Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23
Sermon Title: Don’t Have a Salvation Inferiority Complex
Sermon Text: Ephesians 1:15-23
First Century Challenge
I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proofread. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipleship of people in the church. Thanks for understanding.
In reading the New Testament, it is not difficult to surmise that one of the greatest challenges of the church was the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
In the Old Covenant, worshipping God was done by Jews only. The sign on the door read, “No Gentiles.” The Jews obeyed the Old Covenant with all the temple sacrifices, Levitical priests, and they followed the Mosaic Law, which regulated the dining room table, the marketplace, neighbor relations, and even the bedroom. The Jews were God’s chosen people, living in God’s Promised Land, and they looked forward to inheriting God’s promises.
Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again. His life and ministry changed everything.
After Christ, worshipping God is no longer only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. The sign on the door reads, “whosoever.” The only sacrifice for sins is the one made by Christ on the cross. The New Covenant has no temple for God to dwell. The dwelling place of God is the body of the believer; we are a temple of the Holy Spirit. In the New Covenant, there are no priests by lineage. We celebrate the priesthood of the believer. The Promised Land of the New Covenant is not the geographic nation of Israel. The Promised Land is the New Jerusalem of heaven where God dwells, and those who are in Christ are the eternal citizens. In the New Covenant, there is no Mosaic Law to govern life. The only law is to love God and love your neighbor. Love fulfills the law.
We have had the benefit of centuries of teaching to help us sort out all the issues which the First Century church faced. We are far removed from the challenge of sorting out Old versus New Covenant theology and application. Because of this, we have difficulty wrapping our minds around understanding the First Century Christian mindset.
People were confused. Gentiles were confused. Jews were confused. They had no New Testament epistles, like we have today, to sort out all the confusion. In the First Century, until the complete canon of the New Testament was written, there was much uncertainty as to what does and what does not apply from the Old Testament. Some of that confusion still exists today in the church, but not on the level, it did in the days of the Apostle Paul.
Luke tells us, in Acts chapter 15, a special council was needed and it convened in Jerusalem to sort out the difficult doctrinal problems resulting from the confusion. The council took place around 50ad. The apostles and elders came together. They were the who’s who of church leaders. Among them were James, Peter, Simeon, Barnabas, Silas, Judas called Barsabbas, and Paul.
It seems like the only person who truly understood the doctrinal implications of the Old and New Covenant is the Apostle Paul. He presented an argument which forms the doctrine we follow today. Principles of his argument show up in his epistles.
Much of the New Testament ink is spilled to address this First Century problem of transitioning from the Old to the New Covenant. o The desire was to end the confusion and disunity in the churches.
For example, Paul chastised Peter in Antioch and recorded it in the book of Galatians. Peter was living like a Gentile when he was with the Gentiles, but when the Jews were around, Peter lived like a Jew. Paul said to him, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14). Perhaps a reason he brings up his confrontation with Peter to the Galatians is that Paul is demonstrating, “I am not going to back down from this argument with you. I stood up to the Apostle Peter, and if I am willing to stand up to him, I am willing to stand up to you. Paul told the Galatians to stop corrupting the gospel by trying to circumcise Gentiles according to the Law.
The problem with the Corinth church is they had too much liberty and seemingly ignored the moral principles of the Old Testament Law. Paul had to remind them not to throw away the Old Testament completely. The church in Corinth seemed to lack a moral backbone, so Paul reminds them (1 Corinthians 10:1-6) to read about the Israelites, because what happened to them was written so we might learn.
Hebrews is written to a Jewish church telling them to let go of the Old Covenant of Moses and fully embrace the New Covenant of Christ. They corrupted the gospel by not embracing the sacrifice of Christ as being sufficient, but held onto the priesthood, washings, and sacrifices of the temple. The writer of Hebrews tells them to put their faith in Christ alone. Embrace the Son of God who is the High Priest who offers atonement for sin.
Romans is written to a mixed church of Jews and Gentiles. Throughout the letter, Paul addresses both audiences to put them on common ground with one another. Paul begins Romans by saying he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for both the Jew and the Greek (Romans 1:16). Later in Romans, Paul chastises the Jews for not dying to the Law (Romans 7) and then chastises the Gentiles for not loving their Jewish brother by trying to force them to eat unclean foods (Romans 14). Paul had to remind them all of them that just because many Jews are not being saved that doesn’t mean God’s promises for the Jews are forgotten (Romans 11). The goal of Romans is to strike a unified doctrinal balance between Jews and Gentiles by focusing on the gospel of justification by faith alone.
So, why is the letter to the Ephesians written? Was it written to address similar First Century Jew and Gentile misunderstandings of the Old and New Covenant? The answer is yes. If we understand why Ephesians is written, the book is much easier to understand.
Paul’s prayer to the church holds the key to understanding the purpose of Paul’s letter. Next week, we will look at the prayer and the remaining text of chapter one. This week, the goal is to show the relationship of the prayer to the rest of the epistle and to understand the implications of Paul’s prayer for us today.
Let’s look at the prayer.
15For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
Paul is very concerned that the Ephesians know the person of God (v.17). Paul also wants God to reveal to them the hope of their calling. The hope of their calling is, of course, the same hope we have, the hope of being in heaven with God in a glorified state. But, that is not enough. Paul wants them to know they have more than a ticket into the gates of Heaven. He further prays that they will know the riches of the glory of the inheritance of the saints. Not only will we get to heaven, but it will also be a gloriously rich existence provided by a gracious God.
It is a correct assessment to conclude, based on his prayer, that Paul wants the Ephesian church to grasp the glories of the promises of being in heaven with God. He already stated they have faith in Christ’s atonement, but he wants them to grow in their understanding of the glorious riches of the marriage supper of the Lamb. He wants the Ephesians to grasp the reality of being seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
Don’t misunderstand me. Paul is not talking about having “the best life now” understanding of salvation, where we get nice cars and houses here on earth. Paul is praying the Ephesians grasp the glorious reality of a future rich inheritance with Christ. He wants them to have the vision of the hope of our calling.
Paul spent three years in Ephesus establishing the church (approx. 54-57ad). The letter is written five years after Paul left Ephesus. Why would Paul need to pray foor the Ephesians to have a surety of their inheritance?
If I left the church and wrote a letter five years from to someone we know in this church and said, “I am praying you know Jesus died for your sin,” than people reading the letter would conclude I had reason to question the persons salvation. I had evidence to justify the prayer. Such is the case with Paul’s letter. He knows the church well having spent three years there.
Paul’s prayers are not willy-nilly, but are prayed with purpose. Paul prays for the churches with an understanding of the church. His letters are written to address specific issues and to teach needed doctrine. Paul has been given reason to believe the saints in Ephesus did not have confidence in their heavenly inheritance.
I believe it is because while he was in prison, Paul received a messenger who reported on the condition of the church in Ephesus.
Paul tells the Ephesians; I have heard of your faith (1:15). Paul already knows of their faith, because he planted the church. But, in the letter, Paul says he has heard of their faith. Not only has he heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, but he has also heard of their love for all the saints. In other words, as Paul is in prison, he has heard a report on the church in Ephesus! (Much like Paul heard of the squabble in Philippi between two women and he writes about the need to have a love which abounds in real knowledge and all discernment. Philippians 1:9, 4:2)
It is likely that the same person who told Paul about their faith in Christ Jesus and love for the saints is the same person who told Paul of their lack of confidence in the heavenly inheritance. The messenger visiting Paul may have told Paul something like this:
Messenger: “Paul, the church in Ephesus is doing well. They have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They believe He is their Savior. They have a love for the saints. When Christians visit their church from other cities nearby, they are lovingly welcomed. They exhibit love that only can come from the love of God poured out into their hearts. They are truly children of God and spirit-filled. But, there is one problem.”
Paul: “I am so glad to hear the church is doing well, and they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not surprised they still show love for the saints. When I was there, they showed themselves to be a very loving people. That is a work of God. Tell me, what is the problem.”
Messenger: “I don’t know how to explain it except to say that they see themselves as inferior. They don’t see how they will receive all the promises of God promised in the Scriptures. They came from such a pagan, idol-worshipping background, and spent their time and resources in occult practices, that they don’t see how they will inherit the kingdom the same as the Jews. They read the Law and the Prophets, and they see God’s blessings upon Israel. They don’t see how those blessings apply to them. They believe God has saved them from His wrath, and they put their trust in Jesus as their Savior, but they see their inheritance as being inferior to the Israelites. It seems they have been wrongly influenced by the Judaizers.
Paul: “I understand their concern, they were by nature children of wrath and sons of disobedience. I will never forget the day when the new believers, after hearing the truth of Christ, gathered together and brought all their magic books from home and burned them (Acts 19:19). The value of the books exceeded 50,000 pieces of silver. It was a joyous day as they counted their magic books as worth nothing compared to knowing Christ.” “And, yes, they worshiped false gods and walked according to this world. Everybody in Ephesus worshiped false gods. The temple of Artemis was the center of life. Just about every church member was a former worshipper of Artemis. She was a big part of their life. So much so, that when God saved them, they stopped buying idols, and the loss of business from the Christians resulted in a major riot by the silversmiths. There was nobody buying idols and the church was preaching for people to put their faith in Christ.” “However, as you say, they are wrongly influenced. The saints of Ephesus receive all the blessings of the heaven. I will pray they embrace this truth.”
“I am writing to address concerns in the churches at Philippi and Colossae. I will write to Ephesus as well. I will tell them of the glories of God’s salvation, His choosing, His adoption, and His inheritance and these riches are for all the saints, not just the Jews.”
Ephesus experienced the First Century problem of transitioning from the Old to the New Covenant in a different way than the other churches. Paul’s prayer and the upcoming three chapters of doctrine implies the Ephesians believed the inheritance of God as being different for Jews than for Gentiles. They saw their wretched pagan practices before salvation, all the Artemis-worshipping, and occult practices, as making them unworthy to receive all the blessings and riches of salvation in Christ.
As they read through the Old Testament, which is pretty much all they had at the time, they could not see themselves fitting into the inheritance so gloriously available for the children of Abraham. They didn’t see how the promises of Israel could belong to them.
How they came to this conclusion, we can only guess. It is also possible that, since the time Paul left, someone crept into the church, most likely Judaizers, and taught false doctrine to their beliefs. Toward the end of the letter, Paul urges them to “no longer be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (4:14).
Let’s read how Paul supplements his prayer for the saints in Ephesus by teaching them the truth about their inheritance.
Let’s look at Paul’s correction of the Ephesian error. Paul presents five truths to give the Ephesians surety in knowing the God of their salvation and the riches of His inheritance belong to both the Jews and the Gentiles. On the heels of the prayer comes the truth which is:
Ephesians 2:1-4 1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
Yes, you Gentiles were dead in sin. You walked according to the world. You were unworthy of God’s blessings. You did not obey God, but you were sons of disobedience. Your pagan background made you dead. But, we too, we Jews, were also unworthy. We were dead in sin. We lived according to our flesh, and we were children of God’s wrath, not God’s blessing. Both Gentile and Jew are unworthy of God’s goodness. There is none worthy, no not one. All have fallen short of the glory of God. All have sinned, Jew and Gentile.
We are saved, not because of any inherent goodness of ourselves, but because God saved us; He loved us (you Gentiles and we Jews). We are together saved by grace to the glory of God.
Paul beautifully teaches the truth of the depravity of both Jew and Gentile. Verses 1-10 lay out the argument of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and it is regardless of the worth of the individual; for none are worthy.
In verse 11, Paul provides another doctrinal truth to correct the Ephesian error:
Ephesians 2:11-22 11Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Yes, at one time, Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. They had no promises to look forward to receiving, no covenant between God and man, and they certainly had no reason to hope. But, Christ brought the Gentiles to Himself. Jesus made Gentiles and Jews one group. He made us one man, not two men. Jesus preached peace with God to the Gentiles, who were far away from God and Jesus preached peace to the Jews who were nearer to God, but still not near enough (v.17).
There is no longer only the household of God filled with Jews. The Gentiles are no longer the strangers outside the window, smelling a feast and trying to look in to see what is cooking. Gentiles are in the house!
Gentiles are fellow citizens with all the saints of God’s household. The apostles of the New Covenant and the prophets of the Old Covenant are the builders; God’s servants. God placed the most important block Himself; Jesus the Cornerstone. Gentiles are building blocks fit and built into the household alongside the Jewish building blocks.
The next truth Paul provides to counter the Ephesian error is found at the start of chapter 3:
Ephesians 3:1-7 1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.
God gave Paul ministry grace for the sake of the Gentiles. God gave Paul special revelation, which is not readily apparent from reading the Old Testament. Grace being available for the Gentiles is a mystery unknown to previous generations. But, to this generation, the generation of Paul and the church in Ephesus (and generations to follow), this mystery is made known by God’s apostles and prophets. The mystery is this, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
This passage directly addresses Paul’s prayer. He prayed that the church would have eyes to see what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and here, in verse six, he tells them they are fellow heirs. Gentiles partake in the promises; they are not left out. Rejoice Gentiles, you have hope.
Paul continues this press for understanding of the unity of the blessings of salvation being shared into chapter four where he writes a summary of what he has written:
Ephesians 4:4-5 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
Paul is stressing to the Ephesians that there are not two salvations. There is not one salvation for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. There is one. One Lord, one faith. And, he tells them there is only one hope. Again, this harkens back to the prayer request that the Ephesians might know the hope of His calling.
Paul continues the rest of the book by telling them to stop being swayed about by false doctrines. But, walk as saints; saints who receive an inheritance from Christ. Walk in a manner worthy of your calling. Their calling is as sons and daughters of the King, seated at His right hand in the heavenly places.
The final correction of the error, I’d like to point to, does not come after Ephesians 4, but at the beginning of the letter.
We have already spent a few Sundays looking at the opening of Ephesians (Ephesians 1:3-14), so I don’t want to belabor points which have already been made on that passage. However, let’s consider the text from the perspective of Paul teaching the Ephesians that they will receive the inheritance of God. Let’s see how Paul teaches them before he tells them his prayer.
Paul opens the letter to the Ephesians with a powerful punch to deflate any teaching which seeks to diminish or remove the blessings and riches of our heavenly hope from salvation. After reading Paul’s opening sentences (v3-14) of the letter, nobody may justifiably hold to the belief that salvation is just a ticket out of hell. All who read the first 14 verses should know salvation is filled with hope for a gloriously rich existence provided by a gracious and generous God. We may have great confidence in our hope because the Holy Spirit is given as the pledge of our inheritance.
How do we apply the principles of this teaching in our century? We apply the principle of recognizing the truth of the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Everyone receives the same wage no matter when they started their work. The parable is teaching the generosity of God is unrelated to the contributions to His vineyard by man.
MAIN IDEA: Pray for surety in knowing the God of our salvation and the riches of His inheritance.
Salvation is not about what we did; it is about what God did; His goodness and richness of His blessings.
When we think we in some way save ourselves by asking Jesus into our heart, we are saying, “Jesus, I want to possess You in my heart.” The reality is just the opposite. We don’t make a decision to possess Jesus in our heart; God makes a decision to make us His possession!
We need to view salvation from God’s perspective. Have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. If we know about God’s work in salvation, then we will not base our inheritance on our contribution to salvation. We contribute nothing. The only contribution to our salvation is our sin. God saved us for the praise of His glory. Give God the glory.
Nobody is too far out of the reach of the blood of Christ. The toughest prisoner in maximum security is not too far out of reach for the hand of Christ to save him. Evil dictators are not too far from Christ for Him to save. Greedy men and women on Wall Street and lying crooked politicians are all within distance of the blood flowing from the cross of Christ.
Everyone who comes to salvation is formerly dead in sin. All who are saved are former children of wrath. All were sons of disobedience indulging in the lusts of the flesh. There is no person deserving of salvation. There is no person, who after they are saved, deserving to stay saved. Our salvation is all about Christ’s blood and His forgiveness.
Stop looking at the past (before and after salvation) and thinking the things you did are so bad that you are only going to receive a portion of the riches of heaven. We may say, “I am undeserving, I am a wretched person.” But we may not say, “In heaven, I will get around on a moped and my mansion will be a small garden shed.”
Of course, we are undeserving. Yes, we are bad people, even after we are saved, we carry about our sinful flesh. But, don’t dare, for one second, ever, downplay the lavishness of God’s grace, the abundance of His treasures, the fullness of His forgiveness, or the generous nature of our loving God.
We might look at our treasures and hand them out to people based on how well they perform for us. We might remove people from our will. But God is not like a man. His thoughts and His ways are far superior! Don’t make God a miser and a tightwad who meters out heavens blessings based upon our degree of obedience. Don’t make God to be one who withholds an inheritance based upon the measure of wretchedness. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things (Romans 8:32).
God already gave us His best, and it is an insult to think He will withhold the blessings of our inheritance. His Holy Spirit is proof of His goodness.
God is rich in mercy. His goodness is a treasure of treasures. His generosity and His grace are abundant and never-ending. Despite our fleshly shortcomings, God is amazingly good, generous, forgiving, and loving.
It is because of God’s loving character we are saved and because of His loving, generous character we receive all the blessings of the promises of God. Give God the glory!