A Culture of Life

The Vine

God is love (1 John 4:8); in God is life indeed (John 1:4).

In love God created the heavens and the earth, and He created them to facilitate and cultivate life (Genesis 1:1-2:3). The anthropic constants which allow for life to exist are mind-boggling in their complexity and precision. Indeed, it requires far more faith to believe it all just happened to work out than it does to confess the existence of a Creator. Yet there is much more to this truth than mere apologetics: God has made the universe for life to flourish. Earth bears witness to God’s provisions for life: the diversity of life on Earth is astonishing, and every creature has its place and its niche.

God has not merely created all life; its continued existence is entirely dependent on His provision, will, and sustenance. All things consist in Jesus; in God we live, move, and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17). God is not portrayed as some remote Architect who set things up and then left it alone. God created life and He remains deeply involved with the perpetuation of life.

In His refutation of the Sadducees Jesus set forth a profound truth: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matthew 22:32). In God is life; God is about life; God’s purposes for us involve obtaining eternal life in Jesus (John 10:10).

It should therefore be no surprise to discover that God esteems life highly, and wishes for humanity made in His image, after His likeness, to value life highly as well. As the people of the living God who gives life, Christians ought to embody a culture of life.

The fundamental principle of a culture of life is the confession that life is a gift. God gives life to all things (1 Timothy 6:13); existence is a manifestation of God’s love and grace. We must receive life as a gift and treasure it as such. It is not our possession; we do not have complete control over it, demonstrated in our inability to choose when it starts, and, for most, when it will end. Life is a powerful force beyond our abilities to fully manipulate and control; life tends to find a way.

Life is not just any kind of gift; it is a gift of exceedingly great value. Life is precious; there can be no dollar amount given to establish the worth of a life. This is true about our lives, but it is therefore also true about the lives of others. The lives of all people are precious and valuable in the sight of God (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

Since life is a gift, we must not trifle with it. If we honor and respect life as a gift, and seek to live in subjection to our Creator and the Giver of life, we will only take it when authorized to do so and it proves needful. God has authorized the taking of plant and animal life for food (Genesis 9:3). A reckoning exists for the taking of life: those who shed blood are to have their blood shed for the crime (Genesis 9:6). Provision is also made for the killing of beasts who threaten and endanger human life (cf. Exodus 21:28-29, 1 Samuel 17:34-37).

God did indeed give mankind dominion over the earth; life on Earth is in man’s hand (Genesis 1:28, 9:2). Yet it does not automatically follow that God intended for mankind to do whatever he wanted to life on earth! Life is a gift and a stewardship: since we will be held accountable for how we have lived our lives before God (Romans 14:10-12), we should not be surprised if our stewardship of life on earth will also be brought into judgment in some way or another. God has concern for the sparrow (cf. Matthew 10:29); should not man made in God’s image also have concern for the valuation of non-human life on earth?

And if we as Christians are to have some regard for non-human life on earth, how much more should we honor and uphold the integrity of all human life? We are not to take the life of our fellow man because he is made in God’s image (Genesis 9:6). God has sent the Lord Jesus to die for all mankind: no one is beyond the reach of forgiveness in Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:12-17). God has embodied love for everyone in Jesus; He therefore expects Christians to love everyone, even their enemies, and do good to all (Luke 6:30-36, Galatians 6:10). Christians therefore ought to uphold the value and integrity of all human lives, even those whom the world may find dispensable: the unborn, the chronically and terminally ill, the disabled, the elderly, those with mental difficulties or impairments, and many others. The Christian’s enemy is never his fellow man in flesh and blood; it is the powers and principalities over this present darkness who have deceived his fellow man (Ephesians 6:12). Christians must thus uphold the integrity of the lives of those who might stand against them, those who engage in criminal conduct, those who look and live differently than they do, and those of lesser means, and never give into the temptation of dehumanizing other people or thinking their lives are worth less in any way. In truth we are all worthy of condemnation; none of us deserve anything else; we only stand by the grace of God, and God would pour out His grace on the other as much as He does for us (Romans 5:6-11). The ways of the world thrive on divisiveness and tribalism; God’s manifold wisdom is made evident in His people when they are able to transcend all forms of worldly division to associate with one another and privilege one another in the faith, and all because Jesus’ death killed the hostility which existed among us (Ephesians 2:11-3:12).

Life, therefore, is not merely about the individual; no one person or even species exists within a vacuum. Jesus’ metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15:1-11 is apt: life is perpetuated and sustained through connection with others. As Christians we have spiritual life through our connection with God in Christ; we are made in God’s image, and God is One in Three Persons, manifesting relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23). A culture of life therefore cannot privilege the individual over all things; in a culture of life we recognize not only the dignity but also the value of every other life and our need for shared connection and association to truly flourish.

Christians, therefore, ought to be champions of life, upholding the integrity of all and doing whatever they can to provide assistance and care (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 10:25-37). It is not given for us to be the judge, accuser, or adversary of our fellow man; Satan makes accusations, and God will judge everyone in Christ (John 12:48, James 4:11-12). We must show them Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, the light and life of mankind. We can only do that when we have decided to share in the love God has for mankind, and to value life as God values life.

In the process we will have to give up our lives in order to find it (Matthew 16:24-25). To take hold of that which is life indeed we will be called upon to suffer as our Lord did (Romans 8:17-18). We must build a culture of life, but we must never make an idol out of it. A life well lived is one of purpose, with the goal of glorifying God in Christ in all we do. A life well lived is good preparation for eternal life to come in the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-12).

In this way we fully honor life as a gift from God: we did nothing to deserve it, but we prove thankful and honored to be able to enjoy it, acting as good stewards of this gift we have given, and willing to offer it back to the One who gave it so we can share in life eternal. A culture of life honors the life as a gift and does not arrogate to itself the presumption of being able to control and manipulate life. A culture of life respects the authority of the God who gives life, and seeks to live under that authority. A culture of life celebrates life everywhere it is found and seeks to facilitate its flourishing so as to honor its Creator. May we seek to embody and uphold a culture of life, glorify God as the Creator and Sustainer of life, and in Christ obtain eternal life in the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Culture of Death

The Vine

In Revelation 17:1-18 John is granted a vision of the whore Babylon. The picture is not pretty: she wears luxuriant clothing and ostentatious jewelry, holding a cup full of abominations from which the nations drink, and sits intoxicated on the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus. She has the illusion of life and wealth, yet it is all a show: her wealth is founded upon oppression and violence against others, and she is dead spiritually even as she professes to live.

Thus God in Christ spoke of Rome in the first century. Rome as Babylon proved an apt metaphor when we understand what Babylon represents throughout Scripture: human authority arrogating itself against God and His purposes. Thus, whereas it was God’s purpose for Judah and Jerusalem to experience judgment at the hands of Babylon, the prophets denounced Babylon for its presumption and arrogance against God and man, with its king as the Lucifer brought down into oblivion, and doom foretold for the city (cf. Isaiah 14:3-23, Jeremiah 50:1-51:60). Long before this the fall of man was made complete and final at Babylon: the Tower of Babel, in which man sought to outwit God and His purposes to make a name for himself and create his own kind of community according to his own desires (Genesis 11:1-9).

God is the Source of light and life (John 1:1-5); man’s corruption has brought darkness, sin, and death (Romans 5:12-21). Those who recognize God’s sovereignty and seek His purposes perceive His hand in the creation; many, in their corruption, deny the plain truth before them, and God gives them over to their desires, and they are darkened in their deception (Romans 1:18-32). Therefore, that which is firmly grounded and built on what God has accomplished in the creation and through Jesus can promote a culture of light and life; yet all that which is founded upon rebellion or resistance against what God has accomplished in the creation and through Jesus promotes a culture of darkness and death.

A culture of death has proven pervasive in the world from antiquity until the present time. Wherever we find a “Babylon,” humans arrogating the presumptions and privileges of God for their own advantage and benefit, a culture of death follows. The Apostles saw it in Rome who brought peace at the end of a sword, exploiting the populations of the ancient Mediterranean world to enrich themselves, exposing the darkness within at any point its power or prestige was threatened. Undesirable children were exposed; undesirable people were marginalized. The gods of the people were capricious, divinities to placate more than adore, and whose behavior few thought worthy to emulate. The Pax Romana brought peace and prosperity rarely matched in world history; the privileged few benefited mightily; and yet the vast majority were exploited more than valued, without hope and much integrity in the world.

Modern culture all the more manifests this “Babylonian” tendency. We may still speak many languages, and yet we can now see and speak of a “global community” more realistically today than at any point in human history since Babel. And what unites this global community? The search for exploitation of resources and profit. Many may speak a good word about seeking what is best for people and to facilitate life; in deed people do whatever it takes to make a living, no matter the cost to other people or the environment. Our global culture, therefore, is a culture of death.

The culture of death underlies much of the difficulties, challenges, and matters of disagreement in modern society. The culture of death manifests itself most explicitly in the valuation of life itself, often seen as temporary beneficial in the best of circumstances and a burden otherwise. Far too many people view life through the lens of utilitarianism, or even worse, money, thinking of their own lives, and the lives of others, as only valuable and good when they are put to “profitable use,” or only worth living as long as they have money in the bank. To far too many, life itself is not seen as a good in and of itself; it is only as good as its “quality.” For many a new and growing life in the womb is only worth as much as it is valued by the woman bearing it, to be maintained or dispensed with at her leisure. For others the value of life is in direct relationship with the moral rectitude of a person: “good people” ought to have full privileges and enjoy all the benefits of life, but anyone who proves to be “less than good” are dehumanized in many ways and deprived of standing, liberty, and often life itself, without much care or concern. Woe to those who are poor, not of the majority color or culture, disabled, mentally ill, or who otherwise cannot fully perform or function to the satisfaction of the technocratic/meritocratic elite! Selective abortion to eliminate girls or certain genetic diseases grows more prevalent; taking the lives of those who endure illness gains further acceptance. In the name of abstract ideals people prove all too willing to sacrifice the actual lives of many other people, whether in pursuit of a system like communism or a principle like the freedom to bear arms (and the fetish surrounding guns is itself a testimony to a culture of death!).

In our culture of death hyper-individualism erodes values which might affirm and uphold the value and integrity of life. Everything is now about the individual and caters to his or her preferences. We are conditioned to want more, to use more, to think of ourselves and what benefits us, and to honor those preferences above what might be best for others and the creation as a whole. Human sexuality, with new life as the intended fruit of its consummation, has become purely about personal desire, preference, and control. In our culture, if a pregnancy occurs and it is not a convenient or preferable time for “me,” “I” get to choose my preference. And this assumes an “unintended” pregnancy; not a few people now presume complete and entire control over whether they will procreate and perpetuate life at all, and to what degree, without any regard to the health and sustenance of the community. As a result, in the Western world, we are not even meeting the level of population replacement; and many cheer. For over a century many have been concerned about overpopulation, presuming that procreation and the perpetuation of life (also, normally the life of The Other somewhere else, not those of “us” and “our people”) is itself the problem!

Our culture of death is especially acute in terms of how we treat other people. Other people are those who get in our way; we tend to see them as hindrances and potential threats, for we assume they seek their advantage even if it is to our disadvantage, since we are primed to think in the same way. We tend to not see life as something in which we share together; instead, it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world, in which we are to consume lest we find ourselves consumed, and other people exist to provide services and satisfaction of our needs. Other people are disposable: if they do not provide us any benefit, we often have nothing more to do with them. Those who wish to gain an advantage understand the power of fearmongering and the dehumanization of other people; modern culture has invested far too much energy in making people of other skin colors and cultures to be less than human, less valuable and important than we are, and thus literally disposable. Over the past century millions upon millions of lives have been extinguished or significantly demeaned by others who thought of them as less advanced, more animalistic, and thus not worthy of the dignity of humanity. We keep saying “never again,” and yet it happens again and again, and is happening right now in many parts of the world.

The Roman historian Tacitus quoted Calgacus, who in a speech said of the Romans: “they plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace” (Agricola 30). How much more is this true of modern society! At no other point in human history have people so thoroughly manipulated the environment to their own ends, and everywhere we look we see death. Scientists are now speaking of a major extinction event precipitated by human interference in almost every corner of the world. Like Babel we build glistening cities, temples to human ingenuity and control of the environment, and think them to be fantastic paradises, and yet they are devoid of most life. We build structures and do all we can to keep them neat, tidy, and clean: in another word, sterile. We have paved over God’s good creation, turning much of it into a wasteland, and think highly of ourselves in the process for having “developed” it. Never before have people been so disconnected from the natural creation which God has made; likewise, never before have people felt so confident in their ability to control and manipulate the environment. We shall see how sustainable this arrogance will prove; the testimony of history does not give much hope for it. What is sown will be reaped; as in the prophets, the land can tolerate only so much degradation before those who live upon it suffer (cf. Hosea 4:1-3).

Thus, everywhere we look, we see that “Babylonian” impulse to power over everything: other people, the environment, life itself. In its wake is not life but death as is fitting for a culture that does not regard God as the Giver and Sustainer of life and all good things but thinks of no higher power than mankind in its corruption. What was given by God in stewardship is seen as a birthright to exploit and abuse however we may desire. All we build is to make a name for ourselves and to mightily resist any kind of natural limitation we may find imposed upon us. We are separated from the natural world; we are increasingly isolated from each other, with relationships ever more mediated by technology. No wonder we find ourselves ever more despondent and depressed; we are slowly but surely unplugging ourselves from all the sources of life which God has created, sustained, and nourished. Alienation, despair, and death thus inevitably follow.

The picture of whore Babylon which John saw was ugly: a veneer of youth, health, and prosperity masking the stench of the death which sustained it. And so it is with modern culture. It cannot be sustained; it cannot last; a day of judgment must come. As with whore Babylon, so with modern culture: many will lament and mourn over its collapse, for those who lament will have lost economic opportunity, but few if any will work mightily to try to rescue modern culture. Its judgment will be just.

And yet such is the way of the world. The power behind the image of Rome as Babylon is seeing the “Babylonian” tendency behind every “civilization” which attempts to impose its sense of power and order in the world. Rome fell; if the Lord does not yet return, the modern globalist consensus will fall; but something will arise in its place. The world remains under the powers and principalities of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12), entranced by the myth of redemptive violence, believing that though the power of death and exploitation peace and prosperity can be found.

There is no escape from the culture of death in the corrupted world of sin and death; we must instead be delivered from this body of death by what God has accomplished in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must turn away from the world and its ways and not be deceived into thinking that a culture of life rooted in God will be advanced by a culture of death rooted in that “Babylonian” corrupted impetus to power and exploitation. Victory comes through standing firm in God despite suffering and death while holding firm to the testimony of Jesus who Himself suffered and died and gained the victory (Romans 8:1-5, Revelation 12:11). Legislation backed by the coercive power of the state might alleviate certain difficulties and problems to some extent, but neither legislation nor the coercive power of the state can provide true and eternal life; only God offers this in the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16).

As Christians the decision is given to us: will we truly live as God’s chosen, and therefore exiles and sojourners seeking eternal life by living according to the Gospel of Christ in the midst of a culture of death, or will we fall prey to the siren songs of the world and eagerly participate in the ways of Babylon, vainly thinking that we can somehow advance God’s culture of life through the means and methods of the culture of death? May we truly uphold a culture of life in Christ, and eschew the culture of death in all of its forms, and take hold of life indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

What Does it Mean to be Human?

The Vine

What does it mean to be “human”? Our culture provides two radically different alternatives.

You have no doubt heard the statement, “I am only human.” You may have said it yourself. In doing so we focus on our limitations, failures, or desires as humans. We make mistakes. We fail. We participate in all kinds of behaviors to satisfy our lusts. Beyond this our culture looks for its meaning through the results of scientific endeavors; according to modern scientific theory, humans are simply overdeveloped apes. All of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are understood and interpreted in the framework of biological drives. To be only human is to be little different than the animals.

And yet our culture still uses the word “humanitarian” with its original meaning; we speak of a person as acting humanely, and both terms refer to the higher aspirations we maintain. We aspire to do good, to care for other people and for other forms of life on earth, and to live a life full of meaning and value. No matter how much we learn about the skills and strengths of animals, human supremacy over all other animal life cannot be denied. If there is any hope for the earth, humans will have to prove to be a bit more than mere overdeveloped apes!

In Psalm 8:3-6 David meditates on our very question:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers / the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? / And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God / and crownest him with glory and honor.
Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands / Thou hast put all things under his feet.

David rightly wondered why humans would even matter in light of the huge universe in which we live. We are so infinitesimally small compared to our solar system, let alone our galaxy! What is man, that God would be mindful of him or visit him? And yet David also confesses what was established in Genesis: God has made man in His image, a little lower than the angels, and has crowned mankind with glory and honor, giving him dominion over His creation (cf. Genesis 1:26-31).

It is therefore not a matter of whether we are lowly creatures or honored stewards; we are both. God has made us as creatures within His creation: humanity was made from the dust of the earth on the sixth day along with the beasts of the field, and on an earthly level we are indeed members of the animal kingdom, part of the mammalian class, of the primate order, homo sapiens (Genesis 1:26, 2:7). Yet we are not overdeveloped apes: God made us in His image, and since God is spirit, His image involves the matters of the spirit, His intelligence and characteristics (John 4:24). God made man as His offspring, to share in relationship with Him (John 17:1-3, 23, 17:20-23, Acts 17:28). Functionally, God made man to exercise dominion over the earth, to keep it and tend it (Genesis 2:15). We therefore have all kinds of animalistic desires and inclinations, but God calls us to aspire toward Him in a higher calling, renouncing anything which hinders us from seeking after what God has deemed good, healthy, and honorable (Titus 2:11-14).

But what does true humanity look like? In Psalm 8:4 David spoke of humanity in terms of the Hebrew idiom “son of man,” and it would be a particularly promised Son of Man who pointed the way for us. Most people are acquainted with Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, or the Son of God, yet He tended to speak of Himself more often as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 26:64). Yes, Jesus is fully God (John 1:1), yet Jesus is also fully man, both in the Incarnation and still in His resurrection (John 1:14, Colossians 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus is the embodiment of the image and character of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). We should not be surprised, therefore, to find early Christians continually insisting on the importance of becoming more like Jesus and living like Jesus: to walk as He walked, to do what He did, to be shaped into the form of His conduct (Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:3-6). Jesus is the Son of Man, the perfect Human One (Hebrews 4:15, 5:8-9). Therefore, if we want to understand what it means to be human, and to see the best of humanity, we find in the life and example of Jesus of Nazareth.

Humanity is a double edged sword; a seemingly impossible contradiction. We are dust made in God’s image; we maintain great powers of mind and imagination yet remain confined to fragile bodies. We all too easily simultaneously justify our lusts and passions because of our limitations while yearning to be freed from what we feel are the oppressive confines of our bodies. We can always find reasons for discontent, but we must remember that we are God’s creation, and it was good (Genesis 1:26-31). We do well to accept who we are as humans, and not seek to be anything more or less than human. We ought not be less than human, justifying animal lusts and impulses which lead to our harm, the harm of others, and distress in the creation; instead, we must follow the Lord Jesus, maintaining our bodies in discipline, seeking holiness and righteousness in daily conduct, serving one another as good stewards of the gifts God has given us (Titus 2:11-14, 1 Peter 4:10). We also ought not aspire to be more than human, trying to play god or curse the limitations inherent in living as a finite, created being; instead, we must glorify God in our bodies, and rediscover the majesty in our design and function, and be content to remain as God’s creation (cf. Psalms 8:3, 139:13-16, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

What is man, that God has considered him? Dust to dust, and ashes to ashes, yet made in God’s image to share in relationship with Him and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus, the true Human One, whose example we ought all emulate. May we find true humanity in Jesus and live as good stewards of God’s varied gifts!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Who Are We? Why Are We Here?

The Vine

We humans tend to seek meaning in our lives and our behaviors. We want to know who we are, why we are here, and what we are supposed to do. We may not always think about it; in fact, many times we just absorb whatever our family or our culture has to say about who we are and why we are here. These questions prove important because they shape our lives: what we think we want out of life, what we need to do in life, and how we feel about the quality of our lives.

People have always asked such questions; the stories we tend to call “mythology” developed to answer them. In the past some people thought they were made to be the slaves of the gods, working the fields and providing food for the gods so they would not have to work. Others thought of the gods in very human terms, as extremely powerful and immortal people who were to be placated more than loved. Today people tend to seek answers from science, and according to science we are all accidents of evolution, born to use resources, create offspring, give ourselves and our offspring every advantage we can, and then we die. In such a world life becomes all about using resources, avoiding pain, and trying to enjoy life to the fullest until we die.

We find a very different story about who we are and why we are here from the pages of the Bible. According to the Scriptures man was not made as a slave of the gods, or developed as an accident: he is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This does not mean that God is just a really powerful human; God is spirit, and well above and beyond us (Isaiah 55:8-9, John 4:24). According to the Bible God is not just one Person, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, of the same substance and essence, one in will and purpose: in short, one in relational unity (John 1:1, 18, 17:20-23). Humans are made in the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we have therefore been made in love by the God who is love and who is one in relational unity, and so we seek relational unity with God and with one another (1 John 4:8).

Once we have unlocked this core concept of who we are and why we are here, we can see how it is emphasized as primary in what God has accomplished in Jesus according to the New Testament. After explaining the great power of how God saved His people in Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul went on to explain how God worked to reconcile everyone to Himself through Jesus’ death, allowing all people to become one body in Jesus, as one household of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul went as far as to say that such unity in the body is the eternal purpose which God realized in Jesus, displaying His manifold wisdom to the powers and principalities in the world which seek to divide and conquer mankind (Ephesians 3:10-11). In Ephesians 5:32-33 a “great mystery” involves the relationship between Christ and the church: it is to share in the same depth of intimacy as, or even greater than, enjoyed in the marriage relationship (cf. Genesis 2:28). In the final picture of what life will be like in the resurrection, John is given a vision of the people of God glorified, and God dwells in their midst (Revelation 21:1-22:6): the ultimate goal of life, therefore, is to share in God, and to dwell in His presence forever, in the midst of all of God’s people. The mature Christian will recognize that life cannot be about the gifts God gives more than the gift of God and His presence. Even though the fullness of the intimacy and power of this relationship awaits, God has called all of us to begin sharing in its blessings now. Jesus died and was raised again to prepare a place for us in the household of God; through His Spirit God will now dwell with those who love Him and keep the word of Jesus (John 14:1-3, 20-23; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, Ephesians 2:20-22, 1 Timothy 3:15). Christians are to become one with one another and with God as God is One within Himself (John 17:20-23): we are to participate in life together, and enjoy a taste of the beauty of relational unity which we will enjoy fully in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:1-16).

Thus God has made us in His image to share in relationship with Him and with one another; God is our heavenly Father, and has done all He can to love us, provide for us, instruct us, and redeem us (cf. Luke 15:11-32, Romans 8:31-39). This should become the predominant way in which we look at God and His purposes for mankind as revealed in Scripture. Yet to what end? God made Adam in the Garden of Eden to keep it and tend it (Genesis 2:15); man is to exercise dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). Everything we are and have are gifts from God, and He has given them to us so we may use them as stewards of His varied grace (1 Peter 4:10). We therefore live in relationship with God to use what He has given us for His purposes, to His glory, to serve Him and one another. Some have more gifts than others (e.g. Matthew 25:14-30); yet we all have our distinct purposes and abilities to work to build up one another and help grow the body of Christ and benefit all mankind (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16). Our lives, therefore, are not our own: we cannot look at life as something over which we have mastery, using it to build ourselves up to the harm of others, but as a gift from God, to enjoy and share, and all His gifts as blessings with which we can bless others.

God offers true life in Jesus; in Him we live, move, and have our being, and in Him we can find rest, hope, comfort, strength, purpose, meaning, and full satisfaction. The Gospel of Christ remains compelling after all of these years, for in it we find answers to our deepest questions and a meaningful way forward in life. We are made in God’s image to share in life together, not in fear and insecurity to benefit some over others, but in love, joy, and confidence in God, sharing His gifts with one another to His praise and glory. May we put our trust in God in Christ and find true life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Strong in the Lord

The Vine

Paul crafted his message to the Ephesian Christians well. He set forth how believers had been granted every spiritual blessing in the Lord Jesus Christ: predestination, election, adoption, an inheritance, the Spirit; all were lost in sin, but God showed great love, grace, and mercy in Christ; in Christ God killed the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and reconciled them into one body; the mystery of the Gospel is the inclusion of the Gentiles (Ephesians 1:1-3:12). Paul had prayed for the Ephesian Christians to have their hearts enlightened to perceive the great love God has manifested in Jesus according to the power at work in them (Ephesians 1:15-20, 3:14-21). On this basis Paul encouraged them to walk worthily and consistently with this calling: uphold the unity of the church, building up the church in love, no longer living as in darkness but manifesting the light of Jesus, walking wisely, living according to the will of the Lord (Ephesians 4:1-5:21).

Paul applied what it meant to live according to the will of the Lord in the marriage relationship, speaking of husbands and wives in terms of Christ and the church, and vice versa in Ephesians 5:22-33. He continued in the same theme, addressing parents and children in Ephesians 6:1-4: children are to obey their parents in the Lord, and fathers must not exasperate their children, but raise them in the Lord’s discipline and admonition. Paul grounded his exhortation to children in the fifth commandment given in Exodus 20:12: honor your father and mother. Those who honor their parents prove more likely to live quality lives as upright citizens; those who dishonor their parents are more liable to end up in ruin and despair. Yet children are to obey their parents in the Lord; if their parents demand anything contrary to the Lord’s will, children must obey God rather than man (cf. Acts 5:29). Children do not raise themselves; they need good boundaries, commending what is good and chastising what is evil. Children without boundaries yearn for them for the rest of their lives. Christians do well to provide those boundaries as the discipline of the Lord Jesus according to His revealed will.

Paul then turned to the relationship of masters and slaves in Ephesians 6:5-9: slaves were to prove obedient to their earthly masters, working as unto the Lord, knowing they would receive good from the Lord for doing so; masters were to treat slaves well without threatening, remembering they all have a Master watching over them in heaven. We today find such a passage difficult: how could Paul countenance such an institution as slavery? We must remember that slavery in the Roman world was not like the chattel slavery practiced in the American South; if a slave can obtain freedom, Paul would have him obtain it, and Paul’s powerful appeal to Philemon for Onesimus shows his concern for slaves (1 Corinthians 7:21, Philemon 1:1-22). The primary purpose of the Gospel is to reconcile people with God and each other in Christ; only in such radical equality can the inhumanity of owning another person become truly manifest. Slavery was pervasive in the ancient world; it was only circumscribed as a practice when Christianity expanded its reach. Whenever people sit at the Lord’s table together it proves difficult to justify the systems of mankind which considers some superior or inferior to others. Nevertheless Paul’s wisdom applies well to employers and employees today: work diligently at whatever you do, and do not exploit or threaten those under your charge.

Paul brought his exhortations together and to a close in Ephesians 6:10-20 by encouraging Christians to remain strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. He explained how Christians are in a struggle not with fellow humans (“flesh and blood”) but with all sorts of powers and principalities, cosmic forces ruling over this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). To this end Christians must equip themselves with the armor of God in order to stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:11, 13). Paul used traditional Roman armor to make his case. A Roman soldier’s armor was held together by the belt; Christians must gird themselves with the belt of truth, which thus holds everything else together (Ephesians 6:14). The breastplate would provide protection for the internal organs; righteousness serves that role for the Christian (Ephesians 6:14). Good shoes proved important if the army would move efficiently and effectively; Christians wear the “shoes” of the preparation of the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). The Roman shield was the front line of defense, made to withstand spears and even fire arrows; Roman soldiers lined up in maniple formation, in which each soldier’s shield protected part of him and also part of the man next to him; Christians use faith as a shield, not in isolation, but in formation together with fellow members of the body of Christ, able to extinguish the fire arrows of the Evil One (Ephesians 6:16). The helmet protects the head; Christians are preserved in salvation (Ephesians 6:17). The offensive weapon for the Christian is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God; the sword is the machaira, a short sword used for stabbing, presuming close quarters in battle (Ephesians 6:17). Battles are won or lost on the basis of effective communication: to this end Christians must always be in contact with “headquarters,” praying at all times, making supplication, watching in prayer for all the Christians, and also Paul himself, that he might speak the Gospel with boldness as he had opportunity, living as an ambassador of Jesus in chains (Ephesians 6:18-20). When all the exhortation is said and done Christians must remember they are in the midst of a war. They did not ask to participate in this war, but the war goes on all around them, and they are all caught up in the conflict whether they recognize it or not. Likewise the Christian must remember it is a spiritual war, not a physical one; far too many have justified horrendous acts of barbarity and cruelty in war in the name of Jesus, something Jesus never commended in life or through His Apostles. Christians are not the heroes of this war; Jesus is. It is not for the Christian to storm the enemy’s gates; as Paul insisted and repeated time and again in Ephesians 6:10-20, it is for the Christian to stand firm, to resist the forces of evil. He is equipped more in defense than offense, and must act accordingly. Christians will not stand because of their own heroic strength; they stand because they trust in the Lord and in His might to withstand the array of evil forces against them.

The letter to the Ephesians provides little personal detail about Paul’s condition; Tychicus, Paul’s Asian companion, would provide such detail in person (Ephesians 6:21-22). Paul ended his letter to the Ephesians with a standard conclusion for a letter, that peace, grace, and love with faith may come to all who love the Lord with an incorruptible love (Ephesians 6:23-24). In this way Paul has left with the Ephesian Christians and all Christians throughout time a compelling and majestic explanation of the great blessings with which God has blessed us in Jesus, and how Christians are to live in light of all those blessings. May we prove ever thankful for God’s glorious display of grace, love, and mercy in Jesus, walk worthily of our calling, and stand firm in the Lord and His strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking in Love

The Vine

Paul had related to the Ephesian Christians the great and glorious works of God: every blessing has been given to believers in Jesus, predestination, election, adoption, an inheritance, the Spirit; all were lost in sin, but God showed great love, grace, and mercy in Christ; in Christ God killed the hostility between Jew and Gentile, and reconciled them into one body; the mystery of the Gospel is the inclusion of the Gentiles (Ephesians 1:1-3:12). Paul had prayed for the Ephesian Christians to have their hearts enlightened to perceive the great love God has manifested in Jesus according to the power at work in them (Ephesians 1:15-20, 3:14-21). On account of all this Paul encouraged the Ephesian Christians to walk worthily and consistently with this calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, building up the body of Christ, the church, turning aside from the ways of darkness, renewing the spirit of their minds, dedicated to honesty, kindness, patience, and forgiveness toward one another (Ephesians 4:1-32).

Paul continued his exhortation to the Ephesian Christians: imitate God and walk in love as Christ has loved us and gave Himself as a pleasant offering before God (Ephesians 5:1-2). God has given us of His image in Jesus, and the love we are to share is not abstract or disembodied but manifest in what Jesus did for us, understood by Paul according to the sacrifices offered before God according to the Law of Moses (cf. Leviticus, John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15-21). To this end Christians can no longer participate in sexually deviant behavior, reckless behavior, greed, foolish talk, or any kind of unprofitable talk, since they are now saints; they ought to give thanks to God instead (Ephesians 5:3-4). Indeed, those who participate in such forms of wickedness have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God in Christ; anyone who would suggest otherwise attempts to deceive Christians, for God’s wrath comes upon the disobedient on account of these things (Ephesians 5:5-6). Christians must not share in such ungodliness, for they must walk as children of light, not of darkness; Christians ought to expose such dark and evil deeds to the light of God in Christ in the Gospel (Ephesians 5:7-13). Paul then quoted a declaration known to the Ephesian Christians, perhaps as some part of hymn to Christ, exhorting the sleeper to awake and arise from the dead so Christ can shine on him (Ephesians 5:14). Thus Paul warns the Ephesian Christians against participation in the common transgressions of the Gentile world around them, encouraging them to recognize such behaviors as darkness and to resist them.

In order to imitate God and walk in love Christians must watch how they walk, and walk wisely (Ephesians 5:15). Christians must redeem, or make the best use of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16); life is short, and we must make the most of what God has given us. Christians must not be foolish, but to understand the will of the Lord: to not be drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in song, giving thanks to God, submitting to one another in reverence for Jesus (Ephesians 5:17-21). God does not intend for the Christian to be filled with distilled spirits but with His Spirit; Christians manifest the Spirit when they speak to one another in song, communicating the message of God to each other as the people have God have done since time immemorial, thanking God always for what He has done in Jesus, and considering the needs of each other as equal or greater than one’s own needs in mutual submission (cf. Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:16-18).

In what follows Paul will speak of husbands and wives in terms of Christ and the church, and Christ and the church in terms of husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33); the beginning of the discussion is dependent on Ephesians 5:21, and we are to understand that Paul continues to speak regarding the will of the Lord and in light of the imperative of mutual submission. The wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord just as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). People today bristle at such instruction, imagining its abuse and distortion. These verses have unfortunately been used to justify abuse; we must emphasize that Paul does not command the husband to make his wife submit, but that the wife’s submission is a freewill decision and offering which ought not be coerced. Ephesians 5:21 does not contradict Ephesians 5:22-24, and vice versa: wives are to submit to their husbands while both mutually submit to one another in reverence toward Christ.

While people bristle at the suggestion of wives submitting to their husbands, few bristle at the prospect of the church submitting to Christ: it is understood to be natural and expected, since Christ deeply loves the church, having given Himself for her, and has rescued her from sin and death (Ephesians 5:22-24); in a similar way husbands are to love their wives, as Christ has loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Any discussion of the wife’s responsibility to the husband without noting the husband’s responsibility to the wife is incomplete and distorted; the husband is called upon to sacrifice himself, to absorb whatever hostility or invective comes his way, and to willingly give himself for the wife of his youth. Paul presumes a level of self-care: no one hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, and thus the husband should nourish and cherish his wife as his own flesh (Ephesians 5:28-29). Paul summarizes his instruction by exhorting the husband to love his wife and the wife to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). In this way Paul identified the woman’s greatest need as love and the man’s greatest need as respect; the husband who loves his wife as himself and gives himself for her does well, and the wife who submits to her husband and respects him does well, and those who resist such things will struggle and fall short.

While Paul speaks regarding responsibilities within the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:22-33, his primary concern is Christ and the church. The church submits to Christ in all things, for He has proven Himself loving and faithful, the Savior of the body, suffering and dying for her, having cleansed her through the washing of water (baptism) with the Word (Gospel), presenting to Himself the church in splendor, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:22-27). The purity of the church does not derive from its own effort but the cleansing received from its Lord; nevertheless, the church must preserve that purity, and have excised from itself all those who would remain in sin without repentance (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Christ loves the church as His own body, and thus nourishes and cherishes it; the life of the church is sustained and upheld by Jesus (Ephesians 5:28-30; cf. John 15:1-7). Paul quoted Genesis 2:24, in which Moses establishes God’s purposes for marriage, and called it a profound mystery, referring to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32): as a man and woman join together and become one flesh in marriage and intercourse, no longer two, but one flesh, so Christ and the church are to be “married” and become “one flesh,” to share in full relational unity (cf. Matthew 19:3-6, John 17:20-23). Paul envisions marriage and its intercourse as a dim physical shadow of the relational unity which is manifest in God Himself and which God not only desires to have with the redeemed in Jesus but expects the redeemed to have with Jesus in the church (cf. Revelation 21:1-11).

Paul has much to say about imitating God, walking in love, and understanding the will of the Lord, and we should pay strong attention to it. We must avoid the works of darkness, love one another, be filled with the Spirit, singing the songs of the people of God, thanking God for all He has done for us in Jesus, submitting to one another in reverence for Christ, serving the Lord in the church as His bride and in our marriage relationships accordingly. May we walk in love as Jesus has loved us, suffering with Him so that we may be glorified in Him, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking Worthily of Our Calling

The Vine

Paul’s powerful presentation in Ephesians 1:1-3:21 no doubt had its effect, overwhelming the Christians who heard or read it. Paul had set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Christ: election; a great salvation, not by works but through grace and faith displayed generously in Christ; access to God in Christ, provided equally to Jew and Gentile who were made one man in Christ; the presence of the Spirit, in whom they had been sanctified; joint participation in the church of which Jesus was the head, a temple for the Spirit, in which all have equal standing before God as members of His household. Paul had wished for them to come to an understanding in the heart of the greatness of the love God has displayed in Jesus; God was able to do well beyond whatever Christians could ask or think.

God had done all of these things or had provided for them in Christ. Paul then turned to speak of how Christians ought to respond in light of all of these wonderful blessings. In short, Paul expected Christians to walk worthily of this calling they had received from God (Ephesians 4:1). He would set forth what walking worthily looked like in Ephesians 4:2-6:20, the “exhortative” or “practical” half of the letter to the Ephesians.

Paul began with a strong emphasis on unity (Ephesians 4:2-6). He had already explained how God secured unity among Christians through the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-3:12); Christians must strive to maintain that unity (Ephesians 4:3). They do so by remaining humble and meek,
patient and tolerating one another in love, as if constrained by the peace secured for us through Jesus’ work (Ephesians 4:2-3; cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). Paul stressed the “oneness” of Christianity: one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one body, one baptism, one hope (Ephesians 4:4-6). Polemically this unity can be used to argue against factionalism and divisiveness; yet Paul’s point is to reinforce the importance and power of unity. God is one in relational unity; God has provided one sufficient sacrifice on our behalf; God has set forth one way for salvation: thus Christians must strive to maintain that unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. Sadly, for the most part, “Christendom” is far from the unity Paul here emphasizes. Too many are content with a surface-level unity which is really declaring victory in defeat. Real unity takes hard work, humility, and trust in the Lord Jesus, and we do well to strive to be Christians only, preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and upholding the one faith in the one body of the one Lord from the one Spirit to obtain the one hope.

But maintenance of unity is not only the responsibility of the individual Christian. God has freely given gifts in Jesus as is written in Psalm 68:18: Jesus descended in death and ascended far above the heavens to fill all things (Ephesians 4:7-10). Within the church God has given various people fulfilling different roles, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). They serve the body of Christ, equipping Christians for the work of ministry (and accomplish their work of ministry themselves), building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). This work would continue until all would obtain maturity in Christ, no longer troubled by various teachings and doctrines, but having grown up into Christ the head from whom all the body is joined together, would work together to build up one another in love by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:13-16). No more beautiful passage can be found in the New Testament regarding the work of the church than Ephesians 4:11-16: we have the words of the Apostles on which to ground our understanding of Christ and His purposes, the words of the prophets to exhort us to faithful conduct, evangelists to encourage people in the Gospel, and shepherd teachers to provide instruction to apply the Gospel to life, allowing for all Christians to grow and mature and build each other up in their most holy faith to glorify God and strengthen one another.

If one would walk worthily of the calling in Christ and seek to maintain unity and build up the body of Christ, one must give thought to how one is living and how they relate to others, and Paul continued in Ephesians 4:17-32 to this end. Christians must no longer walk as the people of the nations do, alienated from the life of God, hard of heart on account of sensuality; such is not how the Ephesian Christians learned Christ and the truth in Him (Ephesians 4:17-20). The Ephesian Christians were mostly Gentile; Paul uses “Gentile” in Ephesians 4:17 as we might use the term “pagan,” with all of its negative connotations. The Ephesian Christians could not follow Jesus and live according to their former patterns; instead, they were to put away that previous way of living, reckoned as an “old man” corrupted in deceit, and to instead be renewed in the spirit of their mind, putting on the “new man” created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24). Paul then shifts to speak of specifics: since Christians are now one body, they should stop lying to each other and speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25; cf. Zechariah 8:16); they may have cause to be angry at times, but they should not allow it to fester into sin and give an opportunity for the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27; cf. Psalm 4:4); those who stole should cease and instead work to have something for those in need, to cease being a drain on others and become a source of support (Ephesians 4:28). Paul addressed matters of conversation and relationship: Christians must not speak corruptly but to speak well to edify and give grace to those who hear; not grieving the Spirit of God in whom they were sealed; putting away bitterness, wrath, anger, and slander, being kind to one another, disposed to feel for one another, and to forgive one another, as God has forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32). The Spirit is grieved when we do not work to maintain unity in Him, speaking that which is false, giving vent to anger which destroys relationship, undermining trust, and refusing to grant the forgiveness to others we so desperately seek for ourselves.

Christians do well to walk worthily of their calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Such requires great effort in love, humility, compassion, and kindness, looking for opportunities to build up and strengthen, and resisting the impulse to vent spleen and corrode relationships. May we walk worthily of the way of Jesus, putting on the new man, renewed in the spirit of our minds!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Mystery of the Gospel

The Vine

Paul did well at encouraging his fellow Christians with reminders of all the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ, praying they might be able to understand the greatness of the salvation they obtained in Christ, the head of the church (Ephesians 1:1-23). Paul explained the nature of that salvation, how all had sinned and yet God showed love, grace, and mercy through Jesus to provide a means of salvation so Christians could be full of good works (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul made it known how this salvation was offered to Gentiles, those of the nations: the hostility which had existed between the people of God and the nations was killed by Jesus on the cross, and He can now make all into one man in one body (Ephesians 2:11-18). Anyone can now be a fellow-citizen of the household of God and become part of the holy temple of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

On account of these great blessings and salvation, Paul would again pray on behalf of his fellow Christians, but not until he explained the mystery of the Gospel regarding which he had already made many allusions (Ephesians 3:1-13). Paul envisioned his current imprisonment as a benefit for the Christians to whom he wrote, for it is to their glory (Ephesians 3:1, 13); he is imprisoned for his work in proclaiming among the Gentiles the mystery which God revealed to him, something not made known to previous generations of God’s people but now manifested in what God has accomplished in Jesus (Ephesians 3:1-5). It is easy to think of “mystery” in terms of either a “whodunit,” a crime story in which a sleuth uses all the clues to ascertain and indict the criminal, or something vague, unknown, and unknowable, yet Paul came out with a full explanation of this mystery: Gentiles can be fellow heirs, fellow members, and fellow partakers in the body and promises of Christ (Ephesians 3:6). It is not as if this mystery came without any warning or previous information: all of what Jesus accomplished had been prophesied in the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets (Luke 24:44). Yet the hand of God is evident in the story of Jesus, for while all He did was prophesied, people would not of their own invention or volition put the story together the way in which it came to pass in Christ. Thus the mystery of the Gospel was unveiled in the work which God accomplished in Jesus and communicated by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:1-6)!

Paul proclaimed the Gospel among the Gentiles by the commission of God in Christ who saved him despite his unworthiness, having been a persecutor of the church (Ephesians 3:7-8; cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-16). God hid this mystery prepared before the beginning of the world until the time of Christ, and now not only can all men hear and see it, but the manifold wisdom of God as manifest in the church is displayed to all the powers and principalities of heaven (Ephesians 3:9-10). The wisdom of God manifest in the church was the eternal purpose He established in Christ, through whom we now have boldness and access in faith to God (Ephesians 3:11-12). An eternal purpose continues perpetually in at least one direction; therefore, God’s purposes in Christ remain as active today as they did when the Lord Jesus arose and the Apostles walked the earth. Furthermore, Paul established the high level of importance God places on the church: it is no mere accident, “Plan B,” or holding pattern, but the ultimate realization of His wisdom. The church represents many groups of people who otherwise would be at odds with each other but have become one body in Jesus, and that is a powerful testimony to the working of God in Christ to all the powers and principalities which have worked to keep mankind divided. Thanks to Jesus we can have boldness before God in access in faith; we do not deserve any standing before God because of what we have done, but Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us and allows us to stand before God and make our requests known.

Paul then got around to making the prayer which he planned on making: that God would strengthen the Christians with power through His Spirit in their souls to comprehend the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, having been filled with Christ and the fullness of God and rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:14-19). Paul praised God as the One able to do beyond what Christians could ask or think according to the power at work within them, seeking that He might be glorified in Christ and the church for eternity (Ephesians 3:20-21). This prayer may seem confusing: how can Christians come to any kind of understanding of something that surpasses knowledge? This is precisely Paul’s point; he wished for Christians to realize the vastness of God’s love for us in Christ and to be continually humbled by and thankful for it. Paul also invited Christians to consider the greatness of that power of God: He is able to do anything beyond our imagination, and does so by the power at work within us, but only if we ask. Do we ask to obtain that power from God to accomplish His purposes? Do we limit what God is able to do through us because of a lack of imagination or willingness to ask for mighty things to be accomplished? Do we truly believe that God is as willing to do such things as we profess confidence in His ability to do so?

Paul thus laid out the mystery of God in Christ: Jesus lived, died, and was raised again in power, and now serves as Lord. All have sinned but can find salvation in Jesus; in Jesus can be found spiritual blessings beyond imagination, and God is at work advancing His purposes in Jesus and the church in full display before the powers and principalities in the heavenly places. May we submit to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in God and His power to accomplish great things through us to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Family and Nation of God

The Vine

Paul had spoken powerfully regarding all the spiritual blessings with which God had blessed Christians in Jesus, having been elected and predestined to obtain the hope of salvation and righteousness in Christ, superabundantly receiving grace and mercy in Him (Ephesians 1:1-14). Paul prayed for Christians to gain understanding from God in the heart to know the great hope in which they have been saved and His great power at work in those who believe, since Christ has been established above every authority, especially over His body, the church (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul would go on to explain the nature of this salvation and how it came about, first to Israel, and then to all who would come to God in Christ.

Paul continued his theological explanations by establishing the need and value of salvation secured in Christ, and man’s purpose before God (Ephesians 2:1-10). Paul did not shrink from laying out the ugly truth about the need for salvation: all were dead in their sins, having walked in the way of the prince of the powers of the air, living according to lust, as children destined for wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God, rich in mercy and love, made believers alive in Christ and raised us up with Him to sit in the heavenly places in order to continually demonstrate the riches of His grace, for Christians are saved by grace through faith, not because of anything they have done to earn it (Ephesians 2:1-9). And yet Christians are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do the good works which He prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). This whole message works together for a reason, just like in Titus 3:3-8: Christians need continual reminders about their need for salvation and God’s display of grace and mercy in Jesus so that we may be productive in good works. We cannot imagine that we are superior to other people; we have sinned and deserved condemnation like all the rest. But God loved us, would not give us the condemnation we deserve (thus showing mercy), but would give Jesus and salvation, we did not deserve (thus showing grace). We did not, nor could not, earn or merit this salvation, but are called upon to receive it humbly through faith and trust in God in Christ. We can then serve God and encourage our fellow man in good works so as to glorify God.

Paul then specifically focused on God’s welcome of Gentiles and how it came about (Ephesians 2:11-18). He identified Gentiles as the uncircumcision, those separated from the covenant between God and Israel, the nation of Israel, and as without God or hope in the world; such is the state of mankind without God, and it is quite unpleasant (Ephesians 2:11-12). And yet through the blood of Jesus Gentiles who were far away could draw near, for Jesus in His death broke down the wall dividing the Jews from the Gentiles, the Law (Ephesians 2:13-15a); one is given reason to imagine the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple in Jerusalem, an actual, physical wall cordoning off Gentiles from coming any closer to the Presence of God. But it is not as if the Gentiles would become Jews: Jesus has created one new man in Himself, and in this way makes peace, killing the hostility which existed between Jews and Gentiles, preaching peace to those near and those far off (Ephesians 2:15b-17). Both Jewish and Gentile Christians now have access to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We must appreciate the radical nature of what Paul is suggesting: for 1,500 years, Jewish people identified themselves in contrast to those of the nations. In response, those in the nations tended to look upon the Jewish people as oddities and best, and with contempt and hatred at worst. The only way to eliminate the hostility was to kill it, and Jesus did so on the cross, giving the Jewish people no more right to presumption of election and giving Gentiles equal access to God in the Spirit. Jewish Christians remained ethnically Jewish while Gentile Christians remained their various ethnicities, but the faith and hope they shared in Christ was of far greater value and consequence than their worldly identities; no earthly division ought to separate them. So it remains to this day, and not merely between Jewish people and Gentiles: all people have access to God in the Spirit through Jesus, and there is no worldly division which ought to separate the people of God, for what they share in Jesus is greater than any challenge, difficulty, or division in the world.

Paul had formerly spoken of the church as the body of Christ, given to Jesus under His authority (Ephesians 1:22-23); having established the means of salvation for all people, especially the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:1-18), he now affirmed that Gentile Christians were no longer strangers or aliens, but fellow-citizens and members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). Mixing his metaphors, Paul considers that household as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the cornerstone, built up into a holy temple in which the Spirit dwells (Ephesians 2:20-22). Through these powerful metaphors Paul reinforced the instruction he had just provided and explained for those who would hear how the people of God are to view one another and their relationship with God. As citizens of God’s Kingdom they are to uphold their responsibilities to accomplish His purposes (cf. Philippians 1:27); as fellow members of God’s household, they consider each other as brothers and sisters of the heavenly Father, equal in standing before Him, and restored in relationship with Him and each other (cf. John 17:20-23, Romans 8:11-17). Temples are places in which it is believed that a deity himself, or a manifestation of a deity, is present; thus, Christians are to consider themselves as the temple of the Holy Spirit individually and collectively, and are therefore to conduct themselves in holiness so God, who is holy, can maintain His presence in their midst (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:13-16). The temple is founded upon the teachings of God in Christ as made known by the apostles and prophets; the cornerstone, providing alignment for everything else, is Jesus Himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). In this way Christians are to be a holy family of people who love and care for one another and seek to do good for all people, always cognizant of their need for salvation and thankful that God has provided it in Christ. May we all participate in God’s household in the Kingdom of Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Every Spiritual Blessing in Christ

The Vine

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

The Apostle Paul felt compelled on many occasions to set forth various doctrinal truths about God in Christ to his fellow Christians to warn against false teaching. The time had come to provide a full, coherent picture of his understanding into the mystery of the Gospel; we find such a portrayal in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

While Paul’s letter to the Ephesians features the same doctrinal positions seen in other letters, it seems very impersonal. Ephesians does not contain the same kind of personal details about Paul or the Christians to whom he wrote as can be found in all of his other correspondence; “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 is not found in all copies of the manuscripts. For these reasons Ephesians is often considered an “encyclical” letter, intended to be distributed among many local churches. Regardless, it is hard to assume much about the condition of the church in Ephesus on the basis of what is written in Ephesians.

After his standard greeting (Ephesians 1:1-2), Paul began his letter with a broad, sweeping, and majestic sentence glorifying God for all the spiritual blessings with which He blessed us in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14). Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the New Testament: while English translations generally wisely break it down into many sentences for clarity, we must remember they all represent the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed the Ephesian Christians, and by extension all Christians, in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

God has chosen Christians in Jesus before the foundation of the world to be holy before Him; God predestined Christians to adoption to the praise of His grace freely bestowed on us in Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6). Paul had no desire to deny human freedom or volition; Augustinian Calvinist notions of God predetermining who would be saved and condemned arbitrarily must be imposed on the text. Paul instead sought to encourage Christians: their standing in Christ is no accident. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and inauguration of His Kingdom were not a hastily concocted “plan B” when everything else failed. Instead, from before the beginning, God had determined to create the universe, redeem mankind through His Son, and provide a way of holiness in Him. Paul would also speak of adoption as sons of God in Romans 8:11-15; a man or woman submits to adoption in order to gain the inheritance of the father, and in this way Christians gain standing in order to inherit the eternal promises God has made in Jesus.

God secured redemption for Christians in Jesus according to the riches of His grace; God’s grace abounds for Christians, who have learned of the mystery of God’s will now manifest in Jesus and His Kingdom (Ephesians 1:7-10). Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins represents the ultimate gift God has given mankind (cf. 1 John 4:7-11); God continues to bestow gifts of grace upon His people in Jesus and yearns for Christians to consider His presence and life as the greatest gift of all (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). We think of “mystery” as something unknown, a problem to be solved; in the New Testament it is an “unveiling,” something manifest only through the revelation of God. Later in Ephesians Paul would elaborate more upon the mystery (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11); here he centered the story on God’s good purpose in Jesus whom He made the sum of all things.

Whereas Christians inherit the blessings of life and salvation in Christ, God obtains Christians as His heritage, having predetermined them as His praise in His glory, and who has given them the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of their inheritance until the final day of redemption (Ephesians 1:11-14). Paul began to make a contrast between “we who had hoped in Christ” and “you” his Ephesian audience, perhaps as between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We would again be remiss to impose Augustinian Calvinist views on the text; in Ephesians 3:1-11 Paul will explain how God manifested His wisdom and eternal purpose by bringing Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ in the church. Paul instead stepped back to appreciate the beauty of what God has accomplished in Jesus. God is praised in the redemption of Jewish Christians in Christ who had hoped in the coming Messiah and proved willing to recognize him in Jesus; God is praised in the redemption of Gentile Christians who are welcomed in Jesus. The Holy Spirit was given to Christians both as a seal of their redemption and as a down payment on their salvation; throughout Ephesians Paul will speak of how God worked through His Spirit to build up and strengthen Christians.

Having set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Jesus, Paul gave thanks and prayed for the Ephesian Christians in another lengthy sentence (Ephesians 1:15-23). Paul gave thanks for the Ephesian Christians, having heard of their faith in Jesus and love for their fellow Christians whom he calls “saints” (Ephesians 1:15-16). Christians do well to be encouraged by Paul’s example: we should never take the faith of others for granted, but ought to thank God for them.

Paul prayed for God to give the Ephesian Christians a spirit of wisdom and revelation of knowledge to enlighten their hearts to know the hope of God’s calling in Jesus, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the great power of God working on behalf of Christians (Ephesians 1:17-19). Paul did not pray for God to give the Ephesian Christians head knowledge; he already recognized their faith in Christ, and expected them to have intellectual recognition of the truth of these things. Instead Paul prayed for God to give them heart knowledge, confidence in the hope of salvation in the resurrection, the majesty of the glorification of the Kingdom by God on the final day, and the great power which God presently would work for, in, and through them. It has been said that the greatest distance in the universe is between the head and the heart; we Christians intellectually recognize the truths of God in Christ, but have they been imprinted on our hearts so that we trust deeply and are strengthened to overcome any trial by keeping our faith fixed on the glory awaiting us?

God’s power is manifest in Jesus, raised from the dead, ascended to the right hand of God, ruling over everything, made head over all things to the church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). God has great power and He has given it over to Jesus. Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth is the foundation of the Gospel call to obedience to His purposes and empowers the Christian’s resistance against the idolatrous claims of the forces of darkness and the nation-states empowered by them (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-15:4). Yet all of this power has been given to Jesus for the sake of His body, the church, the people who assemble to praise and glorify His name and encourage each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-28, 14:26, Ephesians 4:11-16). How many great and powerful things could God do through us if we would only trust extravagantly in Him and pray for Him to accomplish His glorious and majestic purposes in us?

Adoption, redemption, an inheritance, the Holy Spirit, access to God, participation in God’s work in Christ: all these blessings, and many more, Christians receive through Jesus Christ. May God give all of us in Jesus Christ a spirit of knowledge and wisdom to enlighten our hearts so we may know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe!

Ethan R. Longhenry