Bible Reading Notes—Step 6: Week 37

Paul’s letters to the Christians at Ephesus and Philippi

The Apostle Paul was continually concerned about the spiritual wellbeing of the groups of believers (churches) that he had established and or visited on his various journeys (2 Corinthians 11:28). To help them, he made further visits when possible or sent letters to instruct and encourage them. Paul wrote his letters (epistles) to the Ephesians and Philippians whilst he was in prison in Rome (Acts 28:30, Ephesians 3:1; 4:1 and Philippians 1:14; 4:22).

A Synopsis of the Epistle to the Ephesians

Chapter 1 – Christians  are  ‘in  Christ’, who  is  the  head  of  the  church.
Chapter 2 – Those in Christ are made spiritually alive as a new creation and have become part of the Israel of God. Both Jew and Gentile are built up together as living stones forming a holy temple in which God dwells.
Chapter 3 – A previously hidden mystery has now been revealed, that Gentiles have become heirs of the promises, together with Israel, making up one body in which Christ dwells through faith.
Chapter 4 – Paul calls for unity in the one body that is being built up by the work of its various members through the use of the spirit gifts provided by the one Spirit.
Chapter 5 – Believers needs to put off the characteristic behaviour of the flesh and its works of spiritual darkness, replacing them with those that reflect the character of God and the example of Christ.
Chapter 6 – From the theme of putting on the new man created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:24) we pass on to that of putting on of the full armour of God in preparation for fighting the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12).

Sunday – Ephesians 4

Baptised believers are urged to make every effort to maintain the unity of the body of Christ by practising those qualities toward each other, such as humility, gentleness, patience and love, which will bind the body together in peace (v2-3). There is only one body because there is only one Lord (Christ), one hope, one faith, one baptism, one God and one Spirit (verses 4-6).
In the 1st Century this one Spirit was manifested through a variety of spirit gifts bestowed on the believers. This enabled them to fulfil various duties that would cause the body of Christ (the believers) to grow into a mature body that would be a full reflection of Christ, and no longer consist of spiritual infants (verses 7-16). Compare Paul’s discussion of the one body and the variety of spirit gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 where he puts the gifts in order of importance.

In Ephesians 4:7 the bestowal of these gifts is described as ‘grace’ apportioned to the believers by Christ. A messianic prophecy (Psalm 68:18) is quoted that echoes the events of the Exodus and the time that Israel spent in the desert of Sinai. Moses led the captives out of Egypt to be God’s ‘captives’ and ascended Mt Sinai, and then later on spirit gifts were bestowed on the seventy elders in order that they could help Moses to teach and govern the new nation of Israel (Numbers 11:24-25). Likewise, when Jesus had made his decease or departure (lit. exodus) at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31) he ascended to heaven and then the gifts of the spirit were bestowed on his followers (Luke 24:49) that he had taken captive from the captivity of sin and death (Luke 4:18), in order to help establish the new church.

Christians must change by putting off the old self with its futile way of life, lived in ignorance and spiritual darkness. Instead they should put on the new man with an understanding enlightened by truth, so that they become like God in righteousness and holiness. All kinds of behaviour inconsistent with this aim must be eliminated so that they live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8), and are imitators and followers of God (Ephesians 4:17-5:1, compare Colossians 3:9-10).

Monday – Ephesians 5

The apostle Paul warns the believers at Ephesus against various kinds of ungodly behaviour that are commonly found in the world. Those who practise such things will be denied any inheritance in the kingdom of God (v3-5). Since God is holy, His people must also be holy (v3, compare 1 Peter 1:15-16). They should be children of light, avoiding deeds of darkness, which will be exposed by the spiritual light of the Gospel of Christ (v11-14, compare John 12:36).

In contrast to those living in darkness that get drunk on intoxicating liquors, believers should be filled instead with spiritual things by filling their minds with the spirit-given word of God. The words of God are spirit (John 6:63; 12:49). Followers of Christ will speak to one another on spiritual matters (Malachi 3:16), express their joy in singing to the Lord, and thank God for everything (verses 18-20).

Christ’s relationship to his church sets the pattern for a good marriage relationship between the husband and wife. Firstly, Christ is the head of the body, which is his church (v22-24, compare 1 Corinthians 11:3); he has loved and nourished and cared for the church, doing everything possible for her in order to save her. Secondly, Christ is the heavenly bridegroom to be married to his chaste and spotless bride, which is the church (v25-33, compare Revelation 19:7; 21:2). The teaching of Paul in verses 22-33 about husbands and wives should be compared with that of Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 3:1-7).

Tuesday – Ephesians 6

From the relationship between husband and wife in the Lord, dealt with at the end of chapter 5, we pass on in Chapter 6 to consider the relationship between parents and children (v1-4) and the relationship between slaves and masters (v5-9). Compare Colossians 3:18-25, which deals with the same range of relationships between believers.

One very important aspect of parenting is to teach and train up children in ways of godliness, bringing them up ‘in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (v4, ESV). Grandparents should make an effort to contribute to this aim. Though slavery is not a feature of most present day societies, the advice for both slaves and masters is equally applicable to workers and their overseers or employers. All work should be done as though ‘unto the Lord’ who sees all and knows the thought and intents of every heart (Hebrews 4:12).

Towards the end of the chapter, the ‘full armour of God’ is described. Since the apostle Paul wrote this letter while a prisoner at Rome, he would have often considered the items of armour, both protective and offensive, that were worn by the Roman soldier who guarded him (Acts 28:16) and their spiritual equivalents. Some of Paul’s words here echo the messianic prophecies in Isaiah 52:7 & 59:17.

Verse 12 speaks of fighting against principalities, powers (authorities), the rulers of the darkness of this age and ‘spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (NKJV, the words in italics are not in the Greek text). The fight is on two fronts. On one hand the fight is against the world of darkness (see 5:8,11), where authorities allow and legalise ungodly practices. On the other front, it is against wickedness that is developing within the church, about which Paul had already warned the Ephesians (Acts 20: 29-30). The ‘heavenlies’ (heavenly places) refer to the elevated status enjoyed by those who are in Christ, who should be giving out spiritual light (Ephesians 2:6; 3:10).

Verse 19 speaks of making known ‘the mystery of the gospel’. The Greek word translated ‘mystery’ does not mean something unknowable, but truth that can only be divinely revealed. For example in Ephesians 3:3-6, 10, the use of the word ‘mystery’ refers to the revelation that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with the Jews of the promises of God.

The Epistle to the Philippians

 

Wednesday – Philippians 1

This letter is addressed to all the saints at Philippi. By the term ‘saints’ is meant all the believers who are ‘holy’ being separated from the world and consecrated to serve God.

Paul exhibits a spirit of thankfulness and joy in this epistle (v3-4) in spite of being a prisoner for the sake of the gospel (v7). He is thankful for the Philippian Christians who had shown a great concern for his well being by contributing to his needs especially during the distress of his imprisonment (4:10-18). This is described as ‘fellowship’ in 1:5, where the Greek word means ‘sharing in common’. He prays that their lives may continue to abound in fruits of righteousness that will bring glory and praise to God (v 9-11)

In the Book of Acts we are informed that while Paul was under house arrest at Rome he was free to preach the Gospel message to all who visited him (Acts 28:16,30-31). One of the things that made Paul particularly happy while a prisoner at Rome, was that his circumstances contributed to the advance (furtherance) of the gospel, even to the extent of being able to preach to the soldiers guarding him (v12-18).

Paul considers the possible outcome of his appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11; 28:19). If he is condemned to death his next waking moment will be with Christ at the resurrection, but if released, he will be able to continue providing encouragement and support for the Philippians to enable them to make greater spiritual progress in their journey of faith (verses19-26). Verse 23 does not teach that people have immortal souls that go to be with Christ immediately when they die. Death involves sleeping in the dust of the earth until being resurrected when Jesus returns (Daniel 12:2-3; John 5:27-29; John 11:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Thursday – Philippians 2

Paul exhorts the Philippian believers to be united as members of one body. Manifesting a humble and selfless spirit, in which each member considers the other members to be better than self, helps maintain this unity (verses 1-4).

Christ is the supreme example of humility. Adam and Eve sought to be like God by partaking of the forbidden fruit that would make them wise (Genesis 3:5-6).  In contrast to them, Jesus – who actually was like God in his character and sinless life – humbled himself and lived a life of complete obedience in spite of intense suffering (v8, compare Hebrews 5:8). Christ is the supreme example of the scriptural principle that God will abase the proud and exalt the humble (verse 9-11, compare Ezekiel 21:26; Luke 1:52; 1 Peter 5:5).

Christians need to exhibit harmless and blameless behaviour consistent with being children of God so that they shine as lights in a world of spiritual darkness (v14-16, compare Matt 5:16).

The name ‘Timothy’ (v19) is the English form of ‘Timotheus’, which means ‘Honouring God’. The apostle Paul describes Timothy as his ‘true son in the faith’ (1 Timothy 1:2). His mother and grandmother were faithful Jewish Christians (2 Timothy 1:5) and his father a Gentile (Acts 16:1).

Epaphroditus (v25) is mentioned again in 4:18 as the brother sent by the Philippians bearing their gift of aid as a contribution to the apostle’s need (v25).

Friday – Philippians 3

Certain Jewish Christians were infiltrating the new church, teaching that Gentiles believers should keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised in the flesh (v2-3, compare Acts 15:1-29). The only thing that was essential for followers of Christ was to be circumcised in the heart by cutting unspiritual fleshly behaviour out of their lives so that they might ‘worship God in spirit and truth’ (v3, John 4:23-24). This is what the act of circumcision should have taught the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:16).

In order to gain Christ it is necessary to lose those things that the world has to offer (verses 4-8, compare Matthew 16:24-26). We cannot earn salvation by our own deeds of righteousness. Instead we seek to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Son of God (v9, compare Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).

Life in Christ is likened to a race in which much effort must be made to reach the goal and win the prize of resurrection from the dead and a place in God’s kingdom (verses 13-14). In this Paul exhorts the Philippians to follow his example (verses 11-17 compare 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Saturday – Philippians 4

‘The Lord is at hand’ (v5) does not mean that the Lord Jesus was going to return to this earth in the 1st Century AD shortly after the epistle was written. Paul makes that clear in another of his epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). The phrase in verse 5 can be translated ‘the Lord is near’ and may means that the Lord’s return for everyone is only as far away as the day of one’s death since the day of resurrection will seem like the very next moment. Alternatively it may refer to Christ’s nearness to his followers, even though he is in heaven (Matthew 28:20).

There is no point in being anxious concerning our daily physical needs (v6) as God will provide for His children all that is necessary, just as Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:25-34).

Our thoughts and meditations should always be of a positive spiritual nature (v8), replacing those fleshly imaginations that come so naturally to us because of our human nature. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, describes this as part of the spiritual warfare to be undertaken by Christians when he says ‘we…take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:4-5 ESV). To purify ourselves we need to purify our thoughts (1 John 3:3).