The Most Quoted Psalm – Psalm 110

Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, some of them more than once (e.g. “The just shall live by faith” – Rom 1.17; Gal 3.11; Heb 10.38). But there is no passage in the Old Testament quoted or alluded to more in the NT as Psalm 110. Far & away it is the most quoted Psalm. Why? It seems because it contains the epitome of the gospel: the coronation of Christ as King-Priest. Also contained here are core doctrinal principles: 1) Godhead/Trinity (v.1); 2) Suffering as priest poured out (v.4); 3) Resurrection (v.7); 4) Completed work (5-6); 5) Ascension (1, sit at my right hand); 6) Church (v.3); 7) Final judgment (1b); 8) Eternal life (v.4, “forever”).

The Lord (Jesus) is our king-priest according to the ancient oath of God. How can Christ be priest AND King? Psalm 110 provides clarity which would have been odd esp. to a Jew. Without doubt, as the superscription states, this is “a psalm of David.” So here is King David writing about the King-Priest: YHWH’s Lord.

The Kingdom (1-3)

 

1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand…”

Christ’s Place (1a): YHWH speaks to adonai, which means David heard YWHH speak to Christ. Notice “right hand” which is the seat of power, dominion, dignity. YHWH tells Him to “sit” because His work is over and YHWH will fight for Him. The whole Godhead is involved here: Father speaks to the Son & the Holy Spirit permits David to hear this holy conversation and then enables him to record it in sacred writ. “What is man that thou shouldst impart thy secrets unto him” (Spurgeon).

Note: Verse 1 is the most quoted and alluded to OT verse in the NT – Mt 22.44; 26.64; Mk 13.36; 14.62; 16.19; Lk 20.42-43; 22.69; Acts 2.34-35; 5.31; 7.55-56; Rom 8.34; 1 Cor 15.25; Eph 1.20; Col 3.1; Heb 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Pt 3.22 – 24 verses in the NT quote or allude to this single OT verse.

“…until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.

Christ’s Power (1b-2a): “scepter” is a typical description in Scripture for power & authority. How powerful? Enemies are made His footstool, viz. He puts His boot on their necks/throats, a common ANE practice. Think about when the victor puts his foot on the chest of his opponent in victory, arms extended overhead.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Christian Proclamation (2b): “Rule!” Even David the King cries out for the reign of Messiah. Don’t we pray for this? “Thy kingdom come.” Esp. when tragedy strikes we need this: though your enemies are many, rule!

3Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

Christ’s People (3): “Willing” – that is, willingness is a key characteristic of the people of God. Indeed, willingness is the essence of holiness; Christ’s people must be willing to believe Him, love Him & others, obey Him, live in holiness, die to sin, crucify the flesh, abide in God’s will, suffer for Christ’s cause. All of this and more is how we offer ourselves freely to Christ.

The Priesthood (4)

Note: This is the 2nd most quoted or alluded to OT verse in the NT: John 12.24; Heb 5.6, 10; 6.20; 7.3, 17, 21 (7 times).

4The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

According to the Law: No king could be priest nor any priest a king under the Law. They came from different tribes (Judah – king, Levi – priest). Yet Christ is a king-priest! How?

According to the Lord: This is no ordinary priesthood. First, it is after the order of Melchizedek, a somewhat obscure figure from Gen 14 was king of Salem (proto-Jerusalem) as well as priest of God Most High. Second, this is not like the priests under the Law who served for just a few years or even had a lifetime appointment; this is “forever.” Third, notice that this is an ancient oath “sworn” by God and He will not back off. It’s a done deal.

Christ is both Sovereign (king) & Savior (priest) – He fights for us and forgives our sins. But notice His ultimate victory which closes this Psalm…

God’s Ultimate Victory (5-7)

5The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.

6He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

Wrath (5-6):  Kings, nations, chiefs who oppose the progress of the gospel are shattered, turned to corpses. First, is it any wonder that Israel anticipated an earthly king? This is a song from their song book which is undoubtedly messianic (no king fits the bill here save Messiah). So they sing this for centuries about a king who would turn the nations to corpses, Who exercises universal might. Second, if God can get the kings who oppose Him (and He does, see Acts 12.22 and every other king historically which has opposed the Bible & Christianity), then no one who opposes the gospel is safe. Meaning: Fall in line with YHWH and things will go well!

7He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Refreshment (7): After a long day of exhausting spiritual work, the Lord drinks from “the brook by the way.” Pictured here is the pause in pursuit of an enemy, similar to Gideon & his band who were “exhausted yet pursuing” (Jud 8.4). So here is Adonai (the Lord), pausing at the brook and being refreshed to continue the pursuit. But some day, the pursuit will cease…

Now all this prefigures the end, cf. 1 Corinthians 15.23-28 where this text is alluded to (see v.25). At present we do not see all things in subjection (Heb 2.8). Here is God’s ultimate & final victory over death & evil, esp. v.28. Then, when all things are subjected to Him, God will be all in all.

Verse 1 is either quoted or alluded 24 times in the NT. If I may, that’s one for every hour of the day to remind us constantly that Christ is STILL on the throne. Verse 7 is referenced 7 times, once for each day of the week to remind us Christ’s atoning work is complete. One day He will get up & come back and finally & fully deal with every foe including death.

Stabbed in the Back – Psalm 41

The occasion for Psalm 41 is the aftermath of David’s sin with Bathsheba. God had told David “the sword shall never depart from your house…Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Samuel 12.10-11). A couple years after this prophecy is uttered, Absalom, David’s son, steals the hearts of the people (ch.15) & performs a coup to steal the throne from David. Sick & on the run, with the sword of his own house in his back, David pens this Psalm. The main idea of this Psalm is that God’s blessings are upon the man of integrity. What do you do when you’ve been stabbed in the back? Psalm 41 speaks a word from to God to the betrayed.

The Beatitude of the Social Worker (1-3)

1Blessed is the one who considers the poor!

Consider the Poor (1a): The bliss of God belongs to those who give attention to poor/weak and treat them proper. “Poor” here could be the impoverished, tho David saw himself as “poor & needy” (40.17). Could be the humiliated & weak. Not merely in thought (“bless their hearts”) but in action (cf. 1 Jn 3.18). Brethren, we’ve done some of this; let us seek to do this even more.

In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;

2the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

3The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

Count Your Blessings (1b-3): The common denominator of all these is peace.  1) Deliverance (1b): “Day of trouble” or “evil day” (cf. Ephesians 6.13, any day the evil one or evil ones come against you). 2) Protection (2a): Mortal life is kept by the immortal God. 3) Prosperity (2b): material & financial blessing in the land. 4) Sustenance (3a): YHWH is the God of health so when you’re sick He sees you thru it. 5) Restoration (3b): YWHW ensures you make a full recovery after illness.

YHWH’s deliverance in the evil day; His protection from foes and keeping you alive; how blessed you are in life; God seeing you thru sickness & bringing about full recovery – all of these blessings are related to how you treat the poor. You are blessed with these IF you consider the poor. Think about how much we pray for the sick among us; God answering those prayers is directly related to how we treat the poor. Your peace is related to how you treat the poor, the little guy. God cares for them; we should too.

The Plea of the Sick Warrior (4-9)

4As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!”

Heal Me (4): “Be gracious to me” is a common plea found throughout the Psalms (15 x’s in the Psalms; twice in this Psalm). We especially need God’s grace when we “have sinned against You.” Herein is why sin is most grievous: it is directed toward God. So David cries out for healing (lit. heal my soul), body & soul, the whole being because of sickness & sin.

5My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die, and his name perish?”

6And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.

7All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.

8They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies.”

9Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

Help Me (5-9): Verse 5: Modern vernacular – “Drop dead!” This is akin to Ike Taylor in Tombstone saying “I hope you die” to Doc Holiday after losing to him in gambling. But also, may there be no memory of him in the pages of history. Wow!

Verse 6: Lies are crafted & spread abroad. “It is perfectly marvelous how spite spins webs out of no materials whatsoever” (Spurgeon).

Verse 7: Many commentators put the writing of this Psalm when David was running for his life from his son Absalom. One of his advisers, Ahithophel, seems to now hate David, advising Absalom to go kill David & he would lead the charge (2 Samuel 17).

Verse 8: “deadly thing” or “evil disease” (NKJV) seems to indicate David has fallen ill. Meanwhile, his enemies gloat over this.

Verse 9: For David, Ahithophel, his adviser, had betrayed him, stabbed him in the back. Further, when Ahithophel realizes his advice has not been taken by Absalom, he goes home & hangs himself (2 Samuel 17.23). Why did he betray David? Why such a violent response when his advice is rejected?

Ahithophel had a son named Eliam who was one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23.34). That’s the same group Urijah ran with. He was married to Bathsheba whom David committed adultery with back in 2 Samuel 12. Want to take a guess who Bathsheba’s daddy was? 2 Samuel 11.3, Eliam, making her Ahithophel’s granddaughter. AND if David could do what he did to Urijah…what’s stopping him from doing this to my son? This was his chance to finally get David after years of his rage simmering. Bitterness, hatred, anger, revenge…this stuff ate him alive.

Help Me Again: While this certainly explains David’s situation, being a prophet he spoke of Christ. Indeed, the latter portion of verse 9 is quoted in John 13.18 by Jesus of Judas. Truly, you go through these verses & Christ is seen in each of them. Though He was sinless, He certainly needed the grace of God (v.4). His malicious enemies did want Him to die & His name to be forgotten (v.5). Their hearts were full of iniquity & they crafted lies to convict Him (v.6). The chief priests & Pharisees imagined the worst for Him, even death on a cross (v.7). They were so adamant about Him not rising from the grave they posted guards at His tomb (v.8). And it was Judas who betrayed Him, even one of His disciples (v.9).

The Prayer of a Sincere Worshiper (10-13)

10But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!

11By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.

Imprecation (10-11): “I may repay him.” For self-revenge? No, but the righteousness of God is at stake because these guys are seeking to hurt the Lord’s anointed, something even David did not dare do though he had opportunity. As his kingly duty required of him (cf. Romans 13.4), he would change their shouts of victory into cries of mourning or silence them permanently. But that would be the sign that God took pleasure in His servant. NT Update: Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1.8-10.

12But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.

Integrity (12): David is confident that he has treated the poor, weak, emarginated right. In fact, although at one point he had a “lame” policy for his kingdom (2 Sam 5.8). However, when it came to Jonathan’s relative Mephibosheth, who was crippled, David allowed him to eat at his table. So David too longs to sit in the King’s presence forever.

13Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.

Invocation (13): As this Psalm closes & as Book 1 of the Psalms closes, we have a final exclamation praising God.

Again, David’s deliverance was related to how he treated the poor/weak. This was his integrity. When you’re stabbed in the back, that may be all you have. Keep looking to God’s grace, His blessings during these hard times.

Kiss the Son – Psalm 2

Turmoil in the world tempts us to worry and wonder. Several of the Psalms are Messianic in significance. Psalm 2 is one such Psalm. Yet each Psalm had its own meaning when originally penned. This Psalm communicated to Israel that no matter how chaotic the world scene may be, their King is the Anointed of God. That David wrote this Psalm is unquestionable (Acts 4.25). Paul affirms this is the second Psalm (Acts 13.33). Author & location are established in NT.  This Psalm’s main emphasis is to highlight God’s sovereignty over man’s depravity. How is God sovereign over man’s depravity? Psalm 2 answers this.

Man’s Depravity (1-3)

1Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

“Nations” are heathen nations, the Gentiles. “The peoples” are all mankind. They “rage” like the waves of the ocean. Why? B/c they are opposed to YHWH. It really is that simple. Since the beginning, man has rebelled against God’s way. Throughout history mankind has plotted in vain against God.

The Roman Empire plotted to vanquish Christianity from the earth…in vain.

19th century philosophers declared God is dead…in vain.

Militant Islam seeks to eliminate Christianity by killing the infidels…in vain.

Show me the burial place of Christianity. Show me where they buried God when He died. In fact, His tomb was found open, empty, with His grave clothes still there.

2The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,

Notice that man in rebellion 1) rages, 2) plots, 3) set themselves, 4) take counsel together, & 5) speak against God (YHWH) & His Anointed. “Anointed” in Hebrew is Messiah which translated into Greek became Christos from which we get Christ. Prophets (Isa 61.1), priests (Ex 30.30), and kings (1 Sam 16.13) were all anointed. So it is with Christ.

3“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

In other words, “Let us be out own gods.” This has been the cry of man since Eden when Satan tempted Eve to “be like God, knowing good & evil” or “to play at God, defining good & evil.” The inclination of man’s fallen heart is to reject God’s rule, even hating His Christ. Man’s inclination is to play at God and we are surrounded by a society whose favorite pastime is to (re)define good & evil.

The Lord’s Derision (4-6)

What is God’s reaction to all the depravity & rejection from mankind?

4He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

The Lord sits in heaven and His kingdom is over all (103.19) whether man likes it or not, whether man acknowledges it or not. In heaven, the Lord laughs. What’s so funny? God laughs these puny men to scorn and His scorn is for vengeance. He is a jealous God – jealous for His glory & the glory of His Anointed. So He mocks at man’s attempts to diminish Him or even erase Him, as though such a thing were possible. He ridicules man’s attempts to escape His cosmic sovereign rule.

5Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,

Some have attempted to eliminate the wrath of God from their Bibles. Nevertheless, it is a Bible subject. God’s holy wrath is kindled against sin, esp. the sin of self-deification (making self God), which is what the nations are about. Be assured: The love of God has averted His wrath away from us in Christ.

6“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

Consider what a mess this world is in and then remember what God says here. “God’s anointed is appointed & shall not be disappointed.” He rules from Zion regardless of how chaotic the world may be.

It’s as if God says to a rebellious mankind, “Ha! Rebel against me all you want. No matter what you do, what I’ve determined will come to pass will come to pass! Look! It’s as good as done. I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill”

A man once met Horace Greely, the famous newspaper editor, on the street and said, “Mr. Greely, I have stopped your paper.” “Have you?” Mr. Greely said, “that’s too bad,” and went on his way. The next morning, Mr. Greely met the man again, and said, “I thought you had stopped the Tribune?” “So I did,” was the reply. “Then there must be some mistake,” said Mr. Greely, “for I just came from the office and the presses were running, the clerks were as busy as ever, the compositors were hard at work, and the business was going on as yesterday and the day before.” “Oh,” said the man, “I didn’t mean I had stopped the entire newspaper. I meant that I had stopped my copy of it because I didn’t like your editorials.”

In the same way, individuals who rebel against God are like the man who proudly announced to Horace Greely that he had stopped his newspaper. They think that if they reject God’s rule in their life that they will stop God’s rule in the earth. But that’s not so. Whether a person rebels against God’s rule in his life or submits to God’s rule in his life, God is going to do what He has declared. God has declared that one day, despite mankind’s rebellion; Jesus Christ will reign upon the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

YHWH’s Decree (7-9)

7I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

This is the decree of YHWH; it is the purpose of God – for David and the kingdom of Israel (the antitype/shadow) and for Jesus & the eternal kingdom (the type/substance). Herein lay the gospel (Acts 13.33). Thru His resurrection, Jesus was declared, finally & fully, to be the Son of God.

8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

A common custom among ancient near east kings was to give those to whom they favored whatever they ask. Thus, YHWH is pictured as sovereign monarch even over David.

9You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Those who refuse to bend the knee the King will break with an iron rod. The words “break” & “dash” denote strong force even tho it is merely a “potter’s vessel” which is struck. Once more the frailty of man is juxtaposed with the supreme power of God. Let’s just say you do not want to be found opposing or rebelling against God!

Man’s Devotion (10-12)

Given the unalterable, eternal purposes of God, what should man do?

10Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

If kings should take notice, how much more the subjects. God is supreme & the wise thing to do would be to take notice that God’s eternal purposes are fixed. It would be easier for a spider to move a mountain than for puny men to thwart God’s purposes or bring to nothing His Christ. Rather, men must “Serve YHWH…and rejoice…” Submission to & service in the kingdom is the wisest course men could take. Rejoicing under the rule of God is best. But all this is with “fear & trembling” (cf Phil 2.12-13) “Fear without joy, is torment; and joy, without holy fear, would be presumption.”

12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

“Kiss the Son,” i.e. pay homage to Him. Replace hatred with homage. In modern vernacular, “Don’t be hatin’.” Hatred toward God will only serve to ignite the wrath of God. “The way” spoken of is the way of rebellion; that way only leads to rebellion.

The 1st Psalm taught us the character of the righteous; the 2nd Psalm teaches us the character of the Righteous One. Turmoil in the world tempts us to worry & wonder – Where’s God? This Psalm answers: “Reigning in His heaven.”

This Psalm ends with a beatitude & can be translated “Blessed are all those who trust in Him.” Honor the Son by trusting in Him.

Grow in the Word of God, part 1

Paul closed the previous section of this epistle by explaining that Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit will submit to one another out of reverence to Christ (5.18-21). Now Paul will explain what is entailed in this mutual submission with frequent appeals to the Old Testament.

Paul begins with the family (5.22-33). When Paul penned the words of this epistle, the pagan family unit was in deep degradation. Someone has noted, “One found in the pagan family neither purity nor love.” Even when Jesus walked the earth, the Jewish family was threatened by unholy conduct and standards. One rabbi advised, “Don’t talk much with women” and another was quick to add, “Not even with one’s wife” (Snodgrass 302). The ancients thought the two best days of woman’s life were the day someone married her and the day he carried her body to the graveyard! Into this context of devaluation comes the clarion call of a higher love (agape) in the family & mutual respect.

God’s Word to the Married (5.22-33)

Husbands & wives have mutual obligations to one another in order to grow as a couple.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.

Wives…husbands: cf. Col 3.18. Submit is supplied from verse 21 since Paul is explaining the practical manifestation of Spirit-filled life through mutual submission. John Piper writes, “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts” (This Momentary Marriage 80).

As Adam Clarke puts it, “The husband should not be a tyrant, and the wife should not be the governor.” When the wife elevates herself to assume what is not hers, we end up with either 1) a two-headed monstrosity or 2) the wrong head with everything upside down. Many Christian marriages end up looking like the “unwise” of the world who in their folly think themselves wise (v. 15; Rom 1.22). Tragically, these wreck their marriage or at best wreak havoc on the relationship.

As to the Lord: This could mean 1) in a similar fashion as their submission to the Lord, 2) as if their husband was the Lord, 3) as part of their submission to the Lord. Option three seems best. The submission she expresses to her husband is based upon her submission to the Lord.

23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.

For the husband…wife: For (or because) is explanatory: the wife submits to her husband for he is her head. Some read head to mean “source,” however, leadership is how this term is best understood. According to John Piper, “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.” “The husband has a leadership role, though not in order to boss his wife or use his position as privilege. Just as Jesus redefined greatness as being a servant (Matt 20.26-27), Paul redefines being head as having responsibility to love, to give oneself, and to nurture. A priority is placed on the husband, but, contrary to ancient society, it is for the benefit of the wife” (Snodgrass 295, emphasis original).

Even as Christ…the church: Christ’s relationship to the church is the model for headship. So then what is in view is servant leadership (Mark 10.43-45). “All the instructions concerning human relationships are rooted in the foundational relationship of the Christian to Christ…The Christian’s relationship to Christ is the basic, foundational relationship that colors every other relationship” (Malone 83). One significant reason that the world is messed up – in the home & everywhere else – is because it does not know Christ. So long as a man or woman remains outside of Christ, they will always be one down in the home, on the job, wherever. When the foundational relationship with Christ is missing, every other human relationship suffers: husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee. “The church becomes a pattern for all social order” (Patzia 268). Without Christ, the pattern is deficient and chaos ensues.

His body…Savior: Since Chris tis the head the church is His body. He acts as Savior when He “gave Himself up for her” (v.25) by dying on the cross. How is the husband the wife’s Savior? Certainly not in the same sense in which Christ is Savior of mankind. However, through his self-denying as protector the husband it can be said the husband is “Savior.”

24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Now…to Christ: The church is composed of those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ. Christians honor & affirm His leadership as well as look to Him for provision of all things.

So also wives…husbands: Once again submit is supplied for it is understood in the context. Wives should submit themselves (voluntarily) to their husbands. In everything means all things lawful & acceptable to God. Anything criminal or against God’s will should be avoided. Of course, a husband who is demonstrating Christlike headship would never ask his wife to engage in those kinds of things.

The tragedy of tragedies is when God’s word is twisted in order to justify cruel & abusive behavior. The unfortunate reality is that some men have read “Wives, submit…” and “The husband is head” disconnected from its context and thereby have produced unhealthy and ungodly circumstances for their marriage and family. Then little Jimmy watches how daddy has treated mommy growing up and what do you think he does when he gets married? Yes, even the in church this pattern is all too true. “Men in more conservative denominations with traditional views of marriage are more likely to abuse their wives” (Snodgrass 313). Books like Battered into Submission have been written documenting this kind of abuse.

By the way, we are not merely talking physical abuse; emotional, psychological, sexual, and verbal abuse is just damaging. Demeaning your wife is symptomatic that you have misunderstood and misapplied this text.  Christ would never do this to His bride. This is why it is so critical that we never disconnect headship from Christ. If we do, we end up with harsh, authoritarian manhood which is the kind of manhood resulting from the curse rather than redeemed from the curse.

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,

Husbands, love your wives: Love (Gk agapao) “means to subordinate one’s own interests, pleasures, and personality for the benefit of someone else” (Patzia 270). The husband looks to the needs, interests, and concerns of his wife, eager to understand and meet them. If wives are to submit to their husbands, then husbands must love their wives. When husbands love their wives as they ought, it is easy for a woman to affirm & honor his leadership in the home. Though he may not manifest this kind of Christlike love does not mean the wife is free from her obligation to submit; it just makes it more difficult.

It is not the deep sexual passion (erao) which Paul enjoins upon men. Nor is it familial (storgeo) or friendship (phileo) love. It is that selfless kind of love which puts the other person’s greatest good above your own (agapao). When it comes to Christians, even Christian couples, the greatest good of the wife which the husband should be in constant pursuit of is that she look like Christ. Husbands, this should be our overarching, singular desire when it comes to our wives.

As Christ…for her: The husband’s love for his wife ought to correspond to Christ’ love for the church. Christ’ loved the church to the uttermost when He gave Himself up for her on the cross. He supplies His bride with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” (1.3) in His sacrifice.

Some have argued that the greater responsibility is upon husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. If nothing else, “The husband’s commitment to his wife and to home responsibilities is certainly no less demanding than that asked of the wife – but the two are different, and complementary” (Foulkes 164).

26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

That He might sanctify her: or “to make her holy” (NIV). This is the glorious purpose of the atoning death of Christ: a bride set apart unto Himself.

Having cleansed…with the word: Sanctify and cleansed are both aorist (snapshot) tense indicating that a single event is in view when the washing of water with the word took place: baptism. With the word (Gk rêmati) could point to either instruction or confession before baptism.

Some see here an allusion to the pre-marriage bath a bride would take the day before her wedding. Then, cleansed and in splendid clothing, she was presented to the bridegroom and he would say, “Behold, you are sanctified to me.” Perhaps this imagery in behind this and other texts (2 Cor 11.2). In which case, when we are baptized, we are cleansed – “our hearts sprinkled clean” (Heb 10.22) – by the blood of Christ and He says to us, “Behold, you are set apart unto me.”

27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So that…in splendor: Lit. “in order that He Himself might present to Himself the glorious church.” Some see a possible allusion to Psalm 45.13-15 here. Note that the key difference here is that the bride can do nothing to make herself clean or beautiful; Christ cleanses & beautifies her.  Our splendor or glory or honor or beauty is all the result of His work.

Without…any such thing: A spot would be a stain or defect; a wrinkle could be related to clothing or skin (i.e. age); any such thing would be any offending deformity. Freedom from all these things contributes to the splendor or glory of the bride.

That she…blemish: cf. 1.4. Here is the goal of the Lord’s work in cleansing us. This has been His aim & purpose since “before the foundation of the world.” Christ sees His church with all her weaknesses & failures and still loves her, seeking her sanctification. So husbands, love your wives.

Imagine a bride in her flowing white gown with a ketchup or mustard stain right on the front of the dress. Or picture a bride who looks like she just pulled her dress out of the hamper. Now think of a woman who, because of years as a chain smoker, has deep wrinkles and leathery skin on her face and hands. Or suppose there is a woman who, due to a birth defect or a tragic accident, is missing a limb or has some abnormality. When I was growing up my dad knew a guy who had moles all around his neck, I mean all around his neck! Because he abused drugs, he didn’t bathe regularly and so those moles were caked with dirt, sweat, and all kinds of grossness. These are all illustrations of the defilement of sin and transgression. That’s what sin is like and that’s what Christ has cleansed us from spiritually speaking. All the spots, all the wrinkles, all the various defects – gone! Washed away, cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. And now all He sees is His beautiful bride; nothing else.

28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

In the same way: Just as Christ loves His bride and seeks her sanctification…

Husbands…own bodies: Indeed, Adam said of Eve that she was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2.23). Also behind this seems to be an application of “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19.18), though this is more profound in marriage.

Here is why spousal abuse is a sin not merely against the (civil) law, but also against nature. When a man & woman are married, they become “one flesh.” That is, she is “his own body” for they are one body.

He who…loves himself: Husband & wife are “complimentary parts” of a single personality. “His wife is part of himself” (PC 212).  It is a lower manifestation of Christ’s union with the church.

29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,

For no one…own flesh: For a man to hate his wife is as irrational as to hate his own flesh. Paul uses flesh (Gk sarka) rather than “body” (Gk soma) no doubt in anticipation of the coming Genesis 2.24 quotation (v.31).

The notion of a husband hating or neglecting his wife is as strange as hating or neglecting oneself. While it is true that some people (male & female) engage in self-mutilation (e.g. cutting), we readily identify that kind of behavior as abnormal. In a similar fashion, a husband who hits his wife or abuses her verbally or emotionally is likewise abnormal.

But nourishes & cherishes: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Nourishes (or “feeds,” NIV) means to provide food for over a period of time to sustain growth and maturation. Cherishes (or “cares for,” NIV) means to provide what is necessary. A man will naturally feed & clothe himself!

Just as Christ does the church: This is what Christ does for His bride! He nourishes us with His Word & provides everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1.3).

Another wrong turn men make is viewing their wives as someone they can control and order around. Once again, this is an abuse of headship. Authentic manhood/headship patterned after Christ is not about control. Paul does not say, “Husbands, control your wives.” He says, “Love your wives.” Husbands who love their wives with this kind of love will not have to worry about his wife submitting herself to him; she will want to affirm and honor his leadership in the home.

30because we are members of his body.

We are…His body: Here is the reason Christ loves, nourishes , & cherishes us: we are part of His body. As the branches are part of the Vine (John 15.1-6), so members are part of the body, the church (v.23). “Of His flesh and of His bone” (NKJV, KJV) is not supported by the earliest manuscripts. As Eve was taken from Adam & given to him, so the church was taken from Christ & given to Him.

The imagery of bride and body are admixed. As the church, we are both the bride of Christ & and the body of Christ. Every individual Christ – be it Paul the apostle or you or me – is a member of the glorious body of Christ. “Because” of this wonderful fact, He, as the Head, takes special care of us, nourishing & cherishing us, yes, even lavishing upon “every spiritual blessing” in Himself. You are special to Him; don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise!

31“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

“Therefore…one flesh”: Genesis 2.24 is quoted (from LXX) as application of Paul’s argument concerning Christ & the church (v.32): how He left His Father’s bosom to woo unto Himself a Bride (the church) out of the lost world. Simultaneously, Paul has in view the husband/wife relationship, of which Christ and His church are the perfect model.

Hold fast to his wife: Literally the husband is glued to her. Like anything which is glued, tearing the two glued pieces apart, though possible, will render permanent damage to the glued pieces.

The two shall become one flesh: This speaks to the profundity of the union between Christ & His church and husband & wife.

When it comes to Genesis 2.24, “No one verse speaks more strongly for the sacredness and permanency of the marriage bond and for fidelity within marriage” (Patzia 273). This is the primary text against such things as polygamy, fornication, and divorce, rightly so!

32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Note: The Latin Vulgate reads “sacramentum hoc magnum est” for “This mystery is great.” This has become the sole basis for the Catholic Church making marriage a sacrament (“an external sign of something sacred” or an outward sign of inward grace – Catholic Encyclopedia).

This mystery is profound: As profound as the union between a husband & wife is, it is but a miniature, dim reflection of the original which is Christ & the church. Mystery here (as in 3.6 refers to something hidden before, but has now been revealed, namely…

And I…the church: Christ’s relationship to His church. The mystery is not about marriage, per se, as much it is about the union between the Redeemer & His redeemed, the Savior & the saved.

Marriage is an important, a holy, a noble, a pure institution, altogether worthy of God; but it does not thence follow that marriage was designed to be a type of the union between Christ and the church. Paul’s emphasis, which should be our emphasis, is Christ & the church. He is the Head and we, the church, submit to His Lordship. We have no agenda, no mission save that which He established and modeled while on earth. If we could grasp that truth and seek His higher purposes rather than our petty squabbles, we could move past so much useless junk and move forward & upward to what God in Christ has called us.

33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

However: Pauls’ final word will be a practical one for husbands and wives.

Let each…as himself: Love (Gk agapato) “pure and simple, but transcendent,” because it mirrors the love of Christ toward His bride, is the husband’s calling in marriage. As himself captures “as their own bodies” from verse 28.  After all, they are “one flesh.”

And let…her husband: Respects (Gk from phobeo) is literally “fears” but is not, of course, servile or slavish fear (cf. 1 John 4.18). “Reverence” (KJV) or “holy respect” (PC 213) toward her husband, as connected to “submission” from verse 22, is the wife’s divine calling in marriage.

However profound the mystery of Christ & His church, there is no mystery as to the duty of each party involved in marriage: husbands love their wives and wives respect their husbands. If the husband withholds love, he is wronging his wife and subverting the relationship. If the wife withholds respect/submission, she is wronging her husband and subverting the relationship. The marriage suffers unless both parties fulfill their God-given calling.

Growing in Your Walk with Christ, part 6

“Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14, NCV). The apostle Paul was acutely aware of just how vital holiness is for Christians. Already in chapter 5 of Ephesians he has exhorted his readers to purity in their lifestyle (vs.1-7). Now, pulling on the rich heritage of light and darkness familiar to him through the Old Testament, Paul unpacks the need for a holy life, a separate walk from the world with Christ (v.8-14).

A Holy Walk (5.8-14)

As children of light, Christians walk separated from darkness.

8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

For at…darkness: Before Christ, they practiced these sins and were identified by darkness.

But now…the Lord: A sharp contrast is drawn from where they once were and where they are now. Now they are in the Lord which carries with it certain ethical charges and changes.

God is light (1 Jn 1.5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6.16). His truth is light (Psa 43.3). Light expresses His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. Darkness, on the other hand, is every in opposition to His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. It is in this darkness the world gropes and in which we once made our abode. But not anymore. In Christ, we are “children of light.”

Walk as children of light: Here is the obligation of those rescued out of darkness.  “The life lived as children of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, truth, and whatever is pleasing to the Lord” (Patzia 258).

9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),

For the fruit of [the] light: Fruit is “a figurative term for the moral results of the lights, its products as a whole” (Nicoll 356). The earliest manuscripts read the light making “the Spirit” (NKJV, KJV) a transcription error intended to harmonize this verse with Galatians 5.22.

Found…and true: This triad summarizes living in light. “All goodness” is a disposition inclined toward good works (cf. 2.10); “righteousness” is moral integrity by obedience to God’s word; “truth” is what corresponds to reality, esp. relating to God.

This could serve as a commentary of sorts for what Jesus says in Matthew 5.14-16. Letting our light shine so that others may see it means we pursue goodness (a disposition seeking to engage in good works), righteousness (moral integrity & rectitude), and truth (freedom from falsehood and embracing, loving, and speaking moral truth). Sometimes there is a yawning chasm between what we know how we live. My brethren, these things ought not be so!

10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

And try to discern…the Lord: To live (“walk,” v.8) as children of light means Christians will “find out” (NIV) what is acceptable to the Lord, He Himself being light. The present tense indicates that this is the lifelong, habitual practice of light-children. Keep discerning what pleases the Lord.

Like Yoda said, “No try. Do or do not.” To “discern” is “to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ, rejecting at once everything that is not so, and clinging to all that is…The supreme practical rule of the Christian’s life must be to please Christ” (PC 209). The way to discern what pleases Him is accurate & diligent study of His word. Further, through careful practice we can please our Lord. “Discern” & “pleasing/acceptable” are both found in Rom 12.2. This has led some scholars to see here (Eph 5.10) sacrificial language, i.e. our entire, every action is a sacrifice unto God as we are ever laid upon the altar.

Implied in this is that there is a lifestyle which is displeasing to God, i.e. a life lived in darkness, a life stubbornly refusing the light. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and falsehood would characterize that kind of life.

Pause for a moment and notice the progression of these verses:

  1. Transformation (v.8): We have been changed from darkness to light. Hence, we abandon immorality and pursue holiness; we put off ignorance and put on knowledge; we are no longer but now have joy.
  2. Obligation (v.8, 10): We are called to walk as children of light and live so as to discern what pleases God. Don’t go back to the darkness and engage what is not pleasing to God; walk farther into the day where God-pleasing activities are.
  3. Demonstration (v.9): We will demonstrate 1) divine beneficence/benevolence – doing good to all men; 2) divine righteousness – rendering to men what is theirs and to God what is His; 3) divine reality – the way things ought to be with God in control.

11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Take no part…darkness: The works of darkness are barren, having no life in them. They only produce death (see Rom 6.21). The Christian is to “have no fellowship” (NKJV) with the evil so prevalent in the world. That is old self behavior; the new self accentuates light, especially…

Instead expose them: Expose here means to convict through words and actions. By living the life excellently Christians convict and even condemn the world (see Noah, Hebrews 11.7). By speaking the word engagingly we can convince them of the truth.

Christians must never be content with passivity toward darkness. We are light and must shine forth into darkness (Matt 5.14-16; Phil 2.15). Now when people’s darkness is exposed it is traumatic so expect a reaction (see John 3.19-21).

12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

For it is shameful…in secret: Clarke says this is a reference to the mystery cults of Ephesus which we engaged in extreme levels of debauchery as recorded by Livy. However, it need not be limited to those cultic practices performed at night. It certainly could be the secret vices of engaged in the home. Either way, it is shameful for those who practice them to talk about, but Christians must speak out and shed light into the dark corners of culture & society. Paul has done that throughout these two chapters as he contrasted the old self with the new self.

The degradation & depravity of man knows no bounds today. We’ve got an entire internet full of corruption and foulness. Parades are held in celebration of debauchery. Sin has crawled out of the shadows of hiding and is now all over the TV & silver screen. It is still darkness; it just seems the darkness is advancing. Fast falls the night. And it is still shameful, disgraceful. Deep down inside those who practice know this is the case. Yet, they have seared their conscience, walled it off in an attempt to silence that still small voice which tells them, “This is not right.”

13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,

But when…the light: When Christians identify those evil, barren works of darkness to those who practice them, “people will come to see the true nature of evil and, it is hoped, turn to the light” (Patzia 261).

It becomes visible: Or they are seen for what they are, i.e. shameful, evil, darkness.

We, Christians, are enlightened (1.18; 5.8) and we are enlightening others. “Christians are to be God’s light in the midst of darkness” (Boice). We’re like Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on for the you.” Brethren, let us hold forth the light of the gospel in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”

14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

For anything…is light: Here is the transformative effect of the light of the gospel. Once enlightened, what was darkness is light (verse 8).

Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.

“Awake, O sleeper…on you”: Three metaphors for turning to God are linked in this statement: 1) Awakening from sleep; 2) Being raised from the dead; 3) Christ shining light into darkness. This may have been a song sung when a person was baptized (Patzia 262; see also Special Study).

Paul seems to present a three-fold progression from darkness to light:

  1. Exposure (v.11): Their sin(s) are revealed to them either through conversation with or conduct of Christians. They are found out.
  2. Disclosure (v.13): A crisis of judgment occurs – either they avoid the light (because they love evil) or they allow their deeds to be made manifest (John 3.19-21). But if they disclose their sins to God…
  3. Erasure (v.14): The light erases the darkness. They come to the serenity and tranquility of being So darkness is transformed into light by Christ (who is Himself the Light).

Special Study—What Is Paul Quoting in Ephesians 5.14?

Most scholars believe that Isaiah 60.1 is in view, though other Old Testament passages are cited as well (Isaiah 9.2; 26.19; 52.1). However, there is not an exact match with any OT text. So what is Paul quoting? Foulkes says, “The most likely explanation is that we have here another little fragment of an early Christian hymn” (155). Patzia goes further and says “it may have been used by the church at a baptismal service as part of a hymn that was recited or sung” (262). If it is a hymn, Isaiah 60.1 (et al) surely inspired it.

Grow in Your Walk with Christ, part 4

Paul established (see 4.17-24) that the Christian life is putting off/putting on (baptism) and renewal (daily). In the following verses (4.25-32), he will get intensely practical concerning how this new life is to manifest in the believer. This is Christianity; this is a walk worthy of our calling!

A Different Walk

Living with Christ means Christians walk different than the world.

25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Therefore…falsehood: Since Christians put away once-for-all the old self including falsehood…

Let each…his neighbor: See Zechariah 8.16. Our present habitual practice must be to speak truth to our brethren (v.15). Here neighbor is understood as brother due to the next clause.

For we…of another: The motivation for dealing truthfully with our brother is the body bond. Our fellowship is undergirded by love and truth; lying is detrimental to that bond of peace & unity.

For starters, a Christian should not lie. Lying is harmful to Christ’s church. “Without openness and truth, there can only be disunity, disorder and trouble in human community” (Foulkes 140). So the Christian is to reject what would destroy the body and promote what edifies the body.

26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

Be angry and do not sin: See Psalm 4.4. “Paul’s concern is the prevention of sin, not the obligation of anger” (Snodgrass 250). In fact, believers do not handle anger well so get rid of it (v.31).

Do not…your anger: So if & when the Christian gets angry, deal with it quickly.

27and give no opportunity to the devil.

Give no opportunity to the devil: An imperative with the force “Stop giving the devil opportunity,” implying they were. Given the chance Satan will destroy the church with anger.

What begins as “righteous indignation” (anger against sin) can fester and simmer and grow to bitterness, resentment, pride, and whole host of other things directed toward the church (anger toward brethren). Carrying anger into the next day only allows further opportunity for the devil to tempt us to sin. So handle it while it is still day, for night is coming. Read Psalm 4.4 – how are we going to silently ponder in our beds when we are full of anger? Answer: you can’t. You’ll toss and turn, unable to sleep because of this thing in your brain. There is an old Latin proverb: “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.”

Someone might say, “Well, Jesus got angry!” Sure He did; and He handled His business that day too! Solomon knew that “anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecc 7.9). “We are not to harbor resentment or keep it rankling in our bosom, lest it should change into downright hatred or revenge” (PC 170).

28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Let the thief no longer steal: Another imperative indicating that some of the recipients were 1) from this background formerly or 2) still engaged in this behavior though a Christian. That is old self behavior and must be abandoned. No longer links this with the preceding section (v.17).

But rather…his own hands: New self behavior is honest work with [one’s] own hands. Indeed, hard work is the duty of all Christians (2 Thessalonians 3.10-11).

So that…anyone in need: The motivation for abandoning a lifestyle of theft and adopting a lifestyle of honest work is not merely to provide one oneself or one’s own, but to share with the needy.

Notice the progression: It is good not to steal; it is better to engage in honest work. What is best to no longer steal and work so that we might have something to share with someone in need. Or unnatural behavior is to steal; natural behavior is to not steal and work. But supernatural behavior is to not steal, work, and share with those in need.

29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Let no…your mouths: Corrupting carries the idea of “rotten, putrid” like fruit or fish. This is the kind of talk that is moral garbage. “All empty, shallow, thoughtless talk” (Lenski).

But only…the occasion: The opposite of corrupting talk are good or “helpful” (NIV) words. Good words edify others which is the aim of the Christian. Cf. Prov 15.23 for a fit word.

That [He]…who hear:  Through our words, God is able to impart grace. Like our Lord, Christians should be people who have “gracious words” on their lips (Luke 4.22; Col 4.6).

The words which come out of our mouths are a clear indicator of what is in our hearts. This is what Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12.34). Corrupt speech out of the mouth indicates a corrupt heart. Rotten talk indicates a rotten heart. No, Christians have been revived, refreshed and so our speech should be “good” and pure. Our speech should be life-giving, enlivening others to higher, nobler goals.

Christians should major in communication. That is, we need to be lifelong learners of what to say and how to say it. This will enable us to impart grace in our speech to those who hear. “The Christian should never lose sight of the sad fact of a world lost in sin, without the Lord, needing some word, some ray of light, some word of grace that will point to the Lamb of God that takes away sin” (Coffman).

30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God: See Isa 63.10. Christians grieve the Holy Spirit when, like the people of Israel of old, they rebel & refuse to  obey the word of the Lord. Contextually, when we express anger wrongly or do not deal with it appropriately; return to behavior characteristic of the old self or avoid behavior of the new self; use corrupt language or fail to use gracious words; or are unkind and fail to forgive (v.32),  we offend God’s Holy Spirit.

All sin grieves God. Not just those listed here in Ephesians 4, but every sin is cause for God to sorrow. Specifically, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we can resist Him (Acts 7.51), lie to Him (Acts 5.3), blaspheme against Him (Mark 3.29), and a host of other sins. All of it saddens God.

By Whom…redemption: cf. 1.13. The sealing takes place at baptism (aorist tense). When a person hears and obeys the gospel, God gives him/her some of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This anticipates the coming day of final redemption when we are fully delivered from sin.

31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Let all…from you: The impetus for obeying this command is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Bitterness is “sharpness of temper” fueled by resentment; wrath is outbursts of anger whereas anger is the lingering, simmering feelings; clamor (“brawling” NIV) is face-to-face heated confrontation whereas slander is harmful speech spoken behind someone’s back. Put away all these; that is, make a clean sweep of the house. Pick all these up and take them out to the trash!

Along with all malice: Several commentators see malice as the root of all the foregoing. This is a settled disposition “always looking out for opportunities to revenge itself by the destruction of the object of its indignation” (Clarke).

From Jamison, Fausset, Brown adapted from Chrysostom: “Bitterness” begets “wrath”; “wrath,” “anger”; “anger,” “clamor”; and “clamor,” the more chronic “evil-speaking,” slander, insinuations, and surmises of evil. “Malice” is the secret root of all: “fires fed within, and not appearing to by-standers from without, are the most formidable”

32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Be kind…tender-hearted:  We must never seek to bring needless pain to others & should have a heart of pity and compassion toward each other.

Forgiving…forgave you: How did God forgive us in Christ? To the uttermost! Totally!

“If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue” (Chrysostom).

“Forgiving” (present tense) is the habitual practice of the Christian toward his/her brethren. In kindness and from a heart full of compassion we keep on forgiving one another. The standard for our forgiving one another is none other than God Himself: “as God in Christ forgave [aorist] you [emphatic pl.].” And how has God forgiven us in Christ? As Albert Barnes puts it:

(1) “freely” – without merit on your part – when we were confessedly in the wrong.

(2) “fully;” he has forgiven “every” offence. [Even those we don’t even know about]

(3) “Liberally;” he has forgiven “many” offences, for our sins have been innumerable

To borrow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as God has done unto to you!

The church is the perfect bride of Christ composed of imperfect people. Sometimes old self behavior crops up in brethren. This may have been what was happening with these Christians. How we react when this happens is important. Let us be gracious people, patiently forbearing with one another, mindful that we too are imperfect with our flaws, forgiving as God in Christ forgave us.

Ephesians – Introductory Material

The Ephesian World

In the 1st century Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia. Known as “the first and greatest metropolis of Asia,” the most celebrated feature of the city was the Temple of Diana, counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This temple was apparently a rebuild of a previous shrine to an ancient fertility goddess which burned in 356 BC. It was also distinguished for its theater, the largest in the ancient world, capable of seating 20-25,000 spectators. Fights between beasts and men with beasts were staged here.

Ephesus was a port city in Western Asia Minor at the mouth of the Cayster River. Mountains surrounded the town on three sides and the sea was on the west. It was famous for its trade, art, and science. Ephesus enjoyed the height of its prosperity in the first and second centuries a.d. as the fourth largest city in the Empire.

 

Ephesus

Religion in Ephesus

Religion was of paramount significance to the city of Ephesus. Scholars agree that the primary god of this region was the mother goddess of the Anatolian people who originally peopled this territory. The area was first colonized by Ionian Greeks under the leadership of Androclus of Athens in the tenth century b.c. The Greeks identified the deity with their own Artemis, but the attributes remained those of the ancient fertility goddess. Over time the city became the cult center of the worship of the Ephesian Artemis. Artemis (or Diana, according to her Roman name) was known variously as the moon goddess, the goddess of hunting, and the patroness of young girls. She was the twin sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus. When called upon to do so, the city would vigorously defend the goddess against impious detractors [see Acts 19.28].

Artemis was not the only deity in Ephesus. Ephesus’ religious climate was similar to that of many other large cities in the Greek East. There is documentation—including literature, epigraphy, numismatics, sculpture, and architecture—of a plethora of Greco-Roman and, to a lesser extent, Anatolian deities. These include Aphrodite, Apollo, Egyptian gods, gods most high, Hercules, Pluton, & Zeus (among others). They also engaged in hero worship, with a cult devoted to Alexander the Great existing until the 2nd century AD.

Christ’s Church in Ephesus

Into this intensely pagan society the gospel is preached. The history of Christianity in Ephesus began about AD 50, perhaps as the result of Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18.18). However, on the day of Pentecost, there were residents from various parts of Asia minor who heard and no doubt were obedient to the gospel (Acts 2.9). Perhaps the earliest roots stretch back to the very beginning of the church. Nevertheless, most scholars point to Paul’s brief stay on his second missionary journey (Acts 18.19-21) as the nexus of the church.

During his third missionary journey Paul reached Ephesus from the “inland country” (Acts 19:1), i.e., from the highland parts of Asia Minor, and stayed there for about three years, Paul’s longest missionary tenure. So successful and abundant were his labors that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Influence from this resident ministry undoubtedly established congregations in the Lychus River Valley at Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae. Scholars also believe he wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus and perhaps Romans.

Ephesus continued to play an important role in early church history. “The consensus of 2nd century sources is in favor of placing John in Ephesus in latter years.” A long of bishops in the Eastern church lived there. Council of Ephesus in AD 431.

Author, Date, & Recipients

This is undoubted an epistle of Paul and those who would deny Pauline authorship stand on very thin ground. The writer identifies himself as “Paul” (1.1; 3.1) who is both an apostle and prisoner of Christ. Further, the similarities between this epistle and Colossians is striking—75 of 155 verses can be connected (in similar form) to Colossians. By the mid-second century, the epistle is in wide circulation and undisputedly considered of Paul. Early church writers (Clement, Ignatius) quote from this epistle. Early canons (Muratorian, Marcion) include this epistle as being of Paul. Scholars overwhelmingly affirm that this epistle was written by Paul during his Roman imprisonment between AD 62-64.

When it comes to the recipients, the case is not as cut-and-dry. For one, there are no terms of endearment (Beloved, friends, etc.) which is typical for Paul’s epistles to people he has met and known (i.e Philippians 2.12). Also, the language hints that Paul did not personally know (1.15, “I have heard of your faith”) and who do not seem to know Paul (3.2, “assuming you have heard”). This could not be a description of the Ephesian church. Paul had experienced their love while he had lived among them and he had declared to them his ministry from the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 20.24). The external evidence is mixed with some early church writers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian) citing this epistle as “to the Ephesians” while other early church writers (Origen, Jerome, Basil) had copies of this letter without the words “in Ephesus” in them. The majority of manuscripts contain the phrase en Epheso but the earliest (Beatty, Vaticanus, Sinaticus) do not (though Sinaticus has pasi en Epheso in the margin). This has led some scholars to conclude that this epistle is actually a circular letter to the various churches in Asia Minor. While addressed to “the saints who are faithful,” Ephesus would have been the first stop of this “book tour” since it was the port city, the gateway Asia Minor. Over time, this epistle was recognized as primarily belonging to Ephesus.

Theme

Paul writes to explain to his brethren that God has equipped Christ’s church with every spiritual blessing to grow.