Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ephesians 3:1-13

In chapter one we discovered some of our spiritual blessings as members of the Body of Christ. In chapter two we learned how we were made members of His Body. In the first part of the third chapter Paul shows that the Body was a mystery that was first revealed through him.

This passage is a key in understanding Paul’s distinct message and ministry as the apostle to Gentiles in this age of grace. If words have any meaning, there is a dispensational difference between the ministry of the twelve apostles and the ministry of Paul.

Consider these basic distinctions:
1. The twelve were chosen by Christ on earth (Lk. 6:13-16), but Paul was chosen by Christ from heaven (Acts 9:3-6).
2. The twelve were appointed to lead Israel (Matt. 19:28), but Paul was appointed to lead the Body of Christ (Col. 1:24-26).
3. The twelve represent the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28), but Paul represents the one Body (he was both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen, Phil. 3:5, Acts 22:28).
4. The twelve knew Christ on earth (Acts 1:9), but Paul knew Christ from heaven (2 Cor. 12:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:8).
5. The twelve were sent to proclaim and offer the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 10:7, Acts 3:19-21), but Paul was sent to preach the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
6. In the kingdom commission water baptism was required and signs were the evidence of salvation (Mk. 16:15-18), but Paul was not sent to baptize (1 Cor. 1:17) and he knew the signs would cease (1 Cor. 13:8-13).
7. The ministry of the twelve was based on covenants and prophecy (Acts 3:19-26). After Israel is blessed, the Gentiles receive blessings through them. The ministry of Paul was based on a mystery (Rom. 16:25-26, Eph. 3:8). The Gentiles blessed through fall of Israel (Rom. 11:11-12, 15) and there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the body (Gal. 3:28)
8. The twelve restricted their ministry to the circumcision after God raised up Paul. Their leadership decreased as Paul’s increased (Gal. 2:1-9). Paul overshadowed the twelve after Acts 7 when Israel officially rejected the kingdom. From Acts 13 on, Paul is the focus and his ministry is magnified.

[1] For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,

It was Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles that led to him becoming a prisoner (Acts 22:17-24). He considered himself a prisoner of Christ instead of a prisoner of Rome (Eph. 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:8; Phile. 1, 9). In v.14 Paul will resume what he started to say in v.1 (“For this cause”) before he went on a divine digression in vs.2-13.

[2] If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

Here we are nearly 2,000 years later and the majority of professing Christians still haven’t heard of the dispensation of the grace of God that was given through Paul to the Gentiles! Satan has been working hard to keep people blinded to this vital truth. God dispensed the message of grace through Paul’s ministry (1 Cor. 9:17; Col. 1:25) and the grace that he needed to make it known (vs.7-8). He needed much grace because he suffered much to fulfill his ministry.

[3] How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 
[4] Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
[5] Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;

The glorified Christ from heaven literally appeared to Paul in order to directly reveal the mystery to him. His knowledge in the mystery of Christ may be understood when we read the scriptures that he wrote by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 2:7). The mystery of the Body of Christ was kept secret in other ages, but it is now revealed to our understanding by the Spirit as we read what Paul wrote. The “apostles and prophets” (v.5) he referred to were those who ministered to the Body of Christ. The mystery was revealed to them “by the Spirit” when they heard Paul; which is a different thing than Christ revealing the mystery to Paul first.

[6] That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:

That Gentiles would be saved was not a mystery. There examples of it in the Old Testament (e.g. Ruth) and the the prophets spoke of it (e.g. Isa. 60:1-5). The mystery that Christ revealed through Paul is that believing Gentiles would be fellowheirs (Eph. 1:11) in the SAME BODY. In time past the Gentiles were only blessed through Israel, but now we are blessed without Israel. Israel does not have a position above the Gentiles in this age. All believers are made members of the same spiritual Body (Eph. 2:13-16). The Body of Christ is one new spiritual man in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:27-28). We become members of this Body “by the gospel.” This is obviously referring to the gospel that Paul received by revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12). We are made partakers of the Holy Spirit of promise when we believe Paul’s gospel (Eph. 1:13). Most Christians believe the Body of Christ began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). How could the Body of Christ begin before the gospel, that we must believe in order to be in the Body, was revealed?

[7] Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.

The apostle Paul was given a twofold ministry (Col. 1:23-29): to every creature with the gospel (Col. 1:23) and to the Body of Christ with the mystery (Col. 1:24-26). He was able to finish his course (2 Tim. 4:7) by the grace and power of God.

[8] Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

That Paul had much to say about himself and his ministry did not make him an egomaniac because he wrote by inspiration of God. Paul magnified his office as the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), but he knew that as a man he was nothing. He knew that he did not deserve to be an apostle (1 Cor. 15:10) and he considered himself to be “less than the least of all saints.” His ministry was totally by the grace of God.

The unsearchable riches of Christ concerns spiritual truth that cannot be found by searching the Old Testament or fully grasped by the human mind.

[9] And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:

The “fellowship of the mystery” is our unity as the Body of Christ. It was the goal of Paul’s ministry to make all men see this blessed truth, but sadly most believers today seem to be blinded to it. The mystery was not hid in the Old Testament, it was hid in God. No one knew it until God revealed it through Paul. Yet, many preachers claim to find this truth in the Old Testament. If words have any meaning, the mystery cannot be found in the scriptures written before Paul. Therefore, we know that the Body of Christ is not the subject of what transpires in Acts 1-8 because those events were in accordance with what the prophets spoke about since the beginning of the world (Acts 3:21).

That the Godhead created all things, both visible and invisible, by Jesus Christ proves the deity of Christ.

[10] To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
[11] According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

The mystery of the Body of Christ is a great demonstration of the wisdom of God. In this age angels are not teaching us, but we are teaching them. The mystery was not some kind of emergency plan that God came up with after Israel fell. We are His eternal purpose that He planned before the world began but kept secret until after Israel fell.

[12] In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

What an amazing statement! As members of the Body of Christ we have boldness and access with confidence in the presence of God (Eph. 2:18). What a contrast with how God dealt with Gentiles in time past! We do not have this privilege because of our faith. We are justified by the faith of Christ (Gal. 2:16). We are to live by the faith of Christ (Gal. 2:20). We have access by the faith of Christ. Yes, we must place our faith in Christ. However, our spiritual blessings are based upon what Christ accomplished by HIS faith for us.

[13] Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

Christ suffered to purchase our salvation and Paul suffered to proclaim it (Col. 1:24). It was Paul, not Peter, who filled up the afflictions of Christ for the Body’s sake. Peter suffered, but for a different ministry. By the grace of God, he never fainted in all his tribulations (2 Cor. 4:15-18). He encourages the Body of Christ not to faint at his tribulations. Some were ashamed of his chains (2 Tim. 1:8). It was for our eternal glory that Paul endured all the things he faced (2 Tim. 2:10). 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Ephesians 2:11-22

[11] Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 
[12] That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

In latter part of this chapter (vs.11-22), the apostle Paul shows the clear dispensational change in Gods dealings with the Gentiles in this present age. God never changes in His person, principles, and promises (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), but He does change in His dealings with man. The Bible is a complete revelation, but it was given progressively and not all at once. All scripture is profitable for us, but in order to gain the profit from God’s word that He has placed in it for us we must study it His way (2 Tim. 2:15). All the Bible is the word of truth, but we must recognize and consistently maintain the divisions that God put in His word if we are going to understand it. What was truth for Israel under the law may not be truth for the Body of Christ under grace. This is the dispensational approach to Bible study. 

A “dispensation” (used 4 times in the Bible, all by Paul) is basically a dealing out, distribution, or dispensing of something. It is an administration. Dispensations are not periods of time. Ages are periods of time (“other ages,” “ages to come”). Dispensations operate within ages. Each dispensation revealed in scripture is marked by five things:
1) Divine revelation (bring clear changes in God’s dealings with men)
2) Human spokesman (e.g. Moses and Paul)
3) Human responsibility to the revelation (a testing) 
4) Human failure (every dispensation ends in apostasy except the last one)
5) Divine judgment

It is not enough to be biblical. We must also be dispensational. For example, tongues are biblical but not dispensational for today. It is dangerous to misplace things in the scripture. In the context of 2 Tim. 2:15 the apostle Paul warns about the dangerous doctrine of saying that the resurrection is past already (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Those false teachers were putting a biblical subject (resurrection) in the wrong place. 

Notice the dispensational phrases in this chapter: 
Time past (v.11)
But now (v.13)
Ages to come (v.7)

The New Testament is arranged according to this dispensational order: 
Time past (Matthew through early Acts)
But now (Romans through Philemon)
Ages to come (Hebrews through Revelation)

The terms “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” identify a basic physical, racial, and social distinction; one that was in the flesh and made by hands. In times past the Gentiles were spiritually alienated from God and thus said to be “without Christ.” That was their condition because they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” and “strangers of the covenants of promise.” The physical distinction only pointed to the more important spiritual alienation the Gentiles occupied in times past. Gentiles could come to God, but they had to come through Israel (e.g. Ruth). Gentiles were not blessed if they did not first bless the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Num. 24:9). God gave circumcision to Abraham (Gen. 17) as a sign of the covenant that He made with him and his seed after him. It was an outward sign of the spiritual privilege God had given to them and was a required mark of their identity and covenant privileges. It was the beginning of a middle wall of partition that God put up between Israel and the nations (Num. 23:9). When He revealed the law through Moses, that wall was strongly reinforced (Deut. 4:5-8). 

Therefore, when we find God making this distinction in the scripture we KNOW that we are not reading about this present age. Most Bible believing Christians understand this about the Old Testament, but few understand that is also the case with the Gospels and early Acts (Rom. 15:8; Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24; Lk. 24:34; 24:47; Acts 1:6; 2:14, 22, 36; 3:19-26; 11:19). This distinction will once again be in place after the rapture of the Body of Christ.  

[13] But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 
[14] For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
[15] Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
[16] And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 
[17] And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. [18] For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

This is one of several very significant “but now” passages in Paul’s epistles (see Col. 1:24-26 for another example). The Body of Christ was a mystery (or, secret) that was first revealed to Paul. Some try to use this passage to teach that the Body of Christ began historically AT the cross. Not everything that Christ accomplished through His cross was revealed or carried out at that time. For example, He destroyed Satan through His death and resurrection, but Satan is still loose and at work (Rom. 16:20). The Body of Christ is made possible “by the blood of Christ” (v.13) and “by the cross” (v.16), but entrance into this Body is “by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6) and “by one Spirit” (v.18; 1 Cor. 12:13). 

The main characteristic of the Body of Christ is not that we are “in Christ,” but that we are made “ONE NEW MAN”. There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles (Col. 3:11). We are not under the ordinances of the law (Col. 2:8-17). How could God reconcile both Jews and Gentiles in one body before He cast away Israel (Rom. 11:15)? Peter was not referring to the Gentiles in Acts 2:39, but to the scattered tribes of Israel (Dan. 9:7, afar off geographically). If Peter knew the truth of the one Body of Christ in Acts 2, explain his attitude in Acts 10. The only place in the Bible where read about Jews and Gentiles being in one spiritual Body is in Paul’s epistles. It is in his epistles alone that we find the specific doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church which is the Body of Christ. 

[19] Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 
[20] And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 
[21] In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: [22] In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Instead of aliens and strangers, we are now fellowcitizens with the saints! We gained this status WITHOUT Israel. In times past the Gentiles could only come to God through Israel. 

There is one household of God made up of all the saints who are redeemed by the blood of Christ (Eph. 3:15). But in this household there is a difference between Israel, Gentiles, and the Body of Christ. Christ is the chief corner stone to both the kingdom church (1 Pet. 2:4-12) and the Body of Christ. 

The apostles and prophets Paul is referring to are ones that Christ sent after He ascended to heaven (Eph. 3:5; 4:8-12). Christ is the one foundation, but Paul was the first to preach Him according to the revelation of the mystery (1 Cor. 3:10; Rom. 16:25). 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Ephesians 2:1-10

The first chapter was about our possessions as members of the Body of Christ. This chapter is about our position as members of the Body of Christ. The first chapter was all about what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. In this chapter we learn how we become members of the Body of Christ. It is not by anything that we are or that we can do. It is totally by the GRACE of God! Only God can take a dead sinner and make him a living saint. There is a stark contrast between the way this chapter opens and closes. Those who were once a habitation for the spirit of Satan (v.2) are made to be a habitation of God through His Spirit (v.22).

The first part of the chapter deals with sinners as individuals (vs.1-10) and the later part with Gentiles as a group (vs.11-22). Both passages outline themselves: 

I. Who we were (vs.1-3)
II. But God (vs.4-9)
III. Who we are now (v.10)

I. In times past (vs.11-12)
II. But now (vs.13-18)
III. Ye are (vs.19-22)

[1] And you hath he quickened , who were dead in trespasses and sins; 
[2] Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 
[3] Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.

We should not dwell on our past, but it’s good to remember where we were and how God saved us (Titus 3:1-7). The Bible has nothing positive to say about the flesh (see Rom. 1-3, bad news before the good news). All lost sinners are dead in trespasses and sins. There are different kinds of death mentioned in the Bible and none of them mean annihilation. Death is a separation. Paul is talking about spiritual death, which is separation from the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:17-19). Those who die physically in a lost condition will suffer the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).  

Notice three destructive forces that worked in our lives as lost sinners: 
1. World – The course of this present evil world is according to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). 
2. Devil – It is a course that is set by Satan who is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan’s primary habitation is in the second heaven (Eph. 6:12). He is cast out in the midst of the tribulation period (Rev. 12:9). Satan is a spiritual being. If we are going to stand against him, we must put on the spiritual armor of God and use the spiritual weapon of the word of God. 
3. Flesh – This verse defines lusts as desires. The flesh desires to fulfill its desires in an unlawful manner. We are sinners by nature (Rom. 5:12). It is in our human nature to disobey God. You don’t have to teach your children to sin (Ps. 51:5). Children of disobedience are children of wrath (Eph. 5:3-6). 

Notice the “we all” in v.3. George Williams (1850-1928) wrote, “The Apostle Paul prior to his conversion lived a blameless life of religious rectitude; the Ephesians prior to their conversion wallowed in an appalling abyss of idolatry and obscenity. Yet the Apostle says that there was no moral difference between him and them. They were all alike corrupt by nature, they were all alike dead in sins, sons of disobedience, led by the spirit of Satan and under the wrath of God (vs.1-3). These are fact revealed by the Holy Spirit Who is infallible; but these are facts that man denies, and the assertion of which enrages him.” 

[4] But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 
[5] Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 
[6] And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 
[7] That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 
[8] For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 
[9] Not of works, lest any man should boast.

“But” is a little word that makes a big difference in the Bible! Especially when it says, “But God!” God makes all the difference. When a sinner trusts Christ for salvation he is instantly quickened (made alive spiritually), raised up, and seated with Christ in heavenly places (Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1-4). Our position will be in heavenly places throughout the ages to come (as trophies of His grace). All of this is accomplished by spiritual baptism (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5). Ephesians is further revelation from Romans which taught us that we are crucified, buried, and risen with Christ (Rom 6:3-6). How could a righteous God do such wondrous things for unrighteous sinners? It is because of Christ (Eph. 4:32; Rom. 6:23). 

Note: “with Christ” (v.5); “in Christ” (v.6); “through Christ” (v.7). 

Rich Mercy – He never runs out! He has enough mercy to save any sinner! God’s mercy may be defined as an outward manifestation of His pity and compassion by which He relieves the misery of the sinful and suffering in their distress. Mercy presupposes misery. Mercy is God NOT giving man what he deserves.
Great Love – Proven by the cross (Rom. 5:8). 
Abounding Grace – Grace has to do with what God freely gives us in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 8:9). Grace and works are mutually exclusive in our salvation (Rom. 11:6; Titus 3:5). We cannot earn salvation by merit or forfeit it by demerit. God has always been gracious, but there is a difference between grace in a dispensation and a dispensation of grace (Rom. 5:20-21). Noah found grace (i.e. favor) because he was perfect in his generations (Gen. 6:8-9). Paul is the pattern of salvation for this present age (1 Tim. 1:11-16). Does “that not of yourselves” refer to salvation or faith? Both. We are justified by the faith of Christ.

[10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Good works do have a place in salvation. The problem is that many put them in the wrong place. Good works are not the means of salvation, they are the fruit of it. You can’t even do good works unless you are saved (Rom. 8:8-9). Salvation is not reformation of the old nature, but a creative work of God (4:24; 2 Cor. 5:17). We do good works through Christ in us (Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13). God did not save us to just keep us out of hell. He saved us unto Himself (Eph. 1:4-6; Titus 2:11-14). 

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