Growth

This week as we continue in Ephesians, we will talk about growth. Ephesians 4:15 and 16 both reference growth. Are you growing? How do you know? Here are six ways to know that you are growing spiritually.

Your Maturity
Ephesians 4:12 and 13 mention phrases such as, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,” “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Salvation is not the end; it is the frontend. We are called to make disciples who make disciples. Verse 14 begins, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro.” Children are marked by inconsistency, instability, unreliability. Trends are temporal. Truth is timeless. Are you unstable in your faith, emotions, understanding, commitment? Are you showing signs of maturity or childish behavior?

Your Mind
Verse 17 goes on to say, “you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” You are going to live the way you think. Jesus said, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Verses 22-23 remind us that just like we would take off a garment, there are some things in our minds that we need to put off, and there are other things we need to put on. There are some things we need to stop doing, and other things we need to start doing. Renew your mind spiritually.

Your Mood
Paul tells the Ephesians to “‘be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (v. 26-27). We give place to the devil when there is disunity (v. 1-13), immaturity (v. 12-16), and impurity (v. 17-32). Where there is anger, lying, stealing, bitterness, and unforgiveness, there is a place for the devil. When you get moody or in a funk, that is the enemy and you need to reject it in Jesus’ name. Don’t give the devil ground in your life. Don’t allow anger to go unchecked.

Your Money
“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (v. 28). Any form of stealing is unacceptable for the believer. Work is a gift and a blessing. Make sure your money is earned honestly, legally, and ethically. Our motivation for getting should be giving. You don’t have to be rich to be generous. Grow in your giving until generosity becomes your lifestyle.

Your Mouth
Verse 25 tells us to put away lying and to speak the truth. Verse 29 says, “let no corrupt work proceed out of your mouth.” Immediately after that, verse 30 says, “and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God….” Your words either heal or hurt. Before speaking, ask yourself these questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Sins of the tongue are sins against the Spirit living in the speaker and the Spirit living in the listener. With our words, we sin against the Spirit who lives in us, against the Son who died for us, and against the Father who forgave us. Do you say things that are unacceptable, unkind or unimportant?

Your Model
Verse 32 reminds us that Jesus is the ultimate example for us. If you keep your eyes on people, they will disappoint you and let you down. When Jesus hung on the cross, He did not focus on Judas who betrayed Him or on Peter who denied Him. He forgave them and focused on John and the work to do. Be kind to people even when they are unkind to you, tenderhearted even when they hurt you, forgiving even when they don’t deserve it. Keep your chin up and your knees down! The devil wants to use our problems to tear us down. God wants to use them to build us up. He uses everything for our growth and His glory!

Resurrection

Happy Easter! I pray you had a great Resurrection Sunday. We are in a series studying the letter to the Ephesians. Our key verse for Easter was Ephesians 4:10: “He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” The death and resurrection of Jesus provides us special, spiritual, and specific gifts. What does the resurrection of Jesus mean to you today?

Resurrection Prayer
In Ephesians 3:13-14, Paul says, “I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father.” We can learn from Paul! Don’t let troubles get you down. God is working your troubles and trials for your good and His glory. Difficulties are to be expected, but they should drive us to prayer. Even our problems are gifts. They are strengthening us. Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesian Christians would be strengthened in the “inner man” and that Christ would dwell in them. “Dwell” means to settle down and be at home. When your heart is Christ’s home, you have strength, stability and security.

In verses 18-19, Paul prays that they would know the width, length, depth, and height of Christ’s love. Width- enough to reach His arms around the globe. Length- to extend from eternity past to eternity future. Depth- to meet the deepest needs of your heart. Height- reaching to the very throne of God. God’s love, which was ultimately demonstrated on the cross, surpasses knowledge!

Resurrection Power
Paul closes his prayer saying, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (v. 20-21). There is power when the church prays and when the church believes. Whatever your boldest prayer or greatest dream, it is far less than what God is able and prepared to do in your life! God is able to do the impossible. I don’t know what your hurt, need, or impossibility is, but I know a God who rose from the dead who can do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think in your life, health, finances, relationships, marriage, kids, and work!

Resurrection People
At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul encourages the believers to walk worthy of their calling, bearing with one another in love, and keeping the unity of the Spirit. He then goes on to tell of the gifts that are ours in Christ. “When he ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men… He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (v. 8, 10). This section is the hinge to the whole book of Ephesians. It connects the first three chapters with the last three. Unity is the first sign of maturity. The body, the church, has a variety and diversity of members, but they must work in unity.

Like a king in the Old Testament would give gifts after a victory, King Jesus won the victory over sin, death, and Satan when He rose from the dead. The One who founded the church, loved and gave Himself for her, gave to the church gifted leaders and gifted members. The leaders lead, feed, and protect. Every member has a ministry. God’s plan is for every one of His children to use their gift in His service. When they do, it “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (v. 16).

When we understand these resurrection gifts, believers are equipped, the ministry is enhanced, the church is edified, new believers are established, the church is effective, the congregation is enlarged, and everyone is encouraged! Easter is a time when everything is alive and growing. Are you spiritually alive? Are you growing?

Cross

This past Friday, we had a special Good Friday service called “The Power and the Passion.” It was the first time we’ve done a service like this and what a special time it was. We took communion and reflected on all that Jesus’ sacrifice means for us. In looking at the end of Ephesians 2, we took time to:

Remember the Separation
In verses 11-12 Paul says, “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh…were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God….” What does that mean? Remember, without Christ you were dead in trespasses and sin. Not just sick, dead! You were in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil. You were separated from God, with no plan or purpose in life, doomed and damned for all of eternity.

Paul says “without commonwealth.” Israel had the blessing of God, protection, love, the law, priests, promises, direction, and guidance, but Gentiles (unbelievers) did not enjoy this commonwealth. He also says, “without covenants.” A covenant is simply an agreement in which God binds Himself to a promise. God’s promises to Abraham, Moses, and David did not apply apart from Jesus. Without Christ, we were without hope and were separated from God.

Remember the Sacrifice
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). The word peace is used three times in verses 14-17. Verse 18 says through Christ we have access to the Father. What the law, ordinances, ceremonies, good deeds, and sacrifices of animals could not bring, Jesus did! He paid the price of His blood so that you and I could have peace and access.

The cross was a cruel and humiliating death for hardened criminals. It was a symbol of suffering and shame. They stripped Him naked and beat Him with a cat of nine tails. The skin on His back was stretched tight. The metal balls would bruise the skin; jagged pieces would rip the tenderized flesh open. They made a crown of thorns and beat it into His brow. They mocked Him and spit in His face. Then, He walked up the way of sorrows carrying His cross. The cross was so heavy and He had lost so much blood that He stumbled under the load. They drove nails in His hands and feet. His outstretched body was literally bridging the gap between heaven and earth. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:4-5). He is the Way. The cross is the only way to cross over to the other side.

Remember the Salvation
“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God… you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (v. 19,22). In Christ, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, with all the privileges, protection, and blessings that brings. We are united in God’s family. We are members of His body, the church, and are living stones in His temple. The very presence of God dwells in us through the Holy Spirit and we have purpose and hope!

On Friday, we came to the Lord’s table to remember what Jesus did. We took time for self-examination and to ask questions like, Have I thought things I should not have thought? Have I said things I should not have said? Have I done things I should not have done? Have I not done things I should be doing? In light of all that Jesus has done for us, these are questions we should ask daily. Remember the separation. Remember the sacrifice. Remember the salvation. He is worthy of our all!

Church

After explaining the gospel, Paul explains the church, the community of people that the gospel brings together. We’ll come back to the end of chapter 2 later; today, we will look at Ephesians 3.

The Mystery
Paul begins chapter 3 saying that God has given Him grace and has revealed the mystery to him, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men…” (v. 5). Paul did not get it through reason, but through revelation by the Holy Spirit. Old Testament saints had no clue about the church, all the saved in one family. They could not see the complete picture from their limited perspective.

We have no clue all that God has planned for our lives. The handful of people who met over 100 years ago to start Liberty could not see campuses at Big Bethel Road, Harbour View, Greenbrier, York River, and LibertyLive.Online. It was all a “mystery” that has been made known in our day. Likewise, we cannot begin to fathom what God is going to do in the next 100 years if He tarries His coming.

The Members
God’s comprehensive plan was to bring all people groups together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head, the church is the body, and we are members of that body. Look at verse 6: “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” Both Jews and Gentiles would be members of God’s family. Not just Jew and Gentile live in peace, but Gentiles be adopted into the same family, sharing the same promises of the covenant and the same inheritance.

The Church is a place for racial unity and ethnic diversity. Trusting in Jesus does not remove our cultural distinctions, it just shows us that we are not ultimately defined by our cultures, but by who we are in Christ. A group of people all sharing one culture, getting together over what they have in common, is not miraculous. When you have a group of people who have little to nothing in common except love for Jesus, that points to the power of the cross and the resurrection. Racial division is not a skin problem, but a SIN problem! The God who unites us is greater than anything that divides us!

The Ministers
Paul goes on to say, “…I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power” (v. 7). Every member is a minister. Every one of you has a gift. The God who called Paul to the ministry also gifted Paul to carry out the ministry. Whatever God calls us to do, He will gift and equip us to do. It is not that we are more talented, it is God’s grace. When we all work together it is powerful. When you get out of church and away from God you are disconnected from God’s power. If you sit on the sidelines you will never experience all that God has for you.

The Message
In the final verses of this passage, Paul says that grace was given to him so that he might preach Christ. He says the intent is that God might be made known by the church, and that Jesus provides the boldness, access, and confidence to do so (v. 8-12). Paul was moved to true humility that God would use him to spread this message. He was a persecutor of the church who became a preacher of the church. He knew his past, the shame, the guilt. He was unworthy. You can preach the “unsearchable riches in Christ” if you have experienced it. God’s purpose is that you have boldness, you have direct access to Him and His power, and that you have personal confidence to not lose heart. Have you experienced His riches? Are you sharing the good news that Jesus died for ALL people and that those who are in Christ are all members of the same family?

Gospel

If you only had one book, you would want Ephesians. If you only had one passage, it would be Ephesians 2:8-10. You have heard people say, “What I am saying is the gospel truth!” Ephesians 2 is the gospel truth. It is a summary of salvation.

Humanity’s Condition
Paul begins this chapter explaining that our spiritual battle is with the world, the flesh, and the devil. He says we are “by nature children of wrath,” and without Christ, we are “dead in trespasses and sins.” We all have sinned. That includes the best person you know and the worst person you know. You may think you are better than other people, or not as bad as some, but we are all dead spiritually. Dead is dead.

The world thinks that deep down, we’re not really that bad. We’re basically good people who make mistakes and are just weak. The gospel truth is deep down we are all worse than we know. Jeremiah said the heart is so wicked no man can know it. Sin is more than an action; it is a condition. We’re not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. You cannot appreciate the good news without facing the bad news.

God’s Intervention
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ….” You may have heard salvation described something like this: “I was drowning in a sea of sin and Jesus came by in a boat, threw out a lifeline, and saved me.” That sounds good, but it’s just not the gospel. The gospel is that I wasn’t just drowning in a sea of my sin, I was dead, floating face down. Jesus walked on the water, came to me when I could not come to Him, picked me up in His nail scared hands, carried my lifeless dead body back to the shore, and breathed eternal life into my soul! That is the Gospel.

Paul goes on to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Grace means it was undeserved. Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! If grace is no longer amazing to you it is because you have forgotten where you came from. Have you forgotten the sinful life from which you were saved?

I like the biblical term saved. We don’t need better self-esteem, self-image, self-improvement, self-confidence, self-determination, or self-righteousness; we need to be reached, rescued, redeemed, reconciled, and resurrected. We need to be saved! We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Faith is more than mental assent or theological agreement. It is more than determination or feelings. Faith is trust that results in transformation. Why would a fearful child jump into the water? Because they trust their dad will catch them. Jesus proved His love for us. He is trustworthy! All world religions are based on human achievement: DO. “Do this.” “Don’t do that.” Christianity is based on divine accomplishment: DONE. Jesus paid our debt in full on the cross. We are saved by Jesus’ works and not our own.

Life’s Mission
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” You are God’s masterpiece! You are not saved by good works, but saved to do good works. Faith is the root, works are the fruit. What makes you think you are going to heaven? You prayed a prayer, joined the church or were baptized? Many claim to be a Christian but have no proof to prove it, no signs of salvation. Stop being afraid and confused. Get it settled. I don’t care if you are a Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Hindu, or Muslim, there is salvation in no other name but Jesus!