Posts Tagged Ephesians
Has there ever been a moment when you were reading, and a phrase or a sentence jumped out at you from the page and grabbed your eye like a fish hook? Sometimes it is due to incongruity (“What in the world is that doing there?”), but I speak more of the sort where something is so congruous, so poignant, that you simply cannot help but pause and stand to attention. This happened to me as I was reading the fourth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Quoting Psalm 68, he writes,
“Wherefore he saith, ‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
One phrase in that hit me in the eye: He led captivity captive. The poetry, the imagery, the psalmist painted and the apostle emphasized is incredible. This is a profound verse, and in it, the entire gospel is contained.
When he ascended up on high – Paul continues in the next couple verses to make statements about Christ, saying, “Now he that ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” Thus we see a picture in Christ’s ascension first of His descension. He left His heavenly home, and all the glories therein, that He might descend to the earth and live life as a man. Living a perfect life, He was crucified on the cross, taking upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin. Dead, He was buried in the earth; but not for all time. Three days later, He burst forth in glorious day, defeating death once and for all. Some days later, He ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, far above all principalities and powers, and above every name that was named. All this is the glorious ascension of Christ.
He – This is He, Jesus, the Christ, fully God yet fully man. He, the One who gave His life for sinful man, who then ascended up, is the one spoken of here as a conquering King. For…
… Led captivity – What is the captivity that Paul speaks of? Looking back through the ages, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden. There a decision was made by the first man and woman that has affected us throughout the eons. Not only did Adam and Eve sin, but we sinned in them. Mankind has gone on sinning, rebelling against the order and law set up by Almighty God. There is no one who is even near righteous. Because of our willing rebellion, we are in captivity to our sin, and thus, to death: for the wages of sin is death. Our flesh is in control; our sin is rampant; even when we attempt to do well, it stinks to God. We are, all our days in bondage to sin. Not only that, we are under the domain of the Enemy of God, the Devil, kept within the kingdom of darkness, from which there is no escape. Unless…
… Captive – Oh, what glory, what triumph is in these words! Taken together, when Jesus rose again and ascended, He led a glorious parade of all that held us captive. Like the conquerors of yore, He led the Slave Masters known as Sin and Death in fetters. He absolutely defeated, once and for all, the enemy of our souls, taking them in open shame. The wrath of God was poured out, and sin was atoned for; the stone before the tomb was blasted away, and death’s sting was squashed; Christ ascended upon high, and all else was put under His feet. He has led captivity captive! All that once stood over us as our masters – Lust, Envy, Pride, Anger, Fear, Anxiety, Depression, Loneliness, Bitterness, Greed, to name a few – has now been defeated. All that stood between us and our Creator has been dealt with. No more does it have power over us, for He is our Lord and Savior. But the glory does not end there…
… And he gave gifts unto men – The gifts which God has given us are numerous, perhaps greater that I can number. Principally, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God within us. As all that stood between us and God has been removed by Jesus, God now comes and dwells within us. We have also been given the grace of God, receiving that which we do not deserve. Not only saving grace, but a working grace too: for in the context of this verse, the gifts which God has given us are gifts for ministering. Specifically named are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Not all of us are called to the same position; but we have all been given the grace of God to spread the good news of His kingdom and to build up the body of Christ. The purpose of these gifts, given to the once captive, is to set other captives free, and to strengthen the Army-Family known as the Church for the battle for the glory of God.
That poetic phrase, “He has led captivity captive”, is one that I pray I keep close. For in certain moments, it can feel that I am once again in captivity to my old masters. It seems that the fish hook of temptation is stuck deeply within my heart, and I cannot but help to obey. No longer: because of the work of God, I can take that hook out, and allow the grace of God to pull me towards Himself. For that is the goal of all this: to bring us back to Himself. He led captivity captive, that we may be captive to His grace.
Apologies for no posts in a while. I have been away, enjoying myself at youth camp, vacation, and a friend’s wedding in Colorado. Posts shall come forthwith, Lord willing.
Imagine yourself in a house; not just any house, but a very small, one, maybe two, room house. Your accommodations are minimal: a bed, a table, and a couple chairs at most. You can’t leave this house, except to go to court and be tried before a judge. To ensure that you don’t attempt to escape, a police officer is bound to you with chains. Visitors come to you, but aside from that it’s just you and the officer in the house until the day of your trial. Think about it:
How would you feel? What would you be thinking? What would be the first thing you want to do?
I imagine that the scene I just described is what it was like for Paul when he was under house arrest in Rome. Yet here we find a man who, though he is beaten and in shackles, his sole desire is to glorify God. In his letter to the Ephesians, we see a glimpse of that passion:
“Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (3:13-21, emphasis added)
When he asks for prayers from the Ephesians, he asks not for comfort, freedom, or aid; he says, “And [pray] for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (6:19-20, emphasis added.
Paul called himself an ambassador in bonds; he saw that, even in shackles, even in painful situations, God could be glorified, and the gospel of Christ spread. He didn’t see the Roman soldier bound to him as a burden; he saw it as an opportunity to see a lost soul saved. He didn’t waste time moping about his house; he prayed, sought the Lord, and wrote some of his greatest epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul saw every situation, good or evil, as a way to glorify God.
At first, he probably saw little fruit; but as he continued, faithful to the Lord, he saw God working in his midst. He tells the Philippians, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which have happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:12-13, emphasis added). In a sense, the Apostle is saying that he’s glad he went to prison, because it has been used to greatly glorify God. He knew that, though he was bound, “the word of God is not bound” (2 Tim. 2:9).
Often in our lives we face situations that come to us out of the blue. It’s natural to life, that arbitrary element that we cannot control. Though we think this or that will happen, we never truly know what lies ahead. You could be travelling down the road one day, when everything is going well, and you’re rear-ended by the driver behind you. Or you might find out that you have that shift with that co-worker who isn’t a Christian and is very worldly. Or your neighbor may come over in tears, explaining how they have just run over your dog. The question is, what will you do?
Every situation, no matter how evil or silly or pointless it seems on the outside, has the ability to be used to the glory of God. I’m not saying you need to preach to the lady who rear-ended you; but the way you react to that lady can either lead her towards Christ or away from Him. C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. […] There are no normal people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. […] it is immortals with whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or
Paul said he was given grace to do this work; it was not on his own willpower or strength that he relied, but God’s. In the same way, we have grace for every situation that comes our way. Know this grace, and know that God can be glorified in every moment of every day, no matter where you are right now.