What’s the Big Idea?
Ephesians – Whole Book
Several years ago the Los Angeles Times reported the story of an elderly man and wife who were found dead in their apartment. Autopsies revealed that both had died of severe malnutrition, although investigators found a total of $40,000 stored in paper bags in a closet. Of course, we all say – what a tragedy. I ask – is it possible that this describes our spiritual existence?
For many years Hetty Green was called America’s greatest miser. When she died in 1916, she left an estate valued at $100 million, an especially vast fortune for that day. But she was so miserly that she ate cold oatmeal in order to save the expense of heating the water. When her son had a severe leg injury, she took so long trying to find a free clinic to treat him that his leg had to be amputated because of advanced infection. It has been said that she hastened her own death by bringing on a fit of apoplexy while arguing the merits of skim milk because it was cheaper than whole milk.
The book of Ephesians is written to Christians who might be prone to treat their spiritual resources much like that miserly couple and Hetty Green treated their financial resources. Such believers are in danger of suffering from spiritual malnutrition, because they do not take advantage of the great storehouse of spiritual nourishment and resources that is at their disposal.
Ephesians has been called the “Queen of the Epistles.” No less a literary authority than Samuel Coleridge said it was the “divinest composition of man.” Ephesians has been given such titles as the believer’s bank, the Christian’s checkbook, and the treasure house of the Bible. This beautiful letter tells Christians of their great riches, inheritances, and fullness in Jesus Christ and in His church. It tells them what they possess and how they can claim and enjoy their possessions.
During the great depression of the 1930s, many banks would allow their customers to withdraw no more than 10 percent of their accounts during a given period of time, because the banks did not have enough reserves to cover all deposits.
We must not treat our spiritual resources in such a fashion. To be at our best we must realize fully two things – 1) who we are and 2) what resources are available to us. Suppose someone just got promoted to a VP position. He now has a new identity and new resources. But suppose that he continues to work as before, spending time only in one part of the job with which he is familiar, failing to spend added budget for fear of failure. He will guarantee his failure, won’t he? He has not lived in accordance with his new identity. That is exactly what Ephesians can help us avoid.
Most of Paul’s epistles were written to address some particular problem. Ephesians was written while Paul was in jail in Rome in the early 60’s. He had time to reflect and to take us above the fray of everyday life – above the worm’s eye view offered by our daily existence – to see the possibilities from the sky. What he wrote will change our lives if we will let him help us see who we really are in Christ and what we have in Christ.
Look with me at Ephesians 1:9 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ. Paul has written Ephesians to acquaint us with this ultimate purpose of God – to give us the Big Idea – which should frame our Christian experience. Most of us see ourselves as having been saved to escape hell. But it is so much more. God has an ultimate purpose in mind -- and He wants us to be part of that purpose. Thus, to get an overview of Ephesians, we will look at four questions in the next couple of weeks before delving into the book in detail.
I. What is the Purpose of God?
A. To Reconcile All of Creation
Look with me at Ephesians 1:9-10 where the theme of the book is revealed: 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. What is God’s Big Idea – His ultimate purpose? Well, it says here that in the fullness of time (sometime yet future) He will unite all things in Christ Jesus – both things on earth as well as in heaven. Man, that is mind-boggling, isn’t it? Why is there a need to sum up or unite things?
Well, it doesn’t take a genius to identify that we live in a world where alienation is rampant, does it? We see it in nature. Ever try to raise beautiful flowers or a garden for food? If so you know that as fast as you are trying to grow something, the weeds are trying just as hard to choke it out. Alienation! And much as we like to think of ourselves as sophisticated 21st century individuals, it permeates the world of humans. It’s nation against nation, man against man, Muslims against Christians, and ideology against ideology. We search a lifetime for harmony and experience it only in brief snatches. Closer to home it’s man against wife and parents against children. It’s a fragmented world. And even within us there is tension. One commentator has said that every person is literally a walking civil war. Ours is not a harmonious existence. Forget the world at large; alienation is our every day personal experience, is it not?
One young husband arrived home from work at his usual hour of 5 pm, only to discover that it had not been one of his wife’s better days. The result was a short fuse and an unpleasant attitude. Nothing he said or did was right. By 7 pm things had not changed, so he suggested he go outside, pretend he had just gotten home, and start all over again. His wife agreed, so he went outside according to plan, came back in and announced, “Honey, I’m home!” “And just where have you been?” she replied sharply. “It’s seven o’clock!”
The fact is, the harder we try to correct and avoid alienation the more persistently it plagues us. Now, we might ask, why all this alienation? And, of course, the biblical answer is sin. It is sin that brings alienation. It began the moment Satan rebelled against God. We are told that he was at that point banned from heaven and took 1/3 of the angels with him. In that moment God’s creation went from a paradise of perfection to a wasteland of horror.
When Adam sinned, what was his very first action? He clothed himself. Why? He had not minded or even noticed his nakedness until suddenly he was alienated and his first recourse was to cover up. Even those weeds in nature are a result of the curse God put on nature in response to that first sin – to be a constant reminder of the alienation sin brings.
And here’s the thing. Much as we would like to beg to differ, the truth is, we can’t do a single thing about it. In fact, it is almost like the harder we try, the worse it gets. The moment I determine never to get mad or be ugly with my wife again, she tosses my favorite old tennis shoes or objects to my leaving a dirty bathroom; I’m forced to respond and BAM! Alienation! It seems like it’s been going on forever and it seems like it will continue forever.
But guess what? NO IT WILL NOT! It will not. And this wonderful book of Ephesians that we are going to study will help explain how it will eventually end. The primary purpose of this book is to address this ugly problem of alienation. Look again at 1:9 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite (head up, sum up, bring together) all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God has a plan and a purpose for his creation. It hadn’t been much understood up to the time of Paul, but here is revealed the mystery of his will and his ultimate purpose – to unite everything – everything on earth and even everything in heaven, in the spiritual realm – to unite them all in Christ. Get rid of the wasteland and get everything turned right side up again. What is the mystery of God’s will set forth in Christ? It is to harmonize everything on earth and in heaven in Him – to bring it back into conformity with His will – to reconcile, to correct, to fix and to re-orchestrate. And here’s the really great thing. We – you and I, anyone who is a believer – are part of the plan!
You see, we are very prone to see our salvation in very personal terms. God has saved me so that I can go to heaven. I can tell you, when I first accepted the Lord, that was the goal. But this book puts our lives in a much larger context. It shows how our salvation isn’t so much about us as it is about Him. It shows how it all fits into His Big Idea – His ultimate purpose to unite all things in Christ. We’re each a small, but very important piece of a big puzzle.
Isn’t it great to be part of something bigger than you are? That’s motivating to all of us, isn’t it? Tom Brokaw wrote the book, The Greatest Generation. I thought it was well-titled, because that generation did extraordinary things. But, of course, his point basically was, these were just ordinary, everyday people with no grand ambitions, who when thrown into harsh do-or-die circumstances found it within themselves to perform heroically. Some of you have been there. I’ve never been to that level. But I have been part of business teams and sports teams where pride in the group and in the big picture allowed me to do things I could never have done otherwise.
Some of you probably remember the movie Casablanca. In it the character Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, is running a café in occupied France during WWII, when an old lover, Ilsa shows up. She is escaping Nazi pursuers with her husband, but when she meets up with Rick, old desires are enflamed. She offers to stay with him – eventually begs to stay with him. But at the movie’s climax, Rick send Ilsa back to her husband with these words, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday You’ll understand that. . . Now, now – here’s looking at you, kid.” Why did those lines work? Why are we moved by them even now? Because we all want to be part of something bigger. We want to be immortal. And guess what. We can. We honestly, truly, comprehensively can. In Christ.
Now – can you think of anything, anything greater than being part of God’s team to re-construct the universe – earth and heaven? Can you, really? Folks, God’s purpose is nothing less than the reconciliation of all of creation and if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ today – you’re part of the plan. Gear up! We’re going to learn some great things about what that all means.
II. How is God’s Purpose Displayed in the Church?
Now the next key verse that we need to look at is found in 3:10 10) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Isn’t that an amazing verse? It is here that it is made clear that we have a part to play in this plan of God. The church is actually a means by which the manifold wisdom of God is displayed. Seems totally unrealistic, but there it is.
The word “church” here (used 9 times in Ephesians) refers not to any individual local body, but to all believers – to the universal church. One of the reasons that this epistle is so exalted is that it is not addressing any specific local irritants, but Paul is here free to picture the church is all of its potential – seen in all of its grandeur. This does not deny that the church is still composed of sinners and has problems, but here it is in its ultimate glory as a demonstration of God’s wisdom. So we might ask, just how is God’s wisdom displayed in the Church? How is it that we become a part of this great plan?
A. Through Reconciliation With God
First of all, we exhibit the wisdom and plan of God because we have been reconciled to God. The first part of God’s plan to unite, to reconcile, to bring together has occurred IN US! This, of course, happens because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Look again at the description of God’s purpose in verses 9-10 -- making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. You will find the phrase “in Christ” used 13 times in Ephesians and the phrase, “in Him” referring to Christ used another 8 times. So 21 times in this book, Paul emphasizes that God’s plan is summed up “in Christ.” What is his point?
Well, his point is that, Jesus Christ, by virtue of his virgin birth, sinless life, death and resurrection has become the lynchpin in God’s whole redemptive plan. God, in His holiness, could never look up, tolerate, forgive or otherwise dispose of sin except to destroy it. When Jesus Himself became sin for us, he provided a means by which the Father could address his creation and say, “There, accept Christ’s sacrifice for you and I will forgive your sins and redeem you.” Thus, He gained a foothold, at tremendous personal sacrifice, by means of which he will eventually bring the whole thing right.
Now it is still possible for men as free moral agents to reject this plan of God. But for those who will turn their back on sin and evil and alienation and accept the gift of life offered on the basis on Christ’s death, there is redemption. They can be “in Christ.” And the Father will eventually unite everything “in Christ.” That’s why it is so imperative to be “in Him.”
“In Him” alienation from God ceases. Look at Paul’s description of the past of these Ephesian believers as found in chapter 2: 1) And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. I know it’s not a popular position, but that’s the state of mankind apart from Christ.
Most of us like to think of ourselves as pretty good. Surely such a description does not apply to us. We know that on the scales of justice, our good will outweigh our bad. But therein lies the vital point. It’s not a matter of how much good or bad we do. It’s a question of any sin at all. How clean would you ladies consider your freshly laundered linen if there were a small spot of grease or blood or something else staining it? I can tell you from experience, you would not consider it clean, would you? Even though 99% of it is whiter than white! And truth be told, if you really held up not just our actions, but our heart, which is what God looks at, you’d find that even many of our “good” actions are selfishly motivated. Listen, mankind without Christ, is alienated from a holy God.
But, fortunately, there is a “but”! Look at 2:4 4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9) not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Notice the words “with Christ”, “with Him”, and “in Christ” – three times in this short section. Get the point. Want to be part of the plan? Want your alienation from a holy God to be over with? You must be “in Christ.”
Satan thought he had Christ at the cross. According to the words of Genesis 3, Satan bruised Christ’s heel there. We will never understand the price that was paid there and when Christ died, Satan thought he had won. There was a Gaither Easter cantata that was popular a few years ago that represented Satan speaking as Christ was nailed to the cross and saying, “There, that’s the end of that.” And at that moment, the background orchestral music came to a crescendo and stopped. All was complete silence for a few moments. [wait here without speaking]. And then, and then, a small couple of chords began a slow gentle melody. It continued to grow and grow leading eventually to a full blown orchestral movement representing the resurrection of Jesus Christ! What a great representation it was.
For you see, though Satan bruised Christ’s heel at the cross, Christ crushed Satan’s head there. He’s beaten; he’s done; it’s over. Oh, I know, he still wanders the world today seeking others to take with him, but his fate is no longer in doubt. You wouldn’t want to be Satan. Every time he thinks he’s had a victory, God turns it to a defeat just as he did in resurrecting Christ. And in Him, the immeasurable gap between us and God is removed. The chasm we could never cross on our own has been bridged. The pit we were in that had no means of escape has been opened. Where only God’s back was visible, his radiant countenance is now turned upon us – if we are “in Him.” Are you “in Him?” Why would you ever argue with God about your need of him? Why would you ever turn down His offer of salvation? What pride keeps you from accepting his gift of grace? Dear people, get “in Christ.”
Listen to this report from July, 2008 Christianity Today, from an article entitled, “A New Day for Apologetics,” Evel Knievel, the motorcycle daredevil died in November 2007. Earlier that spring, Knievel called [Lee] Strobel after a friend gave him a copy of The Case for Christ. [Strobel is a story himself. Graduate of Yale law school, avowed atheist, legal editor for Chicago Tribune – after 2-year personal investigation into life of Christ, became a Christian in 1981. At Willow Creek and later Saddleback. Written several books on apologetics] Knievel said the book was instrumental in his conversion from atheism to Christianity. Strobel, a motorcycle fanatic since childhood, and Knievel became friends, speaking weekly over the telephone. “He just transformed in amazing ways,” Strobel says. “I know his last interview was with a macho men’s magazine, and he broke down crying, talking about his newfound relationship with Christ. He was so grateful. He knew he had lived a very immoral life and regretted that. He told me many times how he wished he could live his life over for God, and yet God reached down in his last days and dragged him into the kingdom. He was so overwhelmed by God’s grace. Here was this macho daredevil who became this humble, loving, and sincere follower of Jesus. It was an amazing thing to behold.”
That’s what it’s like to get past that last barrier to God. Be part of that purpose of God to demonstrate his wisdom to the whole universe. Be part of something bigger than yourself.
B. Through Reconciliation With Other Believers
Now, there is a second way that God’s purpose is displayed in the church and that is in our relationships with each other. We don’t always get this right, folks, but when we do, it is powerful and it is without question God’s intention.
I think it is interesting that immediately after Paul describes the process by which alienation between God and man is broken down in the first part of Ephesians 2, he goes on and says to his Gentile Christian readers beginning in verse 12: 12) remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated (there’s our word) from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14) For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15) by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16) and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (don’t you love that wording?). 17) And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
I don’t know if anything could ever be worse than the race relationships that have existed at certain times and places in our own country. When a man could be lynched, mutilated, burned and skinned on virtually any pretext just because of the color of his skin, I don’t see how it could be any worse. But if anything could ever have been as bad – it was the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the ancient world of Paul. These groups loathed each other, refrained from contact as much as possible and were generally as antagonistic as it is possible to be. The feeling was pervasive, brutal and universal.
An nowhere was it more evident that in Asia Minor where Ephesus was the capital city. This was the meeting of East and West, a place where varied cultures co-habited even if they could barely co-exist. But at this very point of maximum friction, this crucible of tangible unrest, at the sharpest point of hatred and hostility – there, Paul says, there the impenetrable walls were brought down and the impossible confederation was made. How? “In Christ Jesus” – verse 13. “By the blood of Christ.”
Isn’t Paul’s language descriptive? Jesus didn’t just make peace – He is peace (v. 14). Beloved, removal of the natural alienation between people doesn’t just happen. It takes radical surgery. But that radical surgery has already happened in the person of Christ and he is and will ever be peace for those who will trust him for it.
When the ancient world saw this – they simply didn’t know what to make of it. But that very reaction was the display of God’s wisdom that he was looking for. And every single time God’s people get along, they make the same display.
This is precisely why Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he was crucified, “34) A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When the world sees any group of people getting along – loving each other – disagreeing agreeably, they are impressed and it shows off our Father. But when those people come from diverse backgrounds ethnically, politically, educationally, vocationally, culturally, the bar is really raised. That’s one of the reasons, by the way, that I like to see the Communion celebrated among the gathered congregation. What more depicts the wisdom of God in Christ than people of various ages, races, cultures and vocations sharing together a celebration of the Lord’s death and resurrection?
Whatever we are, it is a reflection to our world of the God we serve. That’s why it is so important that we love each other. This doesn’t mean we always agree any more than a husband or wife agree. My old professor Dr. Feinberg used to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them isn’t necessary!” But how we disagree is critical. To respect each other’s opinion and love each other is a hallmark of the true Christian.
All too often we’re like Snoopy, the dog in the Charlie Brown cartoons. One day Linus came up to Snoopy who was lying on his doghouse and said, “I hear you tried to make friends with the cat next door.” Snoopy thinks, “Stupid cat! I offered him the right hand of fellowship and he almost tore it off!” Linus goes on, “Maybe you shouldn’t have been wearing a hockey glove. Maybe he thinks you don’t trust him.” The cartoon ends with Snoopy thinking, “I trust him, but my hand doesn’t.”
Aren’t we sometimes that way? We trust and we love and we get along – BUT. Way too often there is something held back, something reserved, something not quite right. Those are the very things that Christ died to eliminate. Because you see it’s never a matter of trusting someone else. Did you get that? It’s never a matter of trusting someone else. It’s a matter of trusting him. It’s never a matter of loving someone else. It’s a matter of loving him and letting him love through us. I tell you, if He could do it in Ephesus, he can do it in Eaton.
III. Why is God’s Purpose Displayed in the Church?
This is a great question and it has a wonderful answer. Look at 1:6 where we find that God has adopted us 6) to the praise of his glorious grace. . . . In verse 12 we see 12) that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In verse 14 we read that the Holy Spirit 14) is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. In chapter 2 and verse 7 we find that we have been saved 7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Are you sensing a trend here? Well, just to make sure we get it, Paul explicitly tells us in 3:10 10) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Beloved, it is all about the glory of God. God is displaying his purpose of uniting all things by using the church as a model or pilot – all to show forth His glory. Imagine, WE are part of the big picture by which God is demonstrating to rulers and authorities in heavenly places his magnificent wisdom and purpose.
The point here is something like this. If God can take these blatantly and openly hostile groups and unite them in a loving bond with each other and do so while they are still surrounded by a world dominated by Satan, sin, skepticism and doubt, can there be any question that He will succeed in His ultimate purpose? You see, what is going on right now – right now as we demonstrate our love for God and for each other -- is the display of the magnificence and superiority of God’s wisdom and glory and grace. The aim of it all is to bring praise to Him. We’re made to glorify Him and He makes it all possible for us to do so when we act in accordance with His plan.
Sam Goldwyn was not given to flights of uncalculated sentiment. He and some colleagues, visiting him at his home, were once engaged in a bitter dispute over a script. One of them walked over to the window looking out on Goldwyn’s luxurious lawn. He stood there for a moment, then called out to the other, “Come look. Here we are fighting and this marvelous peaceful event is taking place in nature right under our noses. We should be ashamed of ourselves.” The others, Goldwyn last, trooped over. Parading across the lawn were a mother quail and her five little chicks. They stood there for a short time; then the silence was broken by the unappeasable Goldwyn: “They don’t belong here.”
That is exactly what the world and our heavenly witnesses should be saying about us. Look at those loving, peaceful Christians. They don’t belong in this world – and indeed, we are citizens of heaven, are we not? So every time someone decides to become a follower of Jesus Christ – and every time a believer exercises unworldly kindness and love toward another, we do so to the praise of His glory. Does God need us to add to His glory? Of course, not, but He allows us this marvelous privilege that we so often take for granted.
About a year ago, Pastor Ken went to be with the Lord after a 10 month fight with cancer. Pastor Ken was pastor of the Magnolia Baptist Church which we began to attend when we first moved to California in 1965. He was a great preacher, motivator, organizer and he played some pretty good basketball and baseball, too – all of which endeared him to me. He became a major influence in my life, but also in the lives of countless other young men and women. Out of the thousands of people who were members of the two churches he pastored, I would venture a guess that well over 200 or 300 went into full time ministry of some kind. He was one of the finest men that I ever knew and for some reason, I was one of two who grew up under his ministry that he asked to participate in his funeral service. I considered it one of the highest honors I ever had to be asked to review the life of one whom I so revered.
Beloved, don’t you see? On a much grander scale, that’s the privilege that God is giving every one of us as believers. Does He need us? No. Does He want us? YES. Why did He save us? So that we could go to heaven? Yes, but that’s not the big reason. So that we could live godly lives here? Yes, but that’s not the big thing? So that we could find true happiness and contentment? Yes, that’s all true – but it all pales compared to the grand purpose that we might live to the praise of His glory.
IV. How do We Participate in God’s Purpose?
Once again, God’s Big Idea – His ultimate purpose, is expressed in Ephesians 1: 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Stated another way, He has set about to remove all the alienation that has come into creation as a result of sin – reverse the curse -- all the evil that was unleashed in the moment that Satan rebelled against Him – not in some sweeping, magical wave of His hand, but by working through the creation that He had established – thus demonstrating once and for all time His absolute superiority. That is a big undertaking. But we’ve seen that the Church, every believer, becomes in essence a partner with God in that plan. We’re on the team. Now the question is, what role do we play?
The answer comes in the last three chapters of Ephesians. Paul spends the first three chapters orienting us as to just exactly what our position is in Christ – telling us all the marvelous benefits and blessings that we have “in Him.” Chapters 1-3 are all about our heavenly Calling. Chapter 4-6 are all about our earthly Conduct. Chapters 1-3 are about our Position in Christ. Chapters 4-6 are about our Practice. Chapters 1-3 are about obtaining new life. Chapters 4-6 are about living our new life.
It is in these chapters that Paul’s reference to the Church as the body of Christ takes on practical significance. Think of it this way. Christ is the head; we are the body – we are his hands and feet to help accomplish God’s purpose of ridding his creation of alienation and bringing about unity. How cool is that? So, now, let me summarize what we will find in chapters 4-6 into three points.
A. Love Like Christ
First of all, in our conduct we should love like Christ. That is the foundation of everything else. Love is a major theme in Ephesians. In 1:15, Paul mentions that he had heard of their love. It was an outstanding characteristic and noteworthy of their local church. Can the same be said for us? I pray it will be true of ours as well. In 3:17 he prays for them to be “rooted in love.” See, everything else basically works if it is surrounded by love. Love needs to invade our hearts. It needs to permeate our thoughts. Our work needs to be infused with love. Our very being should be seeped in love. That’s what it means to be rooted in love. Would we be different or what?
Paul goes on to pray in 3:19 that they would know the love of Christ. If we could only grasp just a fraction of how much Christ loves us, we’d be changed forever. In 4:2 he says we are to be 2) . . . bearing with one another in love. Isn’t that good? Love does not seek perfection in the other and it does not always agree with the other, but it bears with the other. In 4:15 we to be15) Rather, speaking the truth in love. True love doesn’t gloss over error. It confronts it, but it does so with humility, gentleness, a sense of one’s own vulnerability and with love.
In 5:2 we are admonished to walk in love, and then it is all capped off in three verses – 5:25, 28, 33 where husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.
This is where the rubber meets the road, folks. Love is to ooze from every pore of our spiritual, personal and professional lives. There is no escape, no exception, no reprieve.
Obviously, the reference here is not to the emotional, sentimental, syrupy expression that we sometimes mistake for love. No, this is a love that is commanded. It is not an emotion, it is a decision. It is not the wispy unpredictable feelings of a fickle human heart. It is action deriving from a will that has submitted itself to the Lordship of Christ and that will not be turned away from its resolve to follow Him. It is something I will to do because I choose to be like Christ.
Love is the decision to live with others interests at heart. It finds its ultimate definition in I Corinthians 13 where Paul summarizes in verse 7: 7) Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. So, are you there yet? Me neither, but by God’s grace, I trust that we will resolve on progress and that by the time we end our study of Ephesians we will have advanced from where we are today. Wouldn’t that be great to anticipate?
To love like Christ doesn’t mean that we agree with someone – Christ certainly didn’t agree with everyone. It doesn’t mean that we like someone necessarily. It doesn’t mean that we chase after them. When Christ was rejected, He moved on, though He never stopped loving. Love finds its greatest expression when we love our enemies. He even says, what merit is it to love those who love you? The test is, how do you do with those who irritate, mock and even hate you?
As Christ’s body in this world, we are called upon to decide to decide to put others first and to move that decision into action. I’m reminded of the little 8-year-old boy, Stevie. His brother had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. It was finally determined that Stevie was the perfect and only match, and so Stevie was asked if he would be willing to provide bone marrow for his brother. After pausing for a moment, Stevie said that yes, he would be willing. Preparations were made and on the day the procedure was to take place, Steve was admitted to the hospital. Just before they were about to take him to the operating room, Stevie looked at his mother and asked, “Mommy, how long will it take me to die?” Stevie thought that in giving his bone marrow, he would die instead of his brother, but he was willing to do it anyway. That wasn’t just some worked up emotion. He made a decision and he was willing to take action even though it would cost his most precious possession. There’s our challenge folks.
B. Live Like Christ
First we are to love like Christ. Second, we are to live like Christ. In Ephesians 4:24 we read Paul’s enjoinder: 24) and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. One is put in mind of the admonition of a coach to his team: “Okay, suit up boys. Let’s get ready to rock!” Only in this case, it’s not just a new exterior uniform. We’re to put on a whole new self. This is a key phrase in the whole last 3 chapters of Ephesians. Put on the new self.
Details for how we do this are found throughout these chapters. We are told in 4:1, walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. In other words, now that you know who you are, live up to it. God has given you an exalted position. Now that you understand that, live your life in accordance with that position. Five times in these chapters the word “walk” is used, not, obviously, to speak of how we ambulate! But encouraging us in our conduct. It all brings to mind Paul’s instruction in II Cor. 5: 17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
You’re a new creation. Now live like it. It’s a well-known psychological fact that people tend to live up to what they think of themselves – or down to what they think of themselves as the case may be. Tell someone he is the class clown long enough and voila! He will probably become the class clown. Tell a child he is stupid long enough and it won’t take long for him to get the message and begin living down to that definition. Conversely, begin to praise a child for his or her accomplishments and we can set a standard that they will aim to achieve.
A favorite school teacher named Miss Dolan got married over the summer one year. When the students returned in the fall, she informed her class of first-graders (whom she had also taught in kindergarten the year before) that they should now call her Mrs. Douglas. That afternoon, she overheard as one of the mothers picked up her daughter. The mother asked her daughter what her teacher’s name was. The little girl replied, “She says her name is Mrs. Douglas, but she sure looks a lot like Miss Dolan to me.”
The point is, there ought to be a difference between the old self and the new self that has come “in Christ”, right? Do you look the same, or is there a continuing change in your life. As we learn to live like Christ, we won’t look like the old Miss Dolan, that’s for sure. And how we think about ourselves will have a lot to do with our ability to make the change.
So, we’re going to have the great privilege to review again over the next few weeks and months what our position in Christ really is, and I trust that as we do so, we will find that our lives are changing. I know that you still get up in the same old bedroom every morning. And you still go to the same old job or school or responsibility. And you still face the same old crowd – some of whom you like and some of whom you don’t. I know that all the surrounding paraphernalia of your life is remarkably unchanged.
But, folks, if we are in Christ, inside we are not the same. Our standing in the universe is not average. Our heritage is not just the earthly family we were born into. Our resources are not limited to the meager talents, skills, abilities, appearance and aptitude that define us physically. We are children of the King, Beloved. We are to conduct ourselves like the heirs of God himself because, in fact, that is exactly who we are. Ghandi --A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.”
Our subconscious mind is a powerful force in our life and it is working 24-7. It is constantly sending you messages like, “Hey, you’re just young Joe Blow who couldn’t even pass that math test in the 8th grade. What makes you think you can ever work in a bank?” “You’re just Little Sissy Kraemer who still needs help tying her shoes when she’s in the second grade. Why do you think you could ever run your own business?” We all live with this kind of emotional handicap – everyone does, and we must find ways to overcome this powerful influence. It is a documented fact that there are demonstrably different results when a golfer comes up to a tee box thinking I’m going to hit in the fairway as opposed to the negative, I’m not going to hit in the water. Any good athlete to achieve his maximum potential must see himself as a winner and not as a loser who gave up the winning home run in 8th grade little league. Satan says, “You’re nothing special. You’re nothing at all.” God says, “Don’t you believe it. You are mine and that alone makes you special.”
Some of you may have watched the 4 X 100 Men’s free style relay race at the Olympics a few weeks ago. It was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever witnessed. The French were expected to win and made some comments about looking forward to crushing the Americans. In the process they would destroy Michael Phelps possibility of 8 gold medals. As the race unfolded, the US lost ground, particularly in the third leg and when the final swimmer entered the water, he was nearly a body length behind the French anchor swimmer, Alain Bernard, who also just happened to be a former world record holder at the 100 meter distance. At the turn (each of the four swimmers swam two lengths of the pool, the lead was still a full body length and everyone in the venue and at home thought it was over. Everyone except Jason Lezak. Jason Lezak had not always been at his best in previous big meets, but this day was different. Knowing that it was the last time he would swim such a relay, he gave it everything he had. Ever so gradually he gained ground. He moved over to swim in the wake of the French competitor gaining a slight momentum by drafting. With just a few meters to go, it still didn’t look like he could possibly pull it off. But then, with an almost miraculous lunge at the finish, he touched .08 second ahead. He had swum 100 meters in 46.06 seconds – the fastest anyone has swum that distance in history.
After the race, Lezak described his state of mind a the turn: "I’m not going to lie, the thought crossed my mind: no way am I going to do this,” said Lezak. “Then I told myself that’s ridiculous, I’m racing for my country here, I can do this.” Jason Lezak thought of himself as an American, a winner, and he pulled off the impossible. Now I will grant you that he might easily have come up .08 seconds short. But he would have been no less a winner. By knowing who he was, he was able to give his very best.
That’s the whole point of the last three chapters of Ephesians, folks. Yes, we will study the wonderful details later, but get the big picture. You are a child of God. Literally, you belong to Christ. You could have no higher or honored position in all the world – so go live like it. Live like the child of God that you are. Never forget who you are and to whom you belong. Whatever anyone else may say, no matter how they may mock, no matter how they may humiliate, bait and berate you – live like Christ. You’ll never be sorry.
C. Battle in Christ
Given the wealth of benefits available to us “in Christ,” we need to love like Christ. We need to live like Christ. Finally, we need to battle like Christ.
The victory is secured folks. But the battle isn’t quite over yet. And so we are expected to take our place in the ranks of those who are fighting for the name of Jesus Christ. This is basically the message of the latter part of chapter 6 of Ephesians where Paul begins 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. After all the preceding wonderful description of all that we have in Christ – and after the exhortations to love and live like Christ, why does Paul end with this wartime imagery. I mean we’ve been sailing along on cloud 9. Let’s stay there! Oh, but you see, the Bible is not anything if not realistic. And Paul knows, as God knows, the fight is still on.
With all the great privileges that we have as children of God, we still need to realize that we are in a battle. It’s as real as that being waged even as we speak in Iraq, and far more vicious. But because it is taking place in the invisible realm, we are so prone to think all is well and make no provision for the battle. It’s true that you can’t see this enemy with physical eyes, but he is no less real. Look at verse 12 of Ephesians 6: 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.
Now – folks, just in case you’re not sure about this spiritual battle and whether or not it really affects you personally or not, turn with me to the book of Daniel. There is a very interesting sequence there. In chapter 9 Daniel has realized that per previous prophecy the time is coming when the Babylonian captivity of his nation should be nearing an end. So he prays, confessing the sins of the nation and requesting the Lord’s answer to the question of captivity. In answer – almost before he is done praying, the angel Gabriel shows up and provides him with insight into what is going to happen to the nation of Israel. The main point for our discussion is that the answer to prayer is immediate.
Then we come to chapter 10. In chapter 10 Daniel experiences a frightful vision one night, so he immediately sets his heart to understand. He begins to pray and three weeks go by during which he eats nothing, give no attention to personal grooming and beseeches the Lord. No immediate answer this time. Now – we pick up with verse 10 of Daniel 10: 10) And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.
11) And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12) Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13) The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14) and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
Isn’t that interesting? From the moment Daniel began to pray, he was heard and an angel was dispatched to answer. It would have been chapter 9 all over again. But this time, the spiritual battle raged a bit closer to home, so the angel was somehow stalled on his journey by the “prince of the Kingdom of Persia” -- a reference to one of Satan’s demonic minions who was in charge of that geographical area – one who was capable of stopping the angelic messenger for a time. In fact, the implication is that the intervention of Michael, one of the Lord’s most powerful angelic beings, was required to facilitate the delivery of the message.
Isn’t that an interesting insight into the world of spiritual conflict. It is because of this very conflict that the apostle Paul urges us to be prepared, to battle as Jesus did when Satan temped him. We are take the whole armor of God – the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the Sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. We need the helmet of salvation and we need prayer. Those are our tools in this battle. Are they being used? By you?
Jill Briscoe – she’s the wife of the radio preacher, Stewart Briscoe, tells of being at an airport awaiting a flight on September 11, 2001. As news began to filter in regarding the disaster that day, she notices a woman in the waiting area who was dressed in any army uniform and obviously a soldier. She was distressed from the start, but as the news got worse she began to cry and became quite unnerved. Eventually, Mrs. Briscoe approached her, commented that she could not help noticing the young woman’s distress and asking if she could be of any help. The young woman replied that she was a soldier in the army and being re-deployed. But her distress was caused by her perception of what was likely to happen next. She said, “I didn’t join the army to go to war.” Quite an interesting take on things, isn’t it? I didn’t join the army to go to war. Do you belong to Jesus? Then I hope that you have joined to go to war. Let’s fight the good fight. Let’s battle like Jesus did when he defeated Satan at every single turn. Don’t let Satan get you hooked on good things at the expense of the best.
Here’s God’s Big Idea – His great purpose in this world: 9) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10) as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Beloved, I hope that you belong to Jesus Christ. And I hope that you understand all the privileges that you have in him. And I hope that you are beginning to get what a privilege it is to be joined with him in his battle to removed alienation from the world and to demonstrate once and for all his superiority over his enemies and to unite all things in heaven and on earth in Christ.
But I also hope that you understand that it is a war. That it is for keeps and that you have the wonderful privilege to participate. I hope that you are taking the whole armor of God and I hope that you understand that while the causes of some wars here on earth are not always clear and the value of the sacrifice called for not always sure – that is not the case in the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. In this warfare the lines are clearly drawn. The cause is just and righteous and good. The battle is hard but worthwhile. The enemy is subtle but definable. The resources available are more than adequate – And best of all – the outcome if already determined!
Pablo Picasso once painted what became a famous portrait of Gertrude Stein, but he was virtually unknown at the time. Years later, millionaire art collector, Dr. Albert Barnes, became interested in the picture and asked Miss Stein what she paid for it. “Nothing. Naturally he gave it to me.” Dr. Barnes was incredulous. When Stein told Picasso he smiled and said, “He doesn’t understand that at that time the difference between a sale and a gift was negligible.” How things changed when he became a master.
For those who are “in Christ”, we have been made by a master! We’re a work of art Beloved, and Jesus wants us to act like it, live like it, be faithful like it. Live up to who we are in Him. That’s our challenge. That’s the battle that is there for us everyday. But what a calling we have – and what a result awaits those who will endure to the end.