The scent of your words (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2)

What we say reveals who we’re speaking for.

Want peace on earth? There’s a message that can deliver it. No, it’s not “Everybody try harder!” It’s the announcement that the hostilities are over because God has rescued humanity from the warring factions of evil, into the reign of his anointed. That’s the good news of salvation.

Words matter. Continue reading “The scent of your words (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2)”

Thieves vs philanthropists (Ephesians 4:28)

Game’s on. Who’ll win?

Ever been robbed? You come home to a broken window and the realization that someone has been in your space. They’ve taken your stuff — some of it irreplaceable, like that ring that belonged to your Mum.

The thief doesn’t care about you, or your Mum, or how your children will sleep after the intrusion. For the thief, you’re not human; you’re just your stuff. Continue reading “Thieves vs philanthropists (Ephesians 4:28)”

No place for the devil (Ephesians 4:27)

Let the right one in.

Do not give the devil a place (Ephesians 4:27).

Three questions, but first a clarification. One translation says not to give the devil a “foothold.” That’s a very odd image, as if the devil is climbing up a rock face. The word is topos, a generic word for place.


  1. Who is the devil?
  2. What kind of place does the devil want?
  3. How do we avoid giving the devil a place?

Continue reading “No place for the devil (Ephesians 4:27)”

Processing offence (Ephesians 4:26)

Growing up, I was never angry. Anger was sinful, so I could never be angry.

One day I discovered this in Ephesians 4:26: In your anger, do not sin. God knew I would feel angry, and he asked me to manage my response.

I can’t tell you how liberating that was. For the first time, I could ask myself the question God asked Cain, “Why are you angry?” (Genesis 4:6). Owning the emotion was the first step to processing it. My anger often came from frustration, sometimes from injustice, occasionally I’d transferred it from another issue. Identifying and owning these emotions (affect labelling) was a stepping-stone to a healthy response. Continue reading “Processing offence (Ephesians 4:26)”

Kingdom culture (Ephesians 4:17–24)

Radical inclusivity is the good news of Ephesians. The Jewish writer rejects the use of labels like “uncircumcised” to marginalize people of other nations (2:11). Gentiles are no longer excluded from the covenant people: “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens” (2:19).

Equality flows out of the gospel: “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel” (3:6). King Jesus commissioned the writer “to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ” (3:8).

So, this comes as quite a shock:

Ephesians 4 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. (NIV)

What’s the problem? Many gentile practices were repulsive to Jews. Which ones does our author have in mind?

  • Diet? Gentiles absorbed unclean food (like pork) into their bodies, making them unclean.
  • Idolatry? Gentiles served many gods, becoming puppets of other powers (2:2).
  • Sexual practices? Gentiles pursued their lusts in shameful ways (2:3), instead of living faithfully with their partners.
  • Greed? Gentiles were dishonest, taking rather than contributing, refusing to stop for the Sabbath.
  • Violence? Gentiles had warred against God’s people, hostilities the Messiah came to resolve (2:14-17).

Are some of those just cultural stereotypes? What does the writer mean by insisting that people of other nations must change their lifestyle?

Let’s be clear. The writer is not saying that gentiles must behave like Jews. He views his own people as just self-absorbed and disobedient as the nations (2:3).

Here’s the issue. Radical inclusivity demands change. We can’t go on treating each other badly, and then congratulate ourselves on how inclusive we’re being. The gospel is the good news of Jesus restorative kingship, so responding to the gospel is a change of allegiance. My allegiance can no longer be to myself and my mob; it is to Jesus, as Lord of all people.

I cannot smuggle my existing culture into the life of Jesus’ kingdom. The Jewish Messiah extended citizenship to the nations, and requires us to live as citizens of his kingdom. On the Jewish side, Galatians explains that God’s people are no longer defined by the boundary markers that separated Jews from gentiles (kosher food laws, Sabbath observance, circumcision, and ethnicity). On the gentile side, Ephesians insists that this is a complete change of culture.

When someone follows Jesus, you can see the radical reversal. We’re accustomed to living for the self, pursuing what we want (our lusts), as if consuming could satisfy us. That’s not how God’s anointed lived: he lived not for self-gratification, but to benefit us. He gave his life for the restoration of humanity. That’s the culture of his kingdom: a people who give their lives for each other, so humanity is growing towards the mature way of life revealed in him, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of the Messiah” (4:13).

That radical reversal of life direction is the contrast in these two paragraphs:

Ephesians 4:17-24 (paraphrased, compare NIV)
17 In light of what we’ve been saying (the restoration of humanity that God is achieving in his anointed), I insist that you can no longer live as if it were business-as-usual for the nations. 18 They’d gone to the dark side in their thoughts, alienated from God’s life through the ignorance within them, through the callousness of their heart. 19 Having desensitized themselves, they gave themselves up to sensuality, expressed in unclean actions, constantly consuming.

20 That’s not the Christ you learned, 21 assuming you heard him and were taught the truth in Jesus. 22 His truth sets you apart as a different culture to the old humanity that was corrupted by desires and deception, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 to dress in the new humanity from God, created in his true righteousness, holiness, and truth.

Self-orientation demeans others, and so dehumanizes us. It’s the culture of consumption, fighting each other to get more. That’s the history of the world. It’s the dark lie that’s destroying us.

We realize that when we see Jesus. No self-seeking in him. He didn’t live to fulfil his own desires; he lived for our sakes. In the culture of our King, we learn to be human. We discard our self-oriented culture like worn out rags, garments that no longer fit us. We put on a new culture, reflecting God’s character, giving each other justice, pure devotion, the authentic life revealed in Jesus.

The reason we can’t keep living like the nations is that we’re under a new king, and he’s creating a new culture for humanity. His radical inclusivity transforms us. In the name of the king, Scripture insists we exchange our previous posturing and positioning for his kingdom culture.


Related posts

Spiritual formation (Ephesians 4:1–6)

What kind of “spiritual formation” does God desire for us?

Read Ephesians 4:1-6.

Here’s a confession. I’ve always been drawn to those parts of the Bible that spell out how I should live as a Christian. Ephesians 4–6 is so practical. I grew up in a church that emphasized personal piety and spiritual formation.

But obsessing about my spiritual development can be counter-productive if it makes me more focused on myself. In the end, I feel more convicted of my failings, more aware of my inadequacies, more critical of myself for falling short of God’s expectations. I end up critical of others too: “They’re no better, but at least I’m trying.”

It’s not easy to escape the cycle of the self. I can’t, until I engage with something beyond me. Continue reading “Spiritual formation (Ephesians 4:1–6)”

Becoming human: life in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Read Ephesians 4:1-16

It’s easy to spend thousands on books and courses to help you become a better human. We’re preoccupied with how I can reach my potential and have the best life I can.

There’s a fatal flaw in that approach. What if my boss is a tyrant, or my spouse is a control freak? I can learn to disassociate, to isolate myself for my own sanity, but human flourishing is something we can only do together. Who can show us how to develop a better life together?

Let me recommend a book. It’s called Ephesians. It’s the good news that God is working to restore not just me but all of us together to become all he intended. Continue reading “Becoming human: life in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)”

Empowering the king’s servants (Ephesians 4:10-13)

The gospel of the Lord is the good news of his kingdom — his kingship restored to the earth in his anointed. Here it is in summary:

Ephesians 4 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (NIV)

The Bible’s whole story in that verse. Our heavenly sovereign entrusted his earthly realm to people who rebelled against his kingship and ended up as captives to evil instead. Instead of using force to defeat force, God’s anointed ruler joined us in our captivity, dying at the hands of the rulers who were puppets of evil. When God raised him out of death, the captives enslaved under death were set free — free to live in the reign of God’s anointed. When the king was restored to us, his kingdom was restored to the universe.

Since God designed humans to be agents of the divine sovereign’s reign in his earthly realm (Genesis 1), the Messiah restored this mandate to humanity. The resurrected king gave gifts to humanity. His gifts were people — people entrusted with the responsibility to share in his management of the planet, by leading humanity into communal life under his kingship:

Ephesians 4 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

This is unique. Any other ruler would have been wary of trusting power to ex-rebels, but Jesus entrusts his regal dominion to people, servants who empower the whole of humanity to grow up into Christ, our king.

Continue reading “Empowering the king’s servants (Ephesians 4:10-13)”

Grace is a generous king (Ephesians 4:7–10)

Divine benevolence beyond imagination.

If you want to handle Scripture well, you’ll be very interested in how the New Testament writers handled the Old. What they do can seem puzzling, but it’s so informative.

Consider this example where Paul seems to misquote a Psalm: Continue reading “Grace is a generous king (Ephesians 4:7–10)”

Being good news (Ephesians 4:1-6)

At the hinge of the book, Ephesians calls us to outwork the gospel: to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (4:1).

Previously, it explained the good news: God is reuniting humanity in the reign of his anointed. Now it explains how the good news people embody his reign: in community (4:1-16), in ourselves (4:17 – 5:20), in home and business life (5:21 – 6:9), and in the wider community (6:10-23).

Did you notice what’s missing? In a book about the gospel, he forgot to advise us on how to get the unsaved to make a decision, how to get our neighbours into church, how to get that aunt to pray the Sinner’s Prayer before she dies. Continue reading “Being good news (Ephesians 4:1-6)”

Ethics from a convict (Ephesians 4:1)

“As a jailbird, I urge you to live up to your calling.” That has to be one of the funniest sentences in the Bible. Do you really want to learn ethics from a criminal?

It makes no sense if you don’t understand the gospel of the kingdom, the nature of sin and salvation.

Continue reading “Ethics from a convict (Ephesians 4:1)”

God and the human family (Ephesians 3:14-19)

How do we respond to the news that God unites us as his family?

The gospel is the good news that God has restored peace to all the peoples of the earth through his anointed ruler (Ephesians 2). So what’s our response to this good news?

What people often do with the gospel today doesn’t match the response in Ephesians 3.

  • Evangelicals try to convince individuals they’re sinners and get them saved.
  • Justice warriors name and shame the regimes for their sins (systemic oppression).

But Paul doesn’t stand up to condemn individuals or regimes: Continue reading “God and the human family (Ephesians 3:14-19)”

In honour and shame (Ephesians 3:13)

Is Chapter 3 interrupting the main message of Ephesians? Lynn Cohick calls it “a digression from his argument in 2:22 which he then picks up again in 3:14” (Ephesians, NCCS, Cascade, 2010, 81). Markus Barth calls it “an excursus on the commission given to Paul by God” (Ephesians 1–3, AYB, Yale, 2008, 350).

As indicated by the dash at the end, verse 1 is an incomplete sentence:

Ephesians 3 1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you. (NIV)

It sounds like Paul starts a thought, and breaks off. But there may be a better way to understand these verses than to treat them as a mere tangent where the writer got distracted from his gospel message.

Continue reading “In honour and shame (Ephesians 3:13)”

Who are the rulers of Ephesians 3:10?

To whom did God reveal his multifaceted wisdom, according to Ephesians 3:10?

a) to rulers and authorities, both of whom exist in the heavenlies, OR
b) to rulers (kings/governors on earth), and to authorities in the heavenlies?

Either interpretation is possible, but there are grammatical and contextual reasons to consider the second option. Continue reading “Who are the rulers of Ephesians 3:10?”

Revealing the reign (Ephesians 3:10)

What does God intend the church to be and do? That question matters more than all the goals and KPIs we set for ourselves.

So how does this sound?

Ephesians 3 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. (NIV)

Say, what? Does the church exist so God can show off to rulers and spiritual beings?

With the wrong assumptions, this picture is a dark puzzle. But it makes brilliant sense when illuminated by the story about God’s kingship (the kingdom of God), revealed in his Messiah. Continue reading “Revealing the reign (Ephesians 3:10)”

The apocalyptic framework of Ephesians 3

Same apocalyptic problem (mystery); unexpectedly awesome answer (reveal)

After Babylon invaded Jerusalem and terminated the Davidic kingship, Israel was ruled by other nations. Floating adrift among the nations, they clung to their ancient stories of how God had delivered them from Pharaoh’s tyranny, committing himself to be the sovereign of their nation (covenant), giving them his wise law (Torah), and living among them to lead them (tabernacle).

But generations of Jacob’s descendants remained under foreign domination, rising and dying like the grass of the field. As nations fought and conquered each other, as empires rose and fell, Israel remained the meat in their sandwich.

They wondered how God would resolve this injustice. When would the day of the Lord arrive? How would the sovereign Lord overpower the evil that oppressed them and destroy the power of the nations? Continue reading “The apocalyptic framework of Ephesians 3”

Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)

Here’s an example of how asking good questions leads to a richer appreciation of what God is doing.

When you read Scripture, what are you looking for? It’s not enough to approach the Bible like a shopping trip, to pick up some things that appeal to you. The Bible changes us. It’s the revelation of the God who is reshaping us into community in his image.

Questions help open us to that transformation, beyond the way we currently think and live. Rich communal understanding and life grows from asking good questions together.

An example from a recent post. Ephesians 2:1 (NIV) says, As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins. We asked, “Who is the you?” The tendency is to assume it’s me, because our culture is individualistic. But you is plural, so perhaps it’s us? But two verses later, the writer switches from you to us. Turns out he’s using we to mean his own people (fellow Jews), and addressing people of other nations (gentiles) as you.

That leads to another question. What were the transgressions and sins of the gentiles? The sins of the Jewish nation could be any violations of the law God gave them at Sinai, but how were gentiles disobedient to God?

Continue reading “Questions take you deeper (Ephesians 2)”