“The Church in Action”
Some people say we live in an age of individualism. That means we live to pursue our purpose in life to the exclusion of every one and everything else. While there can be something good about not depending upon others, it can also lead to some serious problems. The apostle Paul saw that happening with the Christians living in the city of Ephesus. He sensed a degree of individualism and knew it was not good. Writing from a prison cell in Rome, he encouraged his friends to look beyond their own interests and to find strength by being united with one another. Ephesians is not a letter in which Paul scolds these Christians for problems or immoral behavior; rather, he helps them understand the nature of the church and their role in it. As part of the church today, Christians can still find strength in numbers. They work together for the common good of all concerned. Based on some very basic and core beliefs in Jesus Christ, Christians strive to maintain unity while seeking spiritual growth and maturity. Christians also support each other when things get tough, and they rejoice together when good things are achieved. The inspiring words we find in this letter apply to the church of today. Based on who we are in Christ Jesus and the blessings that come from God the Father, we cannot help but to love one another and to work together. When that happens, good things take place, to individuals and to the church as a whole. Let us now see how Paul developed those themes, in this most important message.
A common thought among some people is that the Bible is no longer relevant in today's world. Written many years ago, some believe it is simply out of touch with today's issues and beliefs. And yet, in a letter written by the apostle Paul called Ephesians, Paul tells us something quite different. In it Paul presents God's purpose for our lives, whether that was some 1,900 years ago or today. Yes, Ephesians causes us to reflect upon three great truths. Throughout the letter we find these questions asked and answered; who are we, why are we here and how are we supposed to live? When Paul wrote this letter in A.D. 60, the Christians living in Ephesus were exposed to the occult. Many of them believed in and worshiped the unseen beings besides the Lord God, himself. One of the purposes in writing what he did was to encourage the people to realize that the occult can offer absolutely nothing they already have in Jesus Christ. Yes, thirty times in these six chapters, the apostle Paul uses the words 'in Christ.' He wants his readers to know that God's plan and God's purpose is being fulfilled in His Son. For example, Paul writes; all spiritual blessings are found in Christ; God created us for good works in Christ; we grow and we mature in Christ; and, our strength is found in Christ. Paul's high view of Jesus is also revealed in statements like these: Jesus is the head of the church; He is the Redeemer; He is our peace and our hope; Jesus is the grace of God that saves us; He is the one who brings us back into a relationship with our Father in heaven; and, Jesus is our cornerstone." For the apostle Paul, there is no greater blessing or privilege than for one's life to be found in Jesus Christ. There is no need for anyone or for anything else to take the place of Jesus. Jesus is at the foundation of Paul's life, Jesus is at the foundation of his teaching, and Jesus is the focus of the message of Ephesians. In addition to that, Paul also highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. He writes statements like these: God empowers those who are in Christ with the Spirit; the Spirit is the seal of approval that God places upon all of those who belong to Him; through the Spirit, one has access to the Father; He provides strength to stand against the enemy; the Spirit creates unity and maintains peace among those who follow Jesus; and, the Spirit also influences Christians in the way they are to live. With so many challenges facing those who follow Jesus Christ, it is absolutely imperative, it is absolutely necessary for the Spirit to be in one's life. And that is the great truth that Paul emphasizes throughout Ephesians. In this letter we also find the word 'mystery' mentioned several times. And the mystery is the simple fact that both the Jews and the Gentiles now have access to God's salvation in Jesus Christ. For a long time, it was only the Jews. And yet now, because of Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, everyone, both Jews and non-Jews alike, have the opportunity to experience the salvation of the Lord. And then of course, we find throughout the letter of Ephesians the importance of God's grace: that, grace is found in God's gift of forgiveness; His grace enables one to mature and to grow as a disciple of Jesus; grace is also a great blessing that leads to one's eternal salvation. Now, these are just a few of the themes, or keywords, or phrases that we find in this letter from the apostle Paul; in Christ, the Holy Spirit, mystery, and grace, and salvation. And yet with that in mind, the question still presents itself, how do these things flow together in a message that applies to people today? Well first of all, in chapters 1 and 2, Paul reminds Christians of their true identity. And even though these words are not found, he basically states this; you are special in the eyes of God. Yes, as Paul writes to these Christians, he wants them to know they are special in the eyes of the Lord God Almighty, that they have a special place in His heart; and, he includes a number of spiritual blessings that come to those who are Christians, or believers. Paul writes, in chapters 1 and 2, Christians are blessed and chosen and adopted. He writes, Christians are loved and forgiven and saved. He writes, Christians are seated with Christ in heavenly realms, they received a special inheritance, and they are set free from the sin in the past. Yes in these first two chapters, Paul highly exalts who we are in Jesus Christ. He goes to great extremes to remind Christians of their special identity. He makes it plain that God has given to them every spiritual blessing and promise that is available to be given. Yes, Paul reminds Christians, and he reminds us today, that we are special in the eyes of God. Oh, when followers of Jesus are told they have no place in today's world, Paul says something different. Paul says you are special in the sight of God. You belong to Him. He belongs to you. You are a part of His family. You are His children. Secondly then, three times in chapter 1, in verses 6 and 12 and 14, Paul encourages one to live to the praise of God. And that answers the question; why are we here? We are here to honor the One who gives us life and salvation and every good thing. As God entrusts all of these spiritual blessings and promises to those who are in Jesus Christ then it makes sense that we live to the praise of God, that we live our lives in a way that honors Him and worships Him and thanks Him for the special identity we have in Him. According to Ephesians, those children who receive God's spiritual blessings are those who accept His salvation. They are reconciled to one another and united into one body, and then God fills them up with His powerful Holy Spirit. Yes, those are just some of the reasons why we are called upon as Christians to live to the praise and the honor and the glory of God. Now with that in mind, I want to highlight three specific passages of Scripture, in the first part of Ephesians, that help us to understand who we are and why we are here. The first one is found in chapter 2 of Ephesians, and we begin reading Paul's words in verse 4. <But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.> The apostle Paul lets us know here, early on in chapter 2, that because of our sin and our separation from God, He has made us alive in Christ Jesus. In fact, Paul says we were dead in sin. We had no life about us. But, through His son, Jesus Christ, He brings us back to life, and He places us in a very special position in His son, Jesus. Yes, we were once dead but now we are made alive in Jesus, and it is all because of God's love for us. Can you imagine that? That even when we are dead and separated from Him through sin, He loves us so much that He allows His son, Jesus Christ, to purchased our salvation. And through our faith in Jesus, connecting with God's amazing grace, we are now a part of His family. Here's another passage of Scripture I want us to notice. It is found in Ephesians chapter 3. Beginning with verse 17, the apostle Paul offers a prayer in behalf of these Ephesian Christians. He prays that certain things will happen on their behalf. And these were things, perhaps, that Paul would pray on our behalf, as well. Notice the passage, chapter 3 beginning with verse 17. <And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.> Isn't that a beautiful statement! In chapter 2 we focus on the love that God has for us and His grace and His son Jesus. And now here in the 3rd chapter Paul highlights the love of Jesus Christ. Part of his prayer is that we might know and appreciate the length and the width and the depth and the height of the love of Jesus Christ, far greater than any of us could ever imagine. Maybe you remember this song, from when you were younger: "Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so." This is where the Bible tells me so, Ephesians chapter 3 verses 17 through 19. Yes, Jesus loves you, and He loves me, and He wants us to be a part of God's special family. Here is one final passage in this first part of Ephesians. Let's continue on with verses 20 and 21, in the 3rd chapter. < Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.> Paul concludes the first part of his letter by saying, "to God belongs all the praise and glory, because He is able to do so much in and through us." And that happens because of the power that lives within us, the powerful Holy Spirit. Far more than we could ever ask for, far more than we could ever imagine, God is working in our behalf: For what reason; to bring glory and honor and praise to Him through His church, through His son, Jesus Christ. Perhaps those passages help us to see and appreciate, and even answer the questions, who we are and why we are here. But then thirdly, in the last three chapters, Paul answers the final question; how are we to live? If the Christian faith could be firmly established in the city of Ephesus some 2,000 years ago then it would have a great impact upon many people, over 200 communities around Ephesus. The same principle holds true today. If our faith in Jesus Christ impacts our life then we, too, can have a positive influence upon the people around us. As Paul writes from a Roman prison cell, he urges those who believe in Jesus to live like it. You have put your faith in Jesus; you have become a part of His church then live like it. Allow your influence, your testimony, and your life to portray to other people what Jesus Christ means to you. Paul offers what we might call an instruction manual on Christian living in chapters 4, 5 and 6, and it contains a variety of things which deserve our attention. For example, he includes guidelines on seeking good family relationships and how we can do battle against Satan. He offers direction on what to avoid and what to practice. Christians are to strive for unity and fellowship with one another. And, they are to grow and mature into disciples of Jesus Christ. Believers are also to live a holy life, not only in the sight of God but especially among the non-believers living there in the city of Ephesus. Possessing a spirit of humility and genuinely loving one another are to be at the heart of those who belong to the Lord. There are many other attributes and behaviors that we are to incorporate into our lives as we represent Jesus Christ throughout this world. Again, I want to highlight three specific passages of Scripture that help us to understand, from Ephesians, how we are to live in this world. The first one is found in chapter 4. Notice the reading that begins in verse 1 going through verse 6. < As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.> Paul begins this second part of his letter by saying live a life worthy of the calling you have received. In other words, live like you belong to Jesus Christ. Allow other people to see your life, may it be an example of humility, and gentleness, and patience, and love. Seek to maintain unity and peace with one another. Those are beautiful characteristics that are to be incorporated into the life of one who belongs to Jesus Christ. Those are important. Live like we belong to the Lord. Here's another one. Notice now the first 2 verses in chapter 5. < Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.> Often times, we look for people to follow. Often times, we seek out those people who can provide a good example for us. Paul says begin with God himself. He is the very best example. He is the God of love. And perhaps more than any other quality or characteristic of God, I've got to believe that love is at the top of the list. That's who God is. God is love. And Paul now writes to say follow that example; be imitators of the God who loves you so very much. There's one more passage of Scripture I want to highlight. It's over in the 6th chapter, beginning with verse 10. In this passage of Scripture, going through about verse 18 or 19, Paul identifies what is called the armor of God; that, we are to put on the Armor of God so that we can stand against the devil, so that we can do battle against him and overcome the temptations and the evils that he presents to us. This is how we are to live, as we put on this full armor. Notice his words in chapter 6 beginning with verse 10. <Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.> What a powerful passage of Scripture! As we encounter the evils and the problems of this world, as they come from Satan himself, God says clothe yourself. Put on the armor. And he identifies the armor later on in that 6th chapter. And as we put on that armor, we are able to stand firm in the strength of the Lord and do battle against Satan. Oh, Paul's letter called Ephesians is relevant to everyone. It is full of practical teaching that makes sense for us, today. It answers three very important questions: who am I; what is my purpose; and, how am I to live? Paul's message tells us of God's love and the salvation that is found in His son Jesus Christ. It encourages us to know of the many spiritual blessings and promises that are found and received in Him. The letter of Ephesians ensures us that Jesus has already purchased our salvation. Because of our faith and our trust and obedience in Him, that we can be united with other believers in His church. Yes, Paul wants us to know of these great truths: we are somebody special in God's sight; we are saved by His grace through our faith in His Son; and, that motivates us to live to the praise of His glorious name. In almost every line of Paul's letter called Ephesians, he writes something about who we are, why we are here, or how we are to live. And those seem to be some of the most important questions that anyone can ask or seek to answer in today's world. I encourage you, as we draw our lesson to a conclusion, to not disregard the Bible as being irrelevant or out of touch with today's world. The letter of Ephesians has something very powerful for us to consider as we try to live our lives in the midst of all kinds of problems and difficulties and challenges. My prayer and my encouragement for you today is that you will spend even more time reading and studying the powerful letter which Paul wrote to a group of Christians living in Ephesus. And as you do that, consider how this message applies, still, to you today. When seeking a purpose and a direction for your life, I encourage you to not give in to the philosophies and the ideas that this world might present. Rather, put your focus and your trust in God's message and in His son Jesus Christ; and, I am quite sure that you will be blessed when you do.
The apostle Paul writes the letter of Ephesians so we can better understand who we are in Christ Jesus. It is based on what God has done on our behalf and how He adopts us into His family. Those spiritual blessings and benefits empower us to live a victorious life. As we become one with Jesus, we are then called to live a life worthy of the honor He places on us. We live as children of light, seeking unity and peace with one another. We live as God's representative in this world, knowing we have the necessary power to do so. Ephesians encourages one to stand against the forces of evil by trusting in the power of God. When that happens, we can work together with others, as we imitate His love to the world.
Thank you for tuning in to today's program. Hopefully this message from the letter of Ephesians inspired you to find various ways in which you can contribute to the church. Yes, that is important and the Lord wants everyone to do their part. Today, we offer a series of lessons about a Christian's role within the church. When you call the number on the screen we will mail it to you, without any charge or obligation. It will assist you in knowing more about Jesus' church, how you can be a part of it, and the spiritual blessings that are available. The same Bible study, along with other messages and videos, is available on our website. I invite you to visit keytothekingdom.com and download anything that might be of interest. There is not any cost or commitment required in order to receive anything we offer. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to find and follow us on Facebook. New posts are made each week and I believe you will find them to be spiritually uplifting. Recently we have been studying through each book, or letter, of the New Testament. If you have missed any of these lessons, know that they are available to view at your convenience through our website. We are about one-third of the way through this series, as we work through all 27 books, one week at a time. Again, I want to say thank you for joining us for today's lesson. Please join us next week, as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."