We are to walk worthily of Christ, walking as one Church in our common faith. The one Lord Jesus Christ saved us and brought us into one Church; now we glorify Him as His unified Church through our lives and our love.

In a world full of division, let us be unified in Christ! Let us walk worthy of our Lord, walking as one!

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

Walk Worthy of One Calling

Posted: June 26, 2022 in Ephesians

Ephesians 4:1-6, “Walk Worthy of One Calling”

Response to Dobbs decision:

Before we get to our text, it is important to address the wonderful groundbreaking news from Friday that the Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion across the United States (Roe v. Wade) has been overruled. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, made the decision clear: “We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”[1] This does not mean that abortion is outlawed across our nation; rather, that the laws governing abortion will be written on a state-by-state basis. No doubt, some states (such as New York, California, Colorado) will allow far more access to abortion that what we have previously seen. Some legislators have gone so far as to seek abortion access up to birth and beyond.[2] Other states will seek total bans from point of conception. Here in Texas (following a 30-day window), virtually all abortion will be banned from the point of conception. This does not include birth control and “emergency contraception,” (known as ‘Plan B’).[3] Nor does it include procedures to save the life of the mother, or if there is another health condition that might cause “substantial impairment of major bodily function.”[4] Otherwise, yes, abortion is illegal in Texas and will be prosecuted under laws related to homicide.

There is much to celebrate in Friday’s Supreme Court decision. Without question, literally thousands of lives will be saved in Texas alone, potentially millions across the nation. It was a major step forward for our nation. Should the Lord tarry, hopefully there will come a day when abortion is seen alongside slavery as a grave evil, one that ought to have never been sanctioned in the first place.

But there is more to do. More women than ever will be seeking help from Crisis Pregnancy Centers. Christians need to be there to help them and point them to Christ. More babies will be needing adoption. How wonderful if each one was to be placed in a Christian home! And more than ever, young mothers (and fathers) will need godly counsel and help…some of which will be financial, other will be spiritual. As wonderful a day as this is, how much better will be the day when abortion is no longer seen by some as an option, when pregnancies are celebrated between men and women joined as husband and wife according to God’s perfect plan!

For those of you who have tragically participated in past abortion, know this: there is forgiveness available through Jesus Christ! When Jesus died on the cross, He did not die for all the “good” people because there are none. Instead, He died for the sinful people: the rotten, the liars, the dishonorable, the fornicators, the angry, (i.e., all of us!)…and He even died for the murderers. He died for those who perform abortions and for those who receive them. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus, every sin is freely and fully forgiven. Such is the promise from the Scripture. 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Maybe you’ve received abortion, counseled someone to get one, or simply just approved of the evil practice in the past. All of it can be forgiven through Jesus.

As for the news itself, we rejoice! Psalm 139:13, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb.” God has formed every child. He knows each one by name. And today, many more now have the opportunity to come to be known by others and eventually come to know Jesus in faith. Praise God!

Introduction:

For a nation with the name of “The United States of America,” there doesn’t seem to be much which unites us any longer. Consider the monumental decision from the Supreme Court overturning Roe: whereas half the country rejoices, the other half mourns. Of course, if the decision had gone the other way, we would have been those who mourned (just like we already mourned legalized abortion for nearly 50 years). Pick the issue, be it as radical as LGBT or Critical Race Theory or basic economic theories, and our nation is fiercely divided. Even when it comes to things upon which we should agree (the high price of gasoline), we cannot agree on how to fix it. We are a “Divided States of America;” not a united one.

It might be argued that this same division exists within the church. And without question, there are massive differences between people claiming to be Christian. There are liberal “pastors” claiming to be “pro-choice pastors.” There are liberal theologians who proudly stand with LGBT activists, who put women into pulpits (providing they can still define what a ‘woman’ is!), and who do all kinds of things that are clearly in opposition to the Bible. But here is the difference between our nation and Christianity. Citizens in our nation with whom we profoundly disagree are still citizens; not everyone who names the name of Christ is actually Christian. There are multitudes of people in greater Christendom that have zero commonality with the Biblical Christ and His word. They might call themselves “Christians,” but the Bible does not.

True Biblical Christians have much in common. We might not all agree on every doctrinal point. We might even have profound disagreements on important theology. But when it comes to what matters, when it comes to that which is foundational – on those things, we are united. We are one, with our oneness (our unity) found in Christ. This is not only a theological truth; it is an end to which we must strive. And it is an end to which Paul exhorts the Christians in Ephesus and all over the world.

To this point in the letter, virtually all of what Paul has written has been about the doctrine of the gospel. This is about to change in Chapter 4 as he moves to application, but it means that it is important to remember that everything Paul commands in Chapters 4-6 depend on the gospel doctrine from Chapters 1-3. Without the work of God in our salvation and the grace we receive in Christ, no application or practice of that work is possible. IOW, it is impossible to act like a Christians until we are first made Christians. Anything we do for Christ overflows as a response to His initial work for/in us.

What did He do for us? Everything! The Father blessed us, choosing us in love. The Son redeemed us, forgiving us, granting us an inheritance. The Spirit sealed us, being Himself our guarantee of that inheritance. The work of God in our salvation is amazing! He saved us by grace through faith, totally apart from the works of men.

Not only did He save us individually, but He did a marvelous work within us corporately as the church. He did something so amazing that it is described as a mystery of God: He joined Jewish believers and Gentile believers as one Church. What the ancient world believed was impossible, God did in Jesus. He made us one holy temple of God founded on the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Himself being our chief cornerstone.

The work of God in our salvation is so amazing that it will likely take eternity to unpack. For this reason, Paul prayed that we would get at least a glimpse of it today. The more we know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, the more we will not the fullness of the infinite God, being astounded by His person and presence.

All of this serves as the entry point to Chapter 4, where Paul now exhorts the Ephesians to walk worthy of this marvelous salvific calling. It is must like he wrote earlier to the Christians in Rome: Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” In light of everything that God has done for us as Christians, giving Christ for our justification, it is now only reasonable (logical) for us to give ourselves back to God. Likewise, in the letter sent to Ephesus. The apostle has written of the incredible gift of grace from God through Jesus Christ; how the Christians are to apply that gift is now in view.

It all begins with our walk. We are to walk worthily of Christ, walking as one Church in our common faith. The one Lord Jesus Christ saved us and brought us into one Church; now we glorify Him as His unified Church through our lives and our love.

In a world full of division, let us be unified in Christ! Let us walk worthy of our Lord, walking as one!

Ephesians 4:1–6

  • Walk in unity (1-3).

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

  1. Paul begins with an impassioned exhortation. We might see this as a plea from Paul the prisoner. That identification itself is interesting. One might think that when coming to commands and application of doctrine, that Paul might approach his readers as the apostle to the Gentiles. If were us, we might think we need to assert or reestablish our authority to instruct certain behaviors. And certainly, Paul was not opposed to claiming apostolic authority when necessary (as seen with the Corinthians and the Galatians). But here, Paul appeals to his readers not as an apostle, but as a prisoner. Specifically, he writes as “the prisoner of the Lord.” We’ve seen this previously from Paul, most recently in 3:1 when he wrote of himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.” It wasn’t that Paul had sinned against Christ with Jesus having thrown him into prison, holding the keys to his cell. Rather, Paul was an ambassador of the Lord Jesus, Christ’s representative throughout the Gentile world, and it was on account of Christ that he was jailed. And yes, it was also the will of God that Paul was imprisoned. Be it God’s prescribed will or His permissive will, there is no doubt that God allowed Paul to be imprisoned for this time in this manner. This was the vehicle God used for Paul to write several of his letters. We might not have Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, or Philemon, if it had not been for Paul being in jail at the time. And knowing this was God’s will for him at the moment, it made prison all the easier for the apostle. Not easy; easier. Having faith that God is sovereign and willed Paul to be where he was made it easier for Paul to endure his suffering with joy in his heart. (Such is the comfort of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty! There is nothing you endure as a child of God that did not first go through the allowance of God. He will equip you for whatever you face; all you need to do is continually give yourself over to Him in prayer and obedience, receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.)
    1. About Paul’s imprisonment… The fact that Paul was imprisoned demonstrates an important point about his exhortation: Paul wasn’t asking the Ephesians (or anyone else) to do anything he wouldn’t do. He himself walked worthily of his Christian call, proven by his imprisonment. He wouldn’t be in jail if he hadn’t been faithful towards Jesus. The simple fact of his circumstances served as an example to the church that it was possible to do what he was pleading with them to do. (At least, possible through the Holy Spirit!) They could look at Paul and think, “If he can do it where he’s at, so can I!”
    2. Have you ever considered that sometimes the situations into which God places us isn’t about us? It may be about someone else that God wants to strengthen or encourage through our own example/experience. Some of the things you endure might be the very things that God uses in your life to help someone else come to faith in Christ, or be encouraged in their own walk with Christ. These are the things that make us able to comfort others with the same comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God (2 Cor 1:4). The next time God is allowing difficulty in your life, ask Him to help you change your perspective – that your eyes might get off yourself, and that you look for what God is doing through you at that moment, which might be able to help someone else down the road.
  2. Although English convention puts Paul’s description of himself at the start of the sentence, the Greek word order is different, showing its different emphasis. In Greek, Paul doesn’t begin calling himself a prisoner; he begins with his plea. It might be translated: “I beseech you, therefore, I myself (as) the prisoner of the Lord, to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” The word we translate “beseech” (implore, urge ~ NASB, ESV) is a compound word in Greek meaning to call to one’s side (παρακαλέω). The noun form of the word is sometimes used as a title for the Holy Spirit, Him being our Paraclete, the One called to be alongside us helping us and comforting us. Here, Paul is calling out to the Ephesians (and all his readers) urging, imploring, pleading with them in their walk. Because of his imprisonment, he could not physically be at their side, so he called out to them from his cell urging them onward. Like a coach crying out from the sideline, so was Paul crying out to Ephesus. Oh, that they would hear and respond!
    1. Oh, that we would hear and respond! The words we read in the Bible are not supposed to go in one ear/eye and out the other; they are to be practiced and applied. Christ calls out to us through His word. Will we listen and obey? Will we heed the call of our King?
  3. How are we to respond to the call? Two words: walk worthy! The word used for worthy is interesting in its original usage, as one commentary notes: “Worthy (axios) is literally ‘bringing up the other beam of the scales’ and hence indicates equivalence,” (EBC). If the idea is that of a “balance beam” or scales, then it begs the question: what is on the other side of the scales that require balancing or equivalence? It is “the calling with which you were called.” Paul just got done writing three chapters of the calling of salvation that we have in Christ. He wrote of the grand love of Jesus that is infinite and beyond our comprehension. Walk worthy! God called us in Christ to be saved. Walk worthy of that!
  4. Objection: “But that’s impossible! How can I walk worthy of the infinite love of Christ, demonstrated in His gospel call? I could never do enough to earn such worth!” Not a one of us could ever earn the worth of Jesus and His gospel, the invitation to be saved. But that isn’t at all what Paul is commanding. None of us can earn the love of Christ…that much was made plain in Ch 1-3. This was clear in Ch 2: Ephesians 2:8–9, “(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast.” There is no work we can do that will ‘earn’ the gift of God. We have no ability to boast in any such work. But, again, that isn’t Paul’s plea. He cries out to the church to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” We aren’t earning the call; we’ve already received it. Remember who we are as Bible-believing born-again Christians: we are the church. The word in Greek is ekklesia (ἐκκλησία), or literally, “the called-out ones.” God already called in us Christ…that was the method through which He saved us in the first place. Now, we respond to that call through a walk worthy of it. Not by our power (we have none!) but through the power of the Holy Spirit who equips us, strengthening us.
    1. The fact this is a plea emphasizes something important: this is what we are to do. This is how we respond to the saving work of God in the gospel and the result of His saving call. Are we going to be perfect at this? Of course not. To be sure, Jesus calls us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, but Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount was our utter dependence on the grace of God. We can’t be perfect, but God can perfect us through Christ. We will always have an ongoing battle against sin, for which Jesus provides abundant forgiveness and grace. So yes, God provides for our failures. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t to strive for success! We understand that on our own we will never walk truly worthy of Christ’s call, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. I know I’m never going to be the perfect husband and father, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to be the best husband and father I can be. My bride and my daughter deserve no less. Knowing I’m going to fail, does it mean I should just give up and settle for being a jerk? No. Although I know I’m going to fail, it causes me to strive even harder, relying on the grace of God. – So should it be with every aspect of our Christian walk. As the old saying goes, “Perfect should not be the enemy of the good.” Let us strive to do our best, being surrendered to and reliant on the Holy Spirit of God, walking worthy as He makes us worthy!

2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

  1. First, a worthy walk responding to God’s calling is a humble walk. The two words “lowliness and gentleness” are variations of the same theme: humility. “Gentleness” might be thought of in terms of courtesy, friendliness, and meekness. “Lowliness” perhaps gives us a clearer picture. The root word of the term speaks of a ‘lowly mind,’ with the idea of not thinking too much of oneself. To the ancient Greeks, this wasn’t a good thing. In their culture, pride was valued; not lowly humility. They asserted themselves, eagerly pushing themselves forward. — If we’re being honest, it sounds a lot like today! Just a casual perusal of social media shows the value our culture puts on self-exaltation. Whole platforms specialize in finding new ways of taking pictures of yourself, while economic incentives exist for getting more ‘views’ of your videos and posts. We live in an age of self-promotion! – This is not what the Bible presents as its ideal. Christians are to be humble, neither thinking too much nor too little of ourselves. Best to simply not think of ourselves, but rather think of God and others.
    1. Be careful on this point. It would be easy to read this and think, “I’m doing okay here. I might have an outburst of pride from time to time, but normally I don’t usually push myself into the spotlight.” What we tend to forget are all the times we put our own needs first, ahead of others. Consider all the times you respond to situations based on how you Someone cut you off in traffic, or your son/daughter got on your last nerve, or you feel slighted at work, etc. How we respond to these things might highlight our humility, or lack thereof. Even if the other person is in the wrong, if we react because we feel upset about it, it’s a sign we’re reacting in pride; not humility. Consider the response of our Lord Jesus to offense. Even while hanging on the cross, He prayed that God would forgive His tormentors, for they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34). He gave His back to those who struck Him and His face to those who plucked out His beard (Isa 50:6). There is our example: Christ! If we are to walk worthy of His call, we are to walk in the same humility in which He walked.
  2. Second, Paul writes of “longsuffering.” Although most English translations choose to render the word as “patience,” “longsuffering” far better captures the picture painted by the Greek. The original term is another compound word: “macro + passion/anger.” If someone can endure a lot of passion toward him/her, he/she is truly able to “suffer long.” “Patience” is still accurate, but “longsuffering” encapsulates the idea far better. This goes hand-in-hand with humility, as if we’re truly being humble, then we can be certain we’re going to have to be longsuffering along the way in our humility. You know you’re living out a lowliness of mind when you have to exercise patience in situations that test your character. And likewise, longsuffering goes with the next quality…
  3. Loving endurance. Paul wrote “bearing with one another in love,” perhaps describing what longsuffering truly looked like. Exercising patience isn’t easy; it requires endurance. That is the essence of the word used by Paul for “bearing”: tolerating, enduring, putting up with something, etc. If you bear up under pressure, you’re enduring it. When your humility and patience is put to the test, you’re “bearing with one another.” And let’s be honest: we aren’t the easiest people to bear with! Even as the church (perhaps especially as the church, considering we’re all a bunch of confessed sinners!), it requires endurance to put up with one another. But this is the clear command from Scripture. What is the second greatest commandment? To love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:39). What was the new commandment given to the church by Jesus? To love one another as He has loved us (Jn 13:34). Love, in this case is selfless. It isn’t the friendship love shown by the world as mutual respect, nor is it the love as seen within families (between parents and children, between brothers and sisters). Neither is it the romantic love seen in marriage relationships. None of those kinds of love are bad; indeed, there is a Biblical role for each of them. But they are loves that can be expressed by people of the world. There is one kind of love that can only truly be expressed by Christians, the same kind of love that Jesus demonstrated toward us at the cross: agape love, selfless love. This kind of love suffers long and is kind, it doesn’t envy, it doesn’t parade itself, it isn’t puffed up, and more (1 Cor 13:4). This is the kind of love exemplified by Jesus and commanded of His disciples. And guess what? This kind of love isn’t easy. It takes work and effort. No wonder that Paul describes it as “bearing with one another.
    1. We tend to miss the intentionality and effort of agape It isn’t surprising why. Our culture presents love as something that happens to us. It’s the old cartoon of getting hit by Cupid’s arrow, as if we have no control over it. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. When it comes to Biblical love, agape love, love like Jesus loved…this kind of love is a choice. The only way this love is expressed is when we choose to express it. Think of it: how can agape love suffer long, unless we’re put into a situation where we require longsuffering and we choose to exercise it? It is when we are faced with a choice between kindness and cruelty that it is true love when we choose to be kind. Agape love is chosen…so choose it!
  4. To what end does all of this lead? V3: “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Christians who walk worthy of our gospel calling are those who strive for peaceful unity. “Endeavoring” might also be translated as “being diligent, eager, striving for, taking pains for.” Once again, we get the idea of intentionality, of effort. The things to which we are called do not come naturally; we need to strive for them. What is the goal? For unity, specifically “the unity of the Spirit,” or, the unity which the Spirit provides. Notice that we strive to “keep” this unity; we do not create it/form it. We do not search for causes around which to unify. We are to keep (to maintain) the unity that the Spirit has already given. We aren’t to seek after unity as an ideal in itself; we are to strive for, endeavor for “the unity of the Spirit.” Think about it: there are many Christians who just want to be “one,” as if the end-goal were for all people everywhere to join hands and sing “Kum Bay Yah” with fake smiles pasted on our faces (like the old Coca-Cola commercial!). Is that really unity? True unity only takes place when we have the right foundation, when there is true common cause.
    1. What does this mean, practically? It means that Christians do not seek unity in causes other than the gospel. We might have surface-level common cause with all kinds of people in various issues. For instance, Biblical Christians, Mormon, and Muslims might all vote the same way on certain social or political issues (such as abortion). It does not mean that we have true unity with them in the Spirit. 4-6 will discuss certain various essential issues around which true Christians will have unity. Any other common cause outside of those things might be beneficial in society, but we dare not assume that we have common cause spiritually. Mormons and Muslims need to be saved, just as do politically conservative atheists or Catholics or any other group of people. Ultimate unity is found in Christ alone, the unity of the Spirit.
  5. How will we know if we’ve reached this kind of unity in the Spirit with one another as Christians? Remember, this is something for which we are to strive, in that we endeavor toward this end. It doesn’t come naturally or easily. So how will we know when we are walking in the Spirit’s unity with other born-again believers in Christ? When we have the Spirit’s unity “in the bond of peace.” It is when we can stand side-by-side with other born-again believers despite our doctrinal differences in non-essentials and be at peace with them. Does God call us to unity? Does He call us to unanimity? No. There are some areas where we differ from other well-meaning Bible-believing Christians. Some of our differences might deal with important doctrines…but they deal with non-essential doctrine. Around the basics of the gospel, we are one. And when we are at peace with those with whom we differ on the minor points, praise God! That is when we are humbly and patiently bearing with one another in love, to the glory of God.
  • Unity in the calling (4-6).

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;

  1. If there is one thing we’re going to see repeated over the next few verses, it is the descriptor of “one.” What does “one” mean? One! 🙂 There are different forms of the Greek word, based on whether its accompanying term is masculine, feminine, or neuter in gender, but the word itself is simple, meaning exactly what we might think it to mean. There is only one of each of the things listed through vv4-6, in keeping with the “unity” (we might even say “oneness”) of the Spirit in v3. – That there is “one” of these things is no minor point. God did not provide us many ways to heaven; He gave us one way through His one Son who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). There is no backdoor way to eternal life, no “Don’t worry about me; God and I have our own arrangement” nonsense. There is only one way. If we hold to God’s one way, we hold to the truth. If we do not, then our hope is in a lie.
  2. Paul begins writing of “one body.” To say that there is “one body” is to say that there is one church There may be thousands (if not millions) of individual church congregations, but there is only one body of the corporate universal church. There are literally hundreds of denominations, but there is only one true church: Jesus’ church. It doesn’t matter what sign is hanging on the door or what decorations are in the building if the people inside are not part of Jesus’ church. And without doubt, there are many beautiful Christian-looking buildings around the world that are devoid of any members of Jesus’ church! They have crosses and stained glass and artistic paintings, but no Christians saved by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have glorious sanctuaries and expensive sound systems, but there aren’t any Bible-believing Christians to be found. It doesn’t matter what denominational label you claim for yourself, if you are not part of the one body (Jesus’ church), you are not yet saved.
    1. There is but one way to join Jesus’ church: saving faith in the gospel! Romans 10:9, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Notice what isn’t included in that: any word of confirmation or a church membership class or tithing, or any such work of man. Simply sincere confession of the truth that Jesus is the Lord God and faith in the work of Jesus at the cross and in the resurrection. Those who believe these things will turn away from their sins of the past and turn to Christ in true faith, asking for forgiveness and eternal life. And what is the promise? “You will be saved!” That is our membership into the church of Jesus Christ…that, and none other!
  3. Secondly, Paul writes that there is “one Spirit,” beginning his look at the Trinity. In these three verses, he writes of each Member of the Trinity: Spirit, Son, and Father. The reference to the “Spirit” here is not of a generic “spirit” to be found within the Church, but of the one Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. Are there many spirits within this world? Sure, if the definition of “spirit” includes angels and demons as spiritual beings, but there is only one God the Holy Spirit who was present at creation hovering over the face of the deep and who is in Christ’s church today. – That Paul wrote of “one Spirit” immediately following “one body” makes perfect sense, as it is only those who are born of the Holy Spirit who are in the one body of the church. The true church is not something we ‘join’ in the traditional sense of the word; we must be born into it through the work of the Holy Spirit, and He does so when we repent and place our faith in Jesus as Lord.
  4. Next, Paul wrote of the “one hope of your calling.” Remember that when the Bible uses “hope,” it is in a different sense than how we normally use the word. For a Christian, “hope” does not speak of uncertainty, but certainty. Students “hope” to get good grades when they aren’t certain of how much they’ve studied or how well they understand the material. Christians have something far better. Our “hope” is based on the promise of God. The good news: God always keeps His word! When God promises something, our hope is sure. In this case, what is our hope? It is the hope promised through the gospel, the hope of heaven. Paul has already used similar language in the letter. In 1:18, Paul’s prayer was for the Christians to know the hope of God’s calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. In 2:12, the apostle described the way the Ephesians were prior to having faith in Christ, that they had no hope and were without God in the world. In the parallel letter to the Colossians, Paul used the term in much the same way, nothing that Christians have a hope laid up in heaven (Col 1:15), and that Christ Himself is the hope of glory (Col 1:27). Bottom line: the one hope is the sure certain hope resulting from the promise of the gospel, our eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. – This goes with everything else in this verse. When we are born of the one Holy Spirit, then He places us into the one church, and as such, we are guaranteed our one hope of heaven.
    1. What wonders this does for any questions surrounding assurance! For those who wonder, who sometimes doubt if Jesus will truly save them, we can look to the certain hope that comes from God’s promises. When God called you through the gospel to be part of the church (the “called out” ones), then He also promised you a hope as a result of that calling. Your hope of eternal life in heaven is not based on anything you’ve done, but because of the call God gave you, which you answered through repentance and faith. Your salvation is secure when your hope is in Christ!

5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

  1. That there is “one Lord” is to say there is one Lord Jesus. There is only one Christ in whom our hope is based. Only one Jesus went to the cross for our sins and rose again. Only one Jesus has come from heavenly glory and returned to glory. Only one Jesus saves! – It is so simple, yet so foundational. There are many false Christs proclaimed in this world. The Jesus of Islam was a prophet, but not divine in any way. The Jesus of the Jehovah Witnesses is God’s Son, but not God Himself. The Jesus of the Mormons is a god, just like you can supposedly be a god, although not the true ultimate God. The Jesus of Roman Catholicism is insufficient to save on His own, requiring people to do continual works to earn more favor from God, and requiring to be continually sacrificed through the Mass. All these (and more) are false Christs. But there is “one Lord” shown in the pages of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith in Him and Him alone that saves!
  2. About faith, there is “one faith.” Here, it would seem that Paul is not necessarily writing of the faith we exercise in repentance and conversion, but the one Biblical faith in terms of gospel doctrine. There is one faith that we hold, one creed we confess: the gospel itself. There is one truth, the word of God contained in the Scriptures, and that is the faith that we hold.
    1. This is one of the clearest areas in which we can determine unity among those who claim to be Christian. It might be relatively easy to distinguish Biblical Christians from cults, as they hold to different ideas of Jesus that veer from the historical and Scriptural truth. But when it comes to unity with those who say they are Christian, what standard might we use to determine if we truly are unified? In the example of Roman Catholicism, there are many people who claim that Catholics are just as Christian as anyone else, even affirming the early creeds of the church. The issue is that of the “one faith,” the gospel and body of doctrine contained in the Bible. They do not believe that Scripture is the final authority of the church and have thus added many unbiblical doctrines in their official catechism. They do not hold to salvation being by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone, thus do not hold to the one Biblical faith. This means Biblical Christians cannot be truly unified with them. Though we might find common cause in many issues, we do not share the foundation of the Biblical gospel.
  3. After the one faith, Paul lists “one baptism,” which potentially raises a host of questions. When we start talking about “baptism,” things can get a bit contentious among various stripes of Christians (which is ironic, considering this is one of the things around which we should unify!). Was Paul referring to literal water baptism, or the baptism of the Spirit, or perhaps something else? There are (at least) seven different types of baptism listed in the Scripture: (1) the baptism of Moses ~ 1 Cor 10:1-3. This is past, referring to the old covenant experienced by the Hebrews leaving Egypt during the Exodus. (2) The baptism of John ~ Mk 1:4, Acts 19:1-7. This is also past, being a temporary baptism of repentance, a baptism that looked forward in faith to the Messiah. (3) The baptism of Jesus ~ Mt 3:13-17. This does not refer to the baptism He commanded, but rather the one-time baptism He received. This was one of the first proclamations of God to Israel that the Messiah had arrived. (4) The baptism of fire ~ Mt 3:11-12. This is future, as John spoke of a baptism of judgment in which God would gather His wheat but burn the chaff. (5) The baptism of the Holy Spirit ~ Mt 3:11, Acts 2. This is present, the work done by the Holy Spirit within each of us, sometimes broken into two categories: the new birth He gives those who believe, regenerating us as newborn Christians; and also the empowerment He gives us, equipping us to serve Christ through spiritual gifts. (6) The baptism of the cross ~ Mk 10:35-39. This is both past and present, described by Jesus to James and John as being a baptism of suffering they would both experience. Anytime Christians share in the suffering of Christ, we participate in this same baptism. (7) The baptism of believers ~ Mt 28:19, Rom 6:3-4. This is the physical act of baptism commanded for all Christians today, being a visible demonstration of our spiritual identification with Christ. It is an illustration of the work God did within us at our conversion, making us a part of His Church. – With all of these various baptisms in mind, there are only two real possibilities for Paul’s context to the Ephesians: the baptism of the Spirit and the baptism of believers. Considering that the baptism of believers is (in part) a picture of the Spirit’s work, there is much overlap between them.
    1. “Is all that a lot of ado about nothing?” Not at all. Remember how we are brought into the church: through the work of the Spirit when we place our faith and trust in Jesus for forgiveness of sin. He baptizes us into Christ through the act of regeneration, our spiritual birth. Physical baptism illustrates this; it does not substitute it, nor is physical baptism required for it. There is no question that the New Testament commands Christians to be baptized. It is the outward confession of our faith, the sign that we are to be received among the community of the church because we too are identified with Christ. But physical baptism is not the act that saves us. In no way does the Bible teach baptismal regeneration (meaning that a person is not truly born again until he/she receives physical baptism). The Spirit baptizes us in Christ, period. Our believer baptism is merely the illustration of what the Spirit has already done.
    2. As to Paul’s point, there is only one baptism. It doesn’t happen over and over, because we are born again once, and once alone. You aren’t saved, then lost, then saved, etc., in a repeating cycle. The person who is truly saved (not speaking of potential false conversions) is baptized by the Spirit into Christ, with the Spirit’s work being sufficient. It then follows that the believer is physically baptized once, with that one time being enough. No one needs to receive baptism over and over again (every time you change churches, or every time you “come back” to the Lord in repentance). There is one baptism; what the Spirit does is enough.

6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

  1. Writing of “one God and Father,” Paul completes his overview of the Trinity. The Spirit brought us into the one body of Christ, who is our one Lord celebrated through our one faith and baptism, and there is one God and Father who is over it all, being glorified through it all. That there is “one God” is not new theology for Paul the rabbi and former Pharisee. Paul likely still recited the Hebrew Shema on a daily basis, which (in part) states: Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This is essential doctrine for every Israelite, and thus for every Christian though we come from Gentile backgounds. There is but one God in heaven and earth, this God has revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, giving His name to Moses as YHWH “I AM.” This one God is one, fully self-sufficient, unified within Himself and His own Godhead. Of this God…
    1. He is the “Father of all.” This speaks of God’s work as Creator. Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote that God is the Father “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,” (3:15) referring again to His creative work. There is not a human being in existence whom God did not form in the womb of his/her mother. Every human, animal, plant, rock, angel, etc., owes its existence to God. Nothing would exist without Him. 
    2. He is “above all.” This speaks of God’s supremacy. God reigns over the entire universe. He flung the galaxies to their place, while still seeing every sparrow that falls to the ground. God raises up kings and puts them down. God is truly supreme and there is nothing and no one who can stand against Him. What God decides to do is done, period.
    3. He is “through all.” There are perhaps a couple of ways of looking at this. (1) God is omnipresent. There is no place in all of this universe where God does not exist. That is not to say that He is everything, but rather, He is everywhere. There is no place we can go that is out of His sight. He is “through all” in this universe. (2) He sustains everything. Just like God created the world, He sustains it, holding together every atom in all existence. Were it not for the will of God, the entire universe would disintegrate, melting away (or vanishing, or exploding, or however else God might will it to take place).
      1. This itself should give people pause. If you still live, if you still draw breath, it is because God wills it. To this moment, God is giving you the chance to turn from your sins and trust Him as Lord. He is giving you every opportunity to believe upon Jesus and be saved. Every second He allows your heart to beat is another opportunity He gives you. Don’t waste it!
    4. He is “in [us] all.” The “you” is somewhat controversial. It is absent from the oldest manuscripts. It is actually “us” in the majority of manuscripts (Byz). It is only “you” in a small number of manuscripts, which became the basis for the KJV (the Textus Receptus). But whether it is “you,” or “us,” the idea is certain: God is the only God in the universe and He is above and through all creation everywhere. However, He is only in the church. Only those who know Jesus Christ as Lord are those who are the temple or dwelling place of God (2:21-22). We are those in whom God Himself dwells. The fact that He is, is proof-positive that we are the church.
  2. Put it together, and what does Paul say of this one God? The one God we serve is glorious! He is good and merciful and powerful and sovereign. He is a God who loves us and offers to save those who have rebelled against Him. He is the God in whom we trust, who sent His Son Jesus to die for us and rise from the grave. He is the one God who saves. Not Allah, not Vishnu, not Baal, not Molech…not any of the false gods from any age past or present. There is only one God who can save and who does save: YHWH, the Father of our Lord Jesus. Trust Him as God!

Conclusion:

Paul gives an impassioned plea for purposeful unity, giving also the basis for our unity: our one faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Was it a worthwhile plea? Without doubt. The very thing Paul exhorted to the Ephesians, Jesus prayed for the church. John 17:20–21, “(20) “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; (21) that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”  The very night of His arrest, knowing that He would soon suffer on the cross for our sins, Jesus prayed not only for the 11 men still with Him in the upper room, but for every Christian that would later follow in their footsteps: including you and me. And what was His prayer for us? Unity. The more united we are with other born-again Christians, the more the evidence of Christ will be visible in His church, and thus undeniable by the world. The more unity we have as Christians, the better our witness will be to others.

But unity is not an end-goal in itself. We need the right kind of unity if we are to walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called. We can only be unified when we are united in the truth. We find our foundation of truth in the gospel. Without that, we cannot call ourselves “Christian” at all.

So is that all there is to walking worthy of our calling from Christ? Is it just unity and nothing else? What about holiness and love? Paul will get to those things later in the letter, but it is interesting that he started with unity. Unity around our common creed of Christ (our confession of Him as the one Lord) is the foundation. Everything else builds from that point.

How are you doing in this? Remember that unity doesn’t come naturally. It isn’t easy to bear with one another in love, exercising patience with difficult people. It isn’t easy to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…that’s why we have to strive for it. And some days it’s more difficult than others! Maybe your spouse woke up on the wrong side of the bed (or you did!) and you’ve been getting on each other’s backs all day. Maybe your kids (or your parents) are driving you batty. Maybe there’s that one person at church that comes across a bit too passive-aggressive, and you never know how to respond. These are people you love (or at least, want to love), but it’s so hard. This is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit. This is yet one more area in which we depend on the grace of God. Apart from Him, we will fail; through Him, we can do all things…even be one with one another.

[1]https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf ; Pg 77 of PDF, pg 69 of decision.

[2]https://www.independentsentinel.com/colorado-law-allows-post-birth-abortion-infanticide-up-to-28-days/

[3]https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/24/contraceptives-birth-plan-b-abortion/

[4]https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/24/texas-abortion-law-answers/

Ahab and Jezebel committed heinous crimes, believing those things hidden from the Lord and exempt from God’s judgment. They were wrong. God saw them and would judge them. We have the choice of how we respond to God’s revelation of our sin: we can either harden our own hearts, or humbly surrender ourselves anew as we see our sin as God sees them.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

Blind Crimes

Posted: June 23, 2022 in 1 Kings

1 Kings 21, “Blind Crimes”

It has often been said: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” Thoughts on the phrase’s origin vary, most attributing it to a variation of Jeremiah 5:21, “Hear this now, O foolish people, Without understanding, Who have eyes and see not, And who have ears and hear not:” Various translations and commentaries gave rise to the modern proverb, giving it the form we now know. Yet the original context is interesting, for God was declaring through Jeremiah of the judgment that would come upon Judah due to their vast sin, primarily idolatry. Although they had eyes and ears to both read and hear the word of God, they didn’t do it. They shut their eyes to the Lord and dove into sin.

How often do we do something similar? Far more often than we’d care to admit! We blind ourselves, shutting our eyes to our sin, giving it a more pleasant label/description, thereby dulling our repulsion at it. We can deal with things like “little white lies” and “minor indiscretions,” far more easily than “deception” and “adultery.” Our self-imposed blindness helps us pretend that it isn’t really sin at all.

What we need is a wake-up call! We need God to open our eyes, revealing to us the true sinfulness of our sin, that we might understand God’s righteous reaction against it. The more we see our sin as God sees it, the more desperate we will be to cling to Christ! (Which is exactly what we should do!)

But some people never get to this point. Some people remain in their self-imposed blindness. Ancient King Ahab was one.

The last several chapters of 1 Kings have focused on the years of King Ahab of Israel. He was first mentioned in Chapter 16 as succeeding his father Omri to the throne, then was seen in opposition to the prophet Elijah though much of his reign. Ahab was a carnal, sinful man, his wickedness most prominently seen in his idolatry and his relationship with his pagan queen Jezebel.

Despite his many sins against the Lord, God still graciously gave Ahab the opportunity to repent and come to faith. When faced with the daunting threat of the massive Syrian army led by Ben-Hadad, God gave prophecies to Ahab promising victorious deliverance. With each fulfilled prophecy, Ahab had yet another opportunity to trust the Lord. Sadly, each one was wasted. In the end, Ahab chose to form an alliance with Ben-Hadad, despite the fact that God had appointed Ben-Hadad to death in judgment.

To this, God sent one more prophet to King Ahab, this time with a word of condemnation. The judgment which once was designed for Ben-Hadad was now appointed to Ahab. The king had hardened his heart against the Lord and the opportunity for mercy had been discarded. Ahab was just as opposed to God as he had ever been.

Chapter 21 picks up from that point showing the sinful king acting in sinful ways. He and Jezebel committed heinous crimes, believing those things hidden from the Lord and exempt from God’s judgment. They were wrong. God saw all of these things and God declared judgment against them. What Ahab required was for his eyes and ears to be open to God’s word and revelation.

Are ours? We have the choice of how we respond to God’s revelation of our sin: we can either harden our own hearts, or humbly surrender ourselves anew as we see our sin as God sees them. Let us heed the warning of Ahab and ask God to open our eyes!

1 Kings 21

  • The crime (1-16).

1 And it came to pass after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel, next to the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.

  1. After which things? After Ahab’s failure surrounding Ben-Hadad and Syria when Ahab let Ben-Hadad off the hook after God delivered him to Ahab for judgment. After an unnamed prophet declared to Ahab that he would now receive Ben-Hadad’s punishment of death (20:42). After those things, now this came about. How much time passed, we do not know, but the context does give us a preview of what is going to happen: these new events show what brings about Ahab’s death sentence.
  2. The bit of background we get tells us a few things. (1) The events took place in Jezreel, a town ~25 miles northeast of Samaria, about halfway between Samaria and the Sea of Galilee. IOW, it didn’t take place in the city of Samaria itself, but in a town further away. (2) Ahab plainly had more than one “palace,” considering that he had a home in the city of Samaria and another in Jezreel, 25 miles away. How many other homes were owned by Ahab, we don’t know. What we do know is that this was contrary to the principles governing kings, as the Bible forbid the kings of Israel from multiplying horses and wives for himself, i.e., the accumulation of much display of wealth (Dt 17:16-17). Having multiple homes was little different than having multiple horses in that regard. (3) Just as a point of interest, Ahab is described as “king of Samaria” rather than “king of Israel.” Later in the book, he’ll be referenced as “king of Israel” again, but this one reference demonstrates how the northern kingdom was going through an identity change. It was starting to become more associated with the idolatrous sinful kings residing in Samaria than by their historical roots as the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. It was a sign of bad things to come.
  3. In Jezreel, we are introduced to a man named Naboth, who was a land-neighbor to Ahab. This land (upon which Naboth had a vineyard) was attractive to Ahab, and this becomes the catalyst for the events that follow. …

2 So Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near, next to my house; and for it I will give you a vineyard better than it. Or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its worth in money.” 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!”

  1. At first glance, this seems to have been a reasonable offer for purchasing the real estate. Either Ahab would trade land with Naboth, vineyard-for-vineyard, or he would give him the established purchase price. Indeed, in any other culture than that of the Israelites, this was the normal course-of-business. Ahab wasn’t asking any special favors as king (supposedly), but was willing to buy the property outright. Yet the culture was the issue. Among the Hebrews, this wasn’t supposed to happen. This was why Naboth rightly refused the offer, declaring that the land was his family’s inheritance from the Lord in the Promised Land. If he sold what was given to his family from the Lord, he would be akin to ancient Esau who despised his birthright for a bowl of stew. Naboth had too much faith in God and love for his family to do such a thing, which was why he refused the king.
  2. Question: Why would Ahab want to displace a vineyard for a vegetable garden? Issues of property rights and multiple homes for kings aside, vineyards made for profitable business in ancient Israel. If the purchase was approved, why not just continue using the land as a vineyard? The term for “vegetable garden” might also be translated as “herb garden,” or “greens garden.” The term is not common in the Old Testament, the only previous time seen in Deuteronomy 11:10 referring to the herb/vegetable gardens that the Hebrews had during their Egyptian slavery. In Egypt, the gardens had to be watered by hand; this was contrasted with the Promised Land where God would provide all the needed water by abundant rain. Otherwise, when the term is used elsewhere in the Old Testament, it refers to herbs, generally in a sense of poverty or hardship. Some scholars suggest (ESVSB) that Ahab wanted to make Israel more like Egypt, wanting to plant Egyptian-style herb/vegetable gardens. Yet this seems unlikely, considering that Ahab wasn’t planting many gardens, but just the one. More likely, this was one more indication of Ahab’s selfishness. If he had vineyards elsewhere, why have one more? Why not grow the herbs he wanted on land he wanted? This was Ahab being Ahab, the selfish man he was.

4 So Ahab went into his house sullen and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food. 5 But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food?” 6 He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you another vineyard for it.’ And he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’ ”

  1. The king of Israel/Samaria sounds more like a two-year-old than a king. He threw a fit, pouted, and basically did the equivalent of holding his breath till he got what he wanted. Even Jezebel noticed his resentful stubborn mood and asked about him. Responding, he basically whined about what happened. It was all about Ahab and what Ahab wanted. (Not unlike our self-entitled culture today!)
  2. Keep in mind that it was Naboth’s right to refuse to sell. There was nothing illegal or immoral about it. In fact, it was demonstration of Naboth’s faith (a faith which Ahab himself did not have!). As king in Israel, Naboth’s answer should have been sufficient. Still, Ahab complained. It shows that Ahab did not merely offer to purchase real estate from Naboth; Ahab coveted what was his neighbors. Before a legal crime ever took place, sin was already in his heart as Ahab broke the 10th
    1. Some might wonder why “Thou shalt not covet” is included among the 10 Commandments, thinking that coveting is in a far different category than murder or adultery. Not so! Covetousness is born out of pride, and this was the root of what went wrong in the Garden of Eden. When Eve was tempted by Satan to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (which was forbidden by God), she saw that “the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise,” (Gen 3:6). She coveted that which God had not given her (as did Adam, considering he ate what she gave to him!), and that coveting led to death. Does “coveting” belong with “murder” in a list of heinous sins? Yes!
    2. And how subtle this sin is! How prevalent! This is one of those things that doesn’t seem so bad, so Christians aren’t very guarded against it. We might set up guardrails against temptations of sexual lust or violent outbursts; we don’t often pay too much heed to coveting. Beware, lest it sneak up on you and consume you!

7 Then Jezebel his wife said to him, “You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

  1. Don’t miss what she told him. Basically said: “Man up! You’re the king; act like it!” Other monarchs in the ancient near east acted like despots doing what they wanted. In Jezebel’s pagan opinion, Ahab should have acted the same way like every other pagan. (Considering Ahab’s lack of faith, he was pagan in all ways except his ancestry…he might as well drop the façade!)
  2. For the queen, she had enough with the whining. Jezebel decided she would take control and get the vineyard for her husband. There was only one problem: it wasn’t hers to give! (1) Naboth had already refused to sell it and the matter should have ended with that. (2) As queen, she had no legitimate authority to order anything in the land. She wasn’t the ruler of the nation; her husband was.
  3. This is the second time we have seen Jezebel take undue authority for herself. The first was when she declared death to Elijah, putting a contract out on his life. That was in addition to her personal financing of Baalist prophets in Israel. Now, we see her asserting a despotic right for Ahab as king and her manipulations to take control of Naboth’s vineyard. The evil of her actions aside, simply the assertion of her authority was wrong. What was her ‘authority’ as queen of Israel? Her only true duty as queen was to be the wife of the king and the mother of his children. Instead, she asserts herself into a co-regency, claiming authority to rule that was not hers.
    1. We see something similar take place on the political stage when American first ladies act like co-presidents rather than presidential spouses. Of more spiritual significance is when we see it take place within the church. There is zero Biblical justification for husbands and wives to ‘co-pastor’ local congregations. Situations as such are clear violations of Scripture. I am truly grateful for the role my wife place in my life and for the valuable service she gives to this church congregation in so many ways. But she is not the pastor, not a co-pastor, nor does she claim such a role. Wives who do (as well as the husbands that encourage them!) sin against God and the local church.

8 And she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who were dwelling in the city with Naboth. 9 She wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth with high honor among the people; 10 and seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, You have blasphemed God and the king. Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.

  1. The queen formed a city-wide conspiracy in Jezreel against Naboth. Notice to whom she wrote: to the elders and nobles. The very leaders in the city who ought to have stood against evil, who were entrusted with protecting the city residents from ungodly attacks…these were the ones who conspired with the queen against Naboth. The sin in Chapter 21 is not Ahab’s and Jezebel’s alone…it belongs to all the leadership of Jezreel!
  2. The idea was to set a trap. Make it seem like Naboth was to be honored, then hit him with a pair of false accusations of blasphemy, as if Naboth had cursed God or otherwise enticed people to follow false gods. (Ironic, considering Jezebel was herself a blasphemer!)
  3. This was total abuse of God’s ordained justice system. Whereas guilty blasphemers were to be stoned to death (Dt 13:10), Naboth wasn’t guilty. Although it might seem extreme to us to execute apostates and idolaters, for the ancient theocratic kingdom of Israel, it was right. After all, the Hebrews were to be ruled by Almighty God. Temptation to follow other gods was nothing less than treason. So yes, apostasy was a capital offense. It just wasn’t one Naboth committed. Ahab had, as had Jezebel; but not Naboth. Jezebel took the holy word of God and twisted its application for her own evil devices.
    1. God does care about justice. Not “social justice” as the term gets used today, but true Biblical justice in which wrongs are righted in an even and Biblically standardized manner. When His justice is abused, those who abuse it are themselves guilty.
    2. God cares even more about His word. The Bible says that God magnifies His word above His own name (Ps 138:2). When men and women twist and pervert the Scripture, there is no question that God holds them accountable. 

11 So the men of his city, the elders and nobles who were inhabitants of his city, did as Jezebel had sent to them, as it was written in the letters which she had sent to them. 12 They proclaimed a fast, and seated Naboth with high honor among the people.

  1. Again, don’t miss the inclusion of the city leadership. Don’t miss that many men participated in Jezebel’s evil plan. Where were the righteous elders? Where were the men willing to stand fast for what is right? They were nowhere to be found. All that was recorded was the complicity of men who knew better, a betrayal of their public trust.
    1. Is God blind to evil politicians? Does He not see police officers who deny their duty? God sees it all. He will not only judge false teachers of the Bible in the last day; He will judge all men and all women for their sins against Him, including those who neglected or perverted their sword God-given responsibilities.
  2. Per Jezebel’s plan, the city brought Naboth to a public setting, entrapping him. They acted as if they were giving a feast in his honor, but they were only setting him up for a fall. “Honor,” when given to deceive, is dishonorable.

13 And two men, scoundrels, came in and sat before him; and the scoundrels witnessed against him, against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth has blasphemed God and the king!” Then they took him outside the city and stoned him with stones, so that he died. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”

  1. The “scoundrels” were ‘worthless men.’ We’ve seen this word used elsewhere in the Scripture, literally “belial,” men who acted according to their sinful worthless pagan roots. Why did they have two such men? Because the witness of two men was required for a death sentence (Dt 17:6). The Biblical law was supposed to be a safeguard against false accusations and false conclusions, as contradicting testimony would demonstrate innocence of the accused. But when both scoundrels conspired to lie, then they were able to pervert/twist the Mosaic law in their own favor.
  2. With the accusation received, the death sentence was swift. Naboth was publicly executed with the air of legitimacy, although the entire act was evil. 

15 And it came to pass, when Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 So it was, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab got up and went down to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.

  1. Jezebel declared that the vineyard was now Ahab’s and it was his for the taking…so he took it. Question: What about Naboth’s family? Nothing is listed in the text about any potential family that he had, but it is reasonable to assume he was neither an orphan nor a confirmed bachelor, if he was able to care for a vineyard. Someone must have helped him, most likely his family. Even if he was alone, there would have been some kin among the tribe. The land should have gone to them; not Ahab. This was theft on the part of Ahab and Jezebel, plain and simple.
  2. Additionally, we wonder if Ahab felt any guilt or remorse over the murder? Although he did not concoct the murderous plot, it didn’t bother him. He took possession as if nothing happened. It was just a piece of real estate to him, him seemingly indifferent over the circumstances. Just because he didn’t write the letter nor throw a stone didn’t mean that his hands weren’t dirty. He was just as complicit as Jezebel and the city elders.
    1. Keep in mind, this was the king! The king of Israel was supposed to administer justice over evil crimes; not commit them. It was a dark day in the northern kingdom…something that God would not ignore.
  • The condemnation (17-29).

17 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18 “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who lives in Samaria. There he is, in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone down to take possession of it.

  1. Notice a couple of things. First: Elijah again received a word from the Lord. This is the first we’ve seen in a while, although at one point it was the normal pattern for Elijah the prophet. Elijah’s story had gone quiet since his return from Mt. Horeb (Sinai) to which he fled out of despair and discouragement. But God plainly wasn’t done with the prophet. One “bump” in the road didn’t disqualify Elijah from ministry. He was still ready and available to be used as much as he ever was…and God certainly used him. (God can still use us, too, as long as we make ourselves available to Him! It might look different than it did in the past, but when it is of God and for the glory of God, then it is still a wonderful blessing and privilege!)
  2. Second: The ‘secret’ conspiracy of Jezebel and the men of Jezreel, along with the compliance of Ahab, was well known by God. God knew where Ahab was, and what Ahab had done to get there. God knew Naboth by name just as surely as God knew the name of the king that killed him. Jezebel and Ahab may have plotted in secret conspiracies, but no secret is hidden from the Lord. — No sin of any sort is hidden from Him! As David learned, what he did in secret was later done in open on the rooftops. Those things we believe we’ve hidden behind closed doors will later be revealed. Every sin is seen by God and every sin will be answered by Him.
    1. What can be done? Confess and repent through Jesus Christ! Sins will be answered by God, but they can either be answered by God the Son at the cross, or answered by God as the Judge on His great white throne. When Jesus answers our sins, they are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. When Jesus covers our sins, we are truly cleansed and forgiven. When Jesus deals with our sins, He deals with them in fullness. Truly, Christ is our only hope! But He is a glorious hope, freely available to any who would call upon Him!

19 You shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” ’ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick your blood, even yours.” ’ ”

  1. Ahab hadn’t broken only the 10th Commandment (against coveting), but also the 6th and 8th Commandments (against murder and theft). Technically, through his willingness to receive the benefits of the conspiracy, he also broke the 9th Commandment (against bearing false witness). His idolatry wasn’t addressed at this time in this situation, but there was no doubt he frequently broke the 1st and 2nd Commandments (against worshipping God alone and not creating any false idols), and it was very likely as an irreligious man that he also broke the 3rd and 4th Commandments (against blasphemy and working on the Sabbath). Ahab had done it all! This was a man fully soaked in the guilt of sin!
    1. Ahab isn’t unique. Prior to pointing too many fingers at his wickedness, we need to honestly examine our own. Whenever we love something more than God, we worship something other than Him. Whenever we imagine God in our own image, we create an idol. Whenever we use His name carelessly without thought, we blaspheme. Whenever we trust in our efforts for heaven rather than Christ, we profane the Sabbath. And that isn’t to speak of all the times we dishonored/disgraced our parents through our actions or inaction, when we’ve committed murder or adultery in the heart, when we’ve lied, coveted, and the rest. We’ve done it all! We are just as guilty as Ahab, just as condemned by our sin. If we were to face God’s holiness in our sin, we would be lost!
    2. What is the difference between us and Ahab? Only Jesus! Those who have trusted Christ as Savior and Lord have the cleansing work of Jesus, the forgiveness of God. We’ve been washed, reborn, made God’s own children, being the temple of the Holy Spirit. There are massive differences between us and Ahab, but nothing due to ourselves; it is Christ and Christ alone who changes us. But those who without Christ are in exactly the same situation as ancient Ahab, being due the wrath of God for sin. Just as Ahab was judged, so they will be. (So turn to Christ!)
  2. Regarding the judgment of God for Ahab, some have raised questions based on Ahab’s mode of death seen in Chapter 22. Ahab was mortally wounded at Ramoth Gilead fighting against the Syrians, died that evening, and had his body returned to the city of Samaria. It was while his bloody chariot was being cleaned when dogs licked up his blood (22:35-38). Although Ahab certainly died per the judgment of God, how does it match with Naboth’s death? Naboth was stoned to death outside the city (v13); perhaps it referred to Ahab bleeding to death outside the city while the battle raged? Others suggest that this specific punishment did not apply directly to Ahab, but to Ahab’s son Joram (killed by Jehu in Jezreel ~ 2 Kings 9), fulfilling the delay in judgment that God later declares at the end of the chapter (v29). – Whatever the specific fulfillment (of which there are several explanations), there were indeed dogs that lapped up Ahab’s blood, exactly as the word of the Lord proclaimed. God’s word always comes true. We might not understand it in the moment, but hindsight shows it to be perfectly clear.
    1. This is both wonderful and sobering at the same time. Wonderful, in that whatever promises upon which we wait, we can anticipate with hope. What God said, God will fulfill! Sobering, for the same reason. Those who think that God will forget His word or forget about the judgment due their sin will one day be shocked and surprised to receive it in full.

20 So Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD:

  1. It was a contentious meeting! Just like before, when Ahab called Elijah the “troubler” of Israel, the disturber of the peace (18:17). Ahab was none to happy to see the prophet again, describing him as his enemy. But it didn’t have to be that way. Elijah did not have to be Ahab’s enemy. That was Ahab’s choice. Likewise, the judgment Ahab would receive was his own doing. It was his choice to “do evil.” He sold himself into slavery.
    1. Again, Ahab isn’t unique in this. When we give ourselves over to sin, we sell ourselves into slavery. Christ offers freedom! We need to walk in that freedom and remain in it.

21 ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free. 22 I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and made Israel sin.’

  1. The word begins with a short, but sobering, summary statement: “Behold I will bring calamity on you.” Literally, the word used for “calamity” could be translated “evil” or “distress.” This is the Almighty God, YHWH Himself declaring that He would be against Ahab, bringing upon him what Ahab would consider ‘evil.’
    1. If God is for us, who can be against us? But woe to us if God be against us!
  2. Judgment #1: Ahab’s royal dynasty, his “posterity” would be removed. Judgment #2: The kingdom would be cut off from him, i.e., “every male in Israel, both bond and free.” Bottom line: everything that Ahab believed he had as king of Israel would be taken away from him. He would neither have a lasting dynasty nor the obedience of the people. Ahab would go down in disgrace (something proven in the Biblical record of his reign).
  3. In confirmation, God referred to the other two northern dynasties He destroyed (Jeroboam and Baasha). They likewise had provoked Him to anger, just like Ahab had done. Ahab could not continually provoke YHWH and get away with it. God had been amazingly merciful to him…he wasted it.

23 And concerning Jezebel the LORD also spoke, saying, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’

  1. Jezebel wasn’t present at the time, but God had a word of judgment just for her. She would also receive justice for her crimes, dying in a most disgraceful way. Although it wouldn’t come to pass for several more years, this is eventually fulfilled to the letter during the uprising of Jehu (2 Kings 9:30-37).

24 The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Ahab and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field.”

  1. Whether by battle or by other means, the house/family of Ahab would die, experiencing disgrace in death. Again, some of this is shown as literally fulfilled via Jehu’s later vengeance (2 Kings 9-10). Although Ahaziah (the first son of Ahab that succeeded him to the throne) died an early death due to injury, he died in just as much disgrace as did his brother Joram who later received the throne.

25 But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up. 26 And he behaved very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.

  1. Ahab was truly wicked, serving as an evil standard bearer for generations to come. Amazingly, as wicked as Ahab was, Jezebel made him worse. Some people influence us for the better; some for the worse. Jezebel was worse, by far! Ahab had no business marrying this Sidonian pagan but did it anyway. Her marriage to Ahab made him a more wicked king than he would have otherwise been.
  2. Ahab’s worst crime: idolatry. It’s notable, is it not, that in this chapter in which no idolatry from Ahab is described, but rather his wicked crimes against Naboth, that still the overriding sin described by the author of Kings was idolatry. Why was that? Because his coveting, murder, theft, etc., arose from an idolatrous heart. If Ahab had feared the Lord, the other sins would have been avoided. If Ahab had loved the Lord, worshipping YHWH alone as God, that one thing would have kept him from much other evil. Would he have been perfect? Of course not, no more than David was perfect. David had many failings, but he was still a man after God’s own heart and became the standard by which every other king in Israel and Judah was judged. Ahab had zero love for God, but rather gave his heart to the Baals and other pagan idols. And his actions plainly reflected his faith.
    1. Our actions are revealing, are they not? When we find ourselves falling more and more often into sin, it is a sign that our hearts are far from the Lord. It is a plain demonstration that we are not walking in the Spirit. Paul made it clear: Galatians 5:16, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” If we walk in the filling of the Spirit, seeking after Christ by the Spirit’s power, then we “shall not” walk in the lusts of sin. But if we’re walking according to sin, it shows we are not walking in the Spirit. – That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are walking in outright idolatry. It does mean that our hearts are not fully devoted to the Lord as God. It means that we have started to value things other than God as 1st That is the road of idolatry. We need to be careful to recognize the signs of it and repent as soon as possible!

27 So it was, when Ahab heard those words, that he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his body, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning.

  1. For all we know of Ahab, this is quite the surprise! By all appearances, the king seems to have humbled himself and engaged in visible repentance. He did what other people in the past have done when seeking mercy from God: rending his clothes, wearing sackcloth (itchy, uncomfortable burlap-style fabric), abstaining from food, and adopting an attitude of sorrow. The later king of Nineveh did this, also putting ashes on his head, giving a command for all the city to do likewise, and God stayed His hand of wrath (much to the disappointment of Jonah!). Apparently, Ahab did the same. 
  2. Was his repentance real? God knows. For as much as what Ahab did visibly, it might have been superficial/temporary. As will be seen, God’s judgment was not fully lifted; it was only delayed. With this in mind, it seems that Ahab’s repentance was born of worldly sorrow; not godly sorrow. True godly sorrow leads to sincere repentance (2 Cor 7:9-11), resulting in true faith in Jesus Christ. The sorrow of the world is sorrow over consequences, but not sorrow over offending God. The sorrow of the world doesn’t lead to everlasting life; it results still in death.

28 And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house.”

  1. Amazingly, God gave mercy! He delayed judgment specifically because of Ahab’s repentance. Even though Ahab’s repentance did not result in faith (as will be seen in Chapter 22), God gave mercy. Why? Because God is a merciful God! He needs no excuse for His goodness. He is good beyond anything we deserve, for we do not deserve That is just how good He is.
  2. Question: For as much as we rejoice in God’s mercy shown even to a sinner like Ahab, was it right for God to bring Ahab’s judgment upon Ahab’s son? Does this contradict with the Scripture that says that children are not held responsible for the sins of their fathers? Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” No, it is not a contradiction, and yes, it was right for God to do this. God did not hold either Ahaziah nor Joram (two of Ahab’s sons) responsible for Ahab’s crimes, but they certainly had sins and crimes of their own. In a sense, the iniquity of their father was visited upon them (Exo 20:5b) in that they learned to sin from their father, walking in his footsteps, sinning in the same ways. They followed in his wicked habits, thus carrying on his legacy of iniquity. But though they had the example of Ahab, they could have made different choices. No one forced them to sin. They were entirely responsible for the choices they made. All their sin was their own, thus it was sin for which they were due God’s judgment.
    1. Just as, apart from Christ, we are each responsible for our own sins. Our parents may have sinned against us, or started us down a path of sin, but we cannot blame them for the things we have done. We are fully responsible before God for our own choices. (The good news is that freedom and forgiveness is available to us in Jesus! He frees us from the cycle of familial sin!)

Conclusion:

The account ends with a bit of a cliffhanger. Judgment has been proclaimed, yet not administered. That will come in Chapter 22. Chapter 21 shows the sin of Ahab and Jezebel, their terrible crime against Naboth, and indeed, against God. Remember what David realized about his own sin when he committed crimes against Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba in his act of lust, adultery, murder, and cover-up lies: Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight— That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.” Without question, David committed great sin against many men (and at least one woman), but David’s greatest sin (the sin which dwarfed all his other sins) was against God. David’s sin was vertical before it was horizontal.

So it was with Ahab. When Ahab and Jezebel broke the slew of commandments in murder, lies, coveting, theft, etc., it all stemmed from the fact that they did not worship the Lord as God. They had no fear of God, thus no love for God. It was no wonder that acted in ways totally opposed to God. Their sins were against the Lord, and it was with the Lord that they required reconciliation.

They never got it. Ahab appeared to repent for a time, but he mourned the punishment for his crime far more than the crime itself. He didn’t regret the things that led him to that moment; he regretted the fact that he got caught and would be punished for it. True repentance would have resulted in humble faith, fearing and worshipping God as the only God. Sadly for Ahab, that moment never came.

Nor does it come for many people. They might feel regret for a moment, even promising to go to church for a time to “get right with God,” but then go right back to their old ways with no fear of God. Why? Because like Ahab and Jezebel, they have hearts hardened against Him, desiring always to rule themselves and never truly surrender themselves to the Lord as God. And like Ahab and Jezebel of old, they too will find that God knows each and every one of their sins, and judgment will come as a result of them, not a one being forgotten. What is not judged today will be judged in the presence of God at His great white throne, where every deed and thought will be laid bare before the all-knowing and ever-righteous God.

We need our eyes opened to this reality! We need God to awaken us to the sinfulness of our sin and the righteous judgment that awaits, if we are to turn to Jesus in true repentance and faith.

Even as born-again Christians, we need God’s help to see our sin for what it is. Not that we desire to sin; we hope to stay far from it! But we are who we are, and though our spirits may be willing, our flesh is weak. We need God’s help to see these things as God sees them. It isn’t just a fleeting moment of lust; it is engagement with idolatry and embracing of adultery in our hearts. It isn’t a little lie; it is abandonment of the truth, misrepresenting God and ourselves as the people who believe the truth.

There is good news here: the more we recognize the sinfulness of our sin, the closer we will cling to our Savior! The more we see our need for Christ, the tighter we hold to Him – the more we pray – the more we study His word, etc. Having our eyes opened to the reality of our sin and even the reality of our judgment (even when it is “only” the judgment for reward at Christ’s Bema Seat) is exactly what we need to follow more fervently after Jesus.

May God open our eyes!

Paul prayed that the church would know God and glorify God. The more we know and understand the love of Christ, the more we will praise God for Christ and His glorious work.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

Paul’s Prayer for the Church

Posted: June 19, 2022 in Ephesians

Ephesians 3:14-21, “Paul’s Prayer for the Church”

One of the many blessings of having letters from the apostle Paul in our New Testament is that we get glimpses of what it was like to know the man, having him as a pastor, teacher, and friend to Christians all over the Roman empire. Sometimes Christians wonder what it will be like in heaven when we finally get to sit down with some of our heroes of the faith (Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc.), asking them questions about some of the things they did and said, getting explanations straight from the people themselves. Of course, there is always the possibility that (1) we won’t care nearly as much about them, as about being in the presence of Jesus and speaking directly with our Lord, and (2) our questions will be answered before we ever ask, because we will know just as we are known.

Whatever will be the case in heaven, we need not wonder how the apostle Paul prayed for the church. This is something we can know right now, simply by reading the Bible. Paul spoke of what he prayed for the Ephesian church. From his own words, we can know what he most desired for this congregation in the ancient Roman empire. He wanted them to know the love of Christ, and to join with him in praising God for the good news of Christ.

It all comes as a climactic conclusion to the first three chapters of his letter. The first half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been an in-depth study of soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. The apostle went into great detail of how salvation is 100% the work of God, not of men. Although it is necessary for us to respond to God’s work through faith, He Himself is the one who does the work (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). He does the miracle of making us alive, we who were once spiritually dead in our sin and transgression.

Giving us grace and new life is not the only miracle of God displayed in our salvation. In addition to this is one of the mysteries of the gospel: the peace we have in Jesus. Not only does Jesus put us at peace with God, Jesus is also our peace among each other as Jewish and Gentile Christians. Christ has done the amazing mysterious work of uniting us as the Church, bringing us together as the dwelling place of God (His house).

It was with this marvelous truth that Paul started to write his prayer at the beginning of Chapter 3, but he soon became distracted with the wonder of this mystery in the gospel. God had made Paul a steward of this mystery, being entrusted with the responsibility of serving God as he preached the gospel. It was Paul’s privilege to know God and to make Him known…and this same privilege extends to each of us within the church.

At verse 14, Paul gets back on track, getting back to the prayer that he began earlier at verse 1. In it, he doesn’t pray for himself; he tells the Ephesians what he prayed for them. These were his desires for the church, as he interceded on their behalf, praying for their spiritual maturity and discipleship. What did it include? There was a single prayer with several requests, along with a doxology. Boil it down to its essence, and Paul prayed that the church would know God and glorify God. The more we know and understand the love of Christ, the more we will praise God for Christ and His glorious work. But it all starts with God. Without the work of Christ within us, we will never truly understand the love of Christ for us.

Let us look again at the marvelous work of God, that we would know His love and glorify Him forever!

Ephesians 3:14–21

  • Prayer (14-19). Know God!

14 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

  1. Again, the phrase “for this reason” picks up from v1. Paul is speaking of the mystery of the gospel and unity of the church. The end of Chapter 2 gives us the full context. We were strangers and foreigners (past tense!); we are now fellow citizens with every other born-again believing saint. We are now members of the household of God. We are now built on the foundation of the full revelation of God, brought through the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as our Chief Cornerstone. It is Christ and His gospel that is the solid rock upon which His entire church rests. And it is His work within us that makes us into the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God. So, it is for all of this reason that Paul prays. The work of God in transforming sinners to saints, in making those who ought to have been cast away into members of God’s own household…that is enough to send Paul to his knees in prayer.
    1. And why not? What better reason do we have to pray, than when we consider the wonderful work of Jesus in our lives? When considering the wonder of the gospel and the work of grace that Christ does within His church, how could we not bow our knees to God? If not in intercessory prayer, then at least in worship! – If your heart does not have at least a spark of praise when considering the work of Jesus, you need to examine yourself very closely to see if you even belong to Jesus. Those who know Christ, praise Him. If you have no praise for Him, perhaps it is a sign you do not know Him.
  2. Paul’s prayer is first directed to the Father, fitting the pattern we see normally throughout the New Testament. Considering that Father, Son, and Spirit are all one Triune God, it is not theologically wrong to pray to either the Son or to the Spirit; it simply isn’t the normal Biblical model. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He famously instructed them to pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,” (Lk 11:2b). Jesus routinely prayed to the Father, ad although He was filled with the Spirit, the Scripture does not record Him as praying to the Spirit. Again, it isn’t wrong to pray to Son or Spirit. When Peter started sinking in the water, he cried out for help from Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me!” arguably making it the shortest ‘prayer’ in all the Bible (Mt 14:30). When the prophets and teachers in Antioch were praying, it was God the Holy Spirit who answered them, telling them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the ministry (Acts 13:2). Whether they were praying directly to the Spirit, we do not know, but it certainly was the Spirit who answered them.
    1. We want our prayers to be Biblical, but we need to guard against legalism. The key isn’t so much which Person of the Godhead we address; it is that we address God at all. God calls us to pray, so let us pray! If it fit the normal pattern of praying to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Spirit, good. If we give praises directly to the Son and Spirit, then that’s also good. Let us simply be those who pray!
  3. About the method of Paul’s prayer: he was (either literally or metaphorically) bowing his knees in prayer for the church. It might raise a practical question: Does physical posture matter, regarding the act of prayer? Elsewhere in the Scripture, we find people standing in prayer, or praying with lifted hands (also presumably standing). We might see people prostrate before God in worship, having fallen on their faces. Here, Paul kneels in his prayer for the Ephesians. The most important posture in prayer is not physical, but spiritual. We might pray standing, kneeling, or lying down. We might pray as we drive down the road, or when we’re out for our morning walk. We can pray nearly anywhere from nearly any position, as long as our hearts are reverently submitted to the Lord God through Jesus Christ. Might posture be helpful in our intentionality in prayer? It is harder to get distracted from prayer when you’re on your knees (presuming you can still get on your knees!). Likewise, with folded hands, etc. But we need not be legalistic about physical things surrounding prayer. More important than any of those things is the attitude of our hearts.
  4. About the content of Paul’s prayer: he first speaks of one of the truths of the Father. The Father isn’t only the Father of the New Testament Church; He is the Father “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Every being in all of creation is named from the Father. He is the creator of every angel and every nation. We need to be a bit careful with this. Paul does not here say that every man and woman in history is a child of God; he writes that we are named from God. There are men and women who plainly are not children of God. Jesus made this clear when defending His witness to the people of Jerusalem. Although they claimed to have Abraham as their father and thus God as their Father, Jesus told them if God was truly their Father, then they would love and receive Jesus because the Father sent Jesus. Instead they were of their father the devil, who was a murderer and a liar (Jn 8:42-44). So, no, not all men and women are children of God; but yes, all men and women are named from God. God knit every one of us together in the wombs of our mothers. He created not only the human race, but each individual human that descended from Adam and Eve. In this sense, God is the Universal Father of mankind. Paul referred to this idea when in Athens. Acts 17:26–28, “(26) And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, (27) so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; (28) for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” The vast majority of Athenians did not yet know God, so they were not properly God’s children being part of His house; but they were ultimately descended from God’s creative act, and God desired each and every one of them to know Him as their true Heavenly Father.
    1. It is from God’s creative act that we get the idea of what theologians sometimes call the “Imago Dei,” how each of us are created in the ‘image of God.’ During the creation week, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” Gen 1:26). Because God created us in His image, each of us has inherent value. We do not treat each other like animals, because each of us has been made in the image of God. This is how all humans everywhere understand basic ideas of right and wrong, for God’s law is written on our hearts. It is one more proof that there is but one God and that He is owed our allegiance and worship.
  5. BTW: Most translations do not include the phrase “of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as although the phrase is found in the vast majority of manuscripts, it is found primarily in later Roman manuscripts, not in the wider geographical areas of other church fathers. Of course, it is undoubtedly true that the Father is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is affirmed in every Bible translation of Ephesians stretching back to Eph 1:3. However, Paul’s focus at this point is his prayer to the Father, much more than the Father’s relationship to the Son.

16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,

  1. Request #1: Strengthened through the Spirit. Of all the many things for which Paul could pray (and there are four requests in this particular prayer), the first was spiritual empowerment from God for the church. “That He would grant you,” the “you” speaking directly of the Ephesian Christians (and other readers). They were the ones that needed this gift from God in their lives, not a one of them being exempt. (Not even Paul was exempt from the ongoing need of God’s strength! It’s just that Paul wasn’t praying for himself at this moment.) All of us need “to be strengthened with might” by God. Not a one of us will ever get to such a mature point of discipleship that we don’t require extra strength. When does a professional athlete stop training? Only at retirement. Guess what? God doesn’t call us to retire from the kingdom! We might retire from our career, but never from Christ. We are always training, always in need of divine strength and power…and God is the only One who can provide it.
  2. Don’t miss the prepositions, as we might get the emphasis wrong. The prayer is that with power, we would be strengthened through the Spirit in the inner man. What we need is mighty divine power. How we receive it is through the Person of God the Holy Spirit. Where it benefits us is in the inner man. Sometimes, well-meaning Christians pray for “more” of the Holy Spirit. Let us exercise caution in this, desiring to be Biblically accurate in our prayers. Although we are sometimes filled more with the Spirit (i.e., with His power) than at other times, we do not receive more of the Spirit at one time versus another. God the Holy Spirit is a person; not a thing. He is either with us and in us, or He is not. We do not get ‘more’ of the Spirit as if we’re filling our car with ‘more’ gasoline. We receive more or less power from Him, but He Himself is not distributed piecemeal. – Thus, Paul’s prayer for us to receive this mighty power (dunamis) via God the Holy Spirit. We need much more of His power and for His power to be effective within us (in our inner man, in the depths of our being). We cannot acquire it on our own; He must do the work of strengthening by His grace. (Which He gladly does!) He strengthens us where we need it most: in the part of us no one sees but God.
    1. Consider for a moment what a wonderful work of God this alone is! Where do you and I most need power? At the core of our innermost selves, in our hearts, in our inner beings. Temptation might enter through the eyes, but it is our hearts that yearn to fulfill them. We can put on masks and holy pretenses with the people around us, but we know who we truly are at heart. God does, too. And God helps us right where we need it. The Holy Spirit will strengthen you with divine power in your inner self. Do you feel weak at heart? Cry out to God in prayer! If Paul prayed this for the church, surely you can pray it for yourself!
  3. How would this strengthening come? Obviously, it must be the gift of God, but the way that God gives it is abundant. It is “according to the riches of His glory.” Not merely “by” the riches of God’s glory, but “according to” God’s riches of His glory. e., in proportion to His glorious riches. How much are God’s riches in glory? Infinite! God has no lack of strength to provide. He need not ration it out a little per person. When you see your need for power, ask!

17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

  1. Request #2: that the Christians would be indwelt by Christ. This presents a question. Considering that Paul is writing to the Ephesian Christians (the born-again men and women in Ephesus and elsewhere), we know that each one of these Christians was indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the moment of their salvation (Jn 20:22). The very test of salvation is that Christ is within us (2 Cor 13:5). Why then, would Paul pray that Christ would dwell in the hearts of people that God already indwells? Some have thought that Paul might be referring to the power of Christ indwelling among His people, along the same lines as v16. Meaning that being strengthened through the Spirit means that Christ would dwell in our hearts, Christ Himself being the strength that we receive. With respect to scholars who hold that view, there may be a different idea in mind. The particular word used for “dwell,” is insightful, as one commentary notes, “the verb denotes permanent habitation as opposed to sojourning or an occasional visit,” (Rogers & Rogers). Regarding the idea of spiritual power, all Christians are empowered by the Spirit, but that idea of filling is not the same as permanent dwelling. After all, we are filled over and over by the Spirit of God, and we are commanded to be continually filled (as Paul instructs later in Chapter 5). That doesn’t quite fit with the idea of a permanent dwelling, as Paul prays that Christ would dwell in our hearts. So what does Paul mean? Again, taking a closer look at the word used for “dwell,” and it too comes from the same root word for “house,” as seen so much through the end of Chapter 2. (oikos = house; katoikeō = to dwell.) This seems to go back to the picture of the house of God (His dwelling place) from Ch 2. The more solid our foundation; the more we understand how we are rooted and grounded in Christ; the firmer we will be built at God’s holy house, His dwelling. It isn’t so much a prayer that Christ would now dwell someplace new where He hasn’t dwelt before, nor that He would stop leaving someone in which He’s dwelt in the past (heaven forbid!). It’s a prayer that the Christians would understand their own role as the temple/house of God.
    1. Consider it: Christ dwells within you! Though the incarnate Lord Jesus today sits at the right hand of God the Father, spiritually speaking this same Lord Jesus dwells in your heart. And not just yours as an individual Christian, but in the heart of every other individual Christian. He isn’t there because you “asked Him into your heart;” He is there because you surrendered your life to Him in repentance and faith and you have been spiritually made into the temple of God. What glorious privilege! What wonder, what majesty, what grace! We, who aren’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, we are made Jesus’ home. We are rooted and grounded in His love, built up on Jesus Himself as our chief cornerstone. (Pray that you never stop being amazed by His wonderful grace!)
  2. How does it all take place? We see it in another preposition. Christ dwells in us “through faith.” Through faith in what? Faith in the message of Jesus, the gospel. This gets back to the basics, what Paul already addressed back in Chapter 2 how we are saved by grace through faith, not of works (2:8-9). There are no magic words you can say that will make Jesus take up residence in your heart. There are no works you can do that will shore up your foundation in Christ, for a better rooting and grounding. It is through faith this happens, and only through faith. All we can do is believe and respond to the good news of Jesus. He does all the rest.

18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; …

  1. Request #3: That they would comprehend/apprehend the love of Christ, that they would get an idea of the scope of His love. The idea behind the word translated “comprehend” is “grasp, attain.” Think of it like the love of Christ being so big that if we only grab hold of a tiny bit of understanding, it will still be bigger than we know. Like a little babe reaching for the pinky finger of a farmer that has spent his life working with his hands in the dirt. Even his pinky is like a sausage, yet his baby holds only as much as that finger as possible. Likewise, we reach for just a bit of understanding, a glimpse of the massive love of Christ. How big is it? It is more than we know! It is wider, longer, deeper, and higher than we can imagine. In these dimensions, some have noticed an outline of the cross. Whether that was in Paul’s mind, or if he was simply using the common cultural ideas for dimensions, we do not know. But the basic idea is clear: the love of Christ is massive! It is bigger than our concept of time and space! How could it be anything less? When we remember that the demonstration of God’s love for us is the cross, being that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8), that itself shows something greater than we can imagine. How could God the Father send God the Son to die for us? The Father and Son have infinite love for each other, eternal fellowship within the Godhead. Father, Son, and Spirit have no need for us. Especially when considering the rottenness of our sin and abundant rebellion against Him. Why would God desire us at all? For one reason alone: He loves us. He is glorified in His love for us so He does love us, and the death of Jesus is proof. How grand that love must be! The plan of God for our redemption stretches into eternity past, thus His love for us is eternally ancient. The promise of God is that we will live out our redemption in His presence for eternity future, thus also His love for us is infinitely long. How much of the depth of our sin does Jesus’ blood cover? Every bit of it, from the sins we remember, to the ones we’ve long forgotten, even providing for the ones we’ve not yet chronologically committed. To what heights does the love of Christ soar? To the highest of heavens, so much so that even the angels are amazed. – Beloved, it is this that we are to grasp! This is the love we are to apprehend, to attempt to barely comprehend. And this is why Paul prayed for God’s help in it all! In ourselves, we cannot begin to understand His love for us in Christ Jesus. We simply do not have the intellectual capability to grasp the concept. We need God to empower us to do it.
  2. Considering that we can barely grasp the scope of God’s love for us, it is no wonder that Paul said what he did in v19, praying that we would “know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” It almost sounds like a contradiction, an oxymoron: to know the unknowable. How might we know something which surpasses knowledge (i.e., goes beyond our ability to know)? This was why Paul prayed. It goes beyond our ability; not God’s. We cannot truly grasp the scope of the love of Christ for us, but God can enlighten our eyes and give us a glimpse. We get a bit of an idea of this when looking at passages such as Isaiah 6 when the prophet sees the throne room of God, or Ezekiel 1 when Ezekiel sees something similar from a different angle. We see it again throughout the book of Revelation, as we get glimpses into heavenly things for which human language fails. The various authors, though divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit in what they wrote, were still limited by language itself. At some point, there are no words to describe was it infinite. But a picture? As the saying goes, a single picture is worth a thousand words. That is why we need God to give us a glimpse of His infinite love. We cannot comprehend it through mere description; what we need is revelation and the only One who can give it is God.
    1. This underscores the need for divine help in our evangelism. There will never be a time when someone is debated into the kingdom. You might logically win every argument thrown at you, but as long as that person has a heart stubbornly opposed to God, that person will remain unsaved. Salvation is not received through a winning sales pitch; it is received by humble hearts. This is one more reason we need to soak our efforts in prayer! Pray that hearts would be broken by God. Pray that eyes would be opened, that they would get a glimpse of God’s love for them and of their sinful rebellion against Him. 

…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

  1. Request #4: Filled with God’s fullness. Arguably, the idea might be expressed as “filled unto all the fullness of God,” as the preposition (eis) not normally translated as “with,” but rather as “to, in, into.” Either way, we are still in the realm of the infinite, the unknowable by human standards. If we are filled with the infinite fullness of God, or filled unto His infinite fullness, it is still be full to the point of overflowing. Like buckets or tubs that have water continually running into them, there comes a certain point where the water overflows and the entire ground is wet. Perhaps that is a bit of the picture (and benefit) that Paul has in mind. If we are so filled with God’s fullness, with all His goodness, love, mercy, strength, etc., it is inevitable that it will spill over to others. Think of it in terms of the greatest commandments. If you strive for the first, the second will naturally follow. Those who truly love God with all heart, soul, and strength, will most assuredly love their neighbors as themselves. How could they not? An overwhelming love for God simply results in loving other people, for those other people are made in the image of God. Those other people are loved by God, with Jesus sacrificing His life for them just as much for us. Those who love God to the full will love the things that He loves (and hate the things that He hates), and this includes loving the people He loves, desiring them to be reconciled with God and brought into a right relationship with Him. Keep in mind, to reverse the commandments does not lead to the same result. There are many people who go to great lengths to demonstrate love for neighbor, yet have zero love for God. Atheists can demonstrate love for their neighbors, while still hating God. It is only when we strive after the first greatest commandment that the second is filled as a result. Loving others is the overflow of our love for God.
  2. As to Paul’s point, he prayed that the Ephesians (and all of us) would be filled to that point of overflowing. That we would be utterly consumed with God’s fullness, overwhelmed by His greatness and glory. – With that in mind, take a moment to ask yourself some hard questions. Does that describe you? Is this your walk with the Lord? Sure, you might be truly saved, knowing that you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus asking to be forgiven, seeking His help and strength in constant repentance and faith. You know you have a baseline of salvation…but is that all there is? Is it only a baseline, rather than the surpassing fullness of God for which Paul prays? If we’re being honest, most (if not all) of us would say some days are better than others. There are some days we strive to seek Christ with all our hearts being fully surrendered to Him, being filled with His fullness; but there are other days we keep Him at arms’-length, at the fringes. There might be some of us (if being honest) who regularly keep Jesus at arms’-length, being grateful for salvation but not giving Him too much thought otherwise. This is one more reason to pray that we would be filled unto God’s fullness! One more reason to get a glimpse of the infinite scope of the love of Christ! The more we see Him, the more we know Him, the more we want to know Him. The greater appreciation we have of the grace we received from Him, the more grace we want to receive. The apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians and would implore each of us: if you are not overwhelmed by the love of Christ for you and the fullness of God, get overwhelmed! Ask God to open your eyes, helping you (perhaps for the first time) experience the abundant life that He makes available to you in Christ Jesus!
  • Doxology (20-21). Glorify God!

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,

  1. Before Paul gets to the actual praise, he begins with a marvelous statement of God’s character. God is able. God has all power, all capability. There is nothing outside His power or His reach. He is the omnipotent God. With Him, all things are possible. He created the entire universe in six days, He raised Jesus from the dead; there is no limit as to what He can do. Truly, God is able
  2. How much power/ability does He have? God is able to do far more than we can imagine! KJV/NKJV phrases it as “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” NASB/ESV says “far more abundantly;” NIV “immeasurably more.” We get the idea! According to one lexicon, the single word used by Paul translated this way speaks of that which is “quite beyond all measure, [being the] highest form of comparison imaginable,” (BDAG). You cannot string together enough superlatives to describe the scope of the power of God. And amazingly, so much of this power, He works for us on our behalf. Look again at the text: “above all that we ask or think.We are invited to go to our Heavenly Father and ask, to plead with the Creator God to act in His omnipotence for our requests. That is amazing privilege and blessing!
    1. Be careful here. Paul’s words are a prelude to his praise of God; not a guaranteed promise that God is going to give us whatever we ask. God is certainly able to do anything, but God is not obligated to do anything that is not within His will. Christians sometimes lose sight of this, thinking that because God can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, that somehow God will always do this exactly according to our expectations. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t even work that way in some of the things that we believe to be wholesome and selfless. We might not even be asking something for ourselves, but praying for a healing on someone else’s behalf, or some other form of provision for someone. And if it doesn’t come, we wonder what went wrong. “Can’t God do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think? Well, I thought and asked this time, and nothing happened!” This is why it’s important to read and interpret the Bible within its own proper context. Contextually, Paul is not making a promise of what happens in prayer; he is stating the infinite extent of God’s power. Yes, God can do all that we can think; God can do far beyond what we can think. But it is up to God whether He does it. Remember that God is not only omnipotent; He is also omniscient. God knows all things at all times, which is why He knows what answers to prayer need to be affirmative and which ones are to be denied. He knows what is best in every situation, what will accord with His ultimate plan.
    2. With that (important) caveat in mind, please do not think that it is a reason not to ask God in prayer. We can and should ask God all these things in prayer, believing that God is truly able to grant them. We do not always know which prayers are according to His perfect will, but we do know that God invites us to pray. Our prayers are part of His perfect plan. So pray! Pray with faith, knowing that God can do all things. Yes, God can heal the sick; yes, God can provide daily bread; yes, God can heal marriages; yes, God can break the hardest of hearts bringing men and women to faith. God can do all of these things and more. He can do more than you can even think to ask Him. Be willing to ask.
  3. The last clause of v20 is almost as astounding as the first part. Our God is able, yes! He can do far more than we can imagine. He invites us to ask. All of that is true, but then there is even more. This same infinite power of God is at work within us, as the church: “according to the power that works in” The almighty power of God, the creative power of God, the infinite power of God…that power is demonstrated in the church. How so? In many ways, some of which Paul has detailed throughout the earlier chapters of the letter. God showed His power within us as the church as He chose to bless us with every spiritual blessing, as He adopted us to be His sons, as Jesus redeemed us and forgave us our sins, when the Spirit sealed us. God showed His power when He took people who were spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, making us alive in Christ Jesus. He showed His power when He transformed us as believers, and when He joined Jew and Gentile together in one body. None of this is possible apart from the power of God! Apart from God’s infinite power, the church would not exist as not a one of us would be saved. We wouldn’t be saved, we wouldn’t be able to function…we would have nothing and no hope. It is only by God’s power that we do.
    1. This is one of the problems with the ‘signs and wonders’ crowd. As much as all of us ought to want all of God’s fullness, to experience His love and grace, to be overwhelmed in our worship of Him; we get all of that when we seek Him in spirit and truth through our study of the word and application through prayer and obedience. We don’t need camp-meeting after camp-meeting, conference after conference. We don’t need to look for demonstrations of power (many of which are ginned-up contrivances of men). What we need is to see the true power of the true God, which is clearly seen in our salvation. Why search incessantly for other miracles, when we have already personally experienced the miraculous power of God in our own regeneration? To go from death to life…that is more than sufficient proof of the power of God!

21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

  1. The final prayer of praise: for God to be glorified in the church. Interestingly, Paul doesn’t pray simply for God to be glorified. If he did, it would be a great prayer. Part of the cry of the Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. Yes, we should pray that God be glorified, with no further qualification needed. But in this case, Paul further. “To Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations.” Here, the prayer for God to be glorified in the church. Is He? He is, when the church remains in Christ. When individual church congregation (and the believing Church as a whole) remains true to the gospel and the word of God, when we stand fast in the truth staying rooted and grounded in Christ and in His love – when we do this, then yes, God will be glorified in the church. Any time the church acts like the church, living as God has made us to be, being witnesses to all the world of Christ, then yes, God is glorified in His church. This is what is to happen in this present day.
  2. Of course, some might make the argument that as the church stands fast in the gospel this is how God is glorified by the church. We might argue that Paul’s prayer is that God be more directly glorified in the church through our worship, prayer, and service. But this too is the church acting like the church is supposed to act. The doctrine we hold is supposed to be expressed in our corporate worship and our individual lives. Be it when we passionately sing God’s praises, or when we serve others as the hands and feet of Jesus, here too God is glorified in His church. There ought to be no better place to see the glory of God displayed than in the local church!
  3. Moreover, God will be glorified in the church throughout eternity. What so often hinges on our obedience today will be the (super)natural outworking of our fully realized salvation when we are finally glorified in the presence of Christ. We will always be the church and Christ will always be glorified in our redemption. There will never be a time when God is not glorified and praised because of His grand work within us through Jesus. We see it in the songs of Revelation, when the elders cast their crowns before the throne of God saying, “You are worthy, O Lord,” and when the multitude proclaims with loud voices, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” We see it later in the book, not in songs but in the very existence of the New Jerusalem with the glory of God and the Lamb lighting the city. God will always be glorified in His church, for that is how He designed it to be.
  4. This is the theological truth. What about the practical reality for today? Is God glorified in us? Is He glorified in this church? May all that we do be for the glory of God!

Conclusion:

It is a marvelous prayer from Paul, that we would know God. To know Him as our Father, to know the strength of the Spirit, to know the love and indwelling of Christ – to know Him and all His fullness, truly is a marvelous prayer for every Christian. Then, following on that knowledge is the glory of God. How can we think of the incredible love of God and not praise Him, not seek for Him to be glorified within us?

To know God and to glorify God. Such is our privilege and our lot. This is what we have in Christ, being made possible only through Christ. Not only will we never know God apart from Jesus, we cannot even grasp His love for us apart from Jesus’ grace. Such is our dependence upon Him.

But when He gives us a glimpse of His wonders, His love, His glory…how marvelous! How wonderful! 

This is what we get to celebrate with one another as we gather for worship (be it Sundays, Wednesdays, small groups, etc.). This is what we get to experience when we serve Him in various ministries (formal or informal). We get to live in all of this, all because of what God has already done for us in Christ Jesus.

Let us celebrate the privilege…and more than that, celebrate the God who privileges us! Let us not be those who receive our salvation then keep Jesus at arms’-length. As if His gift of salvation was good enough for fire insurance, but no more. May our eyes be opened to the glory of God and His infinite love, that we would be forever changed! We’ve all seen certain logos or symbols, in which once you’ve seen what is there, you can’t unsee it. Like the arrow in the middle of the FedEx logo, or the 31 in the middle of the B-R of Baskin Robbins. If that can happen with advertisements, imagine what might happen if we get a glimpse of the true love of Christ! What we see, we will never unsee. The things Isaiah saw forever changed him, as did with Peter, Paul, and others. May we be those who see our Jesus rightly, His love for us, and the glory of God…that we would be forever changed!

Although God gave evil King Ahab the opportunity to know Him as God, it was an opportunity Ahab missed. Despite God’s gracious revelation, Ahab’s heart remained stubborn and proud. Beware that you do not miss your own opportunity! Respond to God’s revelation of Himself through Jesus Christ and be saved!

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Ahab’s Missed Opportunity

Posted: June 16, 2022 in 1 Kings

1 Kings 20, “Ahab’s Missed Opportunity”

As the old saying goes, sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. We get in our own way, trip up ourselves, or start down a path that leads to worse and worse consequences. It doesn’t take much, but once we get started, it’s difficult to stop (outside of putting our pride to death).

We aren’t alone in this. All people in every culture have struggled with the same, the kings of Israel being no different. Even when we’re talking about a king as evil as Ahab, he was easily his own worst enemy. Though presented with wonderful gracious opportunities from the Lord God, he wasted them when he refused to humble himself. He became a victim of his own egotistical pride, missing out on something so much better offered him by the Lord.

After inheriting the kingdom of Israel from his father Omri, Ahab made his home in Samaria and (along with his pagan wife Jezebel) committed great acts of evil as he led the nation deeper and deeper into idolatry. Opposing Ahab in the name of the Lord was Elijah the prophet of whom the author of Kings made the primary subject of the past three chapters. Through Elijah, God worked amazing miracles, culminating in a very public showdown on Mt Carmel in which the cult of Baal was exposed as fraudulent, while YHWH God showed Himself to be the only true God. Despite this massive victory, Elijah was filled with fear as he heard the threats of Jezebel against him. He ran for his life, eventually arriving at Mt Horeb (Sinai) where God dealt with him personally.

As for Ahab, he was last seen in 19:1 reporting to Jezebel the news of Elijah’s Mt Carmel victory and his public execution of the Baalist prophets she supported. From that point, the narrative fell silent regarding Ahab, even when God commanded Elijah to anoint a new king in Israel. That new king did not appear for quite some time, and the writer of Kings returns his narration to Ahab in Chapter 20.

What we see from Ahab is somewhat surprising. As evil as a king as Ahab showed himself to be, God still sent prophets to him with God’s own word promising God’s own deliverance. In this, God was giving Ahab the merciful opportunity to know Him as God, to be a right relationship with God through humility and faith. Sadly, it would be a refused opportunity, a missed opportunity. Despite the revelation Ahab received, his heart remained stubborn and hard.

Beware that you do not miss your own opportunity! God has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ. Know Him and serve Him in truth!

1 Kings 20

  • Ben-Hadad threatens Ahab (1-12)

1 Now Ben-Hadad the king of Syria gathered all his forces together; thirty-two kings were with him, with horses and chariots. And he went up and besieged Samaria, and made war against it. 2 Then he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, and said to him, “Thus says Ben-Hadad: 3 ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your loveliest wives and children are mine.’ ” 4 And the king of Israel answered and said, “My lord, O king, just as you say, I and all that I have are yours.”

  1. That Ben-Hadad was king of Syria indicates that Elijah had not yet anointed Hazael to be the new Syrian (Aramean) king per the command of God (19:15). Actually, there is no Biblical evidence that Elijah ever followed through on this, but rather trained his protégé Elisha for that task (2 Kings 8). As it was, Ben-Hadad (likely Ben-Hadad II) reigned. He was an imperialistic king with large ambition. He already had a military force that included “thirty-two kings” from city-states already conquered. Those kings were assimilated into his own army, making it so that his ranks grew exponentially with each new nation conquered. By this point, he set his sights on Israel that they would be next to fall.
  2. Apparently, Ben-Hadad had little-to-no resistance bringing his army into Israel, soon surrounding the capital city of Samaria, besieging it. This was a bad scenario for Ahab! His city was surrounded, on the brink of destruction. It is no wonder that when Ben-Hadad extended the command to submit as (yet another) vassal state in the growing Syrian empire, Ahab agreed. He didn’t have much choice. In order to spare his life and the lives of his people, Ahab gave the culturally expected response that “all” he had belonged to his new king, King Ben-Hadad.

5 Then the messengers came back and said, “Thus speaks Ben-Hadad, saying, ‘Indeed I have sent to you, saying, “You shall deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children”; 6 but I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants. And it shall be, that whatever is pleasant in your eyes, they will put it in their hands and take it.’ ”

  1. Ben-Hadad pressed the issue demanding not only submission, but total humiliation. His message basically was, “You said that all you had was mine. Prove it. I’m going to take whatever you love; you’re going to watch and not do anything about it.”
  2. Some scholars suggest that Ben-Hadad was going further than even this. Whereas in v3, he demanded everything that belonged to Ahab, the suggestion in v6 is that he demanded everything that belonged to everyone else (Ahab’s “servants”). Ahab may have had the ability to surrender his own wealth to Ben-Hadad, but he didn’t have the authority to surrender anyone else’s. — With respect to the scholars who hold that view, it seems to be a distinction without a difference. Ahab was a despotic ruler in Israel. Anything that belonged to his servants fundamentally belonged to him. He didn’t have the right to steal anything (as will be seen in Ch 21), but when faced with an existential threat, Ahab could do what was necessary to protect the nation. It didn’t mean that Ahab wanted to do it; only that he could, if needed. (Ahab was evil, but he wasn’t politically stupid. He needed the support of the people if he wanted to remain king. That was why he didn’t simply take whatever he wanted.)

7 So the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, “Notice, please, and see how this man seeks trouble, for he sent to me for my wives, my children, my silver, and my gold; and I did not deny him.” 8 And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” 9 Therefore he said to the messengers of Ben-Hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you sent for to your servant the first time I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’ ” And the messengers departed and brought back word to him.

  1. Notably, Ahab did something wise: he asked advice from his elders. Again, he was evil in that he was a base idolatrous man, but even Ahab recognized the need for counsel. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even the worst leaders in our modern world still use advisors, perhaps receiving foolish advice, but advice nonetheless.) Ahab knew that whatever he did would dramatically impact everyone else. He required their assent for any move he might make. If they were the ones to propose the strategy, all the better.
  2. Everything Ahab said about the situation was true. Ben-Hadad was pushing, seeking a reason to go to war with Israel. Although Ahab tried to be reasonable, giving the standard answer that was culturally expected of vassal states, what Ben-Hadad was doing was far beyond the norms, demanding that his messengers could literally waltz into Samaria and take anything they wanted. Ahab had tried his best to avoid war, but it seemed useless. The elders responded with the only counsel that was available to them: it was time to fight. If Ahab fell, then everyone in Samaria and Israel would suffer.
    1. There comes a time when lines must be drawn, when men and women of God say, “No more!” We don’t often think of Christians going to war, but sometimes war comes to us, and we find ourselves in the position of protecting the innocent. Maybe it’s physical; maybe it’s cultural; whatever it is, it is real, and it requires conviction and courage. – Our own culture is increasingly making evil and drastic demands on our children and youth, imposing sexual perversion upon them in the name of “pride,” even to the point of physical mutilation under the pretense of “healthcare.” If the men and women of God do not stand for our children, who will? When even Ahab says, “This thing I cannot do,” surely we as born-again believers can respond with similar conviction.
  3. Notice that even in Ahab’s response, he still seemed to try to avoid war. He refused to surrender his belongings to Ben-Hadad, but he did so respectfully. He still referred to himself as a “servant.” He knew where lines needed to be drawn, but he wasn’t drawing them in such a way to provoke Ben-Hadad to war. Remember that lives were at stake, and Ahab (Ahab! Of all people!) tried his best to spare his people from bloodshed.

10 Then Ben-Hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me, and more also, if enough dust is left of Samaria for a handful for each of the people who follow me.” 11 So the king of Israel answered and said, “Tell him, ‘Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off.’ ” 12 And it happened when Ben-Hadad heard this message, as he and the kings were drinking at the command post, that he said to his servants, “Get ready.” And they got ready to attack the city.

  1. Ben-Hadad swore to destroy the city, taking Samaria down to the dust. Ahab replied with a proverb (potentially a common proverb at the time, although this is the only instance it is recorded in the Bible). They were fighting words, but wise words. Samaria may have been in a weak position, but it wasn’t yet overrun. Anything could happen…and it did, even more than what Ahab imagined!
  • God delivers Ahab (13-22).

13 Suddenly a prophet approached Ahab king of Israel, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’ ” 14 So Ahab said, “By whom?” And he said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘By the young leaders of the provinces.’ ” Then he said, “Who will set the battle in order?” And he answered, “You.”

  1. The word “suddenly” gives an idea to the impact. It might elsewhere be translated “behold!” as if watching a movie and someone suddenly appears on the horizon. It was Samaria’s darkest day, seemingly without hope, when “suddenly” a prophet of YHWH appeared.
    1. How wonderful it is when we ‘behold’ the hope given us by God! So many times, things look dark with the world closing in around us, but then God does something amazing. Maybe God delivers us from our enemy – maybe He gives us strength to endure – maybe He works the miracle of turning our enemy to our friend. Whatever it is, God “shows up” in an amazing way. Not that God was ever absent (How could He be? He’s the omnipresent God!), but that God reveals Himself in a special way. – Can God still do this? Does God still do this? Yes! He is the Living God who still acts in very real living ways among His people! Let us look to Him, ‘beholding’ His ‘sudden’ hope!
  2. In what (or in “who”) was God’s hope suddenly revealed? In the appearance of a prophet. A man of God had a word of God for Ahab. This itself was amazing grace! A promise of deliverance to Ahab from YHWH. The very God whom Ahab rejected, this same God gave a word of comfort and grace. It was only two chapters ago that Elijah faced off against the idolatrous false prophets of Baal that were financially supported by this king and his queen. Ahab previously cared nothing for YHWH God, despite seeing incredible demonstrations of divine power. Yet to this idolatrous pagan king, God still sent His word.
    1. How many times did God reach out to you prior to you becoming a Christian? Although some men and women come to faith in Jesus the first time they hear of Him, that doesn’t seem to be the norm (at least in our culture). In my own case, I remember hearing the gospel and even understanding the conviction of God the Holy Spirit to be saved at least once, before denying it and pushing it off until God reached out to me again. God so often reaches out in His grace over and over again. It is so wonderful and loving and kind of Him to do so!
    2. But it isn’t something to take for granted! Though God often reaches out multiple times, none of us know which time will be the last. We might just find that we’ve said “no” to God enough times to harden our hearts against Him. This is why Isaiah wrote, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near,” (Isa 55:6). Don’t harden your heart because you might find it too late!
  3. But God did reach out with this prophet, giving Ahab a message and promise of deliverance. Yes, Samaria was surrounded with a “great multitude.” Yes, things looked hopeless in light of the Syrians besieging Samaria. But God promised to “deliver” the Syrians to Ahab. God promised to give the enemy into Israel’s hand. Why would God do such a thing? As a witness to Ahab: “and you shall know I am the LORD.” – This is the evidence that God was reaching out to Ahab in grace. God wanted Ahab to come to faith, humbly surrendering himself as he responded to the true knowledge of the true God. If Ahab responded rightly to this miracle, then he would “know” God in truth, humbly submitting to the covenant God of Israel, the “I AM.”
    1. Why did God do miracles in the New Testament? Why does He still do them today? For the same reason. When God grants supernatural healing or does some other undeniable thing, He doesn’t do it so that some televangelist can make money off of it. He doesn’t do it so that any one man or woman can promote him/herself. He does it so that people will know Him. He does it so that Jesus and His gospel can be proclaimed and evidenced. Remember the words of Peter and John to the lame man at the gate of the temple: Acts 3:6, “Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”” And later, their response to the watching crowd: Acts 3:12–13, “(12) So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: “Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? (13) The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.” … Acts 3:16, “And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.” It wasn’t Peter and John who had any power, nor were they trying to claim any credit for themselves. It was all Jesus. God deserved the glory, for God healed this man in Jesus’ name, for Jesus’ sake. The miracle was done so that people would know Jesus, coming to faith in Him as Savior and Lord. – This is always the reason for miracles! This is even the reason for the miracle of our regeneration and transformation as believers in Jesus: that people might see Jesus in us, glorifying God. The miracle is never about us; it is always about knowing and worshipping God.
  4. Not only did God have this comforting promise for Ahab, God also had a plan how to accomplish it (seen in v14). With Samaria surrounded, Ahab didn’t easily understand how he would raise (much less lead) an army. This is where the “young leaders” came in. They could do what Ahab couldn’t, being that he was behind the city wall and they were not. Simply the fact that God called Ahab to use the young leaders is telling and unexpected. Young leaders would have been inexperienced leaders, perhaps untested in battle. Few of Ahab’s military advisors likely would have suggested using young leaders in a life-and-death situation. But they were the very choice of God!
    1. It is a reminder to us that our strength isn’t what we need for victory; God’s strength is. He and He alone is sufficient for us. 
  5. The whole back-and-forth regarding who was to lead the battle is interesting. Was Ahab afraid? Perhaps, though of course not without reason. He seems to have been looking for anyone but himself to lead the battle. The issue, of course, was that this was Ahab’s responsibility as king. This was his job. It wasn’t something he could delegate away.
    1. We cannot expect other people to fight our battles. The good news is that the battles to which God calls us, He strengthens and equips us.

15 Then he mustered the young leaders of the provinces, and there were two hundred and thirty-two; and after them he mustered all the people, all the children of Israel—seven thousand.

  1. For all that Ahab did wrong in his life, we need to stop and give credit when credit is due. In this instance, Ahab was obedient to the Lord (perhaps for the first time!). God promised a marvelous victory, but Ahab would never see it if he didn’t follow through on what the Lord said to do. Thus, Ahab stepped out in faith and did it.
    1. You don’t know what God might do if you never step out in faith and see. Jesus told Peter to walk on water, but Peter would have never experienced it if he didn’t step out of the boat. God told Moses to confront Pharoah in Egypt and perform miracles, but Moses would never have seen them if he remained in Midian. Likewise Abraham, if he had remained in Ur, and countless other examples from the Scripture. What might God do with you? Step out in faith, obeying the promises of Scripture, and find out!
  2. Considering that Ahab was in Samaria which was besieged at the time, how did all of this happen? The Scripture doesn’t give us the details, but it seems probable that Ahab sent word to the various young leaders (without Ahab himself leaving the city), and these young leaders were empowered by God in such a way that they were able to quickly raise their forces and come to Samaria’s aid. It wasn’t a huge army (only 7000), but it was more than what Ahab commanded from within the city.
    1. Did Ahab require large numbers? God used Gideon to route the Midianites with 300. Surely 7000 was more than enough!

16 So they went out at noon. Meanwhile Ben-Hadad and the thirty-two kings helping him were getting drunk at the command post. 17 The young leaders of the provinces went out first. And Ben-Hadad sent out a patrol, and they told him, saying, “Men are coming out of Samaria!” 18 So he said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; and if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

  1. We get a bit of the picture of Ben-Hadad’s arrogance, being that he was already drunk by noon along with his 32 vassal kings. At this point, Ben-Hadad still believed himself to be invincible. Although the Syrians were surprised by the appearance of the Israelite army, he was still totally confident of an absolute victory. He could be drunk and still not lose a man (so he thought). It didn’t matter if men were coming for peace or war, Ben-Hadad would still conquer just like he did every other time. (It wasn’t only the booze that made him stupid; it was his pride!) 
  2. About v18: was this a sign of mercy? The Bible does not tell us Ben-Hadad’s motives, so we cannot be certain. Perhaps he believed that once the young leaders saw the Syrian army, they would quickly surrender, and he would be able to use them in the onslaught of Samaria. Whatever the reason, it demonstrates his own perceived invincibility. (He was wrong!)

19 Then these young leaders of the provinces went out of the city with the army which followed them. 20 And each one killed his man; so the Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them; and Ben-Hadad the king of Syria escaped on a horse with the cavalry. 21 Then the king of Israel went out and attacked the horses and chariots, and killed the Syrians with a great slaughter.

  1. It was a huge victory for Israel, exactly as God promised. Ben-Hadad was forced to treat as Israel went from a defensive position to offensive pursuit. God empowered these young leaders to do? They “killed the Syrians with a great slaughter.” Young men who weren’t expected to be able to accomplish anything destroyed this portion of one of the most powerful armies at the time in the ancient near east.

22 And the prophet came to the king of Israel and said to him, “Go, strengthen yourself; take note, and see what you should do, for in the spring of the year the king of Syria will come up against you.”

  1. God wasn’t done. The prophet had more words for Ahab. More grace and mercy were given to this rebellious king! He had been obedient once; this was his opportunity to again walk in faith and set a pattern of walking in faith, listening to the word of the Lord and acting upon it as God gave him to do. It was a wonderful opportunity, if only Ahab took advantage of it. Thus, the word from the prophet. God warned Ahab (1) the Syrians would attack again, and (2) when they would do it: in the spring. This gave Ahab the opportunity not only to rest up and prepare himself and his army for a future battle, but also for something greater. It gave Ahab the opportunity to repent and put his faith and trust in the Lord! Sadly, he didn’t do it. Although he prepared for battle, he never truly repented and trusted God. Once again, it was a missed opportunity.
  2. Interestingly, the writer of Kings doesn’t use the name “Ahab,” choosing rather to refer to him as “the king of Israel.” Perhaps it is indicative of God acting according to the national covenant, rather than because of anything within Ahab personally. God’s protection of Israel from Syrian conquest was not because Ahab did anything to deserve protection; it was because this was what God promised to do for His people. God was honoring His word, His covenant. Ahab could certainly submit to that covenant, but whether or not he did, God was still going to be faithful to His word. 
  • God delivers Ahab again (23-30).

23 Then the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills. Therefore they were stronger than we; but if we fight against them in the plain, surely we will be stronger than they. 24 So do this thing: Dismiss the kings, each from his position, and put captains in their places; 25 and you shall muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain; surely we will be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so.

  1. For all of their military might, the Syrians had terrible theology, sharing the common pagan ideas of the time. They falsely believed that the God of Israel was geographically limited. Because Samaria was among a bunch of hills, they believed the God worshipped by the people of Samaria was limited to those hills. The Syrians’ own false gods were geographically contained, so why not the God of Israel? To the pagan Syrians, this was the only reason they could imagine for their defeat. Sure, Israel’s God helped them, but He couldn’t be that powerful, could He? (Spoiler alert: Yes, He can!)
  2. Their plan: Get new leadership, get a new army, and get a new battlefield. First, get rid of the 32 kings. Sure, it made for a large army, but vassal kings would never be as loyal to Ben-Hadad as his own native Syrian soldiers. Maybe the vassal kings were too willing to run when things got tough. But his own people, with new equipment on a new battlefield (the plains, rather than the hills) would make all the difference. This way, they would be fighting in their own strengths and (supposedly) put Israel in weakness. – To their pagan logic, this made sense. If they fought the Israelites where their own gods reigned, then surely the Syrians would be stronger. But the problem with pagan logic is that it is 100% based on lies. God isn’t limited by geography, by culture, or by anything. God’s only limits are His own will and His own character (as He never does anything that contradicts Himself). The Syrians were about to get a hard lesson in practical theology!

26 So it was, in the spring of the year, that Ben-Hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 And the children of Israel were mustered and given provisions, and they went against them. Now the children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, while the Syrians filled the countryside.

  1. Sure enough, “in the spring of the year,” Ben-Hadad came out to fight. Exactly as the prophet of the Lord said would happen. Was it the typical season of battle? Sure, but it doesn’t take away from the word of the Lord. What God spoke through the prophet was true, which was just one more confirmation of everything else that God spoke. If Ahab could believe what the prophet spoke about the timing of the battle, surely Ahab could believe everything else that was declared by God.
  2. Scholars aren’t entirely certain of the location of Aphek, but it seems most likely to be on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, a much flatter area of land. This was exactly the sort of terrain the Syrians desired, far closer to their own territory and (supposedly) to their own ‘gods.’
  3. Israel received word of the battle and went to meet them, finding themselves vastly outnumbered. They arrived after being mustered, emotionally preparing themselves for battle, joining arms with their brother Israelites…surely only to be shocked when seeing the size of the Syrian forces. Israel was like two little flocks of goats, while the Syrians were like the grass that covered all the plains. Just as when the city of Samaria was besieged, this looked to be an impossible situation. Thankfully, they served a God for whom nothing is impossible!
    1. As do we! Are you intimidated by the size and scope of the enemy you face? God is infinitely bigger and more powerful! There is nothing He cannot do. Trust Him! Go in the power of the Lord, walking according to the word of God. He will carry you through every battle.

28 Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,” therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’ ”

  1. As before, a prophet came with a word of God for Ahab. Was this a different prophet than before? In both cases, the men were anonymous, so there is no real way to identify them. If they were different men, it demonstrates something important about the previous chapter: Elijah was wrong when he believed himself to be alone (19:10.14). Just as God reassured Elijah that there were over 7000 prophets who remained in Israel, so we see several of them in action in Chapter 20. Where they had been during the earlier days of Ahab, we don’t know, but they were there. God always has His remnant…we are never truly alone.
  2. Regarding what the prophet said, it was another gracious word to Israel’s king. (Simply the fact that God kept speaking this king was a demonstration of grace!) God knew what the Syrians thought, and God was going to act in such a way that His power and His person could not be denied. Not even Ahab would be able to deny Him. Once more, this victory would be a witness to Ahab that the Lord is God. This was yet one more opportunity for Ahab to come to faith in God, surrendering his life to the Lord.
    1. If this sounds familiar, it is because this was what God repeatedly said to both Israel and Egypt during the plagues preceding the Exodus. It was what God told Israel through Moses in the wilderness. It was what Israel was told via Joshua regarding the conquest. Why did God work in such a way among His people? That they would know He is the Lord. God wanted them to be convinced of His person and His power, that they would worship Him in spirit and truth. And just like Ahab, for many of them, the opportunity was wasted. 

29 And they encamped opposite each other for seven days. So it was that on the seventh day the battle was joined; and the children of Israel killed one hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day. 30 But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; then a wall fell on twenty-seven thousand of the men who were left. And Ben-Hadad fled and went into the city, into an inner chamber.

  1. After seven days of sweating it out, staring across the battlefield, finally the battle was enjoined. Once again, there was a great slaughter of the Syrians by Israel.
  2. The last detail recorded of the battle is quite striking. How could one wall fall on 27,000 men? Walls don’t seem to be that big (outside of China). Some might argue that the Hebrew word for “thousand” could also refer to a “company” of men, but that doesn’t help because there is still the idea of one wall falling on 27 companies of Syrian soldiers. What isn’t easily explained by natural means is better explained supernaturally. This seems to have been reminiscent of the wall of Jericho. Whereas the Syrian soldiers took refuge inside the city of Aphek, behind its walls, God miraculously caused the collapse of the walls, with the entire city crumbling, killing nearly everyone inside.
  3. Ben-Hadad was again forced to flee. The “inner chamber” served as kind of a storm shelter for him, keeping him safe from the falling wall.
  • Ben-Hadad spared by Ahab (31-34)

31 Then his servants said to him, “Look now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Please, let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they wore sackcloth around their waists and put ropes around their heads, and came to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-Hadad says, ‘Please let me live.’ ” And he said, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.”

  1. Quite the change in tune! They entered the battle being overly confident of their victory, that the “God of the hills” would be vanquished in the plains. Now they pled for their lives. Ben-Hadad’s counselors now advised a visible show of complete submission from Syria to Israel (rather than the other way around as seen at the beginning of the chapter). The whole plan was to beg for mercy.
  2. Interestingly, the Syrians had heard that the kings of Israel were “merciful kings.” Where they heard this is unsaid, as well as of whom they heard it. Had they heard stories of the northern kings that are unrecorded for us in the Bible? Or, did they remember the accounts of David and Solomon? Whatever the case, the word used in the Bible is the same word that often spoke of God’s mercy and lovingkindness toward Israel (chesed). – Did this describe Ahab? Not really, at least, not according to the chesed covenantal mercies of God. That is something that is only found in God. The Syrians were not coming to faith, but they were hoping to reap the benefits of the people who do. (Not unlike false converts today!)
  3. What was the meaning of the ropes around the heads of the Syrians? The image of sackcloth is fairly common in reference to humility, grief, and/or repentance. The ropes are new. Scholars have a few different thoughts, although nothing is certain. Perhaps the ropes weren’t around the Syrians’ heads so much as it was around their necks, showing that they were willing to be led away as prisoners.
  4. It was with this attitude and picture of abject humiliation that the Syrians begged for Ben-Hadad’s life. The response they received from Ahab was surprising! Instead of boasting over his enemy, he asked about his well-being, calling him his “brother.”

33 Now the men were watching closely to see whether any sign of mercy would come from him; and they quickly grasped at this word and said, “Your brother Ben-Hadad.” So he said, “Go, bring him.” Then Ben-Hadad came out to him; and he had him come up into the chariot.

  1. The servants didn’t miss a beat. They quickly agreed that Ben-Hadad was Ahab’s “brother,” as opposed to his enemy. As a “brother,” Ben-Hadad was a peer, even an equal; not someone subjected to Ahab in conquest. Indeed, that was exactly how Ahab treated him, inviting Ben-Hadad into his own chariot, fully restoring him to that position of royal prominence.
  2. Was this an act of mercy from Ahab? No, although at first glance it might appear to be so. This wasn’t mercy; this was arrogance. In pardoning Ben-Hadad so quickly, Ahab demonstrated that he was more concerned with his standing among other national leaders than with the will of God. Ahab was looking to strike a deal. After receiving so many words from the Lord regarding the Syrians, the right thing for him to do would be to seek the Lord’s counsel as to what to do with the Syrian king. But Ahab didn’t call for a prophet; he saw his opportunity to make a profit. Despite all of God’s gracious outreaches to him, Ahab remained a carnal man.

34 So Ben-Hadad said to him, “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” Then Ahab said, “I will send you away with this treaty.” So he made a treaty with him and sent him away.

  1. Ben-Hadad offered a profitable relationship with Ahab, which Ahab quickly took. To the rest of the world, the treaty would seem to be politically wise and expedient. Theologically, it was foolish. The king of Israel now formally joined hands with the unbelieving pagan king of Syria.
    1. This is the problem with being unequally yoked (2 Cor 6:14). Not just in marriage, but also in ministry. When we join arms with non-believers, or even with people claiming belief in Christ yet denying essential elements of the gospel, we are unequally yoked with them. And instead of pulling them up to a position of faith in the gospel, we are inevitably pulled down and made to compromise. Be mindful and be wise!
  2. In the end, Ahab believed he got out on top. He didn’t. Instead, he missed the entire point. Remember what it was that God wanted him to know in the result from both battles: Ahab was supposed to know that YHWH is God. Ahab didn’t. He ended the battles being just as much an unrepentant sinner as he began.
    1. Just because God gives us the opportunity to know Christ doesn’t mean that we will. Multitudes of people hear the gospel of Jesus yet go to the grave as unrepentant sinners. We must exercise faith if we are to be saved!
  • God pronounces judgment on Ahab (35-43).

35 Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his neighbor by the word of the LORD, “Strike me, please.” And the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, surely, as soon as you depart from me, a lion shall kill you.” And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him.

  1. Yet another prophet appears on the scene, this time commanding a strange act from his neighbor. (A second prophet? We don’t know.) This man refused, paying a steep price. It was more dangerous for the man not to strike the prophet than to strike him. It sounds like a strange event, but it underscores the importance of the command of God. God’s word is to be obeyed…period. Even if it sounds strange, we are to do it.
    1. FYI: Although lions do not today roam wild in Israel, at one time they did. The historical and archaeological record is clear on this point. The Asiatic lion found in the Indian subcontinent is likely the same kind of lion that existed in Israel up until the 12th They seem to have gone extinct during the years of the Crusades.

37 And he found another man, and said, “Strike me, please.” So the man struck him, inflicting a wound. 38 Then the prophet departed and waited for the king by the road, and disguised himself with a bandage over his eyes.

  1. The second man commanded by the prophet obeyed. Had he heard what happened to the first guy? If so, no wonder he agreed!
  2. The prophet was wounded and waited, the “snare” now set for the king.

39 Now as the king passed by, he cried out to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and there, a man came over and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” Then the king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.”

  1. The wounded prophet pretended/acted out a parable. Supposedly, he was commanded to guard a prisoner, but let him go due to his own irresponsibility. Facing punishment for his failure, he now asked for help from the king. King Ahab had no comfort for the man. The man had testified to his own guilt.
  2. In a sense, the whole event is similar to Nathan’s parable spoken to David, as well as David’s response back to Nathan (2 Sam 12).

41 And he hastened to take the bandage away from his eyes; and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 Then he said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.’ ” 43 So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.

  1. Imagine Ahab’s shock when the bandage came off the prophet’s face! How exactly he recognized the man is unsaid. Perhaps Ahab was personally acquainted with this prophet from an earlier meeting (maybe even the earlier events with Syria?). Perhaps the prophets had a particular way of dressing, which had been hidden from Ahab’s sight. Whatever the case, Ahab now realized that he was in a heap of trouble. It was Ahab who was guilty. Ahab would thus bear the responsibility. The punishment that was meant for Ben-Hadad would now be placed on Ahab. This was his death sentence from the Lord. (The wages of sin is death!)
  2. Notice the mood in which Ahab went home. He was “sullen and displeased.” The word for “sullen” might be translated “stubborn, resentful, implacable;” the word for “displeased” as “out of humor, vexed.” Put it together and Ahab went to his house ‘resentful and angry.’ This isn’t the picture of a man broken by sin, humble and repenting before the Lord. Rather, this was a proud man with a hardened heart doubling down on rebellion. – Considering that the purpose of the military deliverances was for Ahab to know that YHWH is God, were the miracles successful? In a sense, yes. Ahab did know that YHWH is the true God…he just didn’t care. Ahab could not deny the existence and lordship of God, but it did not force Ahab to his knees in fear, humility, and worship. Ahab knew that the Lord is God but he still hated the Lord being God. (Eventually, Ahab would come to a point of at least temporary repentance, but even that would require a declaration of God’s great judgment against him.)
    1. What Ahab experienced is what many multitudes of people also experience. They know that the Lord is God, but instead of worshipping Him in truth, they choose to hate Him and rebel against Him. And likewise, they will one day face a great judgment.
    2. No one has to do this! Choose to humble yourself before the God who has revealed Himself to you in the person of Jesus Christ!

Conclusion:

For all the blessing that Ahab received from the Lord – all the revelation and miraculous provision…he wasted it. God held nothing back from Ahab, giving him every opportunity to taste of divine mercy and grace, finally coming to faith, finally having the relationship with God as the king of Israel should have with Him. All of it, wasted. Ahab hardened his heart against the Lord, turning his back on God.

That isn’t what God desires for any of us. He wants us to know Him, to love Him, to worship Him, to serve Him. He wants us to be in a right relationship with Him, and in fact, has gone up and beyond to make that relationship possible. He sent Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be our Deliverer (just like Israel was delivered from the Syrians, so does Jesus deliver us from the wages of sin: death). Jesus is the revelation of God. When we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. No one has seen the Father at any time; the Son of God has declared Him to us. It is through Jesus that we can know God at all.

But we will never know Him until we are surrendered to Him. Jesus has done the work. He’s already gone to the cross and risen from the grave. He has already revealed Himself to us. But it is up to us to humble ourselves and surrender ourselves to Him.

That isn’t only a message for the Ahab’s of the world, non-believers in rebellion against God; it is also a message for the church. For those of us who claim Jesus as Lord, do we truly follow Him as such? Are we currently and ‘ongoingly’ surrendered to Him (in the present tense)? Of all people, we have understood His revelation as God. We have seen His work and power in our lives. How have we responded? We have an option. Either we could respond to Him in humility and faith, worshipping Him in spirit and truth, receiving His word through the Bible, confessing to Him through prayer, and obeying Him in faith…or we could let His word go in one ear and out the other, allowing our pride to rule. If you know Jesus in truth, serve Him! Listen to Him and humble yourself.

It might seem strange to refer to the gospel as a mystery, but we do because the Bible does. In this case, a mystery is not something that God doesn’t want us to know; it is something that He does want us to know, but we need His gracious help in knowing it. God reveals His gospel mystery by His grace. Know it and make it known!

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

The Marvelous Mystery of God

Posted: June 12, 2022 in Ephesians

Ephesians 3:1-13, “The Marvelous Mystery of God”

I love a good mystery, especially those with twists and turns to the plot. You think you’ve figured out the bad-guy, but then you learn something new and all of a sudden, everything has changed. The TV shows and movies can be quite entertaining (especially on the rare occasion you find a show with clean language!).

With that in mind, take what you think you know about mysteries and toss it out. In Ephesians 3, Paul describes a different kind of mystery. Not a “whodunit,” but a “Wow! God ‘done’ it!” amazement sort of mystery. It is something we can know and something we can make known, all to the glory of God.

To say that Paul has taken a deep dive into the doctrine of salvation is understatement at the least. In the two chapters thus far written to the Ephesian Christians (mostly Gentile Christians), Paul demonstrated the work of each member of the Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit as He blesses us, redeems us, and seals us), the fact that salvation is 100% the work of God being an act of grace received through faith (not of works, lest anyone would boast), and how through this work God brought us near to Himself as Jesus became our peace (reconciled as Jews and Gentiles together as He also reconciles us to God). Everything we lacked as sinful Gentiles outside of the covenant of God, Jesus provided. Now we are adopted into God’s family, by grace made a part of God’s own household.

It is an amazing work of God, something for which Paul prayed that the understanding of the Ephesians would be enlightened. We need this kind of gracious enlightenment/illumination, for the wonder of the gospel is truly a mystery of God. Of course, all mysteries are meant to be eventually revealed. This is just as true of the gospel as anything else.

It might seem strange to refer to the gospel as a mystery, but we do because the Bible does. In this case, a mystery is not something that God doesn’t want us to know; it is something that He does want us to know, but we need His gracious help in knowing it. We cannot truly know the goodness of the gospel and all of its ramifications without the work of God among us. But that is part of the good news for those of us as born-again believers: God has worked among us! Today we can know what to the rest of the world is a mystery, and we are privileged by God to make this same mystery be known among the nations and our neighbors.

God reveals His gospel mystery by His grace. Know it and make it known!

Ephesians 3:1–13

  • The mystery revealed (1-7). Know the mystery!

1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—

  1. For which reason? Because of the gracious result of the gospel with Jewish and Gentile believer being built on Jesus as the chief cornerstone into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit. Remember that Paul (nor any of the Biblical writers, except the psalmists) wrote with chapter breaks in mind. For Paul, he was thinking of what he just finished writing to the Ephesians, primarily how Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ to be the house (oikos) of God. Though we were once foreigners from the house (2:19), we are members of God’s household built on the house’s foundation and chief cornerstone (2:20), fitted together as the house’s building materials (2:21), made into the dwelling place (the house) of God in the Spirit (2:21). It is a marvelous work of God, a true miracle though most of it takes place sight unseen in the physical realm. This is the work of God the Spirit among the church in the spiritual realm, something that perhaps won’t be fully understood till we see Jesus face to face in heaven as His one Church, His single Bride.
  2. Because of this reason, Paul was about to launch into a prayer of praise yet gets distracted and not picking up his thought again until v14. Instead, he first describes himself as a “prisoner.” That the apostle was in prison is unquestioned. This was likely his second imprisonment in Rome, experienced sometime during the mid-60’s. But notice the way he describes his imprisonment. Paul was “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.” Was Paul a prisoner of Rome, or of Christ? He wasn’t chained to angels in his prison, awaiting his trial from the Lord Jesus; he was chained to members of the Praetorian guard, and he awaited judgment from Caesar. Even so, Paul’s description was 100% accurate. Rome may have been the instrument holding the key to his cell, but he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. As an apostle and missionary, Paul understood well how he represented Jesus, serving as Christ’s ambassador to those around him. He also understood that his imprisonment wasn’t because of any crime committed, nor any outright act of treason towards the Roman empire. (Although some would accuse Paul of treason by virtue of the fact that he called Jesus, not Caesar, “Lord.”) Paul was a prisoner because of his faith and because of his faithfulness to his Lord’s calling. He sat in that cell because he fully believed in Jesus and because his belief culminated in action, never wavering from the gospel message, proclaiming it everywhere he went. – This was why Paul could write that he was “the prisoner of Jesus Christ.” He wouldn’t be in prison, if not for Jesus. Moreover, Jesus (being the sovereign King of kings) could easily have Paul released, if that were His desire. It wasn’t. The will of the Son of God (and thus, God Himself) was that Paul remain behind bars. This was part of God’s eternal plan.
    1. We will never fully understand all there is to know about God’s sovereignty, but we must believe that He is Not all things that happen on this earth glorify God (i.e., acts of sin), but God ultimately works all things on this earth for His glory. He works all things together for good for those who love Him being called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). Those of us who have placed our faith and trust in Jesus for salvation need to have our faith and trust in Jesus for His sovereignty. In other words, we do not trust Jesus only for the future; we trust Him right now in the present, for the present. We may not yet understand why He allows certain hardships and tragedies, but we can know that He will somehow use all of these things for His greater glory. Trust Him!
  3. Paul was a prisoner of Christ Jesus, but that was not the entirety of his description. Notice also that Paul was prisoner because of the Ephesians and other Christians in the churches he planted. He was “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.” Again, Paul was not in jail because of any civic laws that he broke. He was in jail because he preached the gospel. Specifically, he was in jail because he preached the gospel among the Gentiles. This was how Paul first entered the Roman prison system, having been falsely accused of taking a Gentile into the temple courtyard in Jerusalem. The unbelieving Jews were so upset as Paul’s ministry work among Gentiles (specifically the idea that the Hebrew Messiah would extend His mercy and grace to the Gentiles), that they falsely accused him and nearly started a riot against him (Acts 21-22). This was the beginning of Paul’s first lengthy imprisonment, something from which he was eventually freed, yet being later arrested again by Rome for his nonstop evangelistic ministry. The bottom line: the Ephesian Gentiles (along with other Gentiles) were a huge part of the reason for Paul being in prison. If Gentiles hadn’t needed to hear the gospel, Paul would never gone to them. But they did, so he did…and we all reap the benefit!
    1. Aren’t you glad for those who were willing to endure hardship so that you could hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! There were apostles like Paul, planting churches and breaking new ground in the first century. There were countless other missionaries and evangelists spreading the gospel, even during long centuries of religious formalism and oppression. There were people willing to put their lives on the line, simply to translate the Bible in the common language, distributing them among common people. Men and women were beaten, jailed, burned at the stake, and more, all so that the good news of Jesus Christ could come to us and we might be saved. Praise God!
    2. For all that they endured for our sake, it puts our own efforts at evangelism in a bit of perspective. Not all Christians have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but we all have an evangelistic responsibility. Each of us can share Christ somehow with someone. Consider what others endured for you to hear of Jesus…surely we can get out of comfort zones a bit and do likewise.

At this, Paul’s sentence breaks and he launches into a lengthy digression. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder that these letters were not carefully planned in advance, being submitted to editorial committees. These were real letters to real congregations of Christians, and the way they were written was by someone writing down Paul’s words as he gave dictation. If Paul had a change of mind mid-thought, that was what his amanuensis recorded. Of course, even his mid-sentence changes were still given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But it gives a glimpse into how organic the process was. 

2 if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ),

  1. Before we get into the bulk of the text, the initial words “if indeed” need to be addressed as they might be confusing. There seems to have been a question whether Paul’s readers had heard of Paul’s ministry. How could the Ephesian Christians not have heard of him? Paul planted the church (Acts 19), yet he wrote as if he was uncertain of his readers. There are a couple of potential explanations: (1) Perhaps there were new converts in Ephesus who were unfamiliar with Paul. (2) More likely, this is another indication that although the letter was first sent to Ephesus, it was always intended to be circular, passed to the other various churches in Asia. Paul had not been to all of these places and although his reputation preceded him, it was quite possible that not everyone reading the letter would have known much about him and his background.
  2. The first thing Paul shows is his role as a steward, seen in the word “dispensation,” or sometimes translated “stewardship.” The word carries on the linguistic repetition seen in 2:19-22 regarding the word “house,” (oikos). Here, the word is oikonomia (οἰκονομία), from which we get our English “economy.” Literally, the term is a compound word combining the word for house (oikos) and law (nomos), giving the basic meaning of “the law of the house.” Within a Greco-Roman household, there were certain responsibilities entrusted to various stewards by the will of the master. Perhaps one servant was given financial responsibility, while another had charge of taking the young sons to their tutors for education. This stewardship was given to them individually, with them being governed (disciplined) according to the law (expectation) of the house. – Paul takes this term, applying to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ. He too was a steward, having been entrusted with the gospel, the stewardship itself being a gift of God’s grace. It was a privilege to be trusted in such a way, something which Paul never once took for granted.
    1. Not a one of us here today are apostles, but each of us are stewards. If you have surrendered your life unto Jesus, Him being your Lord and Savior, then you too have been entrusted with the news of the grace of God. You have been given grace and you are a steward of that same grace. And as with Paul, it is something to treasure as a privilege, never taking it for granted.
  3. In this divine dispensation, God revealed to Paul something he calls “the mystery.” The word “mystery” is very important in this passage, used no less than three times in Chapter 3, fully half of the times the word is used in the entire letter. In fact, the word is quite important in the writings of the apostle Paul, as out of the 27 times it is used in the New Testament, no less than 20 of those examples are found in the Pauline epistles. Our word in English is translated from the Greek mysterion (μυστήριον), used by the ancient Greeks to refer to secret knowledge or secret rituals, “that which must not or cannot be said,” (NIDNTT). That was how the secular culture used the term, of things that could only be shown to the initiated. But was that how Paul used the word? Yes and no. Yes, the eternal plan of God was hidden from the world and even arguably hidden in the plain sight of Israel in the form of Messianic prophecy. The Scriptures were/are clear concerning the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah as the Son of God. But without faith (i.e., the “initiation”), these things cannot be understood. This was how the Pharisees and scribes, though highly educated in the Scriptures still rejected Jesus as Messiah (apart from a couple of notable exceptions: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea). So yes, in a sense the gospel is truly a secret mystery which is only revealed by the grace of God the Holy Spirit to those who humble themselves in faith. – At the same time, no, Paul did not use the word in the same sense as his Greek counterparts. God’s plan of salvation is not hidden from the world; it is gloriously and openly revealed. Remember what Paul said to King Agrippa: “These things were not done in a corner,” i.e., they were not done in secret (Acts 26:26). Moreover, God openly announces this gospel to the world, publicly commanding all men everywhere to repent, having provided proof of the gospel through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). – So which is it? Is it hidden or revealed? It is both. The gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s eternal plan once hidden in the Old Testament Scriptures now openly revealed to the Church. It is also hidden from those who are perishing, as they continually harden their hearts in proud rebellion being blinded by the devil (2 Cor 4:3-4). Only through humble repentant faith does God reveal Himself to anyone. Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
    1. Have you yet experienced this? Do you know what it is to have this kind of humble, seeking faith? Without it, you cannot know God. Baptism will not bring you to a knowledge of Jesus. Words repeated in empty ritual are not incantations to invoke the Lord. What is required is faith. Humble your heart in true repentance before Jesus! When you do, that is when God will reveal Himself to your heart. “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him!”
  4. Of this mystery, Paul received it by faith (as we’ve already seen). Specifically in his case, he received it via divine revelation: “by revelation He made known to me the mystery.” There is hardly any other way to describe Paul’s own salvation experience. He received direct revelation of Jesus Christ from Jesus Christ. This was what happened when Paul (then known as Saul of Tarsus) was on the road to Damascus Syria, intending to seek and capture Jewish Christians, dragging them back to Jerusalem in chains. Instead, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him, directly identifying Himself as Jesus, who Paul was persecuting (Act 9:5). Jesus is the Lord and Saul/Paul could no longer deny that fact. At the same moment that supernatural scales were placed over his physical eyes preventing his sight (Acts 9:8), the scales came off the eyes of his heart and for the first time, Paul “saw” Jesus for who He truly is. Seemingly over the next several years, Paul continually received revelation from Christ, getting fuller instruction in the mysteries of God (Gal 1:17). Everything Paul knew and understood of the gospel, he received from divine revelation.
    1. Our own testimonies are obviously and vastly different than Paul’s, but with us too, the way we received understanding of the gospel is through the gracious revelation of God. Remember what Paul wrote earlier in Ephesians 2:8-9, how we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, and even faith itself is the gift of God. The faith we exercised to believe in Jesus is the faith that God gave us. Thus, we also understood the gospel mystery by the revelation of God.
    2. This is how everyone comes to faith: through God’s gracious revelation of Himself. God is always the initiator; us, always those who respond. How it works is (yet again) a mystery. That it is true, is not in question.
      1. The good news for those who have not yet responded to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus is that you don’t need to question if God hasn’t taken the initiative, nor if He wants to you to respond. He has and He does! You just need to humble your heart and do it.
    3. Once God made the mystery known to Paul, Paul made it known to other people, particularly his readers in Ephesus and elsewhere. This was what he meant when writing of what he had “written already.” He wrote to them about the gospel. (We have his epistles as proof!) Some have wondered if there was a previous letter Paul had in mind, perhaps an earlier Ephesian epistle. The explanation is likely much simpler. Paul was in the middle of writing a letter. Already, he had written two chapters, which the people read as they came to Chapter 3. In those two chapters, he wrote much of the doctrine of salvation, of the gospel, the mystery of God. If his readers made it to Chapter 3, then they had read what he had “written already.” 

5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: 6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,

  1. Continuing his digression, Paul takes the time to define a bit of the mystery. Remember that the Biblical use of the word “mystery” is not an exact parallel to the Greek use of the word, although there is overlap between the two. It is certainly something that needs to be revealed, but it is something revealed by God Himself at the time of God’s own choosing. In this case, this mystery “was not made known” “in other ages,” but “it has now been revealed.” The word “ages” might be translated “generations,” as opposed to our typical idea of “eon.” In generations past, God gave hints regarding the gospel, paving the way for Jesus through literally hundreds of prophecies. But those things were types and shadows of things to come, with Jesus being the fulfillment. What God hinted to Abraham through Isaac, or to David through Solomon, etc., God revealed to all the world when Jesus came to earth.
  2. To whom was it revealed? To the “apostles and prophets.” Because of Paul’s contextual subject being the gospel mystery once hidden and now revealed, many scholars argue that the “prophets” mentioned here are New Testament prophets (a role perhaps more often seen in the early church than today). Yet this needs to be balanced with Paul’s previous use of the words just a few verses earlier in Chapter 2 when he wrote of God’s house being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,” (2:20). Surely Paul’s definition of “prophets” did not change in the span of seven verses, with what he meant in 2:20 about “apostles and prophets,” he also means in 3:5. Thus, some believe that Paul wrote that just as the Church is built on the instruction of the New Testament apostles and prophets, so also the mystery of God is revealed to New Testament apostles and prophets, with no bridge to the past. Yet (as we saw last week), the whole context of 2:11-22 shows how God made the two seemingly disparate groups of Israel and Gentiles, one in Christ. There is not a Jewish Church and a Gentile Church; there is just the Church, made of Jewish and Gentile Christians. This was why it seemed best to think of “apostles and prophets” as New Testament apostles and Old Testament prophets, hinting at the full revelation of God’s word throughout the entire Bible. – How might that change in Chapter 3? It doesn’t. With due respect to those who hold the “New Testament-only” view, there is no reason to think that the prophets mentioned by Paul cannot be the prophets of the Old Testament. After all, they were privy to the revelation of God regarding the gospel. Do we think that Isaiah was unaware of his Messianic prophecies? Or Daniel? Or even David when writing Messianic psalms from the first-person perspective which plainly did not refer to himself (such as Psalm 22)? These men probably did not understand the full picture of these things as they did not yet have the incarnate Lord Jesus, but they were certainly given revelation of the mystery. The gospel of God was revealed to them in part, even while it remained fully a mystery to others.
    1. In the debate, be careful not to miss the forest for the trees. Regardless which group of prophets Paul had in mind (Old or New Testament), it took God the Holy Spirit to reveal the heavenly mystery to them. If God did not give revelation, it did not come. And likewise, if the hearts of the apostles and prophets remained stubborn and hardened, they would not receive the revelation that God freely made available to them. Consider the case of the apostles (rather than the prophets). Obviously, there is no question that the apostles were the group of men personally taught and sent out by Jesus to all the world with His good news. Yet even among this group, there were some who received the revelation before others, even after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The apostle Thomas famously doubted the news of Jesus’ resurrection, having been absent from the group when Jesus first appeared to them that first Sunday morning. A full eight days passed before Jesus appeared to them again, and it was only then Thomas truly humbled himself and came to faith. His heart had previously been hard and only the grace and revelation of God brought Thomas to his knees.
  3. Paul described the mystery not only in terms of timing, but also that of benefits. What are some of the mysterious benefits of God’s grace through Jesus? That Gentiles would share side-by-side with the Jews in the grace of God. This was the subject of 2:11-22 as Paul wrote how we Gentiles once excluded from the covenant promises that God made to Israel, are through Jesus, now included in those same promises. Though once we were strangers and foreigners, now we are “fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” The NASB brings out the grammatical emphasis from the Greek saying that the Gentiles are “fellow heirs and fellow members…and fellow partakers,” being joined with the Jewish Christians as true “fellows,” being with them in every way possible in Christ. Again, there is not a Jewish Church nor a Gentile Church; there is just the one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not married to two brides but to one. We as the Church are His bride.
  4. About these benefits, there is little doubt that Paul lists these things in his description of the mystery of God that has been revealed. So we need to ask the question: does the “mystery” refer to the gospel or to the church? When Paul repeatedly referred to “the mystery,” did he refer to the message regarding Jesus as the power of God unto salvation, or did he reference the miraculous uniting of Jew and Gentile into one body as the church (the bride of Christ)? Arguments could be made for either side and perhaps the explanation is that Paul had both in mind. Paul’s missionary ministry was not for him to preach “the church,” but to continually plant the church through preaching the gospel of Jesus. At the same time, the uniting of Jew and Gentile is truly something new, made possible only through the work of Christ. The Old Testament has much to say about the Messianic Millennial Kingdom of Israel, and also much to say about God’s plan to extend His mercy via the Messiah to all the world. What is not totally explicit in the Hebrew Bible is the one Church as the people of God, comprised of Jew and Gentile reconciled and made one in Jesus. – Yet even with the two potential aspects of the mystery in mind, there is no doubt that they go together. The church could not exist without the gospel, and the work of the gospel inevitably results in the church. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” It is God’s mystery that this news of Jesus would be the literal power of God for men and women to be saved, and it is a mystery that God would extend this same powerful grace to both Jew and Gentile.
    1. In the end, perhaps the real question to ponder as mystery is not so much the fine-tuned distinction between the gospel and the church, but to marvel that (1) we would be given knowledge of the mystery, and (2) we would be blessed by God’s grace to participate in it.

7 of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.

  1. Earlier, Paul described himself as a prisoner and then as a steward. Here, he describes himself as a servant. Literally, the term is the same from which we derive the English “deacon,” (diakonos), but the basic meaning of the term “minister” is simply that of a servant, an assistant. Today, we use the term to refer to positions of church authority, or perhaps even civil authority (British ministers of justice). Originally, the term didn’t have anything to do with personal authority, but of those who were under When Paul wrote that he “became a minister,” he wasn’t writing of how he got a job as a pastor in the local church; he was writing of God assigning him to gospel-service. Did he have authority as an apostle? Certainly…but Paul’s primary role was that of a servant.
    1. We tend to forget this basic fact in the modern church. Although pastors are held to a stricter standard of judgment (Jas 3:1), they are not super/superior Christians. Pastors are Christians just like every other Christians, simply with a different role. And even that role is to serve. They aren’t the “rock stars” of the congregation. (If they start acting that way, it is a red flag warning sign!)
  2. Don’t miss how Paul was made a minister-servant: by the power of God! The same dunamis power promised to the original disciples when they would be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) was the power Paul received to preach the gospel among the Gentiles. Time forbids a thorough review of all the ways God used Paul in ministry and of all the miraculous demonstrations of power that God worked through him. But Paul doesn’t seem to be writing of the miraculous in this case. He referred to his simple, common ministry (service) as a preacher of the gospel (the mystery of Christ). How could Paul do even this? Only by the dunamis power of God! Consider again Paul’s previous life as Saul the Pharisee, the persecutor of Christians. For that man to be made a minister of the gospel is nothing short of a miracle! If Paul hadn’t performed a single healing or worked even one miraculous sign, simply his testimony as a Christian would be a witness of God’s supernatural power! God’s power is truly energetic and effectual. God’s power works.
    1. It worked for Paul, and it works for you and me. We need not be called to apostolic ministry to experience the same supernatural dunamis power of God. Each one of us experienced it the moment we were born again! The minute you put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you experienced the supernatural power of God regenerating you to new life. You experienced it when God the Holy Spirit empowered you for service, when He comforted you in grief, and when He illuminated your understanding to the Scriptures. Each one of us as Christians experience the supernatural power of God every day! God is a powerful God…and He works!
  • The ministry of the mystery (8-13). Make known the mystery!

8 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;

  1. It was Paul’s privilege to help others see and understand the mystery of the gospel. That he understood that it was a privilege is clear from his own description of himself: “who am less than the least of all the saints.” He wasn’t just the least of the apostles being as one born out of time/season (1 Cor 15:8-9); he wasn’t just the least of all the saints (“saints” being a general term for all Christians everywhere); he was “less than the least of all the saints,” the very least of any Christian. By no means did Paul put himself first; he saw himself as dead last. He gave himself no position in the body of Christ, despite the many titles he could have taken for himself. Question: Was this false humility? Although God put Paul’s sins from him as far as the east is from the west, Paul never forgot his former sins as Saul of Tarsus the Pharisee. He was the one who stood by holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. He was the one who hauled men and women to prison, for no other crime than believing upon Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Was Paul forgiven of these things? Yes, gloriously so! But Paul never forgot. He never lost sight of the grace he had been given, thus he always saw it as amazing.
    1. Do we sometimes lose sight of the scope of grace? Although we sing the song, “Amazing Grace,” do we sometimes forget how “amazing” it truly is? Like the hymn’s writer John Newton, we are the wretches of whom the song speaks. Are we forgiven by God? Praise God, yes! But may we be careful never to forget our pasts…not that we would dwell in self-pity being bogged down by guilt, but so we can see with clear eyes from what we have been freed! This is the kind of clarity that causes us to run to our devotions and prayers with joyful anticipation, for we get to spend time with the Jesus who died for us! This is the thing that starts a burning in our hearts for service, because we get to do things for the God who saved us.
  2. What was Paul’s responsibility in this privilege of preaching (of “gospelizing”) the Gentiles? It was to help them see the mystery’s magnificence and eternality. Regarding its magnificence, the word used for “unsearchable” might also be translated as “incomprehensible, fathomless.” For as much as Paul could speak and write of Christ’s riches of grace (and he could speak and write a lot, as proven in the pages of the New Testament!), those riches are beyond what we can know! (Which is why Paul prays for God’s help in the Ephesians’ understanding of it in vv14-21.)
  3. But this was what Paul tried to help people to see. This was his true responsibility. The idea of the verse is perhaps a bit clearer in the ESV: Ephesians 3:9, “and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,” Paul’s gospelizing was meant to help people see the plan of God in Christ Jesus for them. The KJV and NKJV use the word “fellowship,” but the evidence strongly points a different word, the same word used by Paul in v2, there translated “dispensation,” yet could also be translated “stewardship, administration.” [NU & M agree; TR alone differs.] The basic idea is simple: Paul’s gospel preaching was meant to turn on the light to the plan of God in the gospel. Paul wasn’t responsible for converting a single soul; he was just responsible for taking the light of God into a dark world, so that people might see Jesus.
    1. Again, not all of us have a teaching ministry and none of us have an apostolic ministry. But each of us can help someone else see Jesus. We can shine light on the Light of the world. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well. Her evangelistic ministry was composed of a single message: “Come, see a Man who told me all the things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29) Could we not do the same? Each of us can tell someone about Jesus, shining the light on Him as the mystery of God now revealed.
  4. How long has God had His plan in place? Was He forced to come up with it in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Even ate of the fruit? Not at all! This mystery has always been the plan of God. It was eternally hidden, now made known by God’s grace, but it has always Even before the week of creation when God the Father made all things through God the Son, the Father, Son, and Spirit already had in mind the plan for Jesus.
    1. What does this tell us? It tells us that sin did not take God by surprise. It tells us that Satan’s rebellion was not unexpected by the Lord, as if the devil ambushed the Almighty with a sneak attack. Not so! God’s plan of salvation (His great mystery) is eternal. God always knew that you were going to sin. He always knew that you were going to need Jesus. He always knew that your only hope for eternal life would be if Jesus suffered and died on your behalf, shedding His blood for you. And knowing all of that, God still chose to create this world and you that He might redeem you. How amazing the grace of our God is!

As we start to put some of this together, we see Paul saying that it was a privilege to preach that which cannot be understood (except by the grace of God). He (and all of us) help people see that which is fathomless when we tell them of Jesus. It would seem an impossible task except for the fact that we serve the God who makes all things possible! This is what makes this such a glorious privilege!

10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,

  1. This is the purpose in preaching the mystery: not only to make the mystery of the gospel known to the world, but to also make it known to the heavens. Consider that little truth-bomb for a moment: the church teaches the heavens (“the principalities and the powers”) about God’s wisdom. The wisdom of God in the gospel is so brilliant, so wonderful, so glorious. How much so? It is the “manifold wisdom,” the variegated, many-sided wisdom of God. Like an intricately cut diamond, there are limitless aspects to it, able to seen from a myriad of different angles. This is what we get to show to the heavenly hosts, the angels, as they gaze in wonder at the love of God bestowed on us. Remember that we have a different relationship with God as do the angels. Though they were created as a higher order of being than us (as Jesus was made “a little lower” than the angels in His incarnation, Heb 2:7), in Christ, we are infinitely closer to God than are the angels. They may be His servants and messengers, but we are His children. They reside in God’s presence, but we have been redeemed by God’s Son. They surround the heavenly throne; we are the Spirit’s temple. We have privileges in Christ of which the angels are astounded. They look at us and wonder at the “manifold wisdom of God.” (Wuest) “The Church thus becomes the university for angels, and each saint a professor.” – How amazing is it that not only do we as Christians make the wisdom of God through the gospel known to the world, but we also make it known to the angels? Truly, Christ makes us His witnesses to every corner of this created universe!
  2. Of course, this is just one more thing that the gospel was meant to do. This too was “according to the eternal purpose” of God, all of it being “accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What more of this plan need be accomplished? Nothing! Not even that which is yet to be fulfilled in the chronological future is in doubt. Every bit of the book of Revelation is already seen by God as completed. How so? Because God’s eternal work is done in Jesus. Jesus is the plan and purpose of God!

12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.

  1. This takes us back to Chapter 2 when Paul introduced these concepts. Ephesians 2:13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” … Ephesians 2:18, “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” We have bold access to God through Jesus! Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – This too, is part of the mystery! Imagine it: people like you and me have bold access, confident access to God through faith in Jesus Christ! Sinners like us can march boldly into the heavenly throne asking for grace, for God’s grace is abundantly available through Jesus.
    1. Note: boldness is not arrogance. We can be bold when we have faith in God’s promises in Jesus, for what God promises He fulfills. What God says is always true, and we need never doubt it. Thus, we can be bold in our faith. But we dare not be arrogant! We never command God, declaring that He do as we wish because we wished it. That isn’t faith; it’s foolishness. Imagine it on a human level. My wife and daughter can boldly come to me at any time, asking for a hug or affection. That door is wide open to them, and they never need wonder if I will provide it. Yet if my daughter burst into my office during a counseling session demanding spending money, she would get a very different response. Even if it is something I might otherwise gladly provide, the potential arrogance receives a different response. – Consider now with God. We have bold access to His throne of grace. We have confidence that what we ask for in His name, He will provide according to His will. But we ask in boldness; not arrogance. Even when it comes to sheer grace, we ask with bold confidence, yet still in an attitude of humility, for we never forget that God is God.

13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

  1. This was probably the point when Paul realized he had engaged on such a long digression, hoping to return to his thought at the beginning. Yes, he was a prisoner for the Ephesians and other Gentiles, but they could be encouraged. Why? Because Paul being in jail was the Ephesians’ glory. It was for them (his past work among them); and they still currently benefitted from his imprisonment (i.e., the letter). God was using this time for the gospel, and in that, they could rejoice!

Conclusion:

The gospel is a mystery, but it is one that was made known to us in the grace of God, and by that same grace, we are privileged to make it known to others. To know Christ and to make Him known – such is our call! It was so amazing to Paul that merely the thought of it distracted him for 13 verses. He couldn’t get out of his head how wonderful it was to be brought into the wisdom and plan of God. It was a privilege beyond imagination, that someone like him would be shown so much grace by God that he would be used to reveal God’s mysteries to the nations.

Again, such is our call. Such is our privilege. We get to know Christ and to make Him known. We get to help other people understand the mysterious wisdom of God, testifying of Him to each other, to our neighbors, and even to the angels.

There are times that we all need help understanding. This is one reason why it is so important to continually gather as believers for corporate worship (as often as possible!). Each of us can witness to the other of the wonders of Christ. We sing of Him in our praise, we talk to Him in our prayers, we hear of Him through His word, then we talk of Him with one another in our times of fellowship or as we serve Him side-by-side. We get to witness to one another of His manifold wisdom and mysteries. Your testimonies help me, as mine help you.

Of course, our witness does not stop at the door of this building. (It dare not!) We continually live out our witness through word and deed as we go into the world. There are multitudes of men and women who need to see and understand the mystery of the gospel, and we are those who are to share it with them. May God give us strength and courage, and perhaps most of all, the perspective to see the privilege and responsibility this is.