Exegetical Notes, #4
By Louie Marsh
It’s important as we begin this new chapter not to divorce it from the last one. All to often when we read and study the Bible the chapter and verses chop things up ways that not only aren’t helpful, but are a hindrance to our understanding the text.
Remember, the Bible wasn’t written in chapter and verses, they were added long after the New Testament was written. Here’s a quick summary of how we got our verses according to Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/chapters-and-verses-of-the-bible
The modern chapter divisions came about through Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and afterwards an Archbishop of Canterbury. He put the modern divisions into place around 1227 A.D. Since the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 this pattern has been followed.
In the New Testament, the verse divisions were first added by Robert Estienne in his 1551 edition of the Greek New testament. In 1557, the first English New Testament with verse divisions where used in a translation by William Whittingham (c. 1524-1579). These divisions have been used by nearly all English Bibles since then.
The first Bible in English to use both chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible in 1560.
Okay – so how is this connected to Paul’s prayer in the second part of chapter one? Paul’s prayer ends by giving thanks to God for the resurrection and glorification of Christ. He’s been raised, exalted, and will bring all things together into the unity (integration) that God desires to see.
Then Paul says – “As for you…” We turn from the death and resurrection of Christ to our own spiritual death and resurrection through Him.
The first three verses of chapter two are hard to take. Paul plunges straight down into the darkness of the human condition and he doesn’t spare us either! Stott says theses three verses are a summary of the first three chapters of Romans, and that’s an excellent insight.
Paul begins by telling us we’re spiritually dead. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean unconscious, and it doesn’t mean nonexistence. The word dead in the Bible carries the basic idea of separation. Nekros –the Greek word used here, also means powerless and impotent and unresponsive.
The same is true of us spiritually with God. Apart from Christ we are powerless to respond to obeying God, impotent to obey and completely separated from God by out sins. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
What kills us? Paul uses two words that are essentially synonyms but do stress slightly different things. Transgressions refers to active sins, things we’ve deliberately done by stepping across the line of God’s Law. Sin is the usual word for sin and means to miss the mark. This refers to our more passive sins, sins of omission and also to what happens when we try to obey God in our own strength – we fail and sin!
So the human condition starts here – but it doesn’t end there! Apart from Christ we begin being separated from God! But it gets worse!
VERSE 2 – 3a:
Paul goes on to show us that not only are we dead – separated – from God, but we are also enslaved! We are trapped in a vicious spiritual slavery. The news gets even worse, because like most addicts, we’re enslaved to, addicted to, more than one thing.
Paul outlines three things that hold us captive. The first one is the World. The NIV translates the first part of verse 2 this way – “in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… Ephesians 2:2a (NIV).
Paul uses an unusual and interesting combination of words, “the ways” is the word aion, we get eon from this one. The word “world” is kosmos, cosmic comes from this word. So we are enslaved to following for a period of time the world we live in.
Kosmos does not refer to the planet, but instead to the organized system of the world. How things are put together. I like to summarize this word as culture. So for a period of time we are enslaved by our culture.
That period of time is our life time, unless and until we are liberated by Christ!
The second source of our enslavement, is the Ruler of the Kingdom of the Air – or Satan. Yes, there is a devil and he’s alive, well and controlling the world we live in. Being cut off from God we are helpless to avoid all of his snares. We may avoid some, but will fall into others (that’s what at work in those who are disobedient means), and are helpless to escape apart from God’s supernatural intervention into space and time through Christ.
Our final slave master is closer than the other two, and is indeed part of each one of us – it’s our old nature. Variously translated as, “sin nature,” by the NIV and “the flesh” by many translations, it refers to the basic human nature we all possess.
Flesh does not just refer to the body, and this isn’t an example of the Bible teaching that the body is evil! The Bible doesn’t teach that at all! It says the body is capable of being used in evil ways, and our bodily drives can enslave us and lead us into sin. However, the body by itself isn’t evil.
The flesh is our old nature. The unregenerate, fallen away from and separated from God, human nature in all of us!
So our culture, our spiritual nemesis Lucifer, and our very selves hold us captive apart from God! But if you think it can’t get any worse, just read on!
Paul drives the final nail into our spiritual coffin (if you’ll pardon the grim expression) by telling us that we are also Condemned by God!
…Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. Ephesians 2:3a (NIV)
Here’s a statement that really set some people off! Bad enough being condemned as an object of God’s wrath, but to say we are that way by nature?? Outrageous!
Or is it?
A serious look at human history and the Bible will tell us that Paul is in fact correct, we do stand condemned and that condemnation comes about from what our very nature leads us to do and to be.
All Paul is saying is what God has said in many other places, we are objects of God’s wrath because we choose to follow our sinful nature. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:2 (NIV)
Now we’ve reached the bottom of the pit, and it’s very dark indeed. But before we move on to the next verse I want to deal with a question that I’ll be dealing with in the sermon as well. I’m going into this here because I think it’s such a vital question for the church in our culture and time that it needs to be looked at.
WHY IS ALL THIS SO IMPORTANT?
Why did Paul spend all this time on such depressing stuff? Actually he only wrote three little verses on it, but to the modern mind it seems like a lot! And if you think this is bad, try reading Romans 1-3!
There are a lot of reasons you could bring forth as to why this is a vital topic to understand and incorporate into your life if you want to be Authentically Spiritual. I’ll deal with just a few that have struck me and that I’ve seen in my life and ministry.
First of all it’s important to be reminded of all of this because it’s true! Far to many modern Christians have fallen captive to the world system and try to think about only the things that make them feel good! They even quote Scripture like Phil. 3:8-9 to support their position.
But remember the same man who wrote those verses also wrote Ephesians 2:1-3. The truth is that we do not want to dwell on the darkness, but we do need to look at it every now and then, and to never lose sight of its true dimensions.
Why? That leads to my second reason that it’s so important to understand the plight of man in all it’s bleakness. If we choose not to see this and share this as part of the Gospel, then we end up demeaning the very Savior we claim to love and serve.
How? Well think about it. What did Jesus come to save us from? If you ask that of most Evangelical Christians they’ll quickly reply, “Our sins!” That’s true of course, but as this passage shows He came to rescue us from a lot more than that!
But by trying to always “be positive and to avoid at all costs damaging anyone’s precious self image, we down play this part of the Bible. Most Christians ignore it all together and actually don’t believe it!
So instead of seeing ourselves as helpless and hopeless – cut off from God, enslaved by the world, the flesh and the devil and living under God’s just condemnation – we paint a much rosier picture.
Things aren’t that bad, we say. In so doing we make the great sacrifice of Christ less than what it is. Instead of rescuing us from our helpless condition, He’s really just putting a few band aids on our cuts and bruises and boosting our self-esteem.
So we have this modern phenomena of people becoming Christians to address certain specific problems, and once that’s done they are off on their own again. Worse yet, if they don’t get the results they want, they are off too!
Our Savior is a mighty Savior, Who has rescued us from hell! We are indeed cut off from God, enslaved and condemned by God without His Grace to rescue us! This is the real picture of the human condition, and lacking that we are going to produce a lot of weak and deceived disciples.
Which is exactly what the Western Church does all too often in our times.
I know talking like this raises nightmares for some of returning to the bad old days of “old time religion,” that was legalistic, negative and destructive for so many. Believe me I do not want to go there, and in fact have spent much of my ministry fighting just such forces.
We do not want to dwell on this, as we’ll see in a moment Paul didn’t! But we must face this! Confess this to be true of ourselves and everyone else as well. Only then will we be in the position to welcome our Savior as the wonderful Liberator He is! Only then will we be filled with praise for such an amazing salvation. Only then can we truly begin to appreciate all He has done for us!
And that’s why this is so important, and why it’s taught regularly in the New Testament. And that’s what it’s important the modern church return to the Biblical balance of teaching it and believing it, but not wallowing in it or dwelling on it.
Indeed, no healthy Christian could ever enjoy dealing with such a dreary passage, but no healthy Christian would avoid or ignore it either. For we know this is part of what must be faced to find true spirituality. It’s part of the road to recovery, and it’s part of the road to Christ, for, in fact, they two are one and the same thing!
Having taken the plunge into the depths of human depravity, Paul now takes us on a ride to the heights of what man can become through the Grace of God.
We break into the light with two simple but oh so powerful words, “But God!” Thanks be to God for those words! Human effort, philosophy, religion and theology have all failed us and left us hopeless – BUT GOD has delivered us!
In verses 4-6 Paul outlines both what God has done and why He has done it. Both of these are intermingled together in a beautiful exposition of God’s saving grace. By writing it this way we can see how everything is made one in Christ, and that unity and integration is one of the keys of Authentic Spirituality.
But to keep things easier to follow – we’re going to look first at what God has done, and then why He did it.
First God has made us alive with Christ (vs. 5)! Not just in Christ – but with Him! How is that possible? Christ was raised from the dead 2000 years ago, long before I was born, so what does Paul mean?
This is an interesting phrase. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament says this, “First aorist active indicative of the double compound verb sunzōopoieō as in Col. 2:13 which see. Associative instrumental case in Christōi. Literal resurrection in the case of Jesus, spiritual in our case as pictured in baptism.”
“What God wrought in Christ He wrought, ipso facto, in all who are united with Him” (Ellicott).—Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament.
Like being blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and like something we’ll see in a minute, being seated with Christ, this is true in an invisible spiritual sense. That doesn’t mean it’s not real however! We are born from above, spiritually raised to a new life and that was done in Christ when He came back to life, and then became real in me when I believed and was born again. Baptism is a symbol of this incredible reality.
But that’s not all, even if it is enough. He’s also “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (vs.6)
These last two components of salvation show just how great a salvation we have! Begin saved means a lot more than having fire insurance! It extends far beyond just the removal of God’s wrath. It brings us together with Christ to be blessed with every blessing He now enjoys in the heavenly places.
Salvation is in and through and with and all about Jesus Christ! Let us never forget that! We still live on earth, but spiritually we are raised and seated and alive in Christ.
What could have motivated God to do all this? Why would an eternal being, who needs nothing, is complete within Himself and can sustain Himself in perfection forever, why would He do all of this for creatures He has made and yet who reject Him?
Following his usual approach Paul uses several words to help drive home to us what drives and motivates God.
He says God is motivated by His Mercy (vs. 4a); Love (vs. 4b); His Grace (vs. 5&8) and finally His kindness (vs. 7).
We often talk about God in a manner that is far too simplistic. “God is Love!” we chirp as if that’s all there is to it! The New Testament shows us that is far from the case.
Oh yes, God is love, but He is also every other good quality we can think of and probably millions more besides that are beyond our comprehension! What a great God and a great salvation and a wonderfully marvelous Savior we have!
So we are saved but – we aren’t saved for ourselves! In our selfishness we often think that God did all of this for us. He did it for us – but there are purposes that extend far beyond us. In verse 7 Paul shows us just one.
that he might display in the coming ages the surpassing riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:7 (Darby)
We are being put on display by God to be examples of how rich His grace and kindness really are. The entire universe, and all creatures physical and spiritual, will see and be amazed at how wonderful God is in Jesus Christ!
You may think that no one knows what you are doing and that you are unimportant and don’t matter. But that’s not true. You are on display, and ever devil in hell is watching you, as are all the angels and who knows what other kind of creatures might be looking in on all of this as well?
You are being watched, so live completely for Christ, because you never know how what you and I do will impact eternity.
We have just about arrived at the peak of our climb towards what man can become by grace. Verses 8 & 9 are probably the best known verses in the entire book of Ephesians. They are quoted often, but looked at in their context less often.
The question Paul answers here is – HOW did God save us? We know He did, and we know what motivated Him, so now How did He do it?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
Paul says it’s BY grace. Yes, you read that right, by grace not faith! We’ll get to faith in a moment, but let’s look for a moment at grace.
Grace is a wonderful word, it means free gift of course. Its root referred to things that are not just free but good and healthy. The word for joy comes from the same root word as grace, so you can see that grace is the free gift of God, and that it always gives rise to a response of joy.
Our salvation is by grace, because it’s all from God! It had to be because we were separated, enslaved and condemned remember? If salvation were to come God had to act because we couldn’t.
So it’s by grace but its THRU faith! You see faith is where we come in. We see God’s offer of salvation, that free gift He offers us, and we either receive it by faith, or we reject it and suffer the consequences.
This does not mean we “work” for our salvation as some erroneously teach. It simply means that like all gifts God’s has to be received before it can be effective. If I buy you a gift for Christmas and you refuse to take it, it’s not going to mean anything to you is it? If I offer you an aspirin for your headache and you reject it and won’t take it, you can’t be healed can you?
Salvation is the same. Its God’s free gift as Paul says at the end of verse 8. So this incredible salvation is by grace and through faith!
But then what does Paul mean when he says in verse 8, “and this is not from yourselves”?
And that (kai touto). Neuter, not feminine tautē, and so refers not to pistis (feminine) or to charis (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part.—Word Pictures in the New Testament
In New Testament Greek the words would have to the same gender to refer to each other, so it CANNOT mean faith as many try and make the text say. It doesn’t say that, and you could strap this verse to the wrack and torture it and it still wouldn’t say that!
I know that many of you believe that our faith in Christ is a gift from God as well, that nothing can be from us or else we’re somehow earning our salvation. You are free to believe that of course, even though I certainly don’t!
But whatever you believe, let’s not distort the text and try and make it say what it clearly does not say. You’ll have to look elsewhere to support the idea that faith is given us by God, because it doesn’t say that here.
Finally in verse 9 Paul tells us that this salvation is not from ourselves, it’s from God and designed to glorify Him not us! The source of salvation isn’t from within man, it’s from within God! “But God,” the Scriptures say, not, “But man!”
We can thank God for that as well! Look at how well mankind’s efforts to save ourselves have worked. Communism is just one glaring example of how man’s salvation always bring ruin, but God’s salvation bring about peace and joy in the Spirit!
Now we’ve arrived at the peak of this climb. For not only has God rescued us from all the darkness within us and around us, and not only has He done so by His grace through faith, setting us free from the Law.
But – God has structured this salvation in such a way that every one of us fits into His plan, and has a part in His eternal purpose, both in this life and the next.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)
The first thing to note is how God centered Paul is as always! We are God’s! This comes from Him too, not from you or I! Stay Christ centered as we look at this verse else you’ll fail to understand it, and won’t be able to live it.
What’s this word, translated “workmanship” or masterpiece? The word “workmanship” (poiēma), used only here and in Romans 1:20 (where the niv renders it “what has been made”) denotes a work of art or a masterpiece.—Bible Knowledge Commentary
Think about that for a few moments. You – yes little old you – are not just a work of art – oh no! You are a masterpiece! You are a perfectly designed work. You could say we are God’s poems, since poem comes from this word.
And notice who masterpiece you are – God’s! There are no self made men or women in Christ! We are all to made by Christ and in His image to be used for His purposes in His Kingdom to do His will!
Note also how this plan of God’s for you and I to do good things for Him, were prepared long in advance of our showing up on the planet. Long ago, before the world began, God set up everything and now it’s our time on stage to see if we can fulfill the plan for which He made us.
Fulfilling this plan will make our lives the joyful experience God wants them to be, so living a Christ centered life focused on Christ’s purposes for you only makes sense!
I want to close this Exegetical Note with a great passage from Jeremiah. It’s one that quoted quite often, but when taken in the context of Ephesians 2:1-10 it becomes even more beautiful.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. Jeremiah 29:11-14a (NIV)
Think on these things.