THE LETTER OF JAMES.
Which James wrote the Book?
1. James the Disciple – the son of Zebedee. He was put to death in 44 A. D. by Herod Agrippa – Acts ch 12 v 2. He is ruled out.
2. James the Younger. – Mark ch 15 v 40. He is James the son of Alphaeus in Mark ch 3 v 18. There is little known about him and it is unlikely to be him.
3. James the brother of Jesus. Mark ch 6 v 3. Gal ch 11 v 19. Jesus had 4 brothers, including Jude. They were all born to Mary and Joseph. Mat ch 13 v 55. Paul met James in Jerusalem Gal ch 1 v 19. So it is almost certainly him. Jesus appeared to James. 1 Cor ch 15 v 7. This was probably when James was converted. James became a leader in the Church after his conversion. Gal ch 2 v 9-12. As a brother of Jesus he must have watched Jesus at work and preaching. The Book was probably written about 60 A. D. There was a time when the family of Jesus was less convinced about what He was saying. In Mark ch 3 v 21 it confirms that James had opposed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The family was ashamed of Jesus. Are there times when believers are ashamed of the words of Jesus? Even His brothers did not believe Him. John ch 7 v 5. But Jesus later appeared to James. James played an important part in the Council of Jerusalem. Acts ch 15 v 13-21. He is open-minded and anxious not to offend Jewish converts. Josephus tells that he was brought to court on a charge of the High Priest and stoned to death in 61 A. D. He is referred to as James the Just. He was righteous in observing the law.
The Letter teaches on such matters as prayer, persecution, humility, brotherly love, patience and self-restraint. What a man really believes is seen in what he does rather than in what he says. “So you tell me that you are now a Christian. Prove it. Let me see you in action.” James is well placed after Hebrews. Hebrews explains theology. James deals with the response. How should a man change? Let him obey James’ teaching. The Letter is an exhortation to believers. “Live it out!” A slave is someone who belongs to another. Christ is the one James serves. The letter is written to the 12 tribes of the Dispersion. Many stayed on in Babylon after the Exile. There were Jews in Antioch, Alexandria, Athens, Rome and Babylon. James was a Jewish convert but still very Jewish. He is writing to other Jews who have links with Judaism. What mattered to the Jews was the keeping of the Law. Legalism is not concerned with an attitude of mind. James explains the sort of person a believer should be. James divides the Letter into three aspects of the life of a believer:
1. A man’s attitude towards God in prayer, speech and trust.
2. A man’s attitude towards others in speech, forgiveness, equality, and the poor.
3. A man’s attitude to himself in wisdom, teaching, life style and holiness.
CHAPTER 1. Essentially it is about practical Christianity – how to behave. It contains ethics rather than doctrine. In it there are many echoes of the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount. If a man is saved, does it matter how he lives? Believers are free. It is very easy for the World to squeeze a believer into its mould and it is hard for a believer to be the sort of person God wants him to be. James is labelled as nobody. He met the risen Jesus personally and called Jesus “master”. He describes himself as a servant. Being a servant keeps a believer humble. He was converted when he met his brother after the resurrection. That was the central fact of his life. There is no substitute for first hand experience of the Lord. James went on to become a leader of the early Church at Jerusalem. James became a leading member of the Church. Acts ch 15 v 13-22. The letter is written by a Jew to Jewish believers. The early Church was exclusively Jewish for the first 15 years. James was stern and severe, rather like a prophet. It was written before Paul wrote Romans. Acts ch 21 v 18ff. James met with Paul after 3 years of meditation following Paul’s conversion. James gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul in Gal ch 2 v 9. Great things are possible for the followers of Jesus.
The believers were passing through trials and temptations and this letter was written to comfort and encourage them. There were grave disorders amongst believers in that day. This was written to correct them. There was a danger of divorcing faith and works. Where was the evidence of a changed spiritual person, born of the Spirit of God? “Prove it”, was the common taunt. It can be the same today. “He is all talk and no action.” Believers are to be living members of the body of Christ. Daniel is very interesting, but, without works, people will not be convinced. It is a letter for holy living. Faith always leads to works. Abraham left home. Noah built an ark. David defeated Goliath.
Deeds not words. Be a doer and not a talker. People will not be interested how much a man knows until they know how much he cares. The believer should have a positive attitude to the difficulties of life. The believer does not blame God when they go wrong. He knows where to turn to for help and guidance. He has control of his tongue and his temper. He sets out to discover what are God’s standards and to live by them. The 12 tribes in dispersion symbolise all God’s people. True Christianity is real religion and all the others are false. All religions cannot be true. There is a danger of familiarity breeding contempt. The way believers handle the Bible shows their regard for the Word of God. Muslims would never leave the Quran on the floor but place it up on high. It is symbolic of their respect for the holy book. It is easy to be a believer on Sunday and a heathen on Monday. James addressed the major events of his day and the major events of every day.
Faith and wisdom. C. S. Lewis. “It is when you tread on the toes of a man, you find out what sort of person he is.” Is he humble or proud? There is a blessing when a man conquers temptation. Wisdom is available for the asking. Solomon asked for it. 1 Kin ch 3 v 9. Jesus said that a man does not receive because he does not ask and He challenges a man to ask for anything in His name and His Father will give it. Mal ch 3 v 6. Difficulties bring about character formation. Those who have lived a sheltered life are often not very resolute. Mat ch 5 v 12. Believers should rejoice when the World persecutes them, because it has recognised something it hates in their lives.
God does not send temptation but allows it. God is in control and is responsible for the life of a believer. He allows testing in order for the believer to grow in maturity. Parents allow children to leave home and go to school. It is for the good of the child in the long run. God could never do this since He is sovereign and transcendent. He allowed Jesus to be tempted but had a purpose in it. Satan is the one who tempts. Temptation is like training in the army of God. The source of evil starts with lust and desire. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin. The pull of a man’s own desire is fanned into life by Satan. Sin brings forth death. It is the only thing it can produce. Rom ch 6 v 23. Temptation will appeal to a man’s weaknesses. For one it will be drink – for another money. Satan always aims for the Achilles heel of a man. The sinful area, which convicted the man of sin and led him to seek salvation is the danger area for him. In the first temptation in Eden Eve was alone. Gen ch 3. Temptation usually comes when a man is alone. Satan distorted the Word of God and caused doubt as to whether what God had said was really true. Satan appealed to Eve’s senses. It looked good. He also appealed to her pride. Yield not to temptation. It is not the temptation, which is sinful but the yielding to it. Even Jesus was tempted. But He did not yield. Recognise it and refute it with the Word of God.
God is the source of every good gift. He is single-minded and changeless. God fixed the order in the Universe. He is reliable and trustworthy. James is arguing against any idea of dualism, which says that there is good and evil in the godhead and the two are always in conflict. James argues that this is not so. ch 1 v 5. There is no darkness in God at all. God is good, while man is not. God gives man a new birth. It is always good to go back to basics. God created each man out of nothing. Every good thing comes from Him. Listen rather than speak.
Wealth tempts and does not bring lasting satisfaction. Ch 1 v 12. James is more occupied with questions of riches and poverty than most of the New Testament writers. He criticises them as a group. Kingdoms pass away but a man’s attitudes to riches remains the same. Those who acquire their riches by exploitation of the poor find the Bible diametrically opposed to them. Deuteronomy urges the people to look after the poor. The rich are accountable for their wealth and how they have used it. The poor people in Israel were often abused by the rich. Amos ch 4 v 1. Ruth ch 2 v 2. James says of the rich:
1. Their treasure will not last.
2. They have caused hurt to innocent people.
3. God has heard the cries of the poor people.
4. The rich will be consumed with fire.
The rich are not condemned for their riches but for how they acquire them and how they use them.
Jesus had many friends who were rich and who used their riches to support Him. Poverty can also produce sin – theft and greed. Justice does not depend on circumstances or wealth.
CHAPTER 2. In the Church it is pride when the rich are courted and the poor are ignored. The rich are not trusting in God. There is no difference in God’s Kingdom between rich and poor. Riches will not last and so there is no point in trusting in them. Ecc ch 2 v 1-11. There is the same theme in James as in Ecclesiastes – trying to find the meaning to life. What brings true satisfaction? The Church contained predominantly poor people. v 10. How should the Church deal with them? In due course others joined who claimed a special position in the community because of their riches and possessions. They wanted the best place in the congregation as well. James rebukes them for it. Partiality is one of the ways of the World. A believer is to show no impartiality and should treat all people equally with dignity and respect. This is not limited to fellow believers. While Scripture differentiates between certain sins as to their quality and quantity all sins make the sinner a sinner. Do unto others. Lev ch 19 v 18. A man should rejoice and be glad when he encounters trials and tribulations. It is part of the process of sanctification. Testing produces endurance and character. A man grows as a result of experiences in life. It is a test of his faith, designed to strengthen it. It helps make believers more perfect, complete and rounded. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Rom ch 5 v 3-4. There is always pressure to conform to the ways of the World. Believers are to be in the World but not of it. That is the great challenge for the believer.
Faith and works. 2 Cor ch 5 v 17. There is no contradiction. It is like two sides of the same coin. Works without faith are of no avail so far as righteousness is concerned. But if there is a profession of faith without actions in response, it throws into question the very matter of the new birth. People should expect to see a difference in the life style of the person. Even the demons shudder before God. James mentions some who had faith in God and acted accordingly. What are “works”? Salvation is not earned by works. It is not doing what a man likes e.g. visiting. It seems to be doing what God wants, when it is against what a man wants. v 22. Abraham was doing what God told him to do. Acts ch 9 v 36. Works of the flesh are described in Gal ch 5 v 19. John ch 9 v 3. Eph ch 2 v 9. A man is obliged to do unto others what he wants them to do for him. Conscience dictates that. A man is then only doing what he ought to do.
James contrasts faith with faith and works. He is not setting faith against works but showing the contrast between the two. Nor is he tackling the question as to how a person becomes right with God. Faith needs works. It is not enough that a man believes in God if he does not show it by what he does in response. A life, which shows love and mercy, is proof that there is faith there as well. There are two kinds of faith. 1. A head belief that God exists. v 19. Demons are monotheists, but they do not worship God. His existence does not make any difference to their lives. 2. Saving faith. The change in the style of life is evidence that the faith is there. A faith, which does not require what God requires, is useless. Micah ch 6 v 8 shows what God does require of a man. James is warning against an empty faith. He is not saying that works can save. James ch 2 v 21 – Rom ch 3 v 8. The verses seem to be saying the opposite thing but this is not so. Faith without works is dead. James and Paul are looking at the problem from a different angle. Rom ch 5 v 1. Paul was not teaching anyone as such, James is. Mat ch 5 v 20. Man’s righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees. They were very devout. Total dedication is called for by Jesus. The effect of a man’s faith is seen in his actions.
“Be doers and not just hearers of the Word.” Hearing by itself is not enough. Obedience is essential. The commands, which James gives, are all doing words, leading to action. Mark ch 4 v 9 & 23. Luke ch 8 v 8. Luke ch 11 v 28. Mat ch 11 v 15. Mat ch 13 v 9 & 43. There is no point in words unless a man puts them into practice. It is like a man looking in a mirror and seeing what he is like and not doing anything about it. It is like having medicine and not taking it. Listening to the Gospel and not doing anything about it is just the same.
Real faith must be seen in action, looking after the widows and orphans. Ch 1 v 27. No one else will look after them effectively. There is always a delicate balance between walking with God and enjoying life. There is the risk of a negative religious attitude creeping into a man’s life. There is righteous anger but even so it is not wise to act in anger. Sleep on a decision prompted by an angry response. A believer should not let the World mould him into its ways.
1 Kings ch 3 v 9-12. Wisdom is an important aspect of the Christian life. Without it a man is a fool, double-minded and unstable. Man tends to alter between two different opinions – God and Baal. The believer must be sure about God in whom he believes or he will lack assurance. Jesus made it clear that a man does not receive because he does not ask. Children are forever asking questions. Believers should be doing the same.
Man should not to prefer one person to another, especially the rich against the poor. Ch 2 v 13. It is not for a man to judge which person is worthy of respect because of the clothes he wears. A man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. 1 Sam ch 16 v 7. Mat ch 7 v 15 talks about knowing people by their fruit and warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Mark ch 7 v 21. It is what comes out of a man, which determines his character. God turns human values upside down. There is no condemnation of riches as such. It is the abuse of wealth, which is condemned. Rich people have a special responsibility in the Church. The Old Testament law is fulfilled in mercy. Favouritism leads to rejection. Favouritism and jealousy lead to rejection and murder.
Teachers will be judged more strictly. They have to meet higher standards. It is more serious for a teacher to be departing from the truth. Teachers in the ancient World were highly regarded. They pass moral judgement. If they fail to live up to it themselves, they are hypocritical. They are more enlightened and children look to them for more than intellectual knowledge. Their lives should be lived to reflect the truth, which they proclaim. They are always prone to sin. There will be judgement for believers after this life. How has a man used the talents he has been given? Much is expected of those to whom much is given. Mat ch 23 v 8. A mistake by one teacher could lead many astray with serious consequences. Test all teaching against Scripture. 1 Thes ch 5 v 21.
Tongues stir up anger, if not kept in check. Religion, which does not keep a man from causing harm with his tongue, is useless. One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Control of the tongue is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. Gal ch 5 v 22. The tongue is difficult to control. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. A man’s words reveal his thoughts and his thoughts reveal his attitudes. The Amorite spirit. Like all gifts speech can be used for good or evil – as a blessing or a curse. God is not finished with His children yet. Gossip must end. A careless word can cause such hurt. Everything a man says has consequences and he ought to be very careful of what he says and especially what he says about others. Prov ch 12 v 18. He should not brag about what He has done. What place does testimony have? To brag about what God has done. Jer ch 9 v 23-4. Mat ch 15 v 11. Mat ch 7 v 15-20. Tongues need to be sanctified. Rom ch 3 v 23. A man tends to criticise others for the very faults, which he has himself. All are born in sin and so cannot criticise others for that fact. A man must not speak evil of others, even though it is true, unless there is some necessary occasion for it, e.g. to warn another of danger. A small thing can produce a large effect e.g. a rudder or a flame. The same tongue curses men and blesses God. If a man criticizes he sets himself up as judge – in the place of God. A man should never say anything about another person behind his back, which he would not say in the presence of that person. It is very hard to do and needs to be trained into positive speech. Romans ch 14 v 4. When a man gossips he is seeking to place the person about whom he speaks a little lower in the eyes of others and in so doing is doing down the grace of God. A man also steals the reputation of that person. Defamation of character judges a man in his absence. God as the lawgiver has reserved the power of passing sentence on man. Assuming grace without acknowledging God’s grace is self-righteousness.
A good man ought not to be critical but ought to see the best in others. Each person is a mixture of grace and sin. A lovely man reveals God’s grace. Yet all fall short of the glory of God.
Divine wisdom is required by all men. It is an attribute of God. ch 3 v 15. 2 closely related to God. Prov ch 22 v 31 and 3 Christ personifies wisdom. It becomes personal in Christ. Col ch 2 v 3. Paul asked for it. False teaching leads to a corrupt life. It will produce greed and selfishness. e. g. look after self. Anything leading to sin must be false. True wisdom produces meekness, moral integrity, peacefulness and gentleness. The gifts of the Spirit produce the same effect. The first believers lived in a wholly pagan society and their lives were quite different. Others should notice the difference in the life style of believers. The lives of believers must match their words. Life style evangelism is a central theme in James. Some things may seem good. There may be a desire to do something for God but it is not in response to what God has commanded be done. It is worldly and is not blessed by God. Selfish ambition leads to disaster. If God is in it, there will be an openness to discuss and a spirit of unity. Rom ch 2 v 5- 11. Isaiah ch 32 v 17.
Worldly wisdom leads to selfish ambition, factions, arrogance, lying to get round the truth, jealousy, quarrels, etc. There is a continual war as long as a man does not obey God. Lust produces murder. Desire can lead to such a craving as to lead to murder. David and Bathsheba. Cain and Abel. The inward sins are just as serious to God. Pride means that a man is full of his own importance. Some are trying to satisfy their own desires as well as trying to serve God. Their motives are therefore not pure. It is impossible to serve God and Mammon. A man is called to make a choice. Moses set the choice before the people in Deut ch 30 v 15-19.
CHAPTER 4. Man has fought from the very beginning. Cain and Abel. “You want but cannot have and so you take.” Men fight over possessions, a wife, money and land. Coveteousness lies at the root of the problem. Wars, fights, quarrels and disputes are common. Selfish desire is at the root of the problem. This covers everything from squabbles between children and court actions to World War II. The World revolves round “me” and when a man cannot have what he wants he takes. There is little submission to God. It is easy to pray: “My will be done.” It is important to remember that James is writing to believers. Controversies are often to prove a point and get one over the other person. It may stem from a sense of inferiority. Titus ch 3 v 9. Romans ch 7 v 23. Sin lies within a man and wars with his mind. Man often asks for the wrong motives. He wants a blessing so that he might appear well in the eyes of others. It should be in order to give glory to God. Basically each man is a ruined sinner. There is a choice to be made. Is a man sufficiently concerned to be God’s friend or is he prepared to be on friendly terms with the World? “The World” is the organisation of men without reference to God. In other words they will do it their way, without consulting God or doing the work subjected to God. Deut ch 30 v 15-20. Choose this day whom to serve.
v 11-12. Slander. It comes so naturally.
v 13 – 17. In matters of importance a man should not make decisions without consulting God. God wants to be involved in the life of a man and wants that man to fit in with His plan for his life. Self-confidence does not please God. Faith does please Him. The two are opposites. Prov ch 27 v 1. Luke ch 12 v 13-21.
Is it right to plan ahead. It is good to have short-term goals and long-term goals. Alternatively should a man live one day at a time? God planned ahead in sending Jesus.
v 17. John ch 9 v 41. No excuse. Luke ch 12 v 41-48. It is dangerous to listen to what God says. Luke ch 16 v 20. By saying “No” to Jesus, the rich man sent himself to Hell.
A man tends to boast about what he is going to achieve and to leave God out of his plans. To slander a brother is to steal his reputation. A man can cut someone down with his tongue. Gossip does just that. Believers should not do this for three reasons: 1. It disturbs the unity of the body. 2. To speak against another is to speak against the Law. 3. A man has no right to judge. This applies to all people and not just believers. Life is short and all must give an account of what they have done with it. In making decisions a man should seek the will of God.
CHAPTER 5. v 1-6. Wealth is a dangerous thing. There is nothing wrong in having wealth. Wealth is not a sin in itself but brings with it great responsibility. The real question is how did a man come by it and how has he used it. God has given the raw materials in the World e.g. timber, livestock, minerals, fish and the Holy Spirit to enable a man to develop his skills to harness the resources. It is good that man does not live in poverty. Yet riches choke the dependence of man on God. There is a paradox. The poor complain to God about their poverty. The rich ignore God. Much of the poverty in the World is due to laziness or war or bad stewardship of the resources God has given man. Injustice is one of the things God hates. Some are rich because they have paid low wages to their employees. The riches could have been used to help poor people. Amos ch 6 v 1. Watch out for corruption by material possessions. They can steal affection for God.
v 7-11. Patience. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit. When a man is controlled by the Holy Spirit, he should display patience. God wants each man to be perfect or complete. God is not finished with any man yet. All Believers are at a different stage of knowledge and experience. The prophets are an excellent example for man. They often waited for their prophecies to come to pass and often they did not come to pass in their lifetime. Do not give up. Jesus is coming. Job ch 1 v 21 and ch 42 v 10.
Those who are impatient tend to be critical of others. There is only one judge. A man can still correct others lovingly from time to time. To turn a sinner from his errors is different from criticising him. Jeremiah was long suffering and patient, despite the fact that there were several attempts on his life. Job was patient. Trust God despite the circumstances. For a believer all relationships should be harmonious.
v 12. No oaths. Mat ch 5 v 33-37. Believers swear politely. Goodness is another name for God, who is goodness. Do not swear by Heaven. Otherwise a man comes under God’s judgement.
v 13-19 is like the finale to a symphony. So far James has dealt with temptation and testing by God. He has challenged man by asking what he is doing for God in light of the wonderful gift of eternal life. He warns a man to watch his attitude towards others in his inner thoughts. In particular he must be most careful in what he says. Believers ought to keep apart from ungodly activity and seek holiness. Be patient and remember to lay up treasure in Heaven.
James turns his attention to suffering and sickness. How more practical could he be? Sickness and sin go hand in hand. Psalm 50 v 15. Mark ch 6 v 7-13. Prayer to God is effective. God makes oaths so it is not wrong to make an oath. But do not make a false promise. Avoid a glib reply. “Yes” or “no” is enough. The key to healing is faith. Healing will not happen unless God has spoken and His word is met with faith. How can God answer, if a man does not believe in Him or what He can do? How does he pray and not doubt? He must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It must be in accordance with the Word of God and be in line with the character of God. If prayer is made in unbelief, there will be no answer. A man should ask God for wisdom and a discerning and understanding mind.
Healing. Who does the healing? God is the source of all health. Prayers have a part to play. Oil is a symbol of the blessing of God and of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prophets, Priests and Kings were anointed. Oil is not essential but is symbolic. Sins are not necessarily a direct cause of sickness but are closely connected with it. Mat ch 9 v 1-8. When sins were forgiven physical healing occurred. The prayer of faith will bring healing.
v 14. What about those not in a Church? What about those in a Church, which does not recognise elders? What about those, whose elders do not believe that they should fulfil this purpose? Elders were to be righteous men. The requirements are stated in 1 Timothy ch 3 and Titus. As such they should know what sins may have contributed to the sickness. There is a sin profile for each disease. “Confess your sins to one another.” Confession of sins to one another brings releases from darkness as light floods into the life of the one who confesses his sin. Mat ch 3 v 6. 1 Pet ch 2 v 24. What if the person to whom sins are confessed tells others? John ch 9 v 31.
Elijah was a mere man. John. Acts ch 14 v 15. 1 Kin ch 17 v 1. 1 Kin ch 18 v 1. 1 Kin ch 18 v 42.
v 19. Keep in contact with people of faith. Those bound in tradition will erode confidence in the Word of God. Negative spirits take control. A lack of need leads to a lack of faith. Faith feeds on facts. What is God doing in the World. Sharing with others is essential to stimulate and encourage them. The death is not physical death nor is it eternal death but temporary spiritual death. “I am dead spiritually” means that a man is not in touch with God. He is not exercising faith. He is still physically alive and he is still in receipt of the gift of eternal life. Yet he may give the appearance of being dead spiritually. Believers should encourage other believers in that situation to join them in fellowship. Only faith pleases God.
THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS.
There have been many names suggested as the author e.g. Priscilla and Aquilla – Barnabas – Appollos – Paul. It is probably not Paul since it is not his style but it might be. The structure of the Letter.
Ch 1 – 2. The supremacy of Christ and the finality of His work.
Ch 3 – 4 v 13. The Christian life.
Ch 4 v 14 – 7 v 28. The high priesthood of Christ.
Ch 8 v 1 – 10 v 18. Christ’s perfect sacrifice and the New Covenant.
Ch 10 v 19 – 12 v 29. The saints of days gone by and their example.
Ch 13. Encouragement.
It was written to second-generation believers. These were young converts in need of teaching and encouragement to go on in the Christian life. Persecution was beginning. The background is very much the Old Testament and teaches about sacrifices and priesthood. Perhaps the New Testament books and letters had not been written yet.
The theme is the supremacy of Christ and the finality of the Gospel. Because Christ has come to Earth there remains nothing in Judaism for the believer. It would be futile to return to the old life of religion. Christ is greater than the angels, Moses and the High Priest. He fulfils God’s plans. His high priesthood is special. His death is more important than human sacrifices or the Day of Atonement. It tells of His humanity, temptation, sympathy and ability to help with intercession. A theological passage is followed by one, which exhorts the readers. It is not just doctrine.
Ch 1 v 1-4. God’s final revelation is through His Son. In the past He spoke through His prophets, who had a special revelation of God’s Word. But now He has finally spoken through Christ, who is His final revelation. Christ is not just the Saviour. He is also the one who reveals God and has a unique relationship with the Father.
Christ is described in 7 ways:
1. He is the heir. Not someone who inherits the estate but someone who controls the estate. Ps 2 v 8.
2. He is God’s instrument in the creation. Ps 8 v 22 speaks of wisdom. Christ is the personification of wisdom. All things are made through Him. John ch 1 v 3.
3. He is the radiance of God’s glory – a light shining from a source. There is a unity in the Godhead but yet Christ is distinct. This probes the mystery of the Trinity.
4. He bears God’s nature. John ch 14 v 9. “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” The character of God is revealed in Jesus. They are two of a kind. He is the stamp of God’s nature.
5. He upholds the Universe by His powerful Word. He is the one who sustains all things.
6. He brings forgiveness. He made purification for sin.
7. His work is complete and He is exalted. He sat down means that He had finished His work. Kings sat down to show that they were exalted. To sit at the King’s right hand was a mark of honour.
Ch 1 v 5-14. Christ is superior to the angels. Angels have never achieved what Christ achieved. They are only servants, with no insight into the mysteries of God. God made man in His own image. Jewish people were very interested in angels. Col ch 2 v 18 speaks of angel worship. The Jews had come to believe that God could only speak to man through the angels. They said that the law had been handed down through the angels. Angel worship is forbidden. Rev ch 22 v 9. However, angels are important as servants of God protecting and ministering to believers. Gnosticism said that there were strings of intermediaries through whom God acts. Hence the comment that Christ is greater than the angels. Angels have no substance. Christ’s Kingdom will be everlasting. He is enthroned above all others. Christ is the fulfilment of the Old Testament hopes.
Ch 2 v 1-4. There is a warning not to slip away. There is always the danger of spiritual apathy or lack of zeal. Rev ch 2 v 4 and ch 3 v 15. Believers can be neither hot nor cold when they suffer spiritual apathy. People were punished when they broke the law. Now the punishment is more serious. The readers had seen the miracles and heard the Apostles. Therefore it is all the more serious, if they fall away.
Ch 2 v 5-13. All things have been made subject to Christ. Ps 8 v 4-6. In the Old Testament “the Son of Man” can be a human being. Ezekiel ch 3 v 1. Jesus would interpret the Son of Man as in Ezekiel to go direct to the people of Israel as a Word from God. But it is also used as a proper title. Dan ch 7 v 13-14. Here it is the representative man. Jesus took on human nature and became a man. He had to suffer in order to bring man salvation. He had to bear man’s human nature and all his human experience to be a real man. In the suffering He was made perfect. Isaiah ch 53 v 5. He was the perfect Old Testament sacrifice. The Devil had the power of death over mankind but by His death Jesus broke the power of the Devil over death. Docetism said that Jesus only appeared to be a human being. These verses prove that He was totally human.
Ch 2 v 17-18. The Priest makes an offering for sin and intercedes for the sins of the people. Jesus could do this only because He was human. Jesus Himself makes the offering – a propitiation for man’s sins in order to avert the wrath of God. Jesus helps a man when he is tempted because Jesus too was tempted. He knows what it is like.
Christ is greater than Moses. Moses was the greatest figure in the Old Testament. Moses was a servant in God’s house. Num ch 12 v 7. Moses had a special relationship with God. There was the hope that an ideal prophet would come – one like Moses. Deut ch 18 v 15 and 18. There was a prophetic expectation in the time of Jesus. John ch 1 v 21 and ch 6 v 14. Acts ch 3 v 22 and ch 7 v 37. But Jesus was greater than Moses. While Moses was a servant, Jesus was a Son over the house. Ch 3 v 4. “Son” is the most exalted title used. He is equal with God.
The Perseverance of the Saints.
Believers are to continue to the end. Salvation is an ongoing process. Ch 2 v 1 warned against falling away. Ch 6 v 4-8 gives greater detail of the danger of hardening of heart and unbelief. It tells of unbelief in the wilderness. Exodus ch 17 v 1-7. Num ch 14 v 20-38 and Num ch 20. The people then cried to the Lord and quarrelled amongst themselves. In Num ch 14 they refused to believe that they would enter the land. A whole generation died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Man is a wanderer with an inheritance waiting for him. There is a danger of missing out through lack of faith. The writer uses the past history to warn of the dangers now. That warning is always relevant. Apostasy is the active process of slipping away from faith. Man needs to encourage one another and be encouraged. Ch 2 v 3. It is vital to the faith of others that they be encouraged. Discouragement kills faith. There is no such thing as a solitary believer. If a person is alone for a while, God will give special grace. Faith needs to be active and positive. It does not happen by itself.
Faithlessness. This is condemned at the end of ch 3. Although saved, they did not enter into their true inheritance. They had seen miracles and deliverance but had fallen away. Seeing the miracles and knowledge about Jesus is no guarantee of salvation. Only faith secures the offer of salvation. Ch 2 v 4. God discerns false motives and unbelief. He alone knows the hearts of the people. There is a spiritual counterpart to the Promised Land and the passport to it is faith.
Ch 4 v 14 – ch 5 v 19. Christ is the High Priest of believers.
Jesus replaces the earthly priesthood. The priest went to the mercy seat and obtained grace. Jesus does that for man today.
1. Aaronic priests were chosen from among fellow men. Christ was a man.
2. Aaronic priests represent men before God. So does Christ.
3. Aaronic priests understand what it is to sin since they are human. Christ understands temptation, although He did not surrender to it.
4. Aaronic priests offered a sacrifice for themselves. Jesus offered a sacrifice for others. He was without sin.
5. Aaronic priests were appointed by God. So was Jesus.
6. Human priests are part of the priests of Aaron. Christ is after the manner of Melchizedek. Gen ch 14 v 18-20.
Jesus was of the royal line. He inherited the title of King of Jerusalem. Melchizedek was a priest and King of Salem. Jesus is a Prophet, Priest and King. He was given the title King of the Jews. Mark ch 15 v 2. The three offices were combined in one person.
Ch 5 v 11 – ch 6 v 20. Encouragement to Persevere.
There is much more to say but there is a break for a word of encouragement. The readers are not as spiritually mature as they should be. They are more like babies on milk and ought to go on to mature things. They ought to be able to teach others but they still need to be taught. They have not grown spiritually as they should have. To become a mature believer there is need for training. This comes from learning and exercise. It is an active process and is more than an intellectual experience. It is a spiritual and moral matter – a combination of behaviour and ethics. The first principles of Christ are:
1. Repentance from dead works. This is leaving behind things, which are sinful.
2. Faith towards God. This is positive. Repentance plus faith amounts to conversion.
3. Washings. Jewish purification is to be ritually clean – to be clean means training in God’s ways.
4. The laying on of hands. This is associated with the gifts of the Spirit.
5. The Resurrection of the dead.
This amounts to a basic Christian creed. But believers must not stop at the elementary things of the new life. There is so much more. It is dangerous, if people do not press on. Can a believer commit apostasy and be eternally lost? That is how the passage in ch 6 v 4-12 reads. There are five categories:
(a) Enlightened People. These are people who have heard the Gospel and seen the light of the World.
(b) Tasted heavenly things. Those who have experienced spiritual blessings and gifts.
(c) Partakers of the Holy Spirit. They may have exercised spiritual gifts, such as tongues or healing.
(d) Tasted God’s Word. They have heard the Gospel and believed the Word in a personal way.
(e) Experienced Miracles. They had seen the powers of the age.
If someone has gone this far and falls away, can he be eternally lost? It would seem to defeat the Word of God in John ch 10 v 28f. They shall never perish and no one can snatch them away. Eph ch 1 v 4. What is done cannot be undone. On the other hand a man has free choice and at any time can decide to follow Jesus no further along the road. There is no guarantee of salvation in being baptised, by taking the Lord’s Supper or from experiencing signs and wonders. It is possible to manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit but not be a believer. Acts ch 19 v 13ff. It looked like the Holy Spirit but was a fake. It is possible to taste the Word of God ch 4 v 2 but not receive salvation. It is easy to listen but hard to do the Word of God. It may be that the one who falls away does not lose his salvation but loses his inheritance – his role in Heaven. On the other hand the falling away may result from false teaching that all that is necessary is to be saved and not to go on being saved. It may be that the passage is not describing believers. The people in verses 4 and 5 were never Christians in the first place. Fruit is missing. Land, which takes in all the blessings but gives no fruit, is worthless. Mat ch 7 v 16-20. “You will know them by their fruits.” Jas ch 2 v 17. Faith without works is dead. There is a danger in always urging others to start the Christian life and waiting for them to do so, while holding back the committed believers.
The existing believers become discouraged. A leader must know how to lead all believers of different stages of growth. The essential phrase is that it is impossible to raise them again to repentance. When a genuine believer falls away so far there comes a time when he simply cannot get back into relationship with God. Nothing is impossible for God, but, if sin was so serious that Jesus died to deal with its consequences, how much more serious is it for a believer, who, knowing that, rejects the blood of Jesus and wilfully disobeys the word of God? There is no way back into relationship. This passage serves as a gentle warning to all believers.
Ch 6 v 13-20. Abraham is given as an example of a man of faith. God gave him an oath. He does not go back on His Word. Gen ch 22 v 16f. Abraham had to wait for the promises to be fulfilled. Assurance follows true faith and means that the believer has no reason to doubt his salvation.
Ch 7. Christ’s Priesthood is superior. The theme of ch 5 v 1-10 is taken up. In 7 ways it is greater:
1. The name “Melchizedek” means King of Righteousness.
2. King of Salem means king of peace.
3. Christ was not a priest like Aaron in that He was not descended from a priest. He was appointed by
4. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth. Num ch 18 v 20f. Tithes were given by a less important person to a more important person. Melchizedek was more important than Abraham.
5. Jesus was not descended from Levi but from Judah.
6. The new priesthood is eternal. In the past the job was for life. But Jesus is the eternal Word and His
priesthood was established by God’s oath. Accordingly the old laws about priests are finished.
7. Jesus’ sacrifice was once and for all. There is no need to repeat it. His work is finished.
Ch 8 v 1-6. Christ as Mediator.
Jesus still fulfils the office of mediator. The Temple and the Tabernacle were foreshadowing the real work of Jesus in this respect. The earthly Jerusalem is a shadow of the real home. Jesus is in Heaven now as the minister to believers. Jesus is a middleman as a go-between, between the people and God. He represents man to God. 1 Tim ch 2 v 5. Christ alone is worthy to represent man to God. Rom ch 8 v 34. His work continues as He pleads man’s case and intercedes for the saints before the court of God where Satan acts as the accuser and prosecutor.
Ch 8 v 7-13. The Covenant.
A Covenant is an agreement between a greater and a lesser party. There are blessings for obedience and fulfilment of certain obligations. One of the main themes of the Old and New Testaments is that of Covenant. Perhaps it is the most important theme in the Bible. The story of the Old Testament is the story of God’s love and Israel’s failure. God promised that He would make a new covenant with the house of Israel. Jer ch 31 v 31-4. This is referred to in Heb ch 8 v 8-12. The new one is better, since the first one has failed. Covenants always had visible signs, e.g. flaming torch, sacrifice and blood. The Messiah was to be a descendant of David. 2 Sam ch 7 v 12-16. Ps 2 v 26-36. Ps 132 v 10-18.
Ch 9 v 11- ch 10 v 18. The New Covenant.
(a) Bloodshed was necessary for the forgiveness of sins ch 9 v 22. Lev ch 17 v 11. Blood is a symbol for life. A will is no use until a person dies.
(b) The priest had to make regular sacrifices every day and an annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. The regular sacrifices did not cleanse the heart but dealt with external matters. They simply reminded the people of their sins and it makes matters worse.
(c) The sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed the reality of salvation in Christ.
(d) Christ’s sacrifice brings forgiveness. ch 9 v 11,12 and 14. Man’s conscience is cleared by Christ’s
sacrifice and it was even effective such as Abraham who lived under the Old Covenant. It works
retrospectively. Ps 40 v 6-8.
Characteristics of the New Covenant.
(a) Different. Not like the old one.
(b) Written on the hearts of men – not on stone. The old one was external while the new one is internal.
(c) The old one was a list of laws. The new one is a transformation of the inner person.
(d) The New Covenant comes by the Holy Spirit and is a delight to fulfil.
(e) The New Covenant is universal. The Old was primarily with Israel. The New is also with the house of Israel. All believers in Jesus are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel.
(f) The New Covenant involves the forgiveness of sins. Luke ch 2 v 20.
(g) The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant and no sacrifice is now required.
Ch 9 describes the main elements of the Old Testament worship.
The Ark of the Covenant held the tablets from Sinai as well as a jar of manna and Aaron’s rod. Num ch 17 v 10. The mercy seat was a cover for the ark. This was symbolic of a covering of sins. On the Day of Atonement – the 10th day of the 7th month – only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. They were all lost when Jerusalem fell in 587 B. C. Maybe they are still hidden in a room below the Temple Mount. Muslims are very determined to prevent the Jewish people investigating below the Temple Mount.
1. So long as earthly sacrifices are made there is no access to God for forgiveness.
2. Earthly sacrifices are incomplete. Conscience is not affected.
3. Only Jesus brings access and perfect sacrifice. He causes a change within a man. Luke ch 23 v 45. The veil was torn in two, giving man access into the very presence of God.
4. Christ brings a new order. The shadow of the Old Testament is fulfilled. Mat ch 5 v 17.
Ch 10 v 19-39. An Exhortation to Continue in the Faith.
After the theology there is now a section with practical advice in order to combat apostasy. A man is to fix his eyes on Christ and be faithful. No one pretends that the Christian life is easy. It calls for courage.
Ch 11. Faith is defined. A man is to imitate those who have gone before. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for – being convinced of the things, which a man cannot see. This is not “hope” as the word is used in daily speech. Christian hope is certainty – not believing the impossible. The Old Testament people lived by faith – without Christ, but trusting the promises of God. Noah believed God and built an ark. They were given only a shadow of the reality of what was to come. The promises were fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the author and the one who perfects a man’s faith. Discipline is necessary so that a child can learn obedience. This is true also in the spiritual realm. Believers should expect to be disciplined as children.
There are ten pieces of practical advice given in chapter 13.
1. Love the brothers. Live in unity and harmony in the Church.
2. Be kind to strangers. Exodus ch 22 v 21. “You were strangers once.” Abraham entertained angels unaware. Gen ch 19 v 1.
3. Consider those afflicted or in prison.
4. There should be purity of marriage. No fornication or sexual relations outside of marriage.
5. Do not be greedy for money. God will provide a man’s needs.
6. Avoid false teaching. v 9.
7. Praise God continually. v 15.
8. Do good works. v 16.
9. Obey the spiritual leaders. v 16.
10. Pray for others. v 18.
The theme of the letter is to put Christ on the same level as God yet distinct from God. He is exalted and called “Lord”. There are regular quotations from the Old Testament. A testimonium is simply a string of testimonies or references testifying to the Messiah. In synagogue worship the Rabbi read a text and gave a commentary – like a sermon. The readers of the Letter seem to have been looking back at Judaism and needed a forceful reminder that what they have in Christ is far better. It explains Christ’s relationship to all that has gone before in the history of Israel. Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of the whole of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the seedbed of the New. It is more of a logical argument than a letter. The Kingdom, which man has been given to enjoy, will stand fully disclosed only when this temporal order has passed away in judgement. Christ fulfils all Israel’s destiny. Different people see Jesus in different ways. Some think that He is not truly human. Others think that He was possessed by the Holy Spirit for only 3 years. Hebrews sets the record straight.
Gentiles had joined the Church. They needed teaching as to what the Church is, its purpose, its function, its vision. Believers need to be reminded of these facts from time to time or else they will be deceived by doctrines of demons. God has a vast plan for all creation. It is the picture on the jigsaw box. It helps a man put the pieces in place. God’s purpose is to restore a fallen Universe. It needs to be read as a whole.
1. The origin of the Church. Ch 1 v 1 -14. In the mind and counsel of God, who knows the end from the beginning. v 4. The Trinity discussed and planned it. How would a believer explain to a non-believer what the Church really is? How important is the Old Testament? When Paul and Jesus referred to the Scriptures it was the Old Testament to which they were referring. The New Testament had not yet been written. “Abraham saw my day and rejoiced.” John ch 8 v 56. God is creating a bride for Jesus. v 10. The Spirit is the guarantee.
2. The creation of the Church. A believer should regularly think how he once thought and behaved. He was saved through grace alone. God did this for a purpose and has broken down all barriers between believer and believer. Denominations are a disgrace.
3. The function of the Church. Ch 3 v 5, v 10 – 11, v 17 – 21. God’s purpose is to demonstrate His kindness to the principalities and powers in the Universe. v 10. Mankind is but a tiny part of God’s vast plan for the Universe. Enjoy playing the minor role. As believers all play their part, let God work it all out for good for those who love the Lord. 1 Pet ch 1 v 12. Man needs a bigger vision of God. Ch 1 v 21. v 18 – 19. The vastness of God’s love for mankind. Those outside have no knowledge of God’s plan. Sadly, many within the Church have little idea either. The Jews are to come back into the plan in the last days.
4. The Unity of the Church. Ch 4 v 1 – 16. What is the difference between unity and uniformity. Unity means unity of purpose with variety of expression of worship and love. There is unity in the person of the Holt Spirit. Preserve it. Why does God give gifts? v 12.
5. The distinctiveness of the Church. ch 4 v 17 – ch 5 v 20. There is nothing particularly special about behaving morally. Other religions and even atheists have a moral standard. Believers are no different or are they? What is the difference? The power of the Holy Spirit to carry through the desire – obedience is the key to releasing the power. Part of the fruit of the Spirit is the ability to say “No” to the old nature. The World does not have that power.
6. The submissiveness of the Church. Ch 5 v 21 – ch 6 v 9. It sounds ideal. What are the reasons why the Church is not functioning as it should? 1. Ignorance of the Word of God. 2. Refusal to obey the Word of God. 3. False ideas, like feminism. 4. Pressures by the World to follow the ways of the World. 5. Lack of discipline on the part of parents.
7. What is the principal purpose of the Church? Warfare. ch 6 v 10 – 20. A whole subject in itself but the conclusion of the purpose of the Church.
The origin of the Church. Planned before the creation of the Universe.
The Creation of the Church. Not just restored but adopted into the family of God – brothers.
The function of the Church. Ch 3 v 10. To show the manifold wisdom of God to principalities and powers.
The unity of the Church ch 4 v 1 – 16. It is a new thing in the order of things on Earth.
The nature of the Church. Holiness. A different approach to life. Separate from the World.
The submissiveness of the Church. It only works if there is good godly leadership and obedience to that leadership. When everyone does his own thing it all breaks down.
The warfare of the Church. This is what it is all about. Why did Jesus come to Earth? To destroy the works of the Devil and set people free from spiritual bondage. Did Jesus finish the work and destroy the Devil and his demons? Believers are born again for the express purpose of waging war on Satan. Paul knew what he was talking about. God wants His World back under His control. Luke ch 10 v 19. Jesus was saying the same thing. Heal the sick and cast out demons. They are here now in a big number and their influence is growing through alcohol, drugs and television.
Man comes in three parts. Only the spiritual man is interested in the spiritual dimension. Everything in the physical World is a manifestation of what is happening in the spiritual unseen World. Faith is believing the unseen things. There is a need to hold together the physical, moral and spiritual dimensions to life. It is easy to emphasise one or two at the expense of the others. Believers are adept at building up the moral life to the exclusion of the spiritual life, because it is easier and it avoids the necessity of being involved in the real World and the battle between good and evil. Healing has been handed over to humanist doctors in the main. Demons have been left to psychologists. They give out tablets and drugs and lock their patients up. Care of the abused and emotionally broken has been handed over to the social workers. That renders the Church redundant. The prince of the power of the air can do what he likes when the opposition has closed down. God promised that Jesus would crush his head. But Jesus is the head and believers are the body. How can Jesus crush the Devil without the feet to tread on Satan? John ch 3 v 12. If believers cannot run a Church on Biblical lines, how can they ever defeat Satan?
There is so much in the Old Testament about warfare to teach believers about spiritual warfare. The battle may be physical in the first instance but behind the physical soldiers there are principalities and powers. e.g. the battle for control of the Middle East.
A man needs to know the enemy and his wiles and tactics. Satan has certain tricks to deceive a believer. His objectives are to rob, kill and destroy and he brings poverty, suicide and disease. He will even invade the person of a believer. He deceives believers into thinking that they are untouchables. Then he can move in at will. What makes a believer so special that he thinks he is immune from enemy activity? Israel was not immune. That way Satan not only destroys the believer but he nullifies the witness of the Church. Who will join an army, which is on the run?
Why does God allow Satan and his demons to have a sphere of influence in the World? Is it not to make believers strong and like Jesus? God allowed Satan to tempt Jesus to make sure that He could cope with the task of bringing salvation to the Earth. Believers need to know the requirements for fighting. Paul uses a Roman soldier to teach them. A soldier who is ill-equipped and untrained, with no knowledge of his enemy will soon die on the battlefield.
The Letter to the Ephesians.
There are 4 things to know before reading a letter.
1. Who wrote it? 2. To whom was it written? 3. What was the situation of those to whom it was written? 4. What was the writer seeking to achieve? The theme is The Church.
It was written by Paul to the Christian Church at Ephesus. Perhaps it was written to all the Churches in the area of Ephesus. It is not as personal as the other letters – more a treatise about the Church. The Gentile Christians seemed to dominate and needed a clear vision of the purpose of the Church? What were they members of – this body? What was their purpose? Paul spoke of God’s great purpose to bring Jews and Gentiles together in Christ. The Old Testament had spoken of God’s love for the Gentiles – Jonah and Nahum. All believers are equal and should be one in Christ. It was written in Rome in A. D. 59-61 while Paul was in prison. Paul had founded the Church in A. D. 54 and later spent 3 years there. Acts ch 19 v 8-10.
The theme is the meaning of the Church – the body of Christ. Chapter 3 v 9-10. God has a great plan and programme of the ages, which He is systematically working out in the history of men and nations and in the history of the whole cosmos. God’s secret plan in revealed in ch 1 v 9-10. Everything should be placed under the head-ship of Christ. Man sees chaos in the World. Sin reigns amongst mankind, separating man from man and man from his natural surroundings. The Universe is out of tune with the original purpose of creation. God’s purpose is to take the chaotic Universe and unite it under the head-ship of Christ. He will sum up – to bring under one head. In ancient arithmetic the sums were added up. The sum total was put at the top. That is why it was called the sum. Jesus is to be at the top of all. He alone will have pre-eminence. God’s purpose is to restore a fallen Universe. Ch 1 v 22. God has begun the process. Jesus is the head over all things, physical and spiritual. The World exists for the glory of the Church. The letter was not written to be read in little portions but as a whole.
Chapter 1 v 3-14. The origin of the Church.
Chapter 2. The creation of the Church.
Chapter 3. The function of the Church.
Chapter 4 v 1-16. The unity of the Church.
Chapter 4 v 17 – ch 5 v 20. The nature of the Church.
Chapter 5 v 21 – ch 6 v 9. The submissiveness of the Church.
Chapter 6 v 10 to end. The warfare of the Church.
CHAPTER 1. The ORIGIN of the Church. Paul unfolds God’s great plan of salvation for the World. Christ stood at the very heart of God’s plan for mankind. In Christ man shares in the new life and joins the family of God. God reveals a part of the mystery to mankind. The power that God exercised in raising Christ from the dead and setting Him in supreme control of the Universe is at work in believers too! Christ is the head – they are members of the body. When God looked down and saw the ruined state of fallen mankind, what could He do about to? Punish the lot? He could forgive them – but they would just do it again. He resolved to send His Son to Earth and pay the price for their sin. That way, some might believe. It was a risk He was prepared to take. When was the plan formed? In the Garden of Eden? Genesis Ch 3 v 15. In the fullness of time, it will be perfectly revealed. So far man sees by faith part of the plan. Trust God to reveal the rest of it. God is building the full number of those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of Heaven. A legatee claims his inheritance after the Will is disclosed.
The origin of the Church was not at Pentecost, nor at the time of Abraham. It was in the mind and council of God. It originated in Heaven as the Trinity discussed and planned it. God’s electing grace. Jesus came to die from the earliest time. The origin is in the eternal purpose of God. The foundation is in the three persons of the Godhead. All three persons were involved. The grace of the Father, the death of the Son and the sealing of the Holy Spirit were all involved to bring one single saint into the presence of God. All the energies of the Trinity were involved. The purpose was that God might have praise and worship and honour. It is God’s creation and for Him. Catch a glimpse of what God has done in Christ. Jesus rules for the benefit of the Church. The World exists so that Jesus might have a bride.
CHAPTER 2. The CREATION of the Church. There are two main obstacles.
1. Humans are living in trespass and in bondage to sin, following the Prince of the power of the air – a prisoner of his own sin. This applies to all men. Man was born in sin. By nature all men are rebels against God – passions of their flesh, following the desires of the mind. “I think…” This is following the thoughts of the mind. It is not wicked but is not of God. God has done something about it. He has set man free to share in the nature of God Himself. Believers are God’s workmanship to do good works. It all went wrong but God has made a new creation. 2 Cor ch 5. He is a new creation. Eph ch 2 v 6. Believers sit with Christ in the Heavenly places. It was not just a question of restoring man to what he was before the fall. Believers are now brothers of Christ. Adam was not a brother of Christ. That is why believers have power over the demonic spirits. The angels marvel at the sheer grace of God. “You did that!” The Gentiles were utterly lost and without hope. God saved them. He gave them faith to believe. Man may think that he exercised faith by himself. If God had not given it to man, he could have done nothing. That is why man owes everything to God.
2. Man’s natural alienation from God. A man is alienated from God (v 11-21) and from his fellow man. Jew and Gentile – a chasm. There was contempt by the Jews for the Gentiles. By His death Jesus annulled the whole system of Jewish ritual laws. Black and white, rich and poor, slave and free. Reconciled to both God and each other – no longer enemies. “I love you both!” Now they are one family. All conceivable barriers have been broken down in Christ. There are no more barriers. Believers are equal in the sight of God. Not all have the same function but all are loved equally and have access to the Father. Paul ends by using another illustration – a building, built on solid foundations. Therefore any hostility of one believer to another or one group to another is a disgrace.
CHAPTER 3. The FUNCTION of the Church.
Paul builds up a picture. The Gentiles are to join in the Church. They had been alienated from God but are now to be brought in to the purposes of God. The mercy of God was extended to them. It was because of this mystery that Paul was in prison. The mystery had been hidden by God since the earliest time. But now it was revealed to Paul. His was the privilege. The prophet has never been universally accepted. A further part of the mystery can now be revealed. v 10. It has to be divine inspiration. The purpose of God is to make known to the angelic hosts in glory the multi-coloured wisdom of His purpose. The angels in Heaven can see the wisdom of God – probably the good angels only but maybe the evil angels also. The Church is a sign of God’s wisdom. Angels longed to look. Some things are beyond the experience of angels. No angel can experience salvation. They have not fallen and therefore do not need to be saved. Jesus is the Lord of the angels but not the Saviour of the angels. They can only look into that experience. A prison visitor can tell of prison but cannot experience the feeling of being locked in. At Bethlehem the angels burst out of Heaven to welcome Jesus’ coming to Earth. They came down to play a part but they did not experience salvation. An angel rolled the stone away. Jesus could have called thousands of angels to take Him off the cross. One angel could have lifted Jesus and the cross right out of the ground. Were the angels asking: “What is the mystery of Jesus dying? Why does He not call on us? Why is He prepared to die? Where is the wisdom of God in all this?” They see it in the Church. There they see the wisdom of God. v 21. It is all designed to give glory to God through the Church by showing the kindness and mercy of God. A man needs a bigger vision of God. His purposes are not limited to planet Earth. 1 Pet ch 1 v 12. There are things into which the angels longed to look. 1 Cor ch 2 v 7. There is a secret hidden wisdom. Eph ch 1 v 21. All rule and authority and power and dominion was given to Jesus.
The Church was initially entirely Jewish for the first fifteen years. Now the Gentiles were to come in. God revealed that to Paul. God was developing His plan for the ages. That let all Gentiles in. Paul was imprisoned as a result of complaints of the Jews that he was a heretic. They thought that God’s plan was for Jews alone. They resisted the Holy Spirit’s revelation to Paul. God’s salvation is available to the vilest offender. Paul had abandoned the religious Jews and they took their revenge. It was probably the work of the enemy to thwart the purposes of God. Paul was uniquely prepared for the task – intelligent, learned, truly converted, able to reason with Kings and Emperors. Not only did God restore the broken relationship with His own people but He mended the broken relationship between His people and those opposed to His people. Bitter hostility for centuries was repaired. Marvel at the love of God as in verses 18-19. The power of God is limitless. Now all men can enter the holy of holies. The plan of God staggered Paul. v 17. “May your roots go down into the soil of God’s marvellous love.” A man needs to study the grace of God from Genesis to Revelation. God’s love is so deep. Those outside of the Church have no awareness of the importance of the Church. God’s purpose was to work through the Church – the body of believers as a body. It was as much a mystery to the Jews then that the Gentiles were to come in, as it is a mystery today to the Gentiles that the Jews are to be grafted back in and that God has not finished with the Jews.
CHAPTER 4 v 1-16. The UNITY of the Church.
Unity is something, which is not to be created but preserved. There is unity. There is one body – one Spirit – one hope – one God – one faith – one baptism. The Church is one. There is diversity in the unity. There are different gifts. Believers are not all the same. They have different functions in order to be useable in God’s service. They should together be one body and grow up to be one body as mature adults. The Word of God is used to build up the body. Since believers know that they are saved through no merit of their own, they must be tolerant and patient with their brothers and sisters. God has not finished with them either. No one can claim to be superior to another. It is all by grace. Gifts are given to build up the body and are not for power or show. Jesus gave gifts to men, while Satan came to steal all they have. Consider the gifts. There are apostles, teachers, prophets and pastors. These are not to lord it over others as the World does but to build up all the believers so that all may have the full knowledge of Christ. As a body grows to maturity, so the body of Christ will grow to maturity and no longer will the members be deceived by false teaching and be blown of course.
CHAPTER 4 v 17 – chapter 5 v 20. The DISTINCTIVENESS of the Church.
The moral standards of the Church. Believers show the glory of God in moral holy lives. The new life is contrasted with the old life. Let the wisdom of God fill believers. Believers are to be different, because they are different. They should live as children of God, because they are now children of God. Grow up! If they are not different, they are not believers. They are a new creation.
There should be an obvious difference from non-believers. They should have a concern for the truth and should be opposed to sin. Like a snake shedding its skin, believers should throw off the old nature. The old nature rises up but believers should not allow it to pull them down. Attitudes and thoughts should be changing. “I used to think like that. Now I think this way. Once I had no mercy or tolerance. Now I do.” Do not give the enemy a foothold. If a man has nothing good to say, he should say nothing. He should be careful in what he says lest he upsets others. Be sensitive. Think!
How is it going to work, this group of people who follow Jesus? It is all very well being different, but how will it work? Any group must have an order and a chain of command. Any army has to have a structure or else it all breaks down. The Church is the same. There have to be leaders with power to lead. The leaders must lead and the rest must obey. If a wife and children will not submit themselves to their husbands and fathers, what hope is there for the Church? Believers are to submit themselves one to the other. Christ is the commander in chief. He is the head of the body. God wants it to function effectively. Obedience is essential.
CHAPTER 5 v 21 – ch 6 v 9. The SUBMISSIVENESS of the Church.
A general, a particular and a corporate.
1. General. Submit to one another. Consider one another more important than oneself.
2. Particular. Wives to husbands as to the Lord. Children to parents in the Lord. Slaves to masters as unto Christ.
3. Corporate. Submit to Christ as to the head of the Church.
It is another part of the mystery. It works. Otherwise it does not work. That is a mystery, as to why it does not work. The alternative is the World – man organised in community without reference to God. It does not work very well. The Church, under the leadership of Christ ought to do better. Sadly, when the Church loses its way, it does worse. Most believers are not very able or skilled. Many are poor souls. Without the discipline of the Holy Spirit, there is very little to commend a group of believers. They need the power of the Holy Spirit to speak with conviction. Then things happen. So it is not just a question of wives obeying husbands but of every believer grasping the serious and eternal purpose of God and longing to do everything to make that purpose work out to the glory of God. What a privilege to be chosen for this purpose!
CHAPTER 6 v 10-20. The WARFARE of the Church.
Once the Church grasps the teaching so far and is an organised and disciplined group, what is it to do? What are believers here for? Warfare. Believers do not like that too much. Paul, looking for an illustration as to how to convey the idea of spiritual warfare and how it might be relevant to the readers, looked at a Roman guard at the prison door. Here was the best illustration of physical warfare. Paul leaves his readers with a clear message. They are born again for the purpose of waging war on the enemy of mankind.
A helmet. Salvation protects the mind against doubt.
A breastplate. Righteousness means being beyond criticism.
A pair of sandals. The ability to move quickly with good news.
A girdle. Truth is the real defence against lies and deceit and holds the whole person together.
A shield. Faith fends off the fiery darts of temptation.
Attack and protection.
A sword. The Roman soldier had two swords. One was a short sword used as a dagger. The other was a broad sword, which he used to sweep from side to side cutting down his enemies. Attacking the enemy needs a positive instrument. The Bible is the Word of God to defeat the enemy. It cuts through all false teachings and false religions. Jesus used the Word of God in the wilderness to turn aside Satan’s temptations.