The Gospel Riots (Ephesians 1)

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There is a story of two men: one a wealthy landowner named Hans and another a poor farmer named Kristoff. One day Kristoff was sitting under a tree eating an apple for his lunch. Hans was riding by the Kristoff farm on his horse and noticed Kristoff was taking a break. Kristoff greeted Hans, “It’s a fine day sir. I thank God for this apple tree, so I can eat one each day for lunch.” Hans looked down on Kristoff and replied, “If that is all I had to eat I would not be giving thanks to God.” Kristoff responded humbly, “I am thankful for every little gift from God.” He added, “By the way, I am so glad you stopped by today because an angel visited me last night and spoke to me in a dream. The angel said, ‘The wealthiest man in the land will die tonight.’ I do not know what all that means, but I thought I should share that with you.” Hans was a bit startled but scoffed, “Angelic dreams are ridiculous.” And Hans hurried away on his horse. However, Hans could not get Kristoff’s words out of his mind: “The wealthiest man in the land will die tonight.” So, Hans called his doctor and asked for a checkup. Dr. Wesselton came to the mansion and examined Hans. The doctor reported, “Hans, you are healthy as your strongest horse. I highly doubt you will die tonight.” Nevertheless, Hans asked the doctor to stay all night just to be safe. The expense of the doctor’s time would be worth sanity and the night’s sleep for Hans. Early the next day, Hans awoke with great happiness and apologized for taking so much of the doctor’s time and being upset over the silly farmer’s dream. Just as the Dr. Wesselton was leaving, a servant of Hans walked through the door to relay a message. Hans asked, “What is the emergency of this morning message?” The servant Sven responded, “Sir Hans, your friend the farmer, Kristoff, died peacefully in his sleep last night.”

The wealthiest people in our world are not those who have all the material possessions, or those with celebrity prominence or political power, nor even those who win the billion dollar lottery. Instead, the wealthiest in our world are those who have the unsearchable riches of God and have in their heart the depths of the gospel. The gospel is good news.

For the next month, we will study Gospel Depths from the book of Ephesians.

  • Favorite Book of Bible
  • Foundational: Theology & Practice: How to handle esteem identity struggles, consumer Christianity, racial strife, conflict relationships, lust & dating, marriage, parenting, work relations, and not to mention anxiety and spiritual attacks.

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EXAMINE           Ephesians 1 / The Gospel Riots

Paul travels to Ephesus on his third missionary journey. The church had a foundation of Scriptural teaching with Apollos, Aquila & Priscilla. Paul entered the city to disciple and speak boldly about the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). He stayed for over two years with God doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul (Acts 19:11). In spite of all the gospel advance, Paul faced resistance and riot. The people understood that Paul’s preaching of Jesus Christ was competing to depose their idols – Artemis (Acts 19:27). The people grew enraged, crying “Great is Artemis,” throwing the city into confusion and civil uproar. Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of the god Apollo. In Ephesus, her image is portrayed as a mother goddess and a huge industry profited from her image and idolatry; which is why Paul’s speaking of Christ led to a riot.

Ephesus was populous city in modern day Turkey. It was on a seaport, intersecting Europe and Asia, making it a significant trade hub for the Roman empire. As a magnificent city, it was very multi-cultural with academic libraries large in human history, philosophers, religious with largest temples and ancient wonders of world. And of course, in a large city there was immorality.

Therefore, Ephesians is relevant because it speaks to us today in relation to

  • Culture immorality & Christian essentials
    • “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 1:1)
  • Contentment personally / Spiritual vibrancy

 

Believing the gospel gives us blessing despite our burdens.

Paul is enamored with eternity, opening the letter with heavenly blessings. He’s seeking to exalt the glory of God (note recurring phrases vv.6, 12, 14: “to the praise of his glorious grace” and vv.5, 9, 11 “to the good pleasure of his will”) in order to lift the Ephesians eyes to what matters most.

“Life is difficult.”[1] We live in a cursed world ravaged not only by the forces of nature and disease, but the consequences of wrongful actions and evil in our world. No one is exempt. Sin is widespread, but grace abounds. We endure earth’s trials with the grace blessing of God. We may experience temptations, trials, hardships, and suffering, but we do so with the blessing of God’s provision. God is with us to sustain and save. God promises all suffering has an expiration date. Future glory will overshadow all our present groans (Rom 8:18-39). Only the blessing of knowing God is for us and not against us can help us walk through this world with clarity of mind and confidence of heart.

Paul describes God’s blessing:[2]

  • Chosen & Predestined
    • Before foundation of world” (Eph 1:3)
      • NOT that God is needy of us; statement is more about God’s sovereign nature than human special identity.
      • NOT God chose you bc He knew you would choose Him.
      • NOT after your birth with innate ability or later actions… let that sink in: God could not love you any more than He already has and does!
        • Charles Spurgeon: “I have no questions that God chose me, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.”[3]
        • NOT like Luke Skywalker about father Darth Vader: “there is good in him, I’ve felt it… I can save him; I can turn him back to the good side. I have to try.”
        • NOT a future you; God doesn’t love a potential you, He simply loves you.
        • God does not choose us bc we are great. He loves us so we become great for His glory.
        • Like The Voice but chair turns around before you sing.
        • Like a blind date before any communication or visual.
      • Deut 7:7-8 “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you…”
  • Loved & Adopted
    • “as sons” (Eph 1:5) This implies heirdom, so while daughters is implied the cultural principle for sons is making a theological point that daughters are viewed as sons to be included in full inheritance.
    • In our salvation, we are not cute and cuddly orphans adopted by God, but instead we were enemies of God and unreconciled bc of our rebellion (Rom 5:6-8; Eph 2:1-3). We are among those who maimed and murdered God’s Son at the crucifixion. And yet, God chooses to adopt us – unfathomable grace! God loves the unlovely and redeems the ungodly.
  • Predestination Excursis: If God has elected those who will be saved, why do we need to evangelize? This is a challenging question to scholars and saints for centuries.
    • First, we need to remain humble bc the gap of knowledge and understanding between us and God is very vast (Deut 29:29; Job 38-40; Isa 55:8-9; Rom 11:33-36; 1Cor 13:12).
      • Further, God’s salvation belongs to the Lord alone, and no one is deserving of grace and His great hope. We are all sinners with our default being condemnation not mercy. Therefore, God is not obligated to save, but the fact God saves anyone is truly a gift.
        • Eph 1:3-14 is one long, run-on, monstrous conglomeration of 202 words in one sentence in Greek. There are 24 verbs or action sequences, with God as the subject performing the action in 20 of them, and only 4 we perform. Beautiful literary and majestic meaning in Greek but terrible English 🙂 It is God who blesses, chooses, predestines, adopts, redeems, forgives, lavishes grace, and makes Himself known… and it is we who obtain/receive, hear/listen, hope, and believe. We do the rebelling and sinning; Jesus Christ does the redeeming and saving.
          • Salvation is a Trinitarian work: Father arranges, Son accomplishes, Spirit accompanies and amplifies salvation until we receive our inheritance in the presence of God.
        • Second, let us consider Paul’s witness and missionary spirit. When Paul was traveling through Corinth and onward to Ephesus with much trial and opposition, yet God spoke, “Go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you… for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:9-10). Our role is not to worry about the elect but to witness to as many as we can so we can rejoice in God’s salvation with those who are elect.
        • God’s election of individuals should not discourage our evangelism but empower it bc we have the confidence there are elect to discover. Saving people is not up to us but God.
        • Third, God’s election does not eliminate our free will. The Bible presents both God’s sovereignty and human freedom as cooperating in perfect and mysterious harmony.
          • John 6:44 “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him.”
            • ἑλκύσῃ draws in other contexts is unsheathing a sword, its very purpose.
          • Ezekiel 33:11 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
          • Matthew 23:37 Jesus cries, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
          • Romans 10:13 “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (cf. Acts 2:21, 38; Joel 2:32).
          • 1Timothy 2:4 “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
          • 2Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
          • The cross of Christ is sufficient to save anyone, but efficient only for those who believe in God and repent of sin (1Tim 4:10).
        • A. Hodge: “Does God know the day you’ll die? Yes. Has he appointed [predestined] that day? Yes. Can you do anything to change that day? No. Then why do you eat? To live. What happens if you don’t eat? You die. Then if you don’t eat and die, then would that be the day that God appointed for you to die? Quit asking stupid questions and just eat. Eating is the pre-ordained way God has appointed for living.” And so, evangelism and prayer are the
          pre-ordained means for saving souls and discovering the elect.
  • God’s Blessing is available.
    • Great banner reads “Choose Christ” and once walk under you look back to read “Chosen In Christ”

 

Believing the gospel gives us forgiveness despite our failures.

Paul describes the blessing of Christ as redemption. To Paul, redemption is that we are now “holy and blameless” (Eph 1:4) and have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us” (Eph 1:7).

Redemption is a market term, referencing a payment made to obtain possession or secure release of an object.[4] For the Christian, redemption is God rescuing us from:

  • Death judgment from sin (Gal 4:4-5). This is likely the most important, with eternal consequences in mind. We can only begin to understand the reality that heaven is our home and rescued from hell.
  • Dying body (Rom 8:23). Every day we wake and age we are reminded outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being made new (2Cor 4:16, ff.).
  • Desires remade (1Pet 1:18). The gospel doesn’t just change our legal standing before God, but also gives us a change of heart. Our prior empty way of life is redeemed so that we have new dreams for good and desires for godliness (Titus 2:14).
    • God’s election brings a humble privilege but also a holy responsibility. Sanctification is our cooperation with God’s work of salvation to conform us to the image and character of Christ (cf 1Peter 1:19-23; 2:9-12).
  • Have you ever wanted to be free, really free? We HAVE not just WILL HAVE, so bondage is a choice.
  • God wants to give you a homecoming celebration with a parade of alumni saints, party with food & festivities with friends, and a coronation of the King.

 

Believing the gospel gives us an anchor in our anxieties.

“insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in heaven and things on earth… according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:8-11)

The circumstances that confuse us and the life hang-ups that seek to steal our hope are all working according to the purpose of God. He has a plan. God is working all things for your good – even those things that hurt and stem from evil, God is sovereign, and you can trust Him to work for the good of your character and contentment in Christ.

It is also interesting in that while Paul is talking about such gospel depths and unsearchable riches of Christ, that he references God revealing the mystery of His will. Human mystery is never greater than God’s clarity. His purpose is always accomplished, and His work never averted.

Illus: Since I work on Sundays, there are times when I cannot watch football games. Thankfully there is DVR. So people will ask, “Do you want to know the score?” and I say NO! bc I want to watch the game as if it were real time. Yet, knowing the score can help provide perspective – like error referee calls or bad plays from my team can be overlooked bc I know they win in the end (or knowing they lose I don’t watch the game and save a few hours of my life that I would have wasted!). Similarly, knowing the score of God’s will to unite all things in heaven and earth helps me have perspective in my problems and pains. I don’t have to be anxious over my circumstances, but can rest and trust God. – – – Is that true always? No, but prayerfully I’m growing – and you can too bc of the gospel being an anchor in your anxiety.

  • Unite events of earth with heaven by praying. Establish and strengthen your prayer life. Read books on topic, ask others for help, learn to pray by praying with mature believers, identify prayers in the Bible… Your anxiety will not go away until your affections for God are advanced.

 

Believing the gospel gives us security despite our shortfall.

Paul continues his flow of thought describing God’s blessing with the phrase “In him.” Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” multiple times in his writings (14x in Ephesians, 170+x in all). The assurance of our salvation is not dependent upon our actions but God’s. God has placed us in Christ. Therefore, we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Eph 1:13-14). The language of being sealed relates to ownership and protection. Animals were branded with a seal to indicate to whom they belonged and guarded against theft.[5] In today’s terms, sealing would be like a receipt for proof of purchase.

Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit – the very presence of God that created the world (Gen 1:1), raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11), that empowered the apostles (1Cor 12:7), and equipped the likes of Billy Graham, Jim Elliot, and every other renown Christian, lives in you.

Note our salvation is tied to “hearing & believing the word of truth” (Eph 1:13; cf. Acts 2:37, 13:7, 13:44, 19:10; Rom 10:14-17; Col 3:16; 1Thes 2:13). This is why being part of a Bible_1Bible Group and gathering in weekly worship, not to mention personal devotion in the Scriptures is crucial for persevering in your salvation. Certainly, once saved, always saved, but how are we sustained? By feeding on the word of God (Mat 4:4).

 

APPLY/THINK

When Paul preached in Ephesus, he caused a riot. The people rioted because Paul’s preaching of Jesus Christ as Lord conflicted with the city’s opportunity to profit from selling idols, not to mention their allegiance to Caesar as lord. We need to be reminded that Christianity is very political, but it’s not partisan. The Lordship of Jesus is an authority that cannot have competing allegiance. There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry Mine!” (Abraham Kuyper). The way a person speaks and prioritizes their actions reflects who is their ultimate authority.

  • Has God rioted and invaded your heart?
  • Is your faith witness disrupting others idols that may bring short-term pleasure but long-term suffering and eternal separation from God?

[1] M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p.15.

[2] Some thoughts inspired from J.D. Greear messages on Ephesians, https://summitrdu.com/book/ephesians/

[3] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students.

[4] See Jerry Bridges, The Gospel For Real Life, p.70, ff.

[5] Peter O’Brien, The Pillar NT Commentary: Ephesians 1:13.

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