[ STUDY] EPHESIANS highlights.
 ‘How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the father of our master Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down the earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family by Jesus Christ. He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift giving by the hand of his beloved son.’ Ephesians 1, Message bible. Over the next few weeks I think I will hit some key verses from this letter to the church at Ephesus. This letter [as well as Colossians] strike a different tone from Paul’s other letters. Many see the letter to the Romans as Paul’s greatest theological work [and it very well might be] and as you read Galatians [and Hebrews- to those who think Paul wrote it] you find lots of good stuff on the law versus grace. Though this letter also deals with that [the middle wall of partition broken down in Christ] yet you see more of an emphasis on the eternal purpose of God for the church. In the above passage Paul teaches us that God pre planned our conversion before the world began! He is showing us that he chose us, not the other way around. He not only destined us to ‘be saved’ but to be made ‘whole and holy’ in him in love. This divine work is both an individual and corporate experience. The church fathers would teach us that he ‘who has God as his father, also has the church for his mother’, this meaning that as you enter into the Christian life, you are entering a community of people in whom God has great designs. The scriptures refer to us as The Bride, a Temple, the Body of Christ- all these references point to the corporate identity that we have in Christ. God wants us to ‘enter into this lavish gift giving by the hand of his beloved Son’. God is in the process of bringing all things together in Christ, Jesus is the all in all, and as his people we are the vehicle thru which he will accomplish this great purpose- all things in heaven and on earth will glorify his son, and God makes manifest this knowledge of Christ thru the church; the bible says even the angels are looking at this mysterious work of Christ and his bride and are seeing things that they never saw before. Rejoice in the fact that you and I are part of the greatest building program of all time; God is building us into a holy temple, a bride that will be spotless, totally accepted in Jesus- all this thru grace. Yes, we have great reason to rejoice.
 ‘Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the cross, we are a free people- free from the penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free either. ABUNDANTLY free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything in planet earth’ Ephesians 1, message bible. Notice how the ‘long range plan’ of God has been revealed to us in time; that is God had all these things mapped out before the world even started! The plan is to bring everything together in Christ, that all things in heaven and on earth would show forth the full restoration that was accomplished at the Cross. Paul speaks about this ‘full world’ reconciliation in Romans chapter 8; the creation itself shall be delivered from the curse and enter into the full joy of the manifestation of the sons of God. One of the main themes of Jesus in the parables is to show forth the full world impact of the kingdom of God. Jesus talks about the kingdom as a small seed, and it grows into this great tree. Or a fishing net that brings in all types of fish [full harvest]. One of the mistakes that some believers made was they began interpreting the kingdom parables in a way that said ‘see, these parables speak of the religious world of Christendom, and how false religion will take over the planet’ Ouch! Jesus has a purpose for all of creation; he has let us in on these plans and has given us authority to fulfill our part of the plan. We have complete acceptance from God based on the work of the Cross, free from all penalties and punishments that we deserve because of our sins. Yet God who is rich in mercy has lavished upon us great grace, he has chosen us to be an important part of this plan, we are the actual Body of Christ on the earth that Jesus speaks and acts thru, we are major players in the eternal purpose of the most high!
 ‘When I heard of your trust in the Lord Jesus and the love that you have towards all the saints, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you, every time I prayed I’d think of you…I ask the God of our master, the God of glory to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so you can see exactly what it is that he’s calling you to do’ Ephesians 1. Notice what the apostle prayed for; he asked God to open their eyes so that they might know Jesus more personally- that is he did not request that they simply have a better grasp of the doctrine of Jesus Christ [which is important] but he was asking that they might actually increase in their relationship with him. It has been said that Christianity is the only religion in which the founder actually lives inside the follower. I like that, it keeps us focused on the reality that God wants us to be more than simple intellectual assenters of the truth claims of Christianity. There is a major theme in the New Testament that runs along these lines, the apostle says ‘I count all things loss that I might increase in the knowledge of him’ once again meaning to know him more. Now I must admit that there are times when believers seem to disdain other groups of believers because they deem them wrong or lacking in some area. It is common to hear certain groups refer to other groups as ‘lost’ that is they see the traditional expression of Christianity that they follow and they judge them as never having received Jesus ‘into their hearts’. I think this is a mistake that we make; notice in the above passage that Paul was thanking God for their faith and the love that they showed to all the saints; that is they had a grasp on the corporate wide nature of the church. While it is important for us to increase in our relationship with Christ, it’s also important to see that God is at work with many groups of believers, not just those who seem to be the most like us! Let’s ask God to increase us in the area of knowing Jesus more personally- that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened, that we might grasp the length and depth and height of the love of Christ as the corporate people of God. It takes a body of people to fully grasp the greatness of ‘their head’ Jesus is the head of the church, the people of God that transcend time and space. As members of this mystical people called the church, we need each other to come to a more mature understanding of who he is and what he wants us to do- we are not in this thing alone.
 ‘And you hath he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… but God who is rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when WE were dead in sins, hath MADE US ALIVE together with Christ [by grace ye are saved] and has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us in Christ Jesus’ Ephesians 2: 1, 4-7. The other day I heard the common question on some Christian show, the person asked ‘why is there evil in the world’ and the normal answer usually says that in order for God to have had men willingly love him, he could only accomplish this by giving men free will; then because of this ‘forced’ environment of choice some men would chose to sin and ultimately evil is the greatest ‘necessary evil’ there could ever be. I’m sure I’ve used this argument a few times myself, and I’m also sure that there is some truth to it. But from another angle it does seem strange that evil exists because this was the ‘best’ God could do to create an environment where men would willingly come to him; maybe one of the reasons for evil is not so much a result of God trying to create an environment that would ultimately please him [willing lovers] but maybe a part of it has to do with us, that is the reality of redemption and the great grace and mercy that we receive from God would not have the same effect on us if evil and damnation were not a real option. The above passage tells us that one of the reasons that God freely saved us is so in the ages to come he might show the great mercy and grace that he possesses thru this redeemed people, a people who by all rights deserved judgment. Though I didn’t get into it in the previous chapter [too much] yet the apostle delves into the doctrine of predestination right in the greeting of the letter! We usually view the doctrine as an ‘in the closet’ doctrine that shouldn’t be discussed in mixed company. The fact that God chose us and redeemed us because of his purpose and will that he designed for us before we were born, this extravagant grace poured out on us for ages to come- this work glorifies the Father. We are ‘his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works that God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ we are corporately Gods work, the WE, US verses speak to this. All of this is a free work of grace that has been activated by faith, a faith that was also given to us as a gift, not of works lest any man should boast.
 ‘For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of two one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby’ Ephesians 2:14-16. Over the years I have seen this portion of scripture used in a way that said God removed the animosity between man and God [true] and that this verse speaks of that. In actuality this scripture is speaking to the reality of God removing the animosity between the two major ‘races’ of the first century. In today’s pluralistic society we find it difficult to grasp the religious prejudice that existed in Jesus’ day; those who were Jewish and partook of Judaism were considered accepted by God, those who were not Jewish were considered outsiders and without ‘God in the world’. So in Paul’s theology he shows us that one of the major aspects of the Cross was the taking away of the object that caused the enmity- which was the ordinances of the law. Colossians tells us that the law of commandments was nailed to the Cross, and it is thru this action that the Jewish nation no longer had a ‘one up man ship’ thing going against the Gentiles. The work of the Cross leveled the playing field where the Jewish religion could no longer say ‘we have Gods law, you don’t’ instead the new proclamation after the Cross says ‘Jesus nailed the law to the Cross and we all stand on equal ground at the foot of the Cross’. To our 21st century minds this might not be such a great thing, but to the people of the 1st century it was. Last night I saw a story on the news about the two men who stood outside of an election place during the last presidential election; they were members of the New Black Panther Party and were dressed like thugs- they had billy clubs and the whole nine yards. Just seeing these men looked intimidating. The complaints against them were that they intimated white voters from voting; some said they used racial slurs against white people, they stood in the way and blocked the entrance, bad stuff all the way around. The reason it’s in the news is because the justice dept. just dropped the case against these thugs. One of the employees who worked on the case quit, he said they were told that they were not to bring charges against Blacks who intimated Whites, only the other way around. How much of the accusations are true, I don’t know. But the problem is by any standards this is a classic case of voter intimidation- you simply can’t get a better text book case than this. Now there are many Black leaders, both political and religious, who defend these men and their actions. Even though elderly white women obviously were scared to vote, yet these leaders accept racist actions if they come from their own race. This is wrong and totally unacceptable, especially from anyone standing in a pulpit. The message of the Cross is one of reconciliation of all people, we want mercy and truth to prevail, and we do not want any special treatment for one group while discriminating against another. I thank God that thru the Cross the enmity was removed, we can all stand on equal ground at the foot of the Cross and come thru the same Spirit to our God, Jesus took away the thing that caused the animosity.
 ‘And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are built together for an habitation of God thru the Spirit’ Ephesians 2: 20-22. The temple imagery is one of the great pictures of what the church is in the New Testament. One of the greatest Old Testament surveys done in the bible is Acts chapter 7; Stephen gives this tremendous overview of the history of Israel. One of the portions of scripture that he quotes is Psalms ‘God does not dwell in temples made with hands’ he is prophesying of the great living temple of people that was beginning to form in the book of Acts. One important note; over the last few years there has been some controversy between the organic church movement [house church movement, cell church, etc.] and the traditional church. An important thing to remember is the imagery of the temple/people of God is not describing a meeting at all- whether it be in the ‘church building’ or the home. The imagery is that of a people who transcend time and space, a company of people that share life with God, God really dwells in his people- not just on a meeting day, or in a meeting place, but all the time! It’s easy to lose the reality of the temple imagery and replace it with the ‘church building’. It’s also easy to miss read this imagery, Stephen himself as well as many of the early believers had no problem going to the temple or to a synagogue meeting, it wasn’t off limits to meet in a building- it’s just they were actually being built together as an holy temple in the Lord and this reality transcended the old temple concept. We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone- which means everything lines up with him; he is the plumb line for the building. Thank God that he no longer dwells in temples made with hands, but in us- a living temple made up of living stones! [Peter’s letter].
 ‘This is why I Paul am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so called. I take it that you are familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody… none of our ancestors understood this, only in our time has it been made clear thru God’s Spirit… this is my life work, helping people understand and respond to God’s message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details’ Ephesians 3, message bible. As I said earlier in this study, the ‘mystery’ that God revealed to Paul was the reality that thru Christ all ethnic groups would be on the same footing with God. This specifically related to the religious belief of the day that the ethnic nation of Israel were the only ones with special access to God. For Paul to have been preaching this message in his day would be like us teaching that God’s plan for all people today- Jews, Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians, etc., it would be like saying Gods purpose for our day is to accept all of these ethnic groups as one group thru Christ. To be frank about it, I believe many evangelicals today are not fully seeing the reality of the Cross when they exalt the natural heritage of Israel as Gods special people. Though I realize many of these teachings mean well [end time scenarios and stuff] yet in practice they deny the equal footing that all people have in Christ. Paul was preaching the great news that your ethnic/cultural background no longer made any difference- thru Christ we are all Gods special people. This does not mean that we are all accepted whether or not we believe in Christ, a sort of religious syncretism, but it does mean that the offer of Jesus is available to all.
 ‘So here I am, preaching about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ… through Christians like yourselves this extraordinary plan is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!...All this is proceeding along lines planned long ago by God…so don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down’ Ephesians 3. It’s interesting that the great apostle could rejoice in everything that was happening as being a plan from God that was determined long ago- and yet he was presently suffering many things. He did not ask the Lord ‘why did you let me go to jail’ or ‘why has my career as a great religious leader, respected as a great teacher of the law, why has it all been thrown away on this new career- one where I’m going around, supporting myself by tent making! I mean I could have had a great career as a professional speaker! [Rhetoric]’ instead Paul realized that the troubles that were happening to him were a direct result of his calling in God. Isaiah says ‘for your shame they shall have double, and for your confusion THEY shall possess the double portion in the land’ ‘he shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied, he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities’ the biblical theme is we often suffer as a result of the work that God is doing thru us for others. Paul encourages the church to not faint at his tribulations for them, which is their glory. If we can grasp the reality that to them that love God, all things are working together for good, then we can rejoice in the good times and bad. But if our measuring rod for success is the world’s measuring rod, then we will be like a ship in the wind- tossed back and forth and wavering with every change in the weather. Paul learned to be content in whatever state he was in- jail, freedom- lack, abundance; all these things were working for good, even the things that didn’t seem ‘good’.
 ‘I therefore…beseech you that you would walk worthy of the calling…with all lowliness and meekness, putting up with each other in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all and thru all and in you all’ Ephesians 4:1-6. Last night I caught Tim Lahaye [famous end time’s preacher] on the fox channel, he was talking about the one world govt. system and the one world banking/economic system. He was saying how he believed that the Obama administration was a tool that would lead up to the apocalypse. The host, Mike Huckabee, was kind enough to let Tim speak but kind of gave a little more mercy to the president. I felt bad for Lahaye, you could see he is getting up in age and you could tell that that’s the way he saw the bible, the lens of end time dispensationalism and the one world order was what he saw, and that’s that. Often times in the various debates that believers have amongst one another, it’s easy to lose sight of the greater purpose of God. In the above passage the apostle talks about the necessity of seeing God’s people as one body, to avoid as much as possible any divisions that would rise up among us. In our day we have many sincere believers who see many things differently, how far down the road of practical unity we will get- I don’t know. But it is imperative that we give each other the benefit of the doubt, that we make room for the different views that other believers have- yes even those who espouse the end time scenarios that seem to be a little off base! As a student of the bible and church history, I realize that there are many doctrinal differences that are deep seated- these will not go away simply because we love one another; but at the same time there needs to be an overriding view of the desire of God for unity among his people. I need to make as much ‘room’ for you as possible when it comes to being a fellow believer in the Lord, I should not allow my beliefs in certain areas trump the unity that we all posses in Christ. This chapter speaks of the gifts that Christ gives to the church for the benefit of the whole body, if I am using my gift in a way that causes division, then no matter how gifted I am, I am working against the purpose of that gift. In the above passage the apostle speaks of the need for humility and meekness, we need to stop seeing each other thru the lens of ‘our group is better/knows more truth than your group’ even if we believe that ‘our group’ really is more doctrinally sound than the other members of Christ’s church, yet we are called to lowliness and meekness when dealing with one another- yes there will be times of honest and robust disagreement, but we must not forsake/forget the high calling to strive for unity amongst the people of God. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt- if we disagree with them, whether politically or in areas of belief, let’s not jump to the conclusion that they are going to personally play a major role in bringing in the apocalypse for heaven’s sake! If these people are believers then it is our duty to give them the benefit of the doubt, even if we disagree with them strongly in certain areas.
 ‘till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man…that we henceforth be no more children, tossed back and forth and carried around by every new teaching, by the tricks of men who lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love may grow up INTO HIM in every way, he is the head- even Christ’ Ephesians 4:13-16. This passage comes right after Paul gives us a description of the gifts/ministers that exist in the church; the purpose of gifted people is to bring the people to a maturity in Christ- not just an increase in knowledge about Jesus, but that we as the body of Christ might fully mature and be more like him. Often times we confuse intellectual knowledge with knowing Jesus; or we think that the end goal is to simply increase in learning. While I love to learn and grow in all areas of teaching, I also realize that Jesus is looking for more than just smart people. In the gospels we see Jesus engaging at different times with the religious leaders, they usually have some trick question that they think will stump him- what were they doing? They felt like if they could ‘catch him’ in a contradiction, then that would prove to them that they were still the elites of the day and that this Jesus was just another one of the so called messiahs. But in every case Jesus would respond with a short, quick answer that would dumbfound the questioners. You got the feeling that he could have easily blown everybody away with his intellect, but he didn’t use his wisdom in that way. What we consider to be the best teachings of Jesus are his parables and the great Sermon on the Mount; though these teachings are great, yet they are simple. They call us to the Christ like life, not just to a life that knows more about Christ. In the above passage Paul tells the Ephesians that God is building us into a mature body of people who will express Christ to the world. The gifted people are not just great speakers who the people gather around weekly to listen to- they are carpenters who are building the people of God until we all come to a unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God wants us to ‘grow up INTO him’ that is to be formed into a mature body of people- God is looking for real growth, not just a bunch of people who have all the best answers.
 ‘Don’t walk as unbelievers, in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the LIFE OF GOD thru the ignorance that is in them… put off the former way of life, which is corrupt and be renewed in the spirit of your mind… put away lying and speak the truth to your neighbor’ Ephesians 4:17-26. A few years ago I had a new neighbor move across the street, we became friends and he too was a believer. Lots of my friendships are mentoring type situations where I help people out and we become connected as a true brotherhood. In some way my friend Dave sort of looked to me in that way; he would have questions and I would do my best to answer, I would help him run errands and stuff, and if I didn’t talk to him regularly he would get offended- he would ask ‘Have I done something wrong’? Dave suffers from grand maul seizures and has been on disability for years. I noticed over time that Dave liked to ‘tell stories’ I mean stories that he ‘thought’ were true, but they obviously were not- I mean fantastic stuff. I did not judge him for this flaw; I chalked it up to his many medical problems and left it alone. Dave would regularly get into conflicts with his neighbors, one day he grabbed a next door teen who was running down the street; the teen beat Dave up pretty brutally. He had a tendency to cross many lines in his speech and actions, after a while I realized Dave had a past history of altercations like this- the cops told the neighbors that they have had many calls over the years that involved Dave. The other night my wife came home and said she had heard that someone was shot to death around the block the evening before; yes, Dave shot to death the neighbor who he shared a common back yard fence with. I don’t know all the details and I plan on going over in a few days to talk with his wife and try and help them as much as possible. The story is that Dave was walking his dog and got into some kind of argument with the man and shot him multiple times on his property. Not good. I was always concerned that Dave would tell me so many ‘stories’ over the years, it was more of a compulsion than anything else. But to engage in regular lying is also a sin. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to put away all of the former things and ‘put on’ the new man. He says that the ignorance in the minds of the unbelievers separates them from God- not just from knowledge about God, but from God himself. We are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new man. He tells us not to lie to one another, because we are members of each other and it is like doing harm to your own family. Over the years I have prayed for Dave, and I now realize that he will become a named regular on my list- one who I will mention by name in prayer weekly for many years to come. I have done this many times before and actually have a few local names that I am doing this with now. I often read a news story about a believer or a person arrested for a serious crime and I mention their name during a routine time of prayer when I pray for God to restore those who have fallen; Dave will now ‘forever’ be named on that list.
 ‘Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children: and walk in love as Christ also has loved us, and hath given himself for us as an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour’. Ephesians 5:1-2. The early church had a tag stuck on them- they were called ‘followers of the way’. Paul exhorts the believers to be followers of God; he goes thru the first half of the chapter and speaks about ‘not sinning’ yes- those who commit adultery, lie, cheat, use bad language, these do not inherit Gods kingdom. Strong stuff indeed. The early church saw Christianity more along the lines of being a follower of a person [Jesus] than embracing a set of doctrines. Now, there was a core set of beliefs that the early church did hold to, the New Testament defines it as ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’. Many believe that the statement of Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 ‘Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures…’ many believe that this portion of scripture was first an oral tradition among the early believers; that is they might have used this as an early creed. And the church did have what was called a ‘krygma’ a compact set of beliefs that was considered to be the core beliefs of the Christian faith. The point being we had a concise set of beliefs, but we also had a strict moral code, one that was to be lived by the power of the Spirit, but yet strict as compared with today’s standards. Paul tells the church ‘be followers of God’ we are told to imitate Christ, to be like him. As Christianity progressed down thru the ages many came to define authentic faith as embracing the more orthodox set of beliefs that were being hammered out thru the creeds and councils of the church- some came to see Christianity strictly along these lines. I think it would do us all some good if we began seeing ourselves once again as followers of ‘the way’ that is people who call Jesus Lord and ‘follow God’. Yes, we appreciate and hold to the historic Christian faith, that’s important- but we also ‘follow God’.
 ‘submitting to each other in the fear of God, wives submit unto your husband’s as unto the Lord…husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it…this is a great mystery, Christ and the church’ Ephesians 5. The apostle tells us that in marriage the 2 become one, just like our ‘marriage’ to Christ. In 1st Corinthians Paul rebukes them for a specific sin; incest, fornication. He tells them that when they sleep with a person outside of marriage that the 2 become one- he then says ‘shall I take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot’. The point he makes is as Christ’s body we are actually parts of him. The various debates that the church has had over the communion table have centered around whether or not the elements become the actual physical body and blood of Jesus. One of the sad things that has happened is while we have had this debate [centuries old] we have missed the agreed reality that yes, our bodies are actually considered parts of Christ. These verses have also come under fire over the years because they speak of the wife submitting to the husband- the reality is this submission is not some type of bigoted thing, it’s a willing submission done in love as the husband expresses Christ like love to the wife. Paul said the great ordinance of marriage points to the great reality of us being joined to Christ in a very real way- if you will, it can be said without contradiction that the Real Presence of Christ is in the world today thru the church, the people of God.
 ‘children, honor your parents…fathers, raise your children in the fear of the Lord- don’t provoke them…slaves, obey your masters, and masters- treat your slaves [servants] well, knowing that you too have a master in heaven’ Ephesians 6:1-9. Let’s deal with the issue of reading the bible in its cultural context. When the church was birthed in the 1st century, she was born into a Roman society that dominated the known world- yet Rome was not stupid, they had a policy of conquering people and allowing these groups to self govern as much as possible. The Jewish nation actually lived in her own cultural world while at the same time being ruled over by ‘the oppressors’. Rome allowed for a degree of religious freedom. They had their Pantheon of various gods and also did not interfere with the ‘other gods’ of their conquered foes. The problem with the Christians arose because the believers would only acknowledge one God [like the Jews] they would not say ‘Caesar is Lord’ but only Jesus. This drew a strange accusation from Rome; the Christians would be seen as atheists! Yes, atheists in the sense that they would not accept the Roman gods. Now, into this mix the church had to deal with the problem of not being seen as insurgents who were trying to overthrow the ‘God ordained’ govt. of Rome [book of Romans]. They did their best to not be seen as a rebellious movement. This, in my opinion, is why we do not read statements in the New Testament that encourage the overthrowing of slavery. Instead you find admonitions like the one in the above passage that exhort both slaves and masters to live together as much as possible in peace and harmony. I do not see the New Testament [taken in this cultural context!] condoning slavery for all time; but what I see is an early effort by the fledging church to live in peace and order at a time when the ruling authority watched closely over her people. It is true that during the struggle to free the Black salves, many southern preachers read these verses in a way that said ‘the bible tells us not to overthrow slavery, but to treat each other as fellow believers while allowing the institution to survive’. Yet you had men like Charles Finney, well known for his role in the 2nd great awakening that took place in the 19th century, Finney was an outspoken opponent of slavery and did all he could to stop it. So the church has had people on both sides of the issue. As we read the new Testament, one of the main themes is that Christ has come to set men free from bondage [slavery] the apostle himself will teach that in Jesus ‘there is neither slave nor free- we are all one in Christ’ the overall teaching from scripture is that Christ died to set men free, so as the church would grow over time we would get to a place where God would raise up voices [in due season] that would speak out against the oppression of the slave trade. To appeal to the immediate concern of Paul in the first century as expressed thru these passages [the concern of believers not being viewed as rebels who overthrow order in society] and to read these same passages centuries later in order to justify slavery is reading the bible out of its cultural context. We should also be aware that there are other issues that the church in our day struggles with, many appeal to this line of reasoning while dealing with homosexual relationships, ordaining gay people to the pulpit and other stuff like that. It’s not my purpose to deal with everything right now, suffice it to say that I do not personally see these 2 issues as civil rights issues that fall into the same category- undoing slavery and accepting homosexual marriage are not the same thing in my book- but to be aware of the way believers have approached these issues is important for our day. There were many well meaning believers/preachers who read these passages and took them literally to mean that it was wrong for slaves to rise up against ‘their masters’ and rebel, these preachers appealed to the direct words of scripture while making their point- it’s just they were not reading the scripture in its true cultural context.
 ‘Take everything the master has set out for you, well worn weapons of the best materials…be prepared, you’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon the father has issued…learn how to apply them, you’ll need them thru out life…prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. PRAY HARD AND LONG! Pray for your brothers and sisters…and don’t forget to pray for me, that I’ll know what say and the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all’ Ephesians 6. Paul ends the letter by exhorting the church to put on her armor- things like right living, salvation, faith, all basic characteristics of the Christian life. He warns them that they are not in a physical warfare but a spiritual one, up against dark forces and evil rulers in positions of authority. He urges them to pray- pray for each other, pray for me! He is not afraid to admit he needs prayer. Recently the actor Mel Gibson has been in the news for lots of personal problems. I remember a few years back Mel made a commitment to follow the Lord- and I believe he was sincere. Yet the media has used him as a court jester in recent weeks. I pray for the man, we should all be on the lookout for one another, lift each other up in prayer. If you here a rumor about somebody, then pray for them. One of our other weapons is the gospel of peace on our feet. There is another scripture that says ‘blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news’. In the Old Testament when nations fought, the way the king kept informed about the warfare was a runner would run from the battle and bring the news. You could tell from a distance whether the news was good or bad, by the ‘step’ of the runner. If the news was good then the runner had this exciting run that you could tell he was eager to get to the king; but if the news was bad you could read it in the hesitance of the runner. Paul said we have the feet of the one who brings the good news; people see our step and know that the message is one of reconciliation and peace- this surely is the message of the church. As I close this brief look at the letter to the Ephesians, let’s put on the armor that the Lord has given us- not a bunch of spiritual warfare techniques of doing ‘3rd level heavenly attacks’ against territorial spirits! But by walking in the Spirit and continuing in prayer FOR one another. We also have the great high priest, Jesus, who makes intercession for us. We have the Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; we have an entire armory of spiritual accessories that are not even dependent upon us! Run the race well, put on the armor and tell the great story of the Cross as much as possible- that’s the message that the world needs to hear.