Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The New Life

Part 24 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (4:25-32).


The Christian's Lifestyle 

In this passage, Paul gives his readers five exhortations. Each of these exhortations has three parts: (1) a negative command (what they should not do), (2) a negative command (what they should do), and (3) a reason for obedience.

The Christian life includes both rejecting what is sinful and doing what is right. 

“Each of these exhortations has to do with personal relationships within the body of Christ (v. 25). In particular, they are intended to foster unity within the people of God, that unity of the Spirit which the readers have been urged zealously and energetically to maintain (v. 3)…” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 334).

(1.) “Having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (v. 25a). Why? “For we are members of one another” (v. 25b).

(2.) “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (v. 26). Why? So that you “give no opportunity to the devil” (v. 27).

(3.) “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands” (v. 28a). Why? “So that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (v. 28b).

“The believer, then, is to sense real need and then share the fruit of diligent labor. In this instance as in other NT passages (Acts 2:45; 4:35; Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4), those who benefit by such sharing are fellow believers. This is in agreement with verse 25 where the neighbors are considered fellow believers because they are members of one another. It does not mean that Christians are never to help the needy who may not be believers but their primary responsibility is to those who are of the household of faith. This will demonstrate a love for one another and the world will know that they are his disciples (John 13:35)” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 627).

(4.) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion” (v. 29a). Why? “That it may give grace to those who hear” (v. 29b).

Before you say something, ask yourself, “Will my words build others up or tear others down?”

(5.) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (vv. 31-32a). Why? Because “God in Christ forgave you” (v. 32b).

We must get rid of what destroys relationships (lying, stealing, corrupting talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander). We must practice what strengthens relationships (honesty, reconciliation, sharing, encouraging speech, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness).


The Best Motivation 

Our sin causes the Holy Spirit to “grieve” (v. 30; cf. Isa. 63:9-10). (Some people believe the Holy Spirit is merely a force. But if he can be grieved, he must be a person.) In 4:25-32, the Holy Spirit’s grieving is connected with “corrupting talk” (v. 29). “The Spirit is grieved when God’s people continue in any of the sins that divide and destroy the unity of the body” (O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, p. 346).

Every believer is “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22). To seal something means to secure it (e.g., the tomb of Jesus, Matt. 27:66). Believers are secured until “the day of redemption” (cf. 1:14), which is the day of Christ’s return. Elsewhere Paul refers to it as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 1 Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14) or “the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16).

Our redemption has two phases: (1) deliverance from the punishment for sin through the death of Christ and (2) deliverance from the presence of sin at the return of Christ. The sealing of the Holy Spirit is our guarantee that we will experience this final phase of our salvation. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Do you want to grieve the Father who sent his Son to redeem you? Do you want to grieve Christ who willingly died for your sins? Do you want to grieve the Spirit who has sealed you until the day of redemption?

The best motivation for obedience is the desire to avoid what grieves God and to do what pleases him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Avoidance of sin

Part 4 of the Bible study series Teach Us to Pray



"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" (Matt. 6:13). 


Introduction 

After a petition for the forgiveness of past sin (v. 12) comes one for protection from future sin. We need to remember that there are spiritual forces of darkness in this world. Every morning we should ask for God’s protection throughout the day.


Discussion

The Greek word translated “temptation” (peirasmos) can mean either “temptation” or “testing.” “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin’” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1832). How can difficult circumstances both test and tempt us? 

Read 1 Peter 1:6; 4:12. Why are trials that test us sometimes necessary?


Explanation 

Read Matt. 4:1. In the wilderness, Jesus was both tested by God and tempted by the devil. The Greek phrase translated “evil” can mean either “evil” or “the evil one” (i.e., Satan).

Read James 1:13-14. “God ‘tests’ his people (e.g., Abraham, Gen. 22; Israel, Ex. 16:4; Hezekiah, 1 Chron. 32:31) so that their character is strengthened, but he never tempts (i.e., lures people into sin). Since ‘God cannot be tempted with evil,’ and he is unreservedly good, he would never entice human beings to sin or seek to harm their faith” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2392).

Read James 1:2-4. If trials are good for us, why should we pray, “Lead us not into [temptation/trials]”? “We know that trials are a means for our growing spiritually, morally, and emotionally. Yet we have no desire to be in a place where even the possibility of sin is increased. Even Jesus, when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, first asked, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,” before he said, “yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt’ (Matt. 26:39). He was horrified at the prospect of taking sin upon Himself, yet He was willing to endure it in order to fulfill the will of His Father to make possible the redemption of man. Our proper reaction to times of temptation is similar to Christ’s, but for us it is primarily a matter of self-distrust. When we honestly look at the power of sin and at our own weakness and sinful propensities, we shudder at the danger of temptation or even trial. This petition is another plea for God to provide what we in ourselves do not have. It is an appeal to God to place a watch over our eyes, our ears, our mouth, our feet, and our hands—that in whatever we see, hear, or say, and in any place we go and in anything we do, He will protect us from sin” (John MacArthur, Matthew 1-7, pp. 395-96).

In the KJV, verse 13 ends with a doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” This doxology “is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is the reason why these words are omitted from most modern translations. However, there is nothing theologically incorrect about the words, nor is it inappropriate to include these words in public prayers” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1832).


Application

Read Eph. 6:10-20. Prayer is essential in our battle against evil. In what ways can we specifically pray that we would have victory over the evil one?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The New You

Part 23 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (4:17-24).


Transformation 

In Ephesians 4:17-24, Paul says that for the Christian, there was an “old self,” and there is now a “new self.”

In 4:1 Paul said, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Now in verse 17 he writes, “You must no longer walk as Gentiles do.” Our “walk” is our lifestyle. Paul is saying that the Ephesians should no longer live as they used to live.

Conversion should result in lifestyle transformation. 

Christians have “put off [the] old self” (v. 22) and “put on the new self” (v. 24). The “old self” is who I was before my conversion. The “new self” is who I am after my conversion. My “new self” has a different “walk.”


The Old Self 

The old self was “alienated from the life of God” (v. 18). The root cause of separation from God is “hardness of heart” (v. 18).

There isn’t a contradiction between verse 19 (“they have given themselves up”) and Romans 1:24 (“God gave them up”). “There are two stages: (1) people exercise their perversion of free will and give themselves over to sin, and (2) God’s response is then to give them over to the sin which will continue to enslave them” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p. 590).

The lifestyle of the old self is a lifestyle of futility, not freedom. 

People who reject God “walk…in the futility of their minds” (v. 17). Paul says, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (v. 19).


The New Self 

The new self has been “created after the likeness of God” (v. 24). Humanity was originally created after the likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). That likeness was distorted by the fall. But now “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49). 

The lifestyle of the new self is a lifestyle of reflecting God’s character. 

Paul mentions two of God’s attributes that we are to reflect: his “righteousness and holiness” (v. 24). Why is it so important that we live out this new lifestyle? Here are three reasons: (1) reflecting God’s character brings glory to God; (2) reflecting God’s character is befitting of our calling (cf. 4:1); and (3) reflecting God’s character is beneficial to ourselves and others (cf. 4:18-32).


Living Like the New Self

It’s easy to fall back into bad habits regarding eating and exercising. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Every Christian has the desire to live lives of righteousness and holiness. We have not become “callous.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not easy to fall back into the sinful habits of the old self.

When trying to lose weight, it helps to think of the outcome of your decisions. I hardly ever want to do an exercise workout, but I never regret doing it once I’m done. And most times I feel like eating a bag of potato chips, but I’m never happy about doing it once the chips are in my stomach.

As Christians, we need to constantly “be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds.” It helps to remind ourselves of the outcome of a lifestyle of righteousness and holiness: this lifestyle glory to God, it befits our calling, and it is beneficial to ourselves and others.

We always regret living like the old self. We never regret living like the new self. May you and I live lives that reflect God’s character.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Daily Needs and Forgiveness

Part 3 of the Bible Study Series Teach Us to Pray



"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:11-12).


Introduction 

The Lord’s Prayer contains six petitions: (1) God’s name, (2) God’s kingdom, (3) God’s will, (4) daily needs, (5) forgiveness of sin, and (6) avoidance of sin. The first three concern God’s glory (“your… your…your”); the last three concern our good (“us…us…us”).


Discussion  

Jesus gave some amazing promises about prayer. Read John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24. Six times Jesus says, “Ask me anything, and I will do it.” How do we often respond to these seemingly too good to be true promises? 

Paul Miller writes, “Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart” (A Praying Life). How is this true?


Explanation

The fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.” “The prayer is for our needs, not our greeds. It is for one day at a time (‘today’), reflecting the precarious lifestyle of many first-century workers who were paid one day at a time and for whom a few days’ illness could spell tragedy…. The idea of God ‘giving’ the food in no way diminishes responsibility to work but pre-supposes not only that Jesus’ disciples live one day at a time (cf. v. 34) but that all good things, even our ability to work and earn food, come from God’s hand (cf. Deut. 8:18; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). It is a lesson easily forgotten when wealth multiplies and absolute self-sufficiency is portrayed as a virtue” (D. A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 171-72).

Read James 4:2-3. Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life, likens “Good Asking” to a path with a cliff of both sides. On the left side is the Not Asking cliff. On the right side is the Asking Selfishly cliff. “James describes two dangers in asking. The first danger is Not Asking. James writes, ‘You do not have, because you do not ask.’ The second danger is Asking Selfishly: ‘You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions’ (4:2-3). We can fall off either cliff. Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane demonstrates perfect balance. He avoids the Not Asking cliff, saying, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me’ (Mark 14:36). Those who err on the Not Asking side surrender to God before they are real with him. Sometimes we try so hard to be good that we aren’t real.... In the next breath, Jesus avoids the Asking Selfishly cliff by surrendering completely: ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will’ (14:36). Jesus is real about his feelings, but they don’t control him, nor does he try to control God with them. He doesn’t use his ability to communicate with his Father as a means of doing his own will. He submits to the story that his Father is weaving in his life.”

The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer is “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This “does not mean that believers need to ask daily for justification, since believers are justified forever from the moment of initial saving faith (Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1; 10:10). Rather, this is a prayer for the restoration of personal fellowship with God when fellowship has been hindered by sin” (ESV Study Bible, 1832).

Read Matt. 6:14-15. “Just as the phrase ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ (6:10) related to all three of the previous petitions, so also here the words of 6:14-15 on the necessity of an attitude of forgiveness relate not just to 6:12 but also to all three requests for human needs. Disciples are hereby warned not to ask for their needs to be met in a spirit that is unwilling to meet the needs of others. Rather, disciples will realize that their experience of God’s forgiveness enables them to forgive others (cf. 5:23-24, 38-48; 18:21-25)” (David Turner, Matthew, 189).


Application

“My experience is that most people do not put God to the test. They don’t ask him for what they want. I say this cautiously because many Christians have experienced unanswered prayers that are still unprocessed. Nevertheless, most people consistently fall off the left side of the Not Asking/Asking Selfishly chart. They don’t ask” (A Praying Life). Why don’t we ask? 

Read Luke 11:5-13; 18:1-8. All of Jesus’ teaching on prayer can be summarized with one word: ask. Why should we ask?

Monday, October 15, 2012

What the Cross Says About God's Sovereignty

Part 2 of The Cross: What It Says About God

You can listen to this sermon here.



“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty words and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:22-24).


 The Sovereignty of God 

The sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without his direction or permission. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

God uses all things to fulfill his purposes and even uses evil for his glory and our good. 

“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is the power to make great and to give strength to all” (1 Chron. 29:11-12).


Who Was Responsible for Christ's Death?

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (v. 23).

1. On the human level, Judas gave Jesus up to the priests, who gave him up to Pilate, who gave him up to the soldiers, who crucified him. 

“The one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him” (Matt. 26:14-16).

“So when [the priests] had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that it was out of envy that [the priests] had delivered him up” (Matt. 27:18).

“Then [Pilate] released for [the people] Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” (Matt. 27:26).

2. On the divine level, the Father gave Jesus up to die for us. 

Jesus was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” but he was also “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” We see here the paradox between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The participants in the crucifixion of Jesus “were not forced by God to act against their wills; rather, God brought about his plan through their willing choices, for which they were nevertheless responsible” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 327).

Judas gave Jesus up to the priests out of greed. The priests gave him up to Pilate out of envy. Pilate gave him up to the soldiers because of fear. But the Father gave him up to die out of love.


God's Good Plans

“The cross of Christ proves that God’s plans are good. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the most evil deed ever committed on this planet. God’s own perfect Son was put to death by wicked men. What could be more evil than that? At the same time, however, the crucifixion of Jesus was the best thing that ever happened on this planet” (Philip Ryken, The Heart of the Cross, p. 116).

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28; cf. Gen. 50:20).

In Acts 4:23-31, the followers of Jesus faced a crisis. They had been prohibited by the Jewish authorities to preach the gospel. Would they obey the authorizes and escape suffering or obey God? They needed boldness, so they prayed. In their prayer, the believers addressed God as “Sovereign Lord” (v. 24). And they acknowledged that the suffering of Jesus had been according to God’s sovereign plan (“whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place,” v. 28). The sovereignty of God encouraged these believers to have courage in the midst of a crisis.

As God was able to do a good work through the cross, he is able to do a good work in any crisis in your life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Worship God, Not Idols

A Thanksgiving sermon

You can listen to this sermon here.



For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (Rom. 1:18-23). 


Truth Suppression 

Thanksgiving Day was intended to be a day to give thanks to God.

Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts is believed to have made the first Thanksgiving proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth: “Inasmuch as the Great Father has given us this year of an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and twelve in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred and Twenty-Three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”

On January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... is to be observed on the second Monday in October.”

But many people refuse to accept that there is a God to be thanked. They either don’t acknowledge that God exists or that blessings come from him. They have suppressed the truth.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Whether people have the Bible or not, everyone is able to know something about God through creation. Creation reveals two truths about God.

1. There is a powerful and eternal Creator. 

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (v. 20).

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Ps. 19:1-2). “[God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

Creation provides many arguments for the existence of God: (1) the universe, like everything else, must have had a cause (cosmological argument). (2) the universe’s harmony, order, and design demands a designer (teleological argument). Richard Dawkins, an atheistic evolutionist, wrote, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” (The Blind Watchmaker, p. 1). Of course, Dawkins believes that the apparent design in creation is an illusion. (3) Humanity’s sense of right and wrong comes from a God of justice (moral argument; cf. v. 32).

The problem is a moral deficiency, not a mental deficiency. Jesus said, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).

2. Our Creator deserves our praise and gratitude. 

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (v. 21).

God’s wrath against humanity’s sin is justified. “God’s anger is not selfish or arbitrary but represents his holy and loving response to human wickedness” (ESV Study Bible, 2158). What humanity knew about God, they rejected. “They are without excuse” (v. 20).


A Foolish Exchange

Instead of worshiping God, humanity turned to idolatry.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things (vv. 22-23).

An idol is something put in the place that God alone deserves in our lives. 

The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Gary Beale, in his book We Become What We Worship, writes, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (p. 16). After the Israelites worshiped a golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6), God repeatedly called them “a stiff-necked [stubborn] people” (Ex. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut. 9:6, 13; 10:16; 31:27). “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass” (Ps. 106:20). God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27; cf. Rom. 8:29), but when we worship other things, we become less and less like him (cf. Rom. 1:24-32).

Humanity “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Many people are now saying “Turkey Day,” instead of “Thanks-giving Day.” When we make Thanksgiving Day only about a turkey then we become like turkeys.

“The primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God” (Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 162).


Our Creator and Savior

In Romans 1:18-3:21, Paul’s point is that no one is righteous. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). Everyone deserves condemnation. That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that God brought salvation to humanity through Christ. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). 

Don’t value anything—even good things—above God, our Creator and Savior.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Reaching Maturity

Part 22 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (4:13-16). 


The Church's Greatest Purpose

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (v. 13).

In Ephesians, Paul repeatedly describes the church as the body of Christ (1:23; 2:3, 16; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30).

God’s greatest purpose for the church is maturity. 

According to Paul, “God’s chief purpose for the church is that it might become full-grown and that each of its members might contribute to that maturity by becoming spiritual adults” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 147).

To be spiritually mature is to be like Christ. 


Back to the Beginning 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27). The Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents (e.g, an image in a mirror). We were created to be a reflection of God.

But the image of God in humanity was distorted by the fall. Adam and Eve thought that eating the forbidden fruit would make them “like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Actually, their disobedience made them like Satan, knowing evil and doing evil.

The only person to have imaged God perfectly was Jesus. “Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). “Whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

God’s plan is to restore his image in humanity by people being conformed to the image of Christ. “Those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29-30). (We will be like Christ in his perfect humanity, not deity.)

In Scripture, there are four stages in the doctrine of the image of God: (1) We were originally created in God’s image. (2) Because of sin, there was a distortion of God’s image. (3) Presently, redemption in Christ provides a progressive recovery of God’s image. (4) Finally, at Christ’s return there will be a complete restoration of God’s image. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

In Ephesians 4, Paul is not talking about something that will only happen in heaven. He’s talking about the church (Christ’s body) becoming more and more like Christ, its head.


Characteristics of Spiritual Maturity

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (v. 15).

Though Paul is referring to the spiritual growth of the church, we can apply his words to our own personal growth. The is a responsibility for every Christian (“we all,” v. 13).

Paul emphasizes two characteristics that are evident in a mature believer’s life.

1. A spiritually mature person is stabilized by the truth. 

We are not to be like children who are easily deceived (v. 14). False teaching is detected by those who know the truth.

2. A spiritually mature person is motivated by love. 

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).


Privileges and Responsibilities

If you have received the blessings of salvation, don’t ignore your responsibilities (unity, ministry, and maturity).

Imagine that Jesus were physically present? You could see him. You could hear him. You could touch him. And he said to you, “I want you to have more patience with __________.” Or, “I want you bear with __________ in love.” Or, “I want you to minister to others by __________.” Or, “I want you to spend more time studying the Bible.” What would you say to Jesus?

How could you say no to him—the one who died for you?

But he is here. He is no less here than if you could see him and hear him and touch him. He is here right now, and he is speaking to you through his word.

What has he been asking you to do? Will you do what he says? How can you say no to Jesus?