Daily Archives: August 9, 2017

August 9, 2017: Verse of the day


Unity of the Faith

The ultimate spiritual target for the church begins with the unity of the faith (cf. v. 3). As in verse 5, faith does not here refer to the act of belief or of obedience but to the body of Christian truth, to Christian doctrine. The faith is the content of the gospel in its most complete form. As the church at Corinth so clearly illustrates, disunity in the church comes from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual immaturity. When believers are properly taught, when they faithfully do the work of service, and when the body is thereby built up in spiritual maturity, unity of the faith is an inevitable result. Oneness in fellowship is impossible unless it is built on the foundation of commonly believed truth. The solution to the divisions in Corinth was for everyone to hold the same understandings and opinions and to speak the same truths (1 Cor. 1:10).

God’s truth is not fragmented and divided against itself, and when His people are fragmented and divided it simply means they are to that degree apart from His truth, apart from the faith of right knowledge and understanding. Only a biblically equipped, faithfully serving, and spiritually maturing church can attain to the unity the faith. Any other unity will be on a purely human level and not only will be apart from but in constant conflict with the unity of the faith. There can never be unity in the church apart from doctrinal integrity.

Knowledge of Christ

The second result of following God’s pattern for building His church is attaining the knowledge of the Son of God. Paul is not talking about salvation knowledge but about the deep knowledge (epignōsis, full knowledge that is correct and accurate) through a relationship with Christ that comes only from prayer and faithful study of and obedience to God’s Word. After many years of devoted apostleship Paul still could say, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, … that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. … Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8–10, 12). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have that “knowledge of Him” (1:17; cf. Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:9–10; 2:2). Growing in the deeper knowledge of the Son of God is a life–long process that will not be complete until we see our Lord face–to–face. That is the knowing of which Jesus spoke when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them” (John 10:27). He was not speaking of knowing their identities but of knowing them intimately, and that is the way He wants His people also to know Him.

Spiritual Maturity

The third result of following God’s pattern for His church is spiritual maturity, a maturity to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. God’s great desire for His church is that every believer, without exception, come to be like His Son (Rom. 8:29), manifesting the character qualities of the One who is the only measure of the full–grown, perfect, mature man. The church in the world is Jesus Christ in the world, because the church is now the fullness of His incarnate Body in the world (cf. 1:23). We are to radiate and reflect Christ’s perfections. Christians are therefore called to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6; cf. Col. 4:12), and He walked in complete and continual fellowship with and obedience to His Father. To walk as our Lord walked flows from a life of prayer and of obedience to God’s Word. “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). As we grow into deeper fellowship with Christ, the process of divine sanctification through His Holy Spirit changes us more and more into His image, from one level of glory to the next. The agent of spiritual maturity, as well as of every other aspect of godly living, is God’s own Spirit—apart from whom the sincerest prayer has no effectiveness (Rom. 8:26) and even God’s own Word has no power (John 14:26; 16:13–14; 1 John 2:20).

It is obvious that believers, all of whom have unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:14; 8:23), cannot in this life fully and perfectly attain the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. But they must and can reach a degree of maturity that pleases and glorifies the Lord. The goal of Paul’s ministry to believers was their maturity, as indicated by his labors to “present every man complete (teleios, mature) in Christ” (Col. 1:28–29; cf. Phil. 3:14–15).[1]

13 Here we encounter three goals that Paul specifies “we all” (hoi pantes) ought to reach or attain. Paul includes himself in this collective goal for all Christians (recall v. 7: “to each one of us grace has been given”), not just the gifted leaders. This also confirms that “works of service” (v. 12) refers to the congregation, not the leaders. The conjunction “until” (mechri) specifies both the time frame and the purpose of the leaders’ work: they labor until. Though the church already is the fullness of Christ—its identity (1:23)—its members strive until they achieve “the whole measure of the fullness” (cf. 3:19). The first goal is unity in two dimensions: “in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” Unity in the faith (Greek objective genitive) points to a common trust in and assent to the “one faith” (recall v. 5). Since there is only one (body of) faith and one Jesus, faith in whom secures salvation, church members need to embrace it in common. Whatever differences of opinion we possess on various matters, on the central core issues of the faith we must strive for unity.

Unity in knowledge (again, an objective genitive) has an intriguing object: “of the Son of God” (the Son being the object of believers’ knowledge). Probably this second phrase unpacks the meaning of the “unity in the faith.” For the first time in Ephesians, Paul calls Jesus by this title (he uses it elsewhere only in Ro 1:4; 2 Co 1:19; Gal 2:20; cf. Ac 9:20). There are both relational and informational dimensions to our knowledge of Christ (see commentary on 1:17). Unity centers in Jesus, and the goal for Christian learning is to “know [Christ] better,” personally and intimately (1:17; cf. Php 3:10; Col 2:20; 2 Pe 3:18), as the one who loves us and gave himself for us. Knowing God and his Son Jesus is the very essence of eternal life (Jn 17:3; Eph 4:20; cf. 2 Pe 1:8; 2:20). Jesus’ parting instructions stressed the need to teach followers of Jesus to obey everything he commanded (Mt 28:20). Having listed the unshakable realities in vv. 4–6, now Paul stresses the need for a unified knowledge or understanding of the central Christian truths. We see their opposite in v. 14—immature people flummoxed by various teachings and wily deceivers. Leaders must equip the saints to secure unity in their beliefs and knowledge. Christians ought to espouse unequivocally a common worldview instructed by the one faith centered in the knowledge of Christ and true beliefs about him.

A second objective is to “become mature,” literally, “to a mature man,” taking the church as a corporate whole. “Man” translates anēr (GK 467), the gender-specific term for adult male (or husband, as in 5:22–33), here modified by “mature” (or “perfect”), denoting a full-grown, mature person (cf. BDAG, 79). Paul’s point here is not that the individual men of the church become mature (requiring the plural “men”), but that the corporate body of Christ does (cf. Best, 401; Lincoln, 256; Schnackenburg, 85; O’Brien, 307). Paul’s goal is a perfect church, as the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” implies. So leaders have the task of promoting maturity, and all members have the responsibility to ensure that the body of Christ grows up spiritually. The failure to work at this leaves people as spiritual “infants” (v. 14). In v. 16 Paul spells out what maturity entails; in v. 17 he starts delineating its results in the life of the body.

This passion for the church’s maturity underlies Paul’s third goal for the body: to attain, literally, “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” On “fullness,” see commentary at 1:23. In referring to “stature” (hēlikias [GK 2461], NASB; not in the NIV), Paul introduces the metaphor of a physical body—one he will develop in vv. 15–16. Recall that at 3:19 Paul prayed that the readers would be filled “to the measure of all the fullness of God.” What might the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” imply here? “Stature” refers to either a person’s age or physical size. It implies maturity, full growth in size or age. We find a general depiction of the metaphor in vv. 15b–16 and the specific traits in the remainder of the letter. Christ is the standard for maturity. Christ seeks to give the church his fullness. Measuring up to Christ is the church’s ideal and target—the goal of knowing him. Maturity as a church derives only through its integral relationship to Christ as it comes to know him more and more. Leaders in their equipping and the church in its growing must strive for nothing less than full Christlikeness.[2]

4:13. Diverse gifts create and build up one body in unity. This unity is in faith and knowledge of Christ. Christ does not try to build up superstars in his kingdom with superior faith or superior knowledge. He tries to build up a church unified in its faith and knowledge, each member being built up to maturity. All are to reach the fullness of Christ. The church’s goal is that each member and thus the entire church will show to the world all the attributes and qualities of Christ. Then the church will truly be the one body of Christ.[3]

13. until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the clear knowledge of the Son of God. This brings us back again to the spiritual unity demanded in verse 3, and to the “one faith” to which reference was made in verse 5. It also reminds us of 3:19: “in order that you may be filled to all the fulness of God.” When verse 13 is considered in the light of the preceding verses it becomes clear that what the apostle has in mind is this, that the entire church—consisting not only of apostles, prophets, evangelists, “pastors and teachers,” but of all others besides—should be faithful to its calling of rendering service, with a view to the upbuilding of the body of Christ, so that true, spiritual unity and growth may be promoted. Note “we all.” There is no room in Christ’s church for drones, only for busy bees. To the Thessalonians the apostle had said, “For we hear that some among you are conducting themselves in a disorderly manner, not busy workers but busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). Paul sharply rebuked that attitude. It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him. Thus, it has happened repeatedly that young people began to be imbued with enthusiasm when they engaged in this or that church program. For example, the Board of Home Missions of a certain denomination launches a S(ummer) W(orkshop) I(n) M(issions) program. This program requires of the young people who are in it that at different places throughout the country for several weeks during the summer they not only receive special instruction in the aims and methods of missions but also make contact with those who have not been previously reached for Christ. They bring the message, teach, and organize various social and religious activities. They are not afraid to live for a while in a slum district in close and beneficial contact with the community. How the eyes of these young people sparkle upon their return, for they have a story to tell, and are far more aglow with interest in Christ and his church than ever before. Often the contacts made during the summer are continued by means of correspondence and return visits. Also, the Young People’s societies and the congregations that have taken part in sponsoring the program, having become thus involved, receive an added blessing when the young witnesses bring their reports. Thus, unity has been promoted, a unity of faith in Christ and of knowledge—not just intellectual but heart-knowledge—of the Lord and Savior, who, because of his majesty and greatness, is here called “the Son of God” (cf. Rom. 1:4; Gal. 2:20; 1 Thess. 1:10). Thus all believers advance to a fullgrown man. The underlying figure is that of a strong, mature, well-built male (not just “human being”). In Col. 4:12 this maturity is described as follows: “fully assured in all the will of God.” For a detailed tabulation of the meaning of the word fullgrown or mature see N.T.C. on Phil. 3:15, p. 176, footnote 156. Just as a physically robust man can be pictured as being filled with vibrant strength and without defect, so the spiritually mature individual, which is the ideal for all believers to attain, is without spiritual flaw, filled with goodness, that is, with every Christian virtue that results from faith in, and heart-knowledge of, the Son of God. Continued: to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. One could also translate: “to an age-measure marked by the fulness of Christ” (cf. Lenski, op. cit., pp. 532, 536). It does not matter whether the underlying figure is fulness of age or fulness of stature, for in either case it is a “fulness of Christ” that is meant (thus also Grosheide, op. cit., p. 68, footnote 26). It is a fulness of him who completely fulfilled the earthly mission for which he had been anointed, and who is willing to impart to those who believe in him salvation full and free.

The question has been asked, Do believers during their present life on earth attain to this “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”? According to some they do. Lenski, for example, mentions Paul as one who had attained to it (op. cit., p. 533). The passage itself, however, does not really teach this. To be sure, it should be granted that not all remain “babes” in Christ. A degree—in fact, a high degree—of maturity can be attained even here and now. And the more wholeheartedly all the saints strive to promote it by rendering humble and wholehearted service to one another and to the kingdom in general, the more also the ideal will be realized. Nevertheless, full, spiritual maturity, one that in the highest degree attains to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” cannot be realized this side of death. Paul himself would be one of the first to admit this. See what he said concerning himself in Rom. 7:14: “I am carnal, sold under sin”; and what he is going to say very shortly after Ephesians had been delivered to its destination: “Brothers, I do not count myself yet to have laid hold. But one thing (I do), forgetting what lies behind (me), and eagerly straining forward to what lies ahead, I am pressing on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, 15). For the rest, as to degree, time, and possibility of attainment, see on 3:19 where the same subject is discussed.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 156–158). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 119–120). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 152). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 198–200). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Bible Texts Prosperity Preachers Wish Did Not Exist

If you survey the Bible you will not find a single verse that warns you against the detrimental spiritual effect of material poverty. Yet you will find many passages in the Bible warning you against the detrimental effects of wealth—and especially love for wealth. You never hear prosperity preachers preaching on such verses. It is as if their Bibles do not have such verses.

Every so often when engaged in discussion on the subject of the prosperity gospel, I hear voices sympathetic to this doctrinal poison say, “But surely God does not want us to be poor, does he?” This is viewed as a trump card, as if there is no middle ground between being stinking rich and being in abject poverty. The Bible has many texts that answer that question.

People who say such things suffer from deliberate amnesia. They choose to forget the words of the wise man who prayed to God, saying, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

If you survey the Bible you will not find a single verse that warns you against the detrimental spiritual effect of material poverty. Yet you will find many passages in the Bible warning you against the detrimental effects of wealth—and especially love for wealth. You never hear prosperity preachers preaching on such verses. It is as if their Bibles do not have such verses.

Here are a few from the lips of our Saviour.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

Then the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:17–25 dealt with a rich young ruler who wanted eternal life as long as he was not asked to sacrifice his great wealth. When Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor so that he would have treasure in heaven, the Bible tells us that the saying disheartened him. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus went on to make the unequivocal statement, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God…! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” I repeat; you never hear these words from the lips of prosperity gospel preachers. Rather, they give the impression that being materially wealthy is the sure sign that all is well between your soul and God.

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Barna Update | 10 Facts about Faith in American Cities

While national faith trends dominate the headlines, they often belie the diverse religious makeup of cities and metro areas throughout the country. To celebrate the release of Barna’s Cities & States report, which takes a comprehensive look at the faith profiles of these cities, we’ve compiled 10 interesting findings on spiritual beliefs and practices among American adults.

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