This is not the only overall message of Ephesians, but it’s probably the most critical one for house churches.
Deep breath. Rub my hands together. Here’s my attempt at a short, to-the-point, yet helpful 400-meter dash through Ephesians. Ready? You might need to read this really fast to get the feel, then come back and read it more slowly for the content. 😀
This is written for little churches wondering how to progress, who already know they are supposed to be family, sharing their lives and their possessions as best they know how, abandoning their own will of Jesus, again as best as they can.
Okay, the specifics:
This is the glorious spiritual introduction to the church. Church life is not just a nice spiritual thing for us to do together. It was eternally purposed by God to be “in” King Jesus. From before the beginning God thought of us, and thought of how to call us and join us together inside of Jesus along with all the rest of creation.
Jesus is the great Ruler over everything, in this age and the next. Yet this great and glorious King has been given as head to the church, so that the church is “the fullness of him that fills all in all.”
We’re supposed to respond to this first chapter with, “Whew! Wow! Amazing! We have been called into a glorious, cosmic, Divine purpose planned by God before the foundation of the earth! Whoo whee, my head is spinning.”
I’m using facetious terminology, but I mean every word. That’s how we should respond to Ephesians 1.
Ephesians 2 and 3 bring some details to chapter 1, but the effect is the same. We’re seated in the heavenlies in Jesus despite the fact that we were all demonically influenced sinners (really, see 2:1-3). We are citizens now of heaven and part of a glorious mystery, hidden through all the ages, to join Israelites and Gentiles, all people, into a habitation for God.
Wow! Talk about stretching your head across eternity and the universe!
That’s all awesome, but what do we DO? What is the practical application of that?
I, THEREFORE, the prisoner of the Lord, exhort you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. (v. 1)
What calling? The one described in Ephesians 1-3? We can walk worthy of THAT calling?
Yes, we can. Paul gives a route:
- Earnestly give youself to preserving the unity of the Spirit (v. 3). If you’re tied to someone by the love you feel by the Spirit, DON’T LET THAT GO!
- You have help. Jesus has given us gifts—gifts which are gifted men—to teach us how to work to build up the body of the King (4:11-12).
- Talk to one another. Do your part. Don’t sit alone. Together, you won’t be deceived, and you will grow into the full maturity of King Jesus, if you’ll just do your part, telling each other truth in love. (4:13-16)
- Put on the new man that is created in righteousness and true holiness, and put off the old man with all his unrighteousness.
What does that mean? What do we say to each other? What is the focus? What deep revelations out of the eternal mystery and purpose of God do we deliver to one another in the truth?
Stop stealing. Stop lying. Tell the truth. Work so you have money to give to others. Beware of your anger and don’t let it lead you into sin.
Oh, and get rid of all your bad attitudes bitterness, complaining, and ill-will. Instead be kind, tenderhearted, and quick to forgive.
Pretty deep revelation, right?
Here’s even deeper revelation, from Ephesians 5 …
If you don’t do what you just learned in Ephesians 4 you won’t have any inheritance in the kingdom of God or of the King (5:5).
No matter how you interpret it, that’s bad. No matter how you interpret it, that’s something you want to avoid.
Some people want to say that this doesn’t apply to Christians, who are forgiven by the blood of Jesus for their willfull continuance in sin. That’s a pretty strange way to interpret a warning that’s in a book written to Christians, but Paul sees it coming nonetheless.
Do not be deceived. It is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Do not partake with them. (vv. 6-7)
God is not a respecter of persons. If he is going to judge the sons of disobedience for these things, he’s not going to let you off the hook, either. Jesus is the Savior of those who obey him (Heb. 5:9). If you’re not obeying him, something is wrong with the salvation you received (1 Jn. 2:3-4).
Usually what is wrong with a salvation that is ineffective is two things: 1. You haven’t been told about the Gospel of the kingdom and that you must acknowledge Jesus as King and Judge over everyone, especially including yourself. 2. You haven’t been told about the church, and that it has an obligation to exhort/encourage you every day and to watch over you like a shepherd over his sheep. Please let us know if you need help with that.
Ephesians 5 goes on with more details, much like the details in Ephesians 4. Don’t be like the world, be careful of what you do with your mouth and your time. Be filled with the Spirit. Sing spiritual songs … all the time. Give thanks. Love your wives; respect your husbands.
Summation To This Point
We are through what I would see as THE two key steps to the growth of a small church.
- Know the majesty of our calling, the power of God in us, and glorious inheritance awaiting us in God and for which God awaits as well. Know the church’s role in that, and the exceeding greatness of his power in us.
- As a result of that knowledge, don’t get overbearing or impressed with your knowledge. Instead, walk worthy of the calling with which you are called by simply doing what’s good in the Spirit. Don’t steal. Give. Don’t lie; tell the truth. Don’t complain and bear malice; give thanks, forgive, and be kind. Praise, sing, and give thanks.
Super simple. Don’t take over God’s job and focus on glorifying and entertaining yourselves with the latest wild notions. Glorify God and do good by being kind and honest and friendly and loving your wife and not angering your children and treating your employees well.
Simple, simple. Now let’s go to #3, the most complicated thing on earth.
The building of the church is not a human battle, it is a spiritual one. We may have a very poor idea of our role in the eternal purpose of God or of the incredible power he has released in the church if we walk in unity and obedience to Jesus, but the devil does.
Paul tells us that we don’t fight against flesh and blood, but against a whole organization of spiritual forces in heavenly places.
Those forces know that you four or five families—timid, confused, and not really sure what to do in the modern environment of competing churches, mostly infested with worldlinnes, of competing messages, and of a scoffing and unbelieving modern culture—possess the power to dispossess them despite their high and lofty positions and their spiritual knowledge.
Paul spent a lot of time in the first three chapters describing his prayers that you and I would know that power as well.
So step #3, after you have learned of your power, and after you have THEREFORE joined together in unity to serve and love one another in kindness and to help each other on the route to obedience to Jesus, is to batten down for the assault that will follow.
Make yourself strong. Get ready. You need salvation, truth, the preparation of the Gospel of peace, righteousness, faith, and the Word of God. Work on those. Get those read. Faith is the shield that will knock away EVERY dart of the evil one. The rest is growing together in God, speaking the truth in love to one another, and thus preparing yourselves to present first by your lives and later by your tongue, the Gospel of peace.
Just as the devil’s minions will notice your devotion to the unity of the Spirit resulting in encouraging one another in simple obedience to the basic teachings of Jesus, so the world will notice your love (Jn. 13:34-35), and they will ask.
Repeatedly, when I point out that there are no commands in the letters to the churches to go out and evangelize, Protestants flip out. All of them. Almost no one, friend or foe, has much tolerance for my statement that the “great commission” applied only to the apostles. We don’t need to be running around preaching until we are sent like the apostles were sent (Rom. 10:15). I tell them that we are taught to be prepared to answer those who ask us, and they say, “Phthhh, when was the last time someone asked you about the hope that was in you.”
I’d guess it’s been a couple weeks, but it has happened at least tens of times, if not hundreds. I cannot imagine that I am the only one that has happened to.
- Know the incredible power and importance and eternal significance of the church.
- THEREFORE, work hard at preserving the unity of the Spirit and departing from iniquity (cf. 2 Tim. 2:19)
- Hold on to your salvation, increase your knowledge of the truth, guard your heart with righteousness, walk in the Gospel, protect each other with faith, and win the war with the Word of God because you will find yourselves in a battle. DO NOT CONFUSE the weapons used on you with the source of those weapons and their power. The enemy will use people, but the enemy is spiritual. Do not be distracted by humans.
I hope that helps. I know it would have helped me a lot over the last 30 years.