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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.
More From This Series
Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians. We’re going to begin a series in the book of Ephesians this morning entitled Life Together.
We’re just going to begin to look at verses 1 and 2. We’re not even going to complete that this morning, a message I’ve called “Environmentally Sensitive.” Hold on to that thought. Listen to what Paul says: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As Christians this morning, you and I need to be environmentally sensitive. I’m not talking about what you do with your plastic bottles or with your use of water around your home. What I’m talking about is you need to be alert to the different spheres in which, with which, and out of which you live as a Christian. You need to be aware of your spiritual, social, and spatial surroundings—the environments in which you live your life and out of which you experience life. Certain encompassing elements define us and shape our life experience.
Let me talk about environments for a moment. Let me try and give you an example that I will use to illustrate my point. I want you to imagine you’re on one of those seven-day cruises to Alaska. I’ve taken one of them, and I loved it, and I’m happy to do another. But, while you’re on one of those cruises to Alaska, there are several environments you have to deal with. The first environment: there’s the ship. You spend a good part of your week on the ship. The ship is your environment. You exist within it. You relate to it. You go about activities throughout it. The second environment is your fellow passengers. You’re going to sit and have dinner with them, and you’re going to bump into them in your walks around the ship’s deck.
So you’ve got one environment: the ship. You’ve got another environment: the passengers within the ship. And then the third environment is the water, what the ship glides across. Those are three environments you have to deal with on a cruise: the boat, your fellow passengers, and the surrounding ocean.
I want you to think about that because it applies to the Christian life—because you and I live out our Christian experience in several environments that we need to be sensitive to. That’s why I get my idea, environmentally sensitive.
The first environment is Christ. Okay? You’re in union with the Lord Jesus Christ. You live out your life in relationship to Him. And that’s the primary environment of your life. The second environment is the church. They’re your fellow passengers as you take this journey of discipleship.
So, you relate your life to Christ; He’s your first environment. In your second environment is your fellow believers who are in a relationship with Jesus Christ. And in your third environment is the culture. First environment: Christ. Second environment: the church. Third environment: the culture. You and I aren’t called to live our Christian life in a monastery. You and I are called to live our Christian life in the machine shop, in the university classroom, at home with our children, on the same street as our neighbors. Those are the three environments that I want you to be aware of and sensitive to.
And if we go to Ephesians 1:1–2, you’ll see those three environments you need to be sensitive to. Did you notice that Paul talks about the believers in Ephesus who are in Christ? Did you notice he recognizes the saints who are in Ephesus, the church, the body of believers that exist there? And did you notice where the church is? It’s in the city of Ephesus, which is today modern Turkey. It’s a coastal town on the west coast of Turkey. So Paul wants them to be environmentally sensitive. He wants them to be sensitive to their Christ environment, to their church environment, and to their city environment. And we’re going to expand that this morning and next Sunday morning. But hold that thought.
Before we get to expounding the text of Ephesians 1:1–2, I want to just do a little bit of a broad introduction to this book, since this is a first sermon in an extended series. We’re going to look at the author, the audience, the arrangement, and the aim.
But, before I get there, let’s just understand the importance of this book in the life of the church. Ephesians is a favorite of many. In fact, John Calvin, the great Protestant reformer, said this was his favorite letter in the New Testament. John Mackey—a Scottish lad who’d later become the president of Princeton Theological Seminary here in the United States—read this book in the Highlands of Scotland as a teenage boy, and it brought him to faith in Jesus Christ. And, in a lecture later on in the book of Ephesians, he said this: “To this book I owe my life.” Others have called this book the queen of the epistles, the Alps of the New Testament, the Grand Canyon of Scripture, and the Holy of Holies in Paul’s writing. It’s a great book. Join us for every sermon and every session in the book of Ephesians. Read it yourself. It may become your favorite like John Calvin. You might owe your life to this book.
Now, let me say a few things. Let’s look at the author. Well, Paul self-identifies himself as the author in verse 1 of chapter 1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus.” Chapter 3:1: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus . . .” So it’s clear that Paul is the author. Some have challenged that, but there’s no strong reason to doubt Pauline authorship of this magnificent magisterial letter. Please notice about this author, he describes himself as an apostle by the will of God. Paul is saying, “Look, when I became a disciple of Jesus Christ, I met Christ on the road to Damascus.” You know his dramatic conversion in Acts 9. He says, “God called me and commissioned me to become one of His sent servants.” The word “apostle” means sent. And Paul was what I call an A-list Apostle.
There was a very limited number of men who were part of the early apostleship. In fact, Paul will tell us in Ephesians 2:20 that they belong to the foundation of the church. That was an office and a gift that was passing. I do not believe there are any apostles today that belong in the A-list category. These were men who had encountered the risen Christ. An apostle was one who had to have seen and been an eyewitness to the risen Christ. They were sent by God. They were conduits of biblical revelation, they wrote books, and their ministry, according to Hebrews 2:1–4, was authenticated by miracle, signs, and wonders. And Paul was one of those apostles.
Here’s another interesting thing, since we’re just talking about the author. You’ll see, as I said, in verse 1 of chapter 3, that he’s a prisoner. So, the author is Paul, an apostle by the will of God, who’s at this moment of writing this letter a prisoner within Rome. You read in chapter 4 verse 1, again, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord.” From what we can tell, where we’re at in Ephesians is Acts 28:30–31. Remember how Paul ends up in Rome? He’s under house arrest. And the book of Acts finishes with Paul preaching and teaching the kingdom of God and no one hindering him. But he’s under house arrest in Rome. And we know that he escapes this first imprisonment. Later on in his ministry, he’ll be arrested a second time and martyred by decapitation. That’s where you have 2 Timothy. But here it’s the first imprisonment; he’ll be released. And it’s during this time, about AD 62, he writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and the letter to Philemon.
Before I leave that, look at chapter 6 and verse 20. Paul says this: “I am an ambassador in chains.” Now, he’s a prisoner. He’s under house arrest. He’s chained to a Roman soldier. He’ll begin to describe the armor of the Roman soldier standing beside him in Ephesians 6. And he’ll remind himself, “I’m in a spiritual war.” But here he sees himself as an ambassador.
He’s saying, “You know what? Even though I’m imprisoned, the Word of God is not imprisoned. I’m chained, but it’s not.” And he tells us in Philippians 1:12–14 that his imprisonment has fallen out, has kind of worked out, for the furtherance of the gospel so that some in Caesar’s palace are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. That’s just a little point I don’t want us to run by. Thankfully, Paul did not allow his surroundings, as confining as they were, to define him, to discourage him, or to defeat him. Are you allowing some set of circumstances this morning to define you? Are you letting something discourage you? Are you allowing something to defeat you? Don’t. I’m sorry you are where you are, and I’m sorry you’re facing what you’re facing. I don’t make light of any of that, whatever it is. But let me tell you this. God has you there for a time, and God will use you where you are for His glory.
And Paul says, “You know what? I’m an ambassador in chains. They’re not going to shut me up, and they’re not going to shut me down.” And he witnesses for Christ. That’s a wonderful thing. In fact, in that little phrase in Philippians 1:12–14—these things have happened “for the furtherance of the gospel”—is a Greek word that means “a spearhead battalion.” Whether the British forces that I worked with in the RUC in Belfast or our own forces here in the United States, they all have a spearhead battalion. Those are the guys who punch through the enemy lines. Those are the guys who remove the blockades and the barricades in the way of an advancing army. Paul uses that, and he says, “You know what? I’m in Rome, chained, but I’m actually spearheading a new boundary of gospel blessing.” Isn’t that wonderful?
Here’s the point. Paul is saying, “I’m using my situation as a platform to be a witness for Jesus Christ.” Isobel Kuhn was a Canadian missionary to China, and she wrote a wonderful book about her life and all the difficulties she faced called In the Arena. She says this: “So God taught me through the years to view my own trials as platforms in today’s Arena. I thought this concept was original with me, but one day my husband found that Hudson Taylor had formed the same opinion many years ago. He said: ‘Difficulties afford a platform upon which He can show Himself.’” Let me say that again: “Difficulties afford a platform upon which He can show Himself.” Your difficulty, your disability, your challenge, your circumstances. You know what that is? That’s a proverbial pain you-know-where. No, it’s a platform upon which He can show us Himself.
As I was walking earlier this morning, I called a friend of mine who just got diagnosed with acute leukemia—challenge. He’s 50, a good servant of Christ, fearful man, fruitful man, board member at The Master’s Seminary. I encouraged him to be a man in Christ regardless of the circumstances. I was full of Ephesians, and I encouraged him to use his situation as a platform for the gospel. He already is. He’s in 30 days of treatments for leukemia, radiation, and chemo; it’s ugly. Many of you know it. He told me that early on in the diagnosis, when they first told him, he shared his heart, and he accepted it with calm and confidence in Christ. And one of the doctors said, “You’re different.” Well, of course he is. And the peace of God that passes all understanding makes a difference. Be different in how you respond to your difficulty, disability, circumstance.
Paul was an ambassador in chains. God was using him. That’s the author. The audience is clearly the church in Ephesus. We’re going to get into that city next week. But, here’s this coastal port, today in modern Turkey, and no doubt Paul writes to them. But there is an argument that this letter was also circulated further. Let me just give you the arguments for that quickly. There are several Greek manuscripts, copies of God’s Word, where “Ephesus” is missing. And many read into that that this letter was intended to go beyond Ephesus. There’s a somewhat impersonal tone. There’s not a lot of greetings here. There’s not a lot of individuals mentioned, which would, again, maybe argue it’s for a broader audience. Ephesus was a missions hub and the mother church in that province within that region.
It’s the first letter in the seven letters to the churches in Asia minor in Revelation 2–3. Tychicus, who you’ll read about in Ephesians 6:21–22, brings Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. He brought Paul’s letter to the church in Colossi (Colossians 4:7–9). And, it’s interesting, in Colossians 4:16, he mentions a letter from the Laodiceans that the Colossians must read. Many commentators believe that’s a letter sent to Ephesus. It’s kind of a regional letter.
So that’s the audience. What about the arrangement? The book breaks into two even halves: chapters 1 to 3; chapters 4 to 6. And you’ll see that because when you get to chapter 4:1, what do we read? We’ve got one of those Pauline “therefores.” It’s usually a pivot moment. You know, when I was a kid, I used to like seesaws. I don’t see them as much now. Here’s the deal with seesaws. One seesaw is on one end, and then in it seesaws over to the other end. And Ephesians 4:1 is that tipping point. “Therefore, given what I’ve said in Ephesians one to three, here’s what you need to hear in Ephesians four to six.”
Here’s the way different commentators put it. In one to three, we’ve got the position of the Christian. In four to six, we’ve got the practice of the Christian. One to three: doctrine. Four to six: duty. One to three: creed. Four to six: conduct.
Or, as it’s better put, one to three: gospel indicatives. And then in four to six: gospel imperatives. What’s an imperative? That’s a command. What’s an indicative? That’s a statement.
And it’s interesting. Listen. This is very important. In Ephesians one to three, the verbs are in the indicative mood. They’re just statements of fact. Paul will spend three chapters telling them what the gospel is, who Jesus is, what Jesus did, what Jesus is doing, and who they are in union with Him.
In fact, he only tells them to do one thing in the first three chapters. I think he says, “Remember.” But once he has established the gospel indicative of what God has accomplished and what God has done and what God is doing in us through the Holy Spirit, now he goes to gospel imperatives. Here’s what you need to do.
In fact, in this phrase “walk worthy” from Ephesians 4:1, the word “worthy” in the Greek, axios, is a word that means to bring up the other side of the scale, where scales are like the seesaw. He says, “Okay, now that I’ve emphasized all of this here in chapter one to three, we’re going to balance this out on the other side with what you’ve got to do in the light of what God has done for you and what God promises to do in you so that you may do what He’s asked you to do.”
It’s very important you get the order of that lest we fall into legalism, works salvation. Having begun in the Spirit, somehow I finish in the flesh. We do what we do as Christians because of what God has done and is doing in us. That’s what is being argued here.
Listen to these good words from a commentator: “The imperatives of the Bible (what you should do) flow out of the indicatives (who you are). We say no to sin because we are holy in Christ. We endure the criticism of those who hate us because God loves us in Christ. We endure ostracism from others because God welcomes us in Christ. We are not what we do. We do what we are.” It’s a great little statement. Write it down. You’re getting to the heart of Ephesians with that little statement. “We are not what we do. We do what we are.”
Because of what we are in Christ, we as men love our wives like Christ loves the church. Because of what we are and who we are in Christ, we as women submit to our husbands because the church submits to Christ, its head. We do what we do because of who we are as children. We obey our parents because it’s pleasing to the Lord. Do you get it? “We are not what we do. We do what we are.” We’re Christians in Christ.
One last thought here, and we’ll make a start on the verses. The author: Paul, an apostle by the will of God, a prisoner who’s using his imprisonment as a platform for the gospel. The audience: certainly, the church at Ephesus, but since it’s the mother church of that region, it probably was handed off to other churches. The arrangement? It really just splits down the middle. We get this beautiful balance between doctrine and duty and between creed and conduct—between who we are in Christ and what we do for Christ because of who we are in Christ.
Then we’ve got the aim. What’s the purpose? Well, there are many purposes in a way. There’s some deep soteriology here as he teaches us about salvation. There’s some wonderful Christology as we learn about who Jesus is. There’s wonderful teachings on the doctrine of the church, and there’s recognition that the Christian life is spiritual warfare.
There are several themes and subjects. But I think the main theme is unity and love among believers. That’s why I’ve called the whole series Life Together. Because when you and I get saved, we come into union with Christ, which puts us in union with everyone else who’s in union with Christ. That’s why if you’re truly saved, you’ll have an impulse to go to church. You’ll want to be with your family. Because now you’re in a relationship with Christ and with everyone else who’s in a relationship with Christ.
And Paul says to them, “I know some of you come out of a Jewish background, and I know some of you come out of a Gentile background. I know the hostility. I know the history. But in Christ: one. And so love one another.” In Ephesians 2:14–18, he talks about how Christ has broken down the wall of partition. Christ has removed the hostility between the Jew and the Gentile. They have now more in common in Christ than they ever had apart. In chapter 2:19–22, he describes the church as a building being put together and growing to become a habitation, a temple, a dwelling place for God through the Spirit. Wow. In chapter 4, there’s one faith, one baptism, one Lord. Do you get the theme? It’s unity—oneness in Christ expressed in love for one another.
In fact, Paul will use the word “love” 107 times in all of his writings; 20 of them turn up in his letter to the Ephesians. I think there’s an emphasis there. Don’t you? You’ve got that idea of, as I’ve said, one man, one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, each one of us. By the way, it’s interesting. He leaves Timothy, and when he writes to Timothy, who’s the pastor in Ephesus, one of his first things is 1 Timothy 1:5, where he says to instruct them in love and to tell them to “love from a pure heart.”
And again, they got a second letter. The first one’s from Paul. The second letter comes from whom? The Lord Jesus. Revelation 2:1–7 is a letter written to the church at Ephesus about 30 years on. And Jesus says, “Hey, I love you guys. I know your works. You’re holding the line theologically, but I’ve got an issue. You have left your first love.” Love was an issue here—love for Christ, love for each other. And so Paul writes to cement that.
When I took my first church in the United States, the church had a bit of a history. It was right there on the campus of Master’s College, but nobody went. I think it was five students went. They were the ones that slept in and couldn’t get somewhere else. They just jumped over the wall. It’s called Bedside Baptist.
When I went there, John said, “You need to build this up, and I want to see some of the students starting to go to the church.” So I got in and realized there was some history, and there were power blocks and all of that, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I called John one day, and I said, “Hey, thanks for this assignment. It’s going to be tough.” And he said, “Here’s what you need to do. You need to preach Christ. Don’t try and unite the church, from one group to the next group. Don’t do that.” He says, “Preach Christ, love Jesus, model Jesus, and unite the church around the gospel.” And he gave me this analogy. He said, “Hey, say you need to tune a couple of pianos. Do you tune one piano to the next piano? No. You tune each piano to the tuning fork. And when the piano was tuned to the tuning fork, then the pianos are in tune with each other.” His point was: “Philip, preach Christ. Christ is the tuning fork that unites people from all kinds of backgrounds.” And that was a wonderful piece of advice.
Now, I don’t know, was it 15, 20 minutes ago I told you to hold that thought? You probably let go of it by now, but we’re back to the thought of environmentally sensitive. Remember the three environments? There’s the Christ environment, in Christ. There’s the church environment with the saints. And there’s the city environment at Ephesus. Let’s just make a start for about 5 or 10 minutes here.
The Christ environment. So much to say. I’ll just tease you a little bit this morning. “To the Saints who are in Ephesus,” verse 1, “and faithful in Christ Jesus.” That is a very, very important phrase.
John Murray, one of the great Calvinist reformed theologians, says, “Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” That little phrase “in Christ” is so important. In fact, Paul describes himself that way. Remember when he’s trying to describe his time in heaven? And he says, “I know a man in Christ . . . whether in the body . . . or whether out of the body” (2 Corinthians 12:2). He’s speaking about himself. But did you notice how he describes himself: “I know a man in Christ.” That’s one of the best ways to describe our relationship with God through Christ: in Christ. It’s used 164 times in Paul’s writings, and you’ll find 36 of them in the book of Ephesians. As the root goes down into the ground, as the fish swims in the water, as the bird flies in the air, so the believer is in Christ.
Back to our analogy. We’re on a cruise to Alaska. We’re in the boat with our fellow passengers, amidst the waters. Christ is our ark. Christ is the boat. Christ is our natural environment. Yes, they live in Ephesus, but fundamentally, they live in union with Christ and through Christ. In fact, when we use this little phrase “in Christ,” I want you to insert the word “union.” It’s not that we’re inside Christ; it’s that we’re in union with Him. We have a relationship with Him. He’s our environment. He’s our surrounding. He is the vine, and we are the branches. Remember how Jesus used that analogy? “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5). A branch is in, attached to, connected with the vine and draws its life from the vine.
To change the analogy, Jesus said, “I’m the head; you’re the body.” This arm is connected to my body. My head is connected to my body. My body is connected to the head. I’m in relationship with the head as a member of the body. And Jesus is saying that about us. We are branches in the vine. We are parts of the body connected to the head.
The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God. People talk about being in love. People talk about being in business. What they’re saying by that is that relationship with a girlfriend or a boyfriend, that relationship with a business partner or a set of partners or investors defines you. You’re in relationship with them. There’s a connection, and your actions are related to your business partner or your lover.
So, as we close this morning, let me say this. And we’re coming back to this; we’re going to really go deep into this. There’s three or four things we’re going to see in our relationship with Christ. We’re to be saintly. We’re to be steadfast. We’re to be sweet. And we’re to be secure. But hold that thought. Now you’ve got a week to hold that thought.
But here’s the point: You and I are in vital union with Christ. Just let that sink in. According to Paul, every Christian is in vital union with Christ by faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit. You and I are connected to Him. We are in union with Him, and that means He becomes our identity. The book of Ephesians is about identity formation, seeing ourselves as God sees us in Christ.
That’s what Ephesians 1:3–14 will be all about. That’s the longest sentence in the Greek New Testament. All of those verses are one sentence. Paul doesn’t take a breath till verse 14. And he revels in what God has done for us and through Christ. He’s “blessed us with every spiritual blessing . . . in Christ” (vs. 3). “He chose us in Him” (vs. 4). We are “accepted in the Beloved” (vs. 6). “In Him we have redemption” (vs. 7). “He’s made “known to us the mystery,” which He set forth in Christ (vs. 9). He unites all things “in Him” (vs. 10). You could go on. Paul is dramatically, fundamentally helping us see that it is in union with Christ that we’re forgiven, that we’re accepted before God. We’re now His adopted sons and daughters. We’re indwelled by the Holy Spirit. God is showing us the mystery of the ages to come.
Your true self must be measured by your relationship with Christ. If you were asked tomorrow morning in an interview to describe yourself, the first thing you should say is, “I’m a woman in Christ,” or, “I’m a man in Christ.” Because that’s the relationship, that’s the connection that defines you and me—not our ethnicity, not our disability, not our addiction, not our nationality, not our jobs, not our abilities, not our family, not our past sins and brokenness, not our present achievements. None of that defines us fundamentally.
I’m not denying all of those things exist. We’re a certain ethnicity. We live in a certain nation. We’ve got baggage. Those exist, but they don’t define me fundamentally. I am a man in Christ, and that would remind me that I’m a citizen of heaven. That would remind me that my baggage has been taken care of on the cross. That would remind me that I’ve got power to overcome that addiction in union with Jesus Christ. That’s what Paul’s at here. I know you’re at Ephesus. I know you’re dealing with a bunch of things, but here’s the first reality. Here’s where I want you to be environmentally sensitive. Your first environment: You’re in union with Christ.
So, as we close, listen to these words by Sinclair Ferguson. Although I’m quoting him, the quote is from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whom he quotes: “Paul’s intention throughout Ephesians is to deliver us from our morbid preoccupation, the particular error of this present century.” Pause. You think people are preoccupied with themselves? Their gender identity? Their ethnicity? Lloyd-Jones is saying, “That’s the mistake of this present generation.” But the gospel will free you from that preoccupation. And you know what will come in its place? “I’m a man in Christ,” and, “I’m a woman in Christ.” Lloyd-Jones says again, “What we need, primarily, is not an experience, but to realize what we are, and who we are, what God has done in Christ and the way He has blessed us.”
As we close, there’s a lot of crime increasing in our country. I think we know why. But you know what the fastest growing crime in America is today? Identity theft. According to a statistic I read, and it’s probably outdated, 9.9 million of our fellow American citizens and neighbors experience some element of identity theft. So, security numbers are stolen; credit card numbers are stolen. It’s massive. Many of us have guards and protections on that. It’s massive. My challenge to you this morning is that there’s another form of identity theft. And you can be a partner in this crime by forgetting who you are in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t let your emotions, don’t let your sins, don’t let your circumstances, don’t let others’ hatred or how they define you to define you. Be environmentally sensitive this morning. The first and primary environment is Christ, and nothing will separate us from His love. Amen?
All right, hold that thought till next Sunday morning. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for us beginning this marvelous study of this majestic book, the book of Ephesians. We have just dipped our big toe into the water, and there’s so much to go. We’re going to paddle in it. We’re going wade into it. We’re going to swim in it. And at times we’re going to be drowning and drenched by it: the great truths of gospel indicatives, of what God set out to do in Jesus Christ and what God accomplished in Jesus Christ and what God has yet to do in Jesus Christ.
And then, this work that You’ve begun in us, You’ll perform it. You want us to be upstanding citizens. You want us to be employees of the month. You want us to be lovers of our wives, and You want us to be servants of our husbands. You want us to be children that honor our mother and father all the days of our life. You want us to be spiritual warriors in the battlefield of life. And we thank You we can be, because of who we are and because of what Jesus is and because of what Jesus did.
Lord, help us to fight the theft of our identity in Christ; help us not to be party to that crime ourselves. And everybody said, amen.