Last Sunday, we embarked on our journey into Ephesians by reading through the letter written by Paul. For the next fourteen weeks, we are inviting you to join as we dive into scripture. We will have a PDF study that you may choose to go through individually, as a family, or with your small group.
To begin, take a moment to watch this video on the background and structure of Ephesians provided by The Bible Project:
Have you ever had a difficult time trying to study your Bible? Sometimes when you read, it seems as if the words come out and slap you in the face. Other times it’s more like a whole lot of jibberish.
You are not alone.
Much like studying any text, whether it be Emily Dickenson, C.S. Lewis, or the Bible, there are different windows to look through to see a different angle of the big picture. Three of the major windows for biblical study are conceptual, theological, and literary. Each tends to intertwine with the other.
Along with these approaches, we will provide questions and thoughts to consider each week before exploring together in Sunday service. You can find the study guides here on the website and in the Tumbleweed each week.
Let’s make a quick overview of each of these biblical study aspects.
A conceptual study is exactly as it sounds. It’s a look into the ideas and intentions of how the Christian life looks. “What does the Bible say I should do in ‘situation x?'” “What does it look like to love my neighbor?”
With a conceptual study, you are looking for the solution to a specific question. This practice helps attempt a quick answer; however, we must be aware there is a risk in interpreting scripture the way we would like to read it rather than what it truly intends. This also includes how we may have heard others explain the meaning.
A theological study asks the question, “What does this scripture tell me about who God is?”
We can view the big picture of God in most, if not any, scripture. Even in the shortest verse, “Jesus wept,” the word gives us the image of a Savior who feels deeply, as do we, in His image. Throughout the books of the Bible, we see God as Warrior, King, Lord, Lover, and Friend.
As you read, take a moment to ask what the words may be telling you about who God is. It may even stir other questions and curiosities.
There are many genres of literature in the Bible. Legal, narrative, poetic, romance, and tragedy, to name a few.
In Roy Zuck’s book, Basic Bible Interpretation, he says, “The more you know of the patterns, styles, and forms of the various units in a book of the Bible the more you will know of that book’s purpose and unique character, and the better you will understand it.”
Do you read a poem the same way you read a history book? Do you approach written law the same way you read a letter from a friend or mentor?
Without going into technical terminology, some aspects (but not all) to look for while reading are sentence structure, word or concept repetition, outline structure, and writing style.
Confused? Don’t worry. We’re only covering one letter. We will look at more apparent examples as we look at the book of Ephesians.
Begin every study with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the Word to you.
You may find it helpful to write down scripture that stands out to you whether it inspires encouragement or questions.
Not everyone studies the same way. Feel free to approach the study in a way that works for you and how God created you to learn and know Him.
Let’s jump in! If you haven’t done so, take eight minutes to watch the introduction video at the top of this page.
Are you interested in finding out more about baptism? You’re in the right spot. Scroll through to find the answers to many of the questions we receive.
A: Baptism is a response to your faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus commands us in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Peter reiterates Jesus in Acts 2:38 saying, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins.” Jesus has conquered sin and death for you; baptism is an opportunity to testify to the Gospel that has freed you.
A: Absolutely not. Paul is clear in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (v. 8-9) Salvation is freely given through our faith in Jesus Christ. Paul extends further, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confessed, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10) The grace of Jesus Christ and grace alone saves us.
A: The Greek word for baptism is βαπτίζω (baptizo) meaning to immerse, submerge, or to make overwhelmed. We can see this illustrated in Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water…” In following Jesus, we are fully immersed in the water.
A: Following the examples, we are given in scripture, baptism always follows believing in Christ and repentance from sin. Since the christening you received came before a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, it is important that you be baptized after putting your faith in Him.
A: Baptism shows the world that you have given over your life to Jesus Christ. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” It indicates that you have died to self, been buried in Christ, and raised to a new life in Him. Baptism declares to the world that you are a new creation in Christ Jesus.
A: Rejoice in the salvation and freedom you have received through Christ Jesus. If you are not already involved in a community of believers, we urge you to find people to surround you with love and encouragement as you continue to walk in His footsteps. As Paul explains to the Ephesians, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” You will have spiritual highs and spiritual lows, but take heart, Jesus walks with you through it all. Look to Him and his word as you take each step through life. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
In 1 John 1:5-8, John writes:
This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
In these verses, we are called not to hide our sin in the darkness, but rather to bring our sin into the light. All through scripture, God is described as light and, by contrast, the enemy as darkness. Bringing our sin out of the darkness and into the light takes control away from the enemy and gives it to God. Confessing our sins to brothers or sisters in Christ is the best way to bring our sin into the light and out of the darkness. The enemy makes this very difficult. Our fear of shame, or judgment, or rejection is a powerful tool that the enemy uses to fester and grow our sin. By overcoming this fear and being vulnerable with other Christian believers, we take away the enemy’s stronghold and allow Jesus through the Spirit to work in us. How many times have you listened to someone’s testimony and felt the power of God pouring forth? God’s love and deliverance are potent forces that suppress the enemy’s schemes and let us be light in a dark world. If we live in the light, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with Christian brothers and sisters, bringing our sins out of the darkness and into the light, we unleash all of God’s power on our enemy.
What happens after Easter? We’ve had Ash Wednesday, 40 Days of Prayer, Palm Sunday, Seder, Tenebrae, and Easter Sunday, so now what? I guess we wait until Advent, right? What do we do for the next eight months?
Let’s change the question and ask, “How do we live in light of the resurrection?” What does it look like to live in the freedom of conquered sin and death? Here are three questions to contemplate as we live in celebration of our emancipation.
“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…” (Romans 8:31-35 The Message)
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)
If you’ve ever seen me in sandals, you may have noticed the image of an acorn on my left instep. I’ve had many questions over the years about why I chose an acorn of all things. I’m not obsessed with fall and pumpkin spice lattes, and I’m not a tree hugger. (Though I’d like to think I’d make a reasonably decent hippie back in the day, but that’s neither here nor there.)
One day, back in college, I was sitting in my car by my apartment building. It was toward the end of my college career, and God seemed to be changing my future plans. I needed God to speak to me. I sat there with Bible in hand asking God to give me a heads up on what I needed to hear. I ended up playing a game of Bible Roulette. You know, when you pray, “O.K. God, send me where you want me,” and open up to a random page. God works in mysterious ways, though I can’t say this is always the most efficient way to hear God speak. Nevertheless, it was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.
This is where I opened:
“THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favor] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, to grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion–to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit–that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former desolations and renew the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Aliens shall stand [ready] and feed your flocks, and foreigners shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be called the priests of the Lord; people will speak of you as the ministers of our God. You shall eat the wealth of the nations, and the glory [once that of your captors] shall be yours. Instead of your [former] shame you shall have a twofold recompense; instead of dishonor and reproach [your people] shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double [what they had forfeited]; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong with violence or a burnt offering. And I will faithfully give them their recompense in truth, and I will make an everlasting covenant or league with them. And their offspring shall be known among the nations and their descendants among the peoples. All who see them [in their prosperity] will recognize and acknowledge that they are the people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word].” (Isaiah 61 AMPC)
It still gives me chills reading through these words. You see, ‘me’ is Jesus, but ‘me’ is also you and me. Jesus brings us hope, joy, beauty, and a spirit of praise that we may be oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord.
In return, we grow ‘by the power of His word’ and produce more, you guessed it, acorns! Christ living in us preaches the Gospel of good tidings. Through Him, we bind up the broken-hearted. We proclaim liberty both spiritually and physically by the power of Jesus Christ.
His Spirit gives us all different gifts, but several are intertwined. Evangelism can be seen in each of the gifts. Evangelism isn’t always preaching on the street corner; it’s being Jesus in whatever way a circumstance calls. It’s being Love. John 13:35 says that men and women will know we are Jesus’ disciples if we love one another. Love comes in the shape of serving, leading, praying, generosity, healing, perseverance, teaching, and so many others. It’s not a question of what you can do for God, but where is God and how can I serve what He is doing.
You may have heard the quote of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Put simply, live in a way that exudes Jesus. Be a walking billboard that makes people want to learn more about the love, hope, joy, and freedom that radiates from you.
Have hope that it’s the Spirit’s supernatural ability and not your own. You may have already preached the Gospel to others without realizing it. That’s the beauty of the Spirit living in you. Ask God to make you aware of opportunities to show Christ to others—to plant seeds—and ask Him how best to go about it. It may be words, or it may be actions.
You’ve been gifted the opportunity to be a part in rebuilding what God initially intended His creation to be. You are an oak of righteousness planted by the Lord to spread His glory throughout eternity. Produce more acorns. As a believer, it’s in your nature.
In the fifth chapter of John, our Lord encounters a sick man at the Pool of Bethsaida. Knowing what needed to be done, Jesus poses a question that might seem absurd to some, “Do you want to get well?” but the Creator of the universe looks beyond appearances, beyond circumstances and beyond time.
Before our Savior ascended into Heaven, he told His disciples where He was going. To comfort them, He let them know that it was better if He left them because His departure would summon the arrival of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The same power that Jesus displayed to calm the storm, feed the multitudes, and heal the sick would be available to each believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11, 31-32, 37). Jesus further declares that we will do even greater things than He had done (John 14:12-17). Really?! Greater evangelism? Greater prayer? Greater healing? Greater prophesying? Yes! All God’s promises are “Yes and Amen!” to His glory (2 Corinthians 1:20)
I know a remarkable woman who has dealt with chronic and acute pain and health issues for more than half her life. In the last thirty years, she has had over twenty operations and treatments. She has taken numerous supplements and medications. She has been on prayer lists around the world, and the elders of her church have prayed over her. Five years ago, she was given a medical pump that intermittently releases pain medication to relieve the pain in her spine. No treatment has fully relieved her pain.
So I ask myself, “Doesn’t God care? Is He even listening? Can’t He still heal?”
Some declare that the “age of miracles” has passed. Perhaps, but the “age of Jesus” has not, for He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13). There is no shadow of change with God (James 1:17). The Holy Spirit gives to each believer at least one spiritual gift (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), and that is not a stripped-down, economy model gift. It is the power of God made manifest in us as we use that gift to enable, encourage, energize, and edify the body of Christ (the Church) and to glorify God.
So why isn’t my wife healed? Sometimes God heals our bodies, other times our minds or our emotions. Sometimes He supplies the grace to endure. Sometimes He speaks to us through our infirmities.
Walking in the flesh (apart from God) we can do nothing (John 5:30a, John 15:5). Yet, we can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 15:57). Praise be to God that He has not left us nor forsaken us, for He has blessed us with a family, the Church, of whom Jesus Christ is the head, and we are all ministers to each other and the world!
We do believe that God still speaks. He still heals. He continues to turn men’s hearts from stone to flesh. We are thankful for the Lord’s adequate and even abundant provisions and blessings to His children.
It is hard to talk about having the spiritual GIFT of “patience in trials.” It doesn’t seem like it is in the same category as other spiritual gifts like hospitality or leadership or evangelism. We usually think of them as if they are personality traits. “This person is naturally gifted at serving, and that person is naturally good at prayer.” But no one is naturally gifted at being patient in tribulation. No one who finds themselves facing a terrible trial thinks to themselves “Oh good; I’m naturally gifted at this. This will be a breeze.” That doesn’t happen. What is natural is to panic, to despair, and to lose heart.
That being the case, in what sense is patience in trials a spiritual gift? It is a GIFT in the sense that it is the supernatural provision of the Holy Spirit empowering us to face what is in front of us. It is the power of God at work within us to do what would be impossible in our own strength.
How does a person carry on when they get a cancer diagnosis? How does a person endure another year of chronic pain? How does a person keep from losing heart when they are served divorce papers? It is God’s grace that gives us the strength to endure! It is the supernatural power of God at work within us that does something that cannot be done without Him. That is the GIFT. God’s sustaining Grace. The scriptures are filled with encouragement for the sufferer, but one particular passage that comes to mind is in Isaiah 41:10 & 13:
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand
For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”
Whether your sufferings are big or small, our God is with you. Our God is the God who says “fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Isn’t that incredible? He holds our hand in the worst this world throws at us.
When I first moved to Midland, I was in the beginning stages of one of the most significant trials in my life. It was in that season I learned the truth about God’s abundant grace that he has in store for those who trust and wait for Him. It makes all the difference in the world. In that trial, I came across a poem by Annie J. Flint that meant a lot to me, and I would like to share it here:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
Should you be so interested, you should look up the life story of Annie J. Flint. When you learn just how much suffering she had to endure, it will show you just how powerful this poem is.
No matter what you are facing today, I pray you will lean into the grace that God has for you and discover the abundant riches in Jesus that he has in store for those who trust in him.
In the middle of Romans 12, Paul makes a list of spiritual gifts and encouragement to use them for the benefit of the church. If you are like me, you scan the list for your specific gift ignoring all the others because they are not “your thing.” The gift of leadership is one that most of us pass over, thinking it is for those who stand on podiums and big rocks directing others on toward the advance. The gift of leadership is far from what most of us think. Leadership is influence. It is the ability of one person to influence others. It is deposited by God into all of us no matter our personality, aptitude, or Enneagram type. And the leadership gift is wrapped in service.
Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12:28:
“And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”
Paul gives us another list of gifts, not in contradiction to the three or four other lists of gifts he lays out in his epistles, but in compliment. Consider the two toward the end, helps and administration. Helps is another word for service and administration is another word for leadership. Paul continues in verses 29 and 30 by confirming everyone does not get all the gifts, and as he rhetorically asks the questions, he invites us to agree:
“All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”
But he leaves out of the second list two gifts, helps and administration, or Servant Leadership. I believe he does this because every believer gets those two gifts. The reason everyone gets the gift of service and leadership is we always need them in the church. We don’t always need teaching, or healing, or tongue but we always need to be in a posture of service toward one another, and we always need to be providing Christ-like influence to one another.
So as you think about your gifting, thank God that at least two gifts are “your thing.”
Hermann Eben spoke March 10 on the gift of generosity. Here is a resource he mentioned to evaluate and grow toward higher generosity. To listen to the lesson click here.
This survey is only for you. Answer the statements by thinking about giving in all areas of your life, not just associated with church or Christian events and organizations. It does not need to be shared with anyone else. If you want to share your answers with others, it can help you and them grow toward excellence in generosity.
Directions: Please rate each statement. Give yourself the NUMBER (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) for each line.
Rating Scale: 1 – Completely Disagree, 2 – Somewhat Disagree, 3 – Somewhat Agree, 4 –Agree, and 5 – Completely Agree
|1. I am committed to excel in the grace of giving|
|2. I am prepared to give now, not waiting for a better time|
|3. I give what I promise without complaint|
|4. I give bountifully believing I will reap bountifully|
|5. I listen primarily to what God puts in my heart to give|
|6. I don’t give as an obligation – I give freely, without response to pressure from others|
|7. I am happy and cheerful to give|
|8. I give of all things (time, talent, treasure) believing in God’s sufficiency not mine|
|9. I consider giving as impacting my eternity not just this life on earth|
|10. I let God’s blessings on me, flow on to others|
|11. I give because I am just a channel of God’s blessing to others|
|12. I give as a reminder of how much Jesus gave for and to me|
12 Questions to Help You Excel in the Grace of Giving
Before You Give (What’s Your Plan)
When You Give (What’s Your Attitude)
What You Give (What’s Given)
Why You Give (What’s Your Reason)
There is a stability to ordering our lives around compulsion. We attend a birthday celebration for a friend, knowing to bring a gift as an expression of our affection and excitement. We pass a car sitting on the roadside or a person alone in the back of the sanctuary, allowing previous decisions from a similar circumstance to govern our actions. Social and personal scripts run a considerable portion of our lives and can guide our behavior to function in the same manner as an autopay system, where we give without thought and risk mistaking these automated responses as generosity. What we stand to lose, however, is discernment, both to the voice of the Holy Spirit and the redemption of individual moments as holy.
Throughout 2 Samuel, it is frequently noted that David “inquires of the Lord” when making a decision. Rather than embracing a diplomatic judgment or evoking decisions as a display of power, David consistently seeks to place himself under a higher authority and to walk with God in a manner that exercises faith. Many of his choices, therefore, fall outside the bounds of conventional wisdom and surpass the expectations placed on a man in his position. By faith, David refuses to fight Goliath with anything but a sling. By faith, Saul’s life remains in the hands of the Lord instead of taken by the will of man. By faith, Araunah receives payment for his threshing floor so David’s sacrifice would not come at another’s expense.
These actions are generous not on any merit of the gift itself, but because faith offers them in a manner that directs all parties back to the giver of all good things. This leaves every man without excuse, as earthly limitations on the gift and the giver do not hinder the kindness of God. We, however, often oppose God’s plan by choosing to serve two masters. Like Peter, we are tempted to look around and compare what is required of us with the calling placed on a fellow believer. Fear begins to rationalize what is found lacking in faith and leads us into the mire of bargaining, justifying our selfishness, revising the definition of fairness, or believing we have nothing to give; all to which Jesus lovingly responds: “What is that to you? You follow me.” God alone knows all our needs, and it is not for us to worry or to manage meeting them in our own strength, as everyone who drinks from his own well will be thirsty again. Rather, it is our responsibility to see how the tiniest seeds entrusted to our care can be sown in faith and generously enter the soil of this world as a spiritual gift.
Today, each of us is entrusted with a unique set of decisions, circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses. To chart a wise course, we must first remember that the One who commands the wind and the waves is with us on our journey. Like David, we can take time to inquire of the Lord and realize when we are tempted to give out of compulsion rather than as an act of faith. We can choose not to justify our fear or compare our walk with God to that of our neighbor. Only then can we sow generosity wherever He leads. These seeds might look like a small adjustment in our approach to an ordinary task, a perspective shift on a person we consider to be an enemy, or a relinquishment of the keys to our storehouse of earthly treasures. Thankfully, it is not for us to determine the soil on which these seeds will fall, but to trust that every mustard seed given in faith reaps its harvest in a strength other than our own. May we continue, then, to labor in following the Spirit as he leads us into the spiritual gifts, and to redeem every moment as one where we serve with generosity in the fields of the kingdom of God.