This passage consists of two paragraphs which stand in contrast to one another. Following the flow of thought to this point, 3:14-16 clearly grounds Christian behavior in the gospel. As Paul has called for gospel-centered living throughout, he now explicitly states this as his aim in writing. 4:1-5 then provide the contrast- the sort of living which emerged from the false teaching.
1. Statement of Gospel Living and Church Identity (3:14-16)
Paul here clearly states that his point in writing has to do with the way Christians behave, their lifestyles. This is why the discussion of church leaders in 3:1-13 focuses not on tasks but character. Paul’s concern is that these people live out the gospel in everyday life. This is primarily a letter on ethics. In this paragraph Paul grounds Christian living in the identity of the church (v15) and in the gospel (v16).
Too often today we do not think highly enough of the church so it would not make sense to ground our behavior in the church’s identity. But we need to reclaim the biblical view of the importance, the centrality of the local church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted that the word “church” to Protestants “has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their hear beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated.”
Calvin stated, “If we do not prefer the church to all other objects of our interests we are unworthy of being counted among her members.”
Notice the three ways Paul describes the church
A. The Household of God
Not so much referring here to the building (“a house”) but the idea that we are God’s family
The point of “family” then is not so much “warm fuzzies” as authority
How one is to behave when you live in “God’s house”
Ex.- “I don’t know what they do at Bobby’s house, but this ain’t Bobby’s house. This is my house and in this house you will act this way!”
The stress is on the fact that the church is God’s house, and God has certain rules to be obeyed.
Therefore, God’s rules reign and they are not subject to revision. Since it is his not ours then it does not matter what we like to do, or what is most comfortable to us or what we have always done or what the latest leadership book says. These ideas which usually govern churches mean absolutely nothing. What matters is, “What does the Master of the house say?”
B. The Church of the Living God
Again the fact of ownership is present.
“Living God”- stresses His real presence. This is the “assembly” where you will find the presence of the one true God
This is one reason true believers must love the church. The church is the gathering to which God promises His presence- nowhere else. Not the PTA, congress, civic clubs, or schools.
As we gather He promises to be with us.
As we praise Him He inhabits our praises.
In the reading and preaching of Scripture we hear His voice.
At communion, He calls us to His table.
In fellowship, He touches us through one another.
The Master of the house is here, and He is not blind or deaf. This should give us cause for pause!
Do we really consider His nearness as we gather, as we function as church?
Illus- 4th grade teacher telling us to act as if our parents were standing at the door and watching all that went on!
C. Pillar and Buttress of the Truth
Architectural images for preserving, defending and advancing the gospel- This is the church’s role. Note, though, that the point here is that the Church protects and promotes the gospel by living out the gospel. Of course the proclamation of the gospel is also involved but the point here is how we live. Our spoken word only means something when it is backed up by how we live.
A healthy church is the greatest tool for the spread of the gospel. An unhealthy church is the greatest hindrance.
Note, further, Paul’s statements in Ephesians about the church which parallel this:
- Eph 3:10-11- “in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly [places.]”
- Eph 3:21- “to Him [be] the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
- Eph 5:23-27- Christ has died in order to purify His bride
What is Jesus doing now? Working for the purification of His church! Are you working with Him?
This is then all grounded in the gospel, which Paul states in poetic form in v.16. Interestingly the description of the gospel here is stated in such a way as to emphasize the missionary advance of the gospel. This also grounds Paul’s call for missionary, evangelistic praying back in chapter 2 as well.
2. The Reality of Apostasy (4:1-5)
A. God says it will happen- “The Spirit expressly says”
How the Spirit does this is not stated. It could have been through Paul himself (perhaps his warning in Acts 20) or through a prophet in one of the churches. However the word came, Paul says God has spoken o this issue. We should not be surprised at apostasy. We have been warned.
This is just one of many passages in the NT which require us to think clearly about what we mean when we say “once saved always saved.” The NT is clear on the point that there will be those who profess faith but in the end show themselves not to be believers. True believers will persevere in the faith.
In the context of this letter Paul has been stressing the need for them to live out the gospel. The point here then is that some have shown by their lifestyles that they have turned away from the faith. You cannot have the faith and fail to live the faith.
When? Later times, typical NT way of referring to the time since Pentecost. Paul is clearly talking about something going on currently in Ephesus
B. Source- the demonic
Note the plural, “teachings”, in contrast to the singular always used of proper “teaching.”
Some want to dismiss this reference to the demonic as simply caricature. I do not think we can do that since it is clear throughout the Bible that there is a real Enemy of our souls. He and his minions seek to damage the church and to confuse and draw away those who would follow Christ.
This should emphasize to us the seriousness of this. We have been warned: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
C. Agents- Dishonest people
The demonic teaching encounters us, however, through human means- specifically, dishonest, hypocritical people.
The hypocrisy or insincerity mentioned here refers to the fact that they claim to be Christian leaders but do not live out the gospel. They do not live out the faith they claim to know and teach.
“Seared consciences”- “The ‘conscience’ … is the organ of decision that allows the translation of the normative faith into appropriate behavior” (Towner, 292). See 1:5. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”
The goal of apostolic teaching is proper living which flows out of a conscience trained to apply the gospel to all situations. In these people the conscience has been cauterized, ‘burned out’, by regular rejection of the gospel, i.e. its ethical implications.
There is another implicit warning here: Beware of toying with sin and turning a deaf ear to conviction. This is the same warning found in Hebrews about hardening your heart in the deceitfulness of sin.
We may be surprised after the heaviness of what has preceded to find the examples consisting of things we might consider fairly light. What is he referring to here?
First, we must say that the full teaching of the heresy is not clear here. What we do have is basically an overly ascetic approach to Christian living which fails to appreciate the goodness of creation. Forbidding of marriage presumably arose (as elsewhere) from the shunning of sex. Then certain foods are considered evil in themselves. I always think of the requirement of a celibate priesthood and no meat on Fridays when I read this! Yet, it is surely easy to see the errors of others. Where does this hit closer to home?
The basic picture is of an approach which defines holiness by what you deny rather than by how you conform to the gospel. Whatever the trouble was in Ephesus this is the basis for legalism.
This was the controlling paradigm in my mind growing up. I can remember being stumped by the Mormons since they even abstained from caffeine and Muslims since they abstained from much and did more fasting.
Certainly we must firmly say no to sin, but we must not measure holiness by what we deny ourselves. Holiness is living inline with the gospel.
E. Answer- appreciate God’s good gifts
Paul answers this by pointing back to Genesis. God created this world and pronounced it good. Sin does not reside in specific things, but is an interior problem.
Are you living out the gospel? Or are you living out false teaching?
What does your lifestyle say about your spiritual condition?
Are you living in light of the great value and importance of the church? You cannot do this if you are not a member of a local church and involved in the lives of the people there.
If you are trusting in your own self-denial (as these false teachers) that will not save you. Even today repent and believe that your sins might be forgiven and then you might now the reality of living out the gospel.