Paul prefaces what he is about to write with the sobering statement: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

Walk the Talk

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), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 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 5:6-14 ESV

Paul had a predilection or preference for certain words or concepts, and he weaved them into all his letters. One for which he was particularly fond is the  word, “walk.” In Greek, the word is peripateō and it appears more than 30 times in the writings of Paul.  It means “to walk, to live, to conduct one’s life,” and it carries the idea of moving from one location to another. But for Paul, it was a way of describing how people, either saved or unsaved, conduct their lives.

Seven times in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses the word peripateō to describe the way people navigate life on this planet. Everyone, regardless of their relationship with Christ, is required to “live” or “walk” their way through life. The question is what manner of “walk” they will display. What will be the basis of their conduct? How will they deport themselves as they make their way through life? What rules will they live by and by what criteria will they measure their success or failure?

Throughout this letter, Paul repeatedly uses the word peripateō to convey his desire that the Ephesians live or walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1). He uses it to compare their old lifestyle to the new one made possible through their faith in Christ. Seven different times, he uses this same Greek word to establish a contrast between the old sinful nature and the new, Spirit-enabled nature graciously provided to the child of God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (peripateō), following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air – Ephesians 2:2 ESV

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk (peripateō) in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk (peripateō) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk (peripateō) as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. – Ephesians 4:17 ESV

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

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk (peripateō) as children of light – Ephesians 58 ESV

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

For Paul, the abundant life promised by Jesus (John 10:10) was not only possible, but it was indispensable and intended to be highly practical. Saving faith was meant to produce a radically different lifestyle modeled after Christ, enabled by the Spirit, and intended to glorify God the Father.

There is no place in the life of the believer for a dualistic or bifurcated approach to life. The willful mixing of old and new together is unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs. That is why Paul so strongly stated, “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 so his audience understands, he takes those rather broad categories and boils them down to specific examples of unacceptable behavior for believers: “Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you” (Ephesians 5:4 NLT).

And Paul warns the Ephesians about the danger of rationalizing or justifying these kinds of behaviors.

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 5:5 NLT

For the Christ-follower, there is no excuse or explanation for such behavior. It can’t be excused or explained away as innocent or harmless. These kinds of “acceptable” behaviors are rooted in sexual immorality, impurity, or greed and, as Paul so strongly states, “You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (Ephesians 5:5 NLT).

Paul goes out of his way to differentiate between the old and the new and, to do so, he uses the metaphor of dark and light.

…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 5:8-9 NLT

Something had changed. They were no longer who they used to be. They had been delivered from a life marked by darkness and sin and delivered into a new kingdom characterized by light and life. Paul emphasized this divine deliverance in his letter to the believers in Colossae.

…he [God] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. – Colossians 1:13-14 NLT

They were free to live distinctly different lives because they now possessed the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. They had the God-given capacity to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8 ESV). In other words, not only had they been transferred into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, but they had also been given the power to live as citizens of that Kingdom. That’s why Paul insists that they “Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 NLT). They were no longer of this world. As Peter so aptly described it, they were “temporary residents and foreigners” whose task was “to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT).

Light exposes darkness. That is Paul’s primary point in this passage. As children of light, they were expected to influence the darkness around them. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. So, the presence of these believers in their community should have resulted in a glaring exposure of the sins that lurked there. But instead, Paul seems to suggest that the Christians in Ephesus were actually joking about the sinfulness of their community. They were sharing obscene stories, engaging in foolish talk, and laughing at one another’s coarse jokes. In doing so, they were essentially hiding their light under a basket, something Jesus Himself warned about.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:14-16 NLT

Paul warns the Ephesians that their flippant approach to the sins of their community was unacceptable because it was ungodly.

It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. – Ephesians 5:12 NLT

And he firmly affixes the responsibility for exposing such behavior on the shoulders of the Ephesians Christians. Look closely at what he tells them.

…their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible… – Ephesians 5:13-14 NLT

What is the source of that sin-exposing light? It is the believers who populate the church in Ephesus. They were, as Jesus put it, “the light of the world” and they were to shine so that the light of their good deeds was visible to “everyone in the house.” Paul wasn’t suggesting that they condemn their lost neighbors for their sinful behavior. No, he was calling on the Ephesian believers to live as light in the midst of the darkness. The good behavior of the Spirit-empowered Christians would radically expose the bad behavior of their lost neighbors and friends. The contrast would be palpable and powerful.

According to Paul, the believers to whom he wrote had a divine source for determining what was right and wrong.

…this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. – Ephesians 5:9 NLT

The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God provided them with the knowledge of God’s will that helped clarify and quality their conduct. That’s why Paul told the Galatian believers, “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). The Spirit was there to help them “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10 ESV). And once they knew what God deemed to be “good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:9), the Spirit could empower them to do it.

That’s why Paul issues a much-needed wake-up call. He pleads with his brothers and sisters, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 ESV). They had become lulled into a stupified sense of compromise and complacency, and Paul was calling them to snap out of it. They were to walk as children of the light. Their very presence in Ephesus should have been making an impact on the sin-darkened lives of their neighbors and friends. They had been redeemed for a reason. Ephesus was not their home anymore, but it was their God-appointed base of operations while they waited for the arrival of their future home: the Kingdom of God. As long as God delayed His Son’s return, the Ephesian Christians were to be His ambassadors and serve as His light-bearing emissaries into a world darkened by sin and in desperate need of the light of life (John 1:4). Jesus had chosen to shine His life-giving light through them and, as the apostle John declared, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.