Ephesians for Everyone: a Brief Explanation

Posted on 27 March 2008

Readers’ notes for the whole of Paul’s letter

Ephesians for Everyone: a Brief Explanation

Stephen Dray
1:1-2. Greeting
These verses introduce one of the greatest of all Paul’s writings and one of the most wonderful books in the whole of the Bible. All Scriptures were written for our benefit (2 Timothy 3:16) but there are three things in these verses that encourage us to listen very carefully to the letter to the Ephesians. They are:
• the form of the letter. Ephesians is, of course, a letter: as all Paul’s writings in the Bible. However, it is special because it was not written to a particular church or individual like his other letters. With them we ‘eavesdrop’ on his message to others. Though we call this letter the ‘Ephesian’ epistle most of the early copies we have do not mention any church at all (see NIV footnote). Moreover, Paul knew the Ephesians so well that he would surely have included some personal greetings when writing only to them. What we probably have is a circular letter that Paul wanted to have read in all churches. So ‘Ephesians’ is, especially, our letter.
• the addressees. Paul addresses ‘the saints….‘. Paul used these words to describe all Christians. Here, then, he is not speaking to a friend or to a special group of believers but every believer. So it is our letter written for the benefit of each one of us!
• the author. This is the most important point of all. Paul claims to be an apostle. The word was used of three groups of people in the New Testament. Sometimes it referred to church messengers (2 Corinthians 8:23). At other times it was a word used of missionaries (Acts 14:4,14). But here Paul is using it in a different way again! When Jesus lived he gathered a little band of men around him whom He called ‘apostles’ (Luke 6:12-13). He taught these men and promised them that they would be helped to remember everything he taught them (John 14:26). They were to be the people whose teaching the early believers received (Acts 2:42) and were regarded as ‘foundation stones’ upon whose teaching the church (in subsequent generations) was to build (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11). These men would be provided with supernatural evidence that they were Jesus’ mouthpieces (2 Corinthians 12:12). Paul, of course, did not become a believer till after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 9). But he soon realised that in a remarkable way God was making him the last apostle of all (1 Corinthians 15:8,9)! And the signs were there to confirm his claims (2 Corinthians 12:12). This helps us understand verse 1. He is claiming to speak God’s words: just like all the authors of the Bible but unlike anyone else before or since.
So when Paul wrote this letter he wrote down God’s words and he wrote God’s special message to you and me. We can see, then, why we need to listen to it! Paul is, of course, writing to all believers. But he wants us all to be very clear we are Christians. So he explains here, very simply, what a Christian is.
• Christians, he says, are saints. This means two things. First, it describes people who God has set aside to serve him. Secondly, it means a people who are like mirrors. People who reflect, in their own lives, God’s holiness. Good people who reflect God’s goodness.
• This helps us to understand what Paul says next, ‘the faithful in Christ Jesus’. The word ‘faithful’ could be translated ‘believers’ (see NIV footnote) but the version is wise not to do so. Thus, a Christian is not someone who simply believes certain things (though he or she does do that!) but someone who faithfully lives before God.
• We must not misunderstand Paul. He speaks to people ‘faithful in Christ Jesus’. They are saints and faithful only because of the life they share with Jesus. In the following verses Paul will explain more fully what he means. But, in a nutshell, he is saying this: we are Christians when we live in utter dependence on Jesus and live for God’s glory. We depend upon him for grace, forgiveness and life and find his life living out through us.
• But there is one final thing that Paul teaches and that is that a Christian can never get to the point where he doesn’t need Jesus. Paul’s prayer (2) makes this very clear. Grace is favour that is unmerited. Peace is a word that describes everything which results from our salvation. And, says Paul, we are still utterly dependent on God: both Jesus and his Father. A Christian can, therefore, never be proud or self-satisfied. Jesus has achieved all that he or she is and Jesus is still the only one who can supply what we need yet don’t deserve.
What a beautiful picture of a Christian. Does it describe you? If so this letter is for you: every word of it. But what if the ‘hat doesn’t fit’? The answer is this. You are not a Christian. The words of comfort in this letter do not apply to you because you stand under God’s judgement. But the answer to your need is right here! Jesus and only Jesus can help you. He has everything you need; forgiveness, grace, strength to live a new life.
1:3-14: Every blessing!
Having emphasised that the message of ‘Ephesians’ is intended for every Christian in every age, in a single sentence (3-14 in the Greek) Paul gives praise and thanks to God for all that He has done for every true Christian.
1:3-6: Paul begins, in verse 3, by stressing two vitally important facts:
• Every Christian is in possession of every possible spiritual blessing! John Stott explains this unbelievable statement in this way, ‘No blessing has been witheld from us. Of course we still have to grow into maturity in Christ, and be transformed into his image, and explore the riches of our inheritance in him. Of course, too, God may grant us many deeper and richer experiences of himself on the way. Nevertheless, already, if we are in Christ, every spiritual blessing is ours. Or, as the apostle puts it in Colossians, we ‘have come to fullness of life in him’ [Colossians 2:10].‘
• Every Christian has every blessing that really counts. Paul speaks of blessings in ‘the heavenly realms’ and is contrasting this with material blessings. It is not that the LORD does not give his people such blessings but that spiritual blessings far surpass them: and the LORD has not stinted to keep back even one such blessing!
What, then, are the blessings we possess? The remainder of this section (4-14) lists them, beginning with:
God’s choice: the basis for all the other privileges. All the blessings of God have their foundation here. Paul says four things:
• God’s choice is eternal (4a). A Christian is so because before even the world was made God determined to save individual sinners.
• God’s choice was sovereign (5b). That choice had no reference to any good foreseen in any of the chosen. The choice was grounded not in what the ‘elect’ might be or become but in the LORD’s decision. The choice preceded any consideration of worth. It found its origin only in the inscrutable will of God.
• God’s choice was ‘in love’ (4c). It is not unlikely that this phrase should come at the end of the preceding sentence, ‘holy and blameless in love’ (see again below). However, if our version puts it in the right place it emphasises that God’s choice was no cold and calculating one. Rather his heart was in it. He loved us from eternity. What greater blessing can there be than to be loved by God?
• God’s choice was ‘in Christ’ (4a). The choice was that of a holy God. It was the choice of the unworthy. Thus, the choice could have no foundation outside of Christ. It rested before eternity upon him. He is the origin and executor of God’s choice of us.
Note, then, two significant features of this entire paragraph. God alone is the subject of every verb in verses 4-14, believers merely the recipients, the objects of the action of God. And ‘in him’, or something similar, occurs fifteen times in fourteen verses. Every action of God toward us is through Christ Jesus.
God’s choice (or election) is often taught as a cold, clinical doctrine. But it is not that. It is not revealed to fuel human debate but to grant humble confidence to the LORD’s people. It humbles because it takes away all pride by explaining the mystery of our conversion and it assures, because in the midst of trials when we feel our grip on the LORD slipping we can be secure in the knowledge that it is his eternal purpose which is our foundation; an eternal purpose grounded in eternal love.
In these verses Paul also describes the reasons behind God’s choice of us. He makes four points:
• God’s choice issues in a holy and blameless walk among the people of God (4b). People sometimes use the doctrine of election to excuse their disobedience. Nothing more clearly declares that they know nothing of the grace of God! Election must lead to a holy life: a life that is obedient to the LORD and images Jesus.
There is a tendency for those who believe in election to show a lesser zeal for personal holiness than those who fail to see that the scripture teaches it. In reality the reverse ought to be true as we seek to make ‘our calling and election sure’, or, prove the reality of our confession.
• Those who are chosen will show an inward as well as an outward righteousness. God’s choice is for us to be blamelessness ‘before him’ (‘in his sight’, 4b) not just before men and women. Such will be shown as much by our attitudes as by our actions. This is vitally important. Christians have a frightening tendency to become legalistic and to become preoccupied only with outward holiness measurable against a reduced list of ‘sins’. But the Bible does not fall into this trap. It looks for both positive as well as negative holiness and it reaches to the heart not just the surface layer of skin!
• Such righteousness will be ‘in love’ (4c). This is probably the most likely place for the phrase. This involves two things. Our righteousness should be one that is a response to the love of God and, also, one that shows itself in the winsome holiness that so characterised Jesus. How sad that believers have such a perverted understanding of holiness that many believe that the cramped, crabby and unattractive piety which offends unbelievers and is characterised by ‘do not’s’ is what the LORD is looking for! Jesus was holy but supremely attractive and approachable (even by the greatest of sinners). His life is our example. Nothing else.
• This righteousness will give honour to the One to whose grace it bears eloquent testimony. God is glorified in the holiness of his children. True holiness is winning: a powerful evangelistic tool.
1:7-10. We live in a world in which we are beset by the antagonism of its members, one against the other. Humans are enraged against one another, humankind is at enmity with creation (as exploitation shows) and the created order is at enmity with humans: witnessed as much by the thorns and thistles which frustrate the gardener as in the viruses which appear to temper the advances of medical science. Moreover, illness and death stalks life. Disunity sums up the whole sorry situation. Not surprisingly, this evokes the longings of men and women for utopia: for the realm free from these disjointing elements. It is against this background that Paul writes in these verses, offering the only adequate explanation of the disunity as well as the only course available for the realisation of utopia. He teaches that God’s final purpose is to bring all disharmony to an end (10b). Any attempt to limit Paul’s words here is to be rejected. ‘Heaven and earth’ and ‘all’ are comprehensive terms. He envisages, then, cosmic renewal (as in Romans 8:18ff.). Thus,
• The reconciliation of humans to one another is in view (the theme will be picked up in chapter 2).
• The reconciliation of humankind and the created order is also, doubtless, in view: ‘It is these forests, these fields, these cities, these streets, these people ......At present they are battlefields, full of strife and sorrow…..then they will be fields of victory, fields of harvest, where out of seed that was sown with tears the everlasting sheaves will be reaped and brought home.‘ (Thurneyson).
Thus, the hopes of men and women for ‘heaven on earth’ will, one day, be realised. Even the prospect of nuclear holocaust cannot frustrate the appearing of utopia!
However, to effect His purpose God must deal with sin (7). Unlike most modern men and women Paul knew the root of the problem of disunity. He knew that the Scriptures themselves had predicted that the entrance of sin into the world would disrupt both the relationship of the human race to one another (Genesis 3:16) and also introduce hostility between mankind and the created order (Genesis 3:17f.) ultimately resulting in physical dissolution: death. This enmity, the result of the more fundamental disunion between God and man (part of the point in Genesis 3:23), must, Paul knew, be tackled before the hopes of mankind could be realised.
Paul also knew humans were helpless to do anything to put the matter right. He lived in a civilisation (not unlike our own) that had given up any hope of ultimately resolving the problems of enmity that lay at its heart. But he also knew that the same God who had chosen a people to enjoy his final purpose had also comprehensively tackled the problem before which men and women stood helpless. Thus, he tells us: 
Jesus has restored to men and women the inheritance that they had once lost (the background is, again, Genesis 3). This he has done by paying the debt for their release from slavery to sin and the Devil (imagery drawn from the experience of Israel in the Exodus is also present). He has also ‘removed’ sin (for the Greek verb aphiemi carries the hint of this), by breaking its power. This he has achieved by paying the full debt incurred before God by sin. In this way the wrath of God is turned aside: and this harmony between men and their Maker becomes the ground for the removal of the curse.
Moreover, this action is in proportion to the unfathomable riches of God’s grace. This emphasises not only its sovereign, free and unmerited character, but, above all, its totality. What more could have been done than that undertaken by One whose resources and goodwill is inexhaustible?
Thus, Paul emphasises that those who are in Christ are, alone, the beneficiaries of these blessings. Though the reconciliation envisaged here is universal in its scope it does not, necessarily, embrace every man or woman. Enjoyment is conditional on the living experience of redemption (8,9). It is those who have come to understand and enjoy (for understanding in the Bible is not mere intellectual assent) the purposes of God in Christ who will enjoy the consummation of God’s plan.
John Lennon’s most famous song, ‘Imagine’, describes his longings for utopia. Its popularity shows it touches the hearts of many. The tragedy comes in the line ‘no religion too’ for Lennon turns away from that which alone can furnish his hopes with any substance. Paul, however, tells us such hopes are substantial: but only ‘in Christ’. He alone is ‘hope for the world’.
1:11-14. Paul is writing to all Christians (1,2). He has reminded them that they have every blessing that counts (3). They are the beneficiaries of the LORD’s choice in the past (4-6); they are now adopted as the sons of God (7,8) and, their future is bound up with his purpose to re-unify all things (9,10) in cosmic renewal.
In these concluding verses of Paul’s ‘doxology’ (11-14), the apostle deals with those who might, from a misplaced humility or for some other reason, be inclined to consider themselves outside of the scope of his words. They are reminded that they also are God’s people, the beneficiaries of His grace with a calling to glorify God. This is because
• All the people of God are the beneficiaries of every spiritual blessing. The ancient world was divided into two distinct groups, largely on the basis of race. The true God was worshipped by the Jews, who rejoiced in being the LORD’s people. Others might recognise that the LORD alone was God, but it was well nigh impossible for them to be given the full status of his people. They enjoyed, at best, a second class membership. Other similar distinctions prevailed in Paul’s day: women and children were spiritually inferior (as the disciples reaction to the mothers who brought children to Jesus shows, Mark 10:13-16).
Today is, of course, no different: class, colour, gender or some other status are often presumed as the basis for differing degrees of divine blessing. The Hindu sees caste as all important and black people or women have often been given the impression that white males are those who God specially favours. Many today consider that those in ‘holy orders’ have a status that gives them special blessings. The result, both in the ancient world and today, is that men and women are used to thinking that spiritual blessings are unequally divided among the haves and the ‘have nots’: and assume that they are in the latter group. They find it difficult to really believe Paul’s words apply to them and they lose the comfort to be derived from such truths.
Note, therefore, Paul’s response. He contrasts Jewish believers (‘we who first hoped in Christ’ [12]) with the Gentiles, to whom this letter is mainly addressed (‘you also’): but only to them tell them that their spiritual privileges are identical. All are described as ‘heirs’ (NIV margin, 11) and God’s possession (14): words used of Israel in the Old Testament. They all are the ones who find the promises of God fulfilled in them (13). In this way, Paul teaches that Old Testament hopes find their fulfilment in them and Old Testament titles are equally applicable to all those in Christ.  As Christians, then, the same truth applies to us. We are all, equally, the beneficiaries of the blessings described here. ‘In Christ’ none of these things are withheld from us.
• All Christians are the beneficiaries of God’s grace. This deals with any lingering doubts. ‘But’, some might say, ‘I am not able to claim these things to myself’. Such an objection focuses less on status and more on ability. Paul’s answer is to remind his readers of a point he labours in this section of his letter. What they are is the work of God who is sovereign over ‘everything’ (11, and compare 5,9). True, they (and we) freely embraced the proclamation of the Word of God and, thereby, found salvation (13). Yet what we are is the result of sovereign grace working toward the consummation of all its designs. Thus every spiritual blessing is ours and securely ours!
This security is emphasised by the reference to the work of the Holy Spirit (13,14). He is both a ‘seal’ and ‘guarantee’. His inward work in the lives of believers testifies that they belong to the LORD. Similarly, he is both the guarantee and the first instalment. Thus, every believer has the witness within him (or her) that their status is secure and, even now, taste something of the banquet of eternity.
Thus, spiritual blessing and sovereign grace demands God’s people live for his glory. We are granted spiritual privileges that ‘we might be for the praise of His glory’ (12). We receive grace ‘to the praise of his glory’ (14). These two verses span both the here and now and the final consummation of all things. We will then magnify him with all our lives, thus we are to glorify him by our words and works now!
Sovereign choice is not, therefore, the ground for laziness. Rather, it constitutes a demand ‘to make our calling and election sure’. Thus, if all spiritual blessings and grace are the possession of every true believer it also follows that every true believer will bend every fibre in pursuit of holiness. If there are no two standards of blessing there are no two standards of holiness.
1:15-23: Growing up
Paul is addressing all believers (1,2). He has spoken of the fact that they all have ‘every spiritual blessing in heavenly places’ i.e. every blessing that counts! He has looked back to God’s eternal purpose towards them (3-6), forward to the time when they will enjoy the blessedness of all things united together under Christ Jesus (7-10) and he has spoken of the guarantee and first fruits of such blessing that every believer enjoys (11-14). In these verses the apostle prays for the spiritual growth of his readers and, in so doing, shows how such maturity is achieved.
He begins by noting the two great marks of a true Christian (15,16). They have true Gospel faith (15a) and show this to be the case by their mutual love (15b). These two things constitute the sine qua non of the Christian. Throughout the New Testament tremendous emphasis is, therefore, placed on them (compare 1 John 2:7-11 for an especially explicit statement. Moreover, since love in the New Testament is essentially a practical matter, James 2:14-26 is also very relevant here.)
But how are we to ‘grow up’ from this point. Verses 17-23 describe the way of Christian maturity.  Many paths to maturity are being peddled today. Few have much in common with the apostolic and biblical perspective. Most make the assumption that there are blessings still awaiting the believer to be claimed and to be apprehended by special steps or techniques. How far all this is from the Bible’s teaching! Thus, Paul stresses:
• Maturity comes with a fuller grasp of the riches already possessed in Christ.  Paul begins from the point where, as we have seen, every spiritual blessing is already in the possession of every Christian (3). Maturity comes from ‘knowing Him (i.e. God) better’ (17): a knowledge that comes when those blessings already possessed are more fully grasped. Consequently, Paul prays that his readers will be granted the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives that will grant them such practical understanding by revealing (both intellectually and subjectively) the scope of such marvellous truths (18). Thus, we need to know the truth and that requires study of God’s word. But we also need the ministry of the Holy Spirit so that these great truths ‘come alive’ for us. Without the former our Christianity is all subjectivity. Without the latter it is mere head knowledge. But true Christian maturity is found in a biblical balance between the two.
 
• Maturity comes with a fuller grasp of three great truths:
o We need to know more fully the hope to which God has called us. This takes us back. Why did God choose us in the ‘counsels’ of eternity? The biblical answer is many-sided. John Stott says, ‘He called us to Christ and holiness, to freedom and peace, to suffering and glory. More simply, it was a call to an altogether new life in which we know, love, obey and serve Christ, enjoy fellowship with him and each other, and look beyond our present suffering to the glory which will one day be revealed’.
o We need to know more fully the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. This looks forward. Just as Abraham looked for a city that was made by God (Hebrews 11:10), so we, too, look for the coming Kingdom of our Saviour. Much remains hazy and beyond our view but enough is revealed to whet our appetites for glory. We should meditate upon this and anticipate it with joy and gratitude (something which the present this-worldly generation makes it difficult for us to do). When we do grasp these things they will do us immeasurable good by increasing our maturity in the knowledge of God.
o We need to know more fully His ‘incomparably great power for us who believe’. Paul spends time amplifying this last point (verses 19-23) because, in a sense, this is the most vital matter of all. We need to be sure of the power of God to accomplish his purposes toward us. The apostle makes several points to reassure us:
 Paul heaps up words for strength (19) to show the greatness of God’s power.
 More than that, however, he reminds his readers that God has demonstrated the truth of his claims: in the resurrection of Jesus (20a). The realm of history confirms the apostle’s claims.
 But Paul is not finished. Resurrection led to the ascension and the heavenly rule of Jesus (20b). There, Jesus exercises an authority over every creature and will especially do this in the age to come (21).
 However, perhaps the most wonderful thing of all is that God has given this power to Jesus to exercise on behalf of his people, the church (22): a power which ‘fills full’ the church (that is, which supplies all the power which the church needs).
With such knowledge of God and his ways what confidence is ours! What he has planned he must undertake, the glory he intends to bestow up on us is one that nothing can sever us from: ‘I am His and He is mine, forever and forever’.
2:1-3: The Human Predicament
Having spoken of the power of God exercised in raising Jesus from the dead (1:20) it is the apostle’s intention to show how God has worked in a similar way in the life of every true believer. In order to demonstrate this, Paul first (2:1-3) shows the still greater death from which every Christian has been miraculously resurrected: spiritual death. Thus, he describes human nature without the intervention of God.
It is important, before we look in detail at these verses, to note that what Paul says here applies to everyone. We can see this clearly and in three ways:
• Paul begins by using the word ‘you’ and placing it in the emphatic place in the sentence. He is clearly referring to Gentiles. However,
• in verse 3 he refers to ‘we’, that is, to Jews.
• Then, finally, he refers to ‘the rest’ of mankind (3b). In this way he embraces every sort and condition of men in his statement here. The dark picture he is about to present does not apply to some people but to everyone who has ever walked upon the face of this earth (bar one!). Thus, what Paul tells us here is true of everyone of us apart from the intervention of God’s grace:
1. All humans are, by nature, dead (1). Paul is not using here a figure of speech. Rather, at the most fundamental level, what he says is true. Outside of Christ men and women are spiritually dead. This is seen, says Paul, as a matter of fact in our sins and transgressions. Together these two words give a comprehensive account of human evil: we deliberately take false steps (‘trespass’) and we miss the mark (‘sin’). Thus, we do what we shouldn’t and we fail to do what we should. Before God we are rebels and failures. And this is the crux: whatever the life that we (or others) lead, in the thing that really matters more than anything else we show we are dead. There is no life and, as John Stott says, ‘you can tell it. They are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry, ‘Abba, Father’, no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive as a corpse.‘ And such was true of us (and remains true of us) until awakened again to life by God.
2. All humans are, by nature, slaves (2). Paul uses another illustration that is more than that: for just as our death was real so was our slavery. A slave is someone who has no rights. He or she has to do exactly what they are told. Now, says Paul, we were slaves two three different masters! They controlled our manner of life (‘in which you walked’ literally translates 2a). We were completely enslaved to them. Who or what, then, were these masters?
a. The world (2a). Paul believed that the unbelieving world was in the grip of attitudes and values that were opposed to God and his ways. Today’s world is no different. Everywhere the unbelieving world adopts standards which leave God out of account: injustice, sexism, racism, the rejection of moral absolutes, exploitation, materialism, etc. Not all these things manifest themselves in everyone or everywhere but some are present everywhere and manifest the fact that men fail to come to grips with God’s standards.
b. The Devil (2b). The Bible makes no bones about its belief in a personal Devil who is actively at work in the world to frustrate the plans of God and to ensnare and capture all unbelievers. We were energised by his power, says Paul. We followed meekly his suggestions, fell into the traps he set before us (just as Eve) and were helpless in his hands.
c. The flesh (3). For Paul, the flesh is the wrongful desires of mind and body. Thus, he does not just have in mind physical acts of sin, but wrongful desires and spiritual perversions. Galatians 5:19-20 includes a selection of each of these manifestations of the ‘flesh’. Paul was, of course, aware that there was a very different degree as to the grossness of such manifestations of slavery. What he did insist upon was that outside of Christ the root, at least, was (and is present) in all. Life toward God is absent and incapable of being kindled. Neither education nor effort is able to put the matter right. Depravity simply will not go away! Paul explains why.
3. All humans are, by nature, condemned (3b). Paul is not interested in metaphysics in this verse. What he teaches is quite simple. By the nature we display (even from birth) we show ourselves to be those who stand under the steady hostility of God to all evil and sin. He will not compromise with sin (and we would despise him if he did) and, therefore, he cannot compromise with us.
Paul is painting in primary colours. He could have said other things. He could have referred to the image of God present, if defaced in humans, that enables them to still do much that is good. Paul would not deny any of this. But what he does do is show that none of this negates his basic picture of humankind as spiritually dead, enslaved to a lifestyle etc. at a tangent to God’s purpose and helplessly under his just wrath. What a dark picture; but realistic since it, alone, gives an explanation for humanity as we experience it (in ourselves and others) and Paul teaches it to show more gloriously the work of God in bringing life from the dead…..
2:4-10: Life from the dead!
Paul’s great concern in verses 1-10 is to show that God’s power at work in salvation is as great as His resurrection of Jesus (1:20). By way of introduction (2:1-3) he has already emphasised the seriousness of mankind’s situation: all are dead, slaves to the world, the flesh and the Devil and, by nature, condemned by God’s wrath. How then can any escape the bondage and judgement of sin and death? The answer (a truly wonderful one!) is given here: ‘But God…...saved’ (4,8).
These three words (the first two of which prompted the famous preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones to preach a sermon on them alone!) sum up the message of this paragraph. Dead, bound and condemned men and women were rescued by the sovereign act of the gracious God. Nothing else could have availed! And this wonderful truth is so great that Paul labours to make it as plain as he possibly can. Such effort by the inspired writer should encourage us to grapple with what he has to say. Paul stresses three things:
• God’s motive in salvation. This is where Paul starts. ‘Why did God save men?‘ is a natural question to ask. Paul replies by using four words to describe God’s motive. The words are mercy (4), or, pity for the less fortunate, kindness (7), or, tenderness for those in need, grace (5), or, unmerited favour and blessing and love (4). This is quite remarkable. Undeserving sinners were pitied and tenderly saved because God loved them, despite everything they were or could ever be.
• God’s purpose in salvation. God saved sinners ‘ in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace’ (7). There is a double thought here. God acted to demonstrate both in the present age and through all eternity the beauty of his own delightful character. But, secondly, he did this in us, that is, he wanted to demonstrate us as his most precious jewels. What condescending love that he should wish to show us off as his most cherished trophies!
• God’s work in salvation. This incomparable love is seen in those things that God undertook to do to save us. Since we, all so often, have a very truncated view of salvation, it is worth noting the six things that, Paul tells us, about our salvation.
o As spiritually dead men and women (1-3) we were resurrected (4), ‘made alive’: that is, regenerated. We were created afresh (10) no longer from nothing, but, more seriously, from a state of hostility to God.
o This issued in a new life (6).
o Moreover, we were given the place of intimacy in God’s family and a nearness to his presence (an experience which will, one day, be consummated). This appears to be the meaning of 6b.
o All this was achieved in union with Jesus. His resurrection was ours, his ascension and present rule is ours too (note the repeated phrases, ‘in Christ Jesus’ or ‘with Christ’ in 5,6a,6b,7 and 10).
o Even our faith-response whereby we trusted in him was the work of God (8 where either faith or salvation is the subject of the phrase ‘and this not of yourselves….‘. Either way, however, faith is embraced as God’s work).
o And this salvation is secure. His past work brings present and future blessing (the verb is the Greek perfect in 8).
Nothing less than such a work of God could have met our need. Dead, we could not respond until he brought us to new life. But with such new life the response of faith was as natural as breathing because bondage to sin and death had been brought to an end. But far more has been given us than merely the end of hostilities: we are now secure as members of the intimate circle of God’s family so that we cry ‘Abba, Father’. And all this through the finished work of Jesus!
Paul mentions four things that we should notice:
• we are not saved by our achievements (‘not from yourselves’, 8). There is no personal credit to be found in our being saved by God since:
• God does not work on the basis of reward (9, ‘not by works’).
• Neither can faith be seen as meritorious, since ‘this is not from yourselves’ (8). Thus, salvation from beginning to end is by sheer grace. God is the author from beginning to end. However, there is another vital lesson contained here:
• Those who once lived and ‘followed the ways of the world’ because ensnared by the world, the flesh and the Devil are now recreated ‘to do good works’ (10). Good works don’t save but they do show that we are saved! They are the mark of the new creation.
There are wonderful consequences that flow from these truths. Martin Luther recognised this when he found peace with God after years of trying to make himself right for God. And security is also found here: as is confidence before God.
2:11-22: All for Jesus
In verses 1-10, Paul has established that both Jews and Gentiles have, alike, found salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. This leads him, in verses 11-22 to reflect on the consequences (note the ‘therefore’ in verse 11) this has for understanding the purposes of God and, in particular, leads him to the very heart of his own distinctive contribution to biblical truth as the apostle of the Gentiles. He teaches:
• Verses 11-13. In the Old Testament era, God concentrated his attention upon the descendants of Abraham and Jacob. He entered into a succession of covenants with them and made them his people, he gave the covenant sign of circumcision and promised them a Messiah (‘Christ’ in verse 12 would seem to have this meaning) and offered them hope in him. However, all other men and women were separated from all these things: a separation which outworked in hostility between the ‘had’s’ and the ‘had not’s’.
• Verses 14-18. But Jesus established a New Covenant (‘through’ his blood, verse 13). In so doing he set aside the Old rendering it obsolete (15). The great division between men was brought to an end. A new humanity was created not in the alliance of the two former parts but in their fusion into one: the Church. They, together, were the proud beneficiaries of peace with God and access to him thorough his Spirit.
• Verses 19-22. It follows, argues Paul, they alone are those who are privileged to apply to themselves the language that had formerly applied to Israel alone (19). But their privileges were those to which the Old Covenant had but pointed in a shadowy and illustrative way. The promises to Abraham and the patriarchs were fulfilled in Jesus; the ‘foundational patriarchs’ were replaced by the New Covenant apostles and prophets; and the Temple (which symbolised the presence of God) was now being fulfilled in the church, whose members themselves were now the dwelling place of God.
All this means that,
• We are to read the Old Testament not as a record of one attempt by God to save men (which failed) nor as a story which basically runs in parallel to God’s dealings in the New Testament but as a story which finds its final chapter in Jesus.
• We are to see that God no longer has any special dealings with the Jews nor a purpose for them distinct from his general dealings with the New Covenant people of God. The Jews are privileged because of their past but not because of any special status that they have now.
• We are to rejoice in the fact that the privileges that are ours make any privileges formerly granted to the Jews beggarly by comparison.
• In sum, we are to rejoice in the One who has made all this possible by rendering the Old Covenant obsolete and establishing a new, superior and everlasting covenant in His blood.
3:1-13: Answering Doubters.
Paul’s argument in chapter two ran thus: individual Jews and Gentiles have each found that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus (2:1-10). This fact has some profound implications (2:11-22). Jesus abolished the Old Covenant and established the New Covenant ‘in his blood’: a covenant that abolishes all the former distinctions between men and which is the fulfilment of the Old. Thus, the language descriptive of the people of God is now solely applicable to believers, irrespective of race.
This truth must have been almost unbelievable in Paul’s day following centuries during which the LORD had (largely) restricted His dealings with men to the descendants of the patriarchs. Thus, Paul prepared to pray that these great truths might really ‘become alive’ in the experience of his mainly Gentile readership (3:14-21). Yet as he turned to pray (3:1), he was distracted (3:2-13) because of two things:
• The fact that he had been God’s instrument in bringing this great mystery to light, and,
• The fact that he was now in prison, was being used by some to create doubts as to the truth of all that he preached.
This he sought to rebut before he turned back to prayer. Thus, he acknowledged he was a prisoner but (in a claim arising more from the heart than from rational proof) he argued that he was Jesus Christ’s prisoner, not Nero’s (1). More than that, so certain was he of God’s sovereign purposes that he was convinced his sufferings were for the glory of the very group he had been called to minister to (13 and see again below).
But this was not all. He appealed to spiritual reason. ‘You have heard of my special qualification as the apostle to the Gentiles. Well now, in what I have just written (2:11-22, especially) you will recognise that this is no empty claim. Despite my unworthiness, God has called and equipped me to such a great ministry! And what I have taught and do teach is His message.‘
But what has all this to do with us? Well, behind the arguments of the apostle, which are related to the unique situation of the first century, are certain eternally valid principles and truths:
• Paul claims, as in 2:20, a special authority for New Testament apostles and prophets as the mouthpieces of the New Covenant. These foundations have never needed replacing or supplementing. Their words, now contained in our Bibles as the New Testament, are the sole authority of the Church. They are a sufficient guide and our authoritative guide. We ought always to ask, ‘What do the Scriptures say?‘ The Church receives such testimony, as from God. It does not decide what is God’s word but recognises that which is self-authenticating.
• In this section Paul moves from considering individuals to a consideration of the corporate community of the Church. The glory of the church is that it is to demonstrate the many-stranded wisdom of God both in this world and, indeed, in the realm of angelic beings (10). In particular, it is to demonstrate the marvel of reconciliation in Christ of all sorts and conditions of men to God. This is a formidable challenge. Do we see how important the church is in the purposes of God? And do we see the church worldwide truly demonstrating the reconciliation of all in Christ? Surely the divisions both within and between churches shows how far short we are of grasping Paul’s great vision!
• Paul exalts his office but not himself in these verses. Moreover, his office is no empty one. It involves service and suffering. In this he copies his master and sets forward the example for all to follow. Whatever calling we have in the church it is all of grace and no ground for pride or grasping. And no office is true office unless we are active in our calling. Moreover, discipleship is costly: if not in the persecution Paul endured, then in the demands it places upon our time, energy and talents. For Paul the Gospel was not a hobby given such time as he could spare from other pursuits. Rather, it uncomfortably demanded time and talents that he might have liked to use in some other direction. It was intrusive.
• The sovereign purpose of God. Paul had no doubt that the LORD was in control, engineering his own glory, even in the most puzzling and painful of personal circumstances (Paul was writing in the shadow of likely martyrdom). This is a perspective we need to cultivate. It will not spare us pain but it will give us comfort even in the deepest trials.
3:14-21: Mission Impossible?
Hitherto in his epistle, the apostle has demonstrated that all those who have been saved by grace through faith (2:8) have had lavished upon them every spiritual blessing imaginable (1:3). Paul’s description of the Gospel drives him to serious prayer (3:14, kneeling was not the usual form of prayer in the New Testament. It indicates humility and utter seriousness). And the prayer, in a nutshell, expresses a desire that his readers might experience, may be gripped by the reality of their blessings in Christ Jesus. There can be no greater ambition. It is the key to spiritual growth.
But, though such an ambition is a great one it is noticeable that Paul’s prayer is also confident (3:15) for it is to the Heavenly Father he comes: a Father ‘of his family both in heaven, but especially on earth’. And, of course, he prays confidently because he knows that this is God’s own ambition for his people.
Paul’s prayer sets before us four ascending steps to maturity:
• Obedience. Paul says we need Christ to settle down within us and, by his Spirit, strengthen us (16-17a). In a sense what Paul says here is de facto true of every Christian. Yet the apostle seems concerned that believers, by faith, grasp and build upon this very fact so that Christ may come to rule and strengthen every one of them.
• Love. We need to be rooted and grounded in love (17b). The thought here seems to be this: when Christ has really come to rule in the lives of his people the response will be the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, supremely that grace from which all others flow, love. And maturity will be visible when such love becomes an enduring part of the believer’s life.
• We need to know Christ’s love (18). There seems to be a somewhat circular thought here. As we experience the grace of love we shall begin to understand and experience more fully the love of Jesus. But, of course, the opposite is true. As we come to know his love more fully so we shall love one another more. Thus, each love becomes tinder to fuel the other and lead to growth and spiritual progress. And, together (for love cannot exist in a vacuum) we shall begin to plumb in our experience the infinite treasures of Jesus’ love.
• Conformity to God. We need to be conformed to the pattern that God has set before us: and the pattern is nothing less than that which he himself is (19). This desire is one that over-runs the present life for it cannot be consummated till we reach glory. Yet it is our ambition and we cannot evade the challenge it sets before us however young or old we might be.
Paul has set before us what seems to be a Mission Impossible. Indeed the church, or individuals within it, have constantly turned aside from such teaching (whether here or elsewhere in the Bible) and assumed it can only ever be realised, if at all, among a ‘spiritual elite’. Meanwhile, the majority have set themselves lower, realisable goals on the ground that what Paul seeks is humanly impossible.
But this is where Paul rebukes us so strongly (21-22). We are not, he says, to direct our thoughts to what we can do but to what God can do in us. We are to look up not within when we consider what is achievable in the Christian life.
And when we turn to Him we discover One who is active (a ‘doer’ who is able) and able to fulfil both our ambitions and those things we dare not ask and are ‘beyond our wildest dreams’. And he can do this, precisely because the Spirit of his Son indwells us. In fact, Paul tells us, we have such small ambitions precisely because we do not take seriously what happened to us when we were raised to life in Christ from the death of sin. We can, together, and all of us, bring glory to God (and thereby manifest Christ Jesus’ glory to others).
This is a very challenging passage. It challenges us to change our attitudes and ideas about the Christian life. It calls for us to pray zealously and above all for something that is probably not even on our most extended prayer lists. It sets before us heady ambitions but refuses to allow us to fall by the wayside and leave it to others. It challenges our conceptions of both God and what he has done in us. And it calls us to faithful obedience and to glorify Jesus (being so audacious as to suggest that without our glorifying him his own glory will be tarnished).
4:1-6: The rare jewel of Christian unity
It is a tragedy of so much Christianity that preoccupation with doctrinal orthodoxy overshadows the equally essential mark of true faith: a godly or Christ-like lifestyle. Paul, however, preserves a perfect balance and shows in this (as in all his epistles) that a godly life naturally arises from a true perception of the great truths of the Gospel. Thus, having set forth the great foundations of Gospel truth in chapters 1-3, he turns with a ‘therefore’ (rather weakly translated ‘then’ in the NIV) to challenge his readers to live a lifestyle consistent with their profession (1).  In particular, Paul expects two things to characterise true Christians: unity and holiness. Thus in 4:1-16 he deals with the former before moving on to the latter in 4:17-5:21. That he regards unity and holiness very seriously indeed is shown by the fact that he appeals to his own apostolic authority (the ‘I’ is very emphatic in the Greek) and mentions his imprisonment because it was his passionate conviction of the unity and holiness of all God’s people, Jew and Gentile, which had lead to his imprisonment. We cannot read and study these verses, therefore, without seeing that here are words of vital relevance to us.
Paul begins by explaining the way to achieve Christian unity (1-3). Paul, as we shall see, knows that all Christians are spiritually united with one another (4-6). However, he insists that what is true spiritually is to be realised visibly and practically. Both in the local church and beyond (for Paul’s vision transcends the local church in this letter) the unity of the Church of Christ is to be demonstrated so that it can be seen. This is a very considerable challenge in a world divided by innumerable denominations and where the last word one would use to describe many churches would be ‘united’! These very facts emphasise how God’s word through Paul has been largely ignored.
‘But’, we might reply to the apostle, ‘how is this unity to be achieved?‘ Paul is quick to explain. A Christian is someone who is indwelt by God, through the Spirit. It follows that, Christian graces, the fruit of the Spirit’s indwelling, are to be expected. This is the point of Paul’s words in verse 3. Four spiritual qualities ought to be present in true believers that will have the effect of promoting unity through the establishing of peace and harmony in Christian fellowship. The four are:
• humility. This was a word as despised in Bible times as it is today. It is ‘the quality of one who does not seek to gain prominence for himself, does not insist on his rights and expect special consideration’ (Mitton). It embraces the attitude that considers others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
• gentle or meek. This ‘is similar but not identical. It is the spirit of one who is so absorbed in seeking some worthy goal for the common good that he refuses to be deflected from it by slights, injuries, or insults directed at himself personally, or indeed by personal considerations of any kind… he cares little whether he or someone else is given the credit. It is the opposite of being touchy, resentful, retaliatory’. (Mitton) Since pride lurks behind all discord (and not a few differences among believers which are clothed in theology!) humility and gentleness are essential to unity.
• patience. Paul did not expect Christian communities to be free from awkward and difficult people. He knew that different personalities and characters do not always find it easy to live and work together. Thus, he called for patience: that quality which is the ability to deal quietly and courteously with those who are awkward and difficult.
• forbearance in love. ‘In love’ could be a fifth quality: the sum of the previous four. What we can be sure of is that, qualifying forbearance, it emphasises that Christians act out of consideration for other people’s welfare rather than being merely stoical. It is a positive rather than a neutral or negative virtue that is in view.
All these things are the fruit of regenerate, Spirit-indwelt lives. Nevertheless, effort is required for the fruit to grow to maturity (3). Indeed, ‘every effort’ is required since the soil in which such fruit is to be cultivated is often poor and, to continue the agricultural analogy, the plant itself is far from being the best specimen! But the apostolic injunction demands that every fibre of our being is bent in its pursuit.
Paul continues by emphasising the necessity of Christian unity (4-6). He argues that differences among believers ‘belong largely to the superficialities’ (Mitton). Meanwhile there are some far greater unities that ought to unite us. In the list given in these verses two overlapping points are made.
• The common experience of all true believers. By one Spirit we have all been made members of one body (compare 1 Corinthians 12:13); we share the same calling and hope, we have all embraced, by faith, the One Lord Jesus and have all been baptised into his name; we have the same Heavenly Father whose is the lord of each one of us, who is actively at work in each of us and who is present in all his people. Alongside of these great uniting factors every lesser difference pales into insignificance (though not irrelevance!).
• The unity of God. God himself is not divided. Though three, he is one. This is boldly stated in these verses where the Triunity of God is the foundation upon which all the other unities are based. And if God is one, there is but one family. If God cannot be divided, how then can his people be severed from one another?
How easily do we come to exaggerate the molehills that divide us into mountains. And how readily we fail to compare even the mountains against the immeasurably great unities that bind us together. How readily our gaze turns aside from the Gospel itself to matters of far lesser weight, to personality differences and other trivial considerations. How can we regard the Gospel so lightly and so willingly sever the seamless robe of the Lord Jesus?
4:7-16: Equipping the saints
In 4:1-5:21 Paul is seeking to emphasise that two things, unity and holiness, result from a proper understanding of the great truths set forth in the first three chapters. In 4:1-6 he stresses the fact of unity and the way to realise what is true spiritually in practice. In verses 7-16 Paul shows how God’s great concern for unity is matched by his equipping of his people with all the resources they need to live in fellowship and to his glory.
He begins by stressing that God has equipped every believer with spiritual gifts (7-10). The argument runs thus: the fruit of Jesus’ exaltation from death by means of his resurrection and ascension is that he has unstintingly lavished (without any thought of merit) the spoils of his victory upon every one of his followers (7-10)! Thus, we all have spiritual gifts and, though we might disparage our own, they are his munificent gift. We should not despise his generosity. Equally, if we think we have a ‘special’ gift there is no ground for pride: He has not rewarded us but gifted the undeserving.
He adds that God’s gifts are given for the mutual benefit of all his people (11-14). This is the point of these verses. Though we should note that Paul says that of greatest significance are teaching ministries (11) since they, especially, are the catalyst of other ministries (12a) and the instruments that effect Christian maturity (12b) through their provision of a greater knowledge of Christ Jesus (13). They are the antidote to childishness and the path to true wisdom (14). The first two ministries have been superseded by the provision of the New Testament Scriptures (as we saw when dealing with 2:20). The latter two (since ‘pastors and teachers describes one ‘gift’) continue today. But we need to notice:
• The tremendous importance Paul places upon both the Scriptures and teachers of God’s word. His word alone leads to spiritual maturity. Without it we shall never begin to become copies of Jesus and deepen in our knowledge of him.
• The purpose of Christian teaching ministries. Evangelists and teachers are not given to the church so that they can act on behalf of the rest of us. They are given so that we, ourselves, might be trained and equipped to undertake effectively our own ministries and might grow to maturity.
Paul notes that the main effect intended by the distribution of spiritual gifts is this: they arouse true beliefs, consistent lives and Christian grace (15) and the result is that God’s variegated people are effectively united together under their one head: the Lord Jesus (16). Indeed, whatever else we may learn from this paragraph, this is Paul’s point in introducing the whole subject of spiritual gifts: we must not loose sight of it.
4:17-24. Holiness is a must
In the first three chapters Paul spelt out the great foundational truths of the Gospel. In 4:1-5:21 he shows how a genuine grasp of these two truths will produce unity (4:1-16) and holiness (4:17-5:21) in God’s people. With the present verses, Paul begins a section devoted to emphasising the absolute necessity of holiness among the people of God.
Verses 17-19 find a parallel in the more extended treatment of Romans 1:18-32. They describe the natural course of the unbeliever’s life apart from the intervention of God’s restraining grace which, mercifully, does not often allow many to be given over to the full consequences of their rebellion against God. Yet in all unbelievers the germ of what Paul describes here is present:
• Unbelief arises because of the obstinacy of men and women (‘due to the hardening of their hearts’, 18). The Bible is insistent that God has not left himself without sufficient witness to convince men of his existence (compare Romans 1:20). Unbelief arises not because of insufficient evidence but because of a moral stubbornness (disobedience) in mankind who refuse the evidence. It is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1).
• Unbelief leads to darkness (17,18). Men and women can no longer think straight (they have futile minds), they are, consequently, unable to understand the truth and are subjected to perverted emotions and desires and are utterly ignorant of spiritual realities (all this is embraced within the statements in verse 18).
• Unbelievers are alienated from God (18). The thought here would appear to be that God turns away from them. They have blinded themselves. But, equally, God withdraws from them the very light that they once had.
• The result is burgeoning perversion (19). The futility of mind was described in verse 17 as a progressive deterioration. This is illustrated in the present verse and is shown to have moral consequences. All sensitivity of conscience is gone and the result is a swelling tide (‘continual lust for more’) of selfish debauchery (the words ‘sensuality’ and ‘impurity’ embrace this thought).
Paul’s readers who lived in one of the most debauched ages known in human history would have recognised the truth of his comments. We, too, can surely do so but, if we can, we also need to see that in Ephesians his concern is not the world outside. Rather Paul’s concern lies with the church and with the danger that believers remain or become re-infected with those attitudes and practices that mirror those of the unbeliever. Thus, very solemnly, he calls (a) upon his own apostolic authority, b) the fact that he speaks as God’s mouthpiece and (c) by means of an oath (17a) emphasises that the believer is to live quite differently. But lest his readers fail to catch this emphasis he also adds that this was neither (d) how they were taught nor (e) was it what Jesus said and (f) did (20,21. The latter verse is remarkable for the way it identifies the teaching they had received with Jesus. When they had been taught they had ‘heard him’. The teaching had been ‘in him’, that is, he had been set forth as the model. And this truth was as it was in the human Jesus. There was nothing innovative in what they had heard). There can surely be no more solemn call to holiness than one built on such a six-fold foundation.
Convinced, as we should surely be of our responsibility, a question of mechanics necessarily arises, ‘How?‘ Verses 22-24 offer Paul’s answer:
• Think straight. We are what we think, for our actions flow from the principles (often unconscious) that shape our lives. Paul knew this very well indeed. So he called for a course of ‘self-indoctrination’ in the teaching that his hearers had received. ‘You were taught’, he said, ‘to be made new in the attitude of your minds’ (22,23). More than half the problem with our failure to live for God and a large part of the explanation for the fact that we so often think and act like the unbelieving world is that we have failed at this most elementary stage in our spiritual education. It is imperative, in a darkening world, that we put it right.
• New Creations. When we learn to think straight we will undertake two different but related tasks simultaneously:
o We will seek to shun every evil impulse, desire and action that characterises the unregenerate life (22).
o We will we seek (with God’s help) to live out what we are: new creations. In this we will seek to reflect the image of God both in our dealings with our ‘neighbours’ (‘righteousness’) and in our actions toward God (‘holiness’). In other words, immersed in the teachings and example of Jesus, we shall seek to think and to do as he did.
4:25-5:2: Getting down to basics
In 4:25-5:2 Paul gives five specific examples of what it means in practice to be holy. However, before we look at his more detailed teaching there are several points we need to notice:
• Holiness is far more than avoiding sin. In each of the examples the apostle provides he demands not only that a sinful lifestyle is rejected but also requires a new lifestyle characterised by positive virtues. This is well illustrated in verse 28. The thief, who has thought of nothing but how he can help himself is called to develop a way of life given to helping others. All too often we have given the unbelieving world the picture of Christian conduct as no more than a list of ‘do not’s’. This is quite wrong.
• Holiness is grounded in truth. In these examples Paul gives a solemn doctrinal reason for Christian conduct. The Christian’s beliefs and his conduct are clearly expected to dovetail in a holy life. So in verse 25 the fact that we are the community of God’s people means that deceitful conduct which denies true fellowship is to be utterly rejected.
• Holiness is experienced in fellowship with others. Each of Paul’s examples are of Christians in relationship with other people. We cannot grow in holiness in a vacuum. True holiness is learnt under the pressure and amid the blessings of relationships with others. Thus, holiness of word can only grow in conversation (verse 29)!
• Holiness means nothing less than copying God (5:1-2). The standard we are set might appear a daunting even an impossible one. However, Paul emphasises it partial realisation is both possible and necessary. Several reasons are given:
o We are God’s children. Thus, we are called to show forth the family likeness. As new creatures we share something of his likeness and are expected to demonstrate it.
o We are beloved children. A child brought up in an environment of love is often seen to seek to copy the example of the one who has shown such love: so we who have been loved by God are to love him in return by copying him.
o We have the example and motive provided by our ‘elder brother’. His love was sacrificial and pleasing to God, the Father. If we would please the Father we must be ready for the cost of holy discipleship.
With this in mind we can explore the five examples Paul provides. What is remarkable about these examples is that they condemn attitudes often found among the people of God. Paul is not concerned to unveil ‘woppers’ so much as niggle away at the thing that we so often permit, especially among Christians (verse 25 suggests that this is his prime concern). Thus:
• verse 25. The followers of Jesus should be people outstanding for their honesty, reliability and trustworthiness. The reason is not merely that fellowship between neighbours depends upon trust but that (and this is Paul’s emphasis) we are members of one another (compare 12-16). Unity is devastated where openness and trustworthiness is absent.
• verses 26-7. There are occasions for the Christian to be angry (as with their own sins) but our anger is to be free from injured pride, spite, malice and revenge. Moreover, where anger does unfortunately flare up it is to be quickly extinguished lest the Devil exploit the situation when embers smoulder.
• verse 28. The person who has thought only of self and what he or she can gain, even at the expense of others, must learn how to gain things honestly and, above all, cultivate the attitude which is diametrically opposed to past selfishness: to labour for the benefit of others rather than benefit unfairly from the work of others. At first sight this example seems ill-fitting. Surely we are not likely to rob one another! Yet the fact of the matter is that we often do: we are more concerned for what we can get from fellowship than what we put in. We hoard our gifts for our own selfish benefit rather than spend them for others. Paul is not far off the mark after all!
• verses 29-30. Ungodly speech is so often characterised by ‘rotten’ talk which, in some way, hurts either the hearer or slanders a third party. Christian speech is to be very different: it is intended to benefit the hearer. Moreover, since ‘rotten’ talk promotes neither unity nor holiness it grieves the very One who has taken up residence in us: the Holy Spirit. The language emphasises the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit to hurts. Every true believer is to desire to bring him pleasure not pain.
• verses 31-2. Six different attitudes are here condemned: we are not to be sour, given to passionate fits of rage and sullen hostility; we are not to be quarrelsome or speak evil of others behind their backs; we are not to wish ill of others or plot against them. In place of these attitudes we are to become Christ-like (‘kind’ is a pun: chrestos for Christos and points to that disposition which enables a person to fit into a community easily and happily and which does not make him or her difficult to work with or live with). We are to be compassionate and forgiving of others: having received such compassion and forgiveness should we not show the same to others?
There is nothing esoteric about Paul’s message in these verses. His words hardly need paraphrase. Yet how little we take notice of them (and others like them).
5:3-20: Incentives to holiness.
The general theme of this section is clear enough: it continues Pa

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