On the day of Pentecost and during the following weeks of Kingdomtide, what better theme to dwell on than that of the person and work of the Holy Spirit? And what better guide than Paul's epistle to the Ephesians? Because the subject of the Spirit runs like a ribbon through this book, a series of services and sermons will emerge quite naturally as we take up this epistle, passage by passage.
Ephesus was the scene of some of Paul's most intensive and effective ministry. Acts 19 records the history of that ministry. What stands out is the encounter between the power of the Holy Spirit, working through Paul's ministry, and the powers of darkness. The lines of battle were clearly drawn, and the encounter was both direct and decisive. In an atmosphere highly charged with fear and amazement, many turned to God with new faith and evident repentance. Luke sums up these wonderful times for the gospel by saying, "In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (Acts 19:20).
Against this background we can understand why the apostle is so concerned to expound the work of the Spirit in his epistle. He wants the Ephesians to understand fully just what has happened to them, whose power it was that wrought so abundantly among them, and what the lasting results must be.
Christians today will receive this teaching perhaps with amazement and perhaps with sorrow and longing. The same degree of life and power is not so evident in much of the church in our time. Yet the Spirit remains the Lord and Giver of life, and we may therefore hope that the teaching of Ephesians will serve as a key to unlock the power of the Spirit and restore life to the members of what R.B. Kuiper described as "the glorious body of Christ."
Sealed with the Spirit
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1-14
The triune God and our salvation
God the Holy Spirit
The sealing of believers
The earnest of our inheritance
These verses contain the most extensive of all the doxologies that stud the writings of the apostle Paul. In the Greek text, the praising of God begins with verse 3 and rolls on to the end of verse 14. "Blessed be the God… who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing" is the main thought (although the wordplay is obscured somewhat in the NIV). This typically Hebraic berakah, or formula, of blessing gives rise to an unfolding and elaboration of what those blessings are that are ours in Christ: predestinating love, redeeming grace, and the sealing with the Holy Spirit.
The passage presents a fully developed view of the triune God, attributing some particular part or aspect of the work of salvation to each Person of the Godhead. Against this background we can easily see who the Holy Spirit is: "He, as well as the Father and the Son, is eternal God" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 53). He is our richest spiritual possession this side of heaven, "the earnest of our inheritance."
The services today should be filled with praise in every part, particularly if they are Pentecost services. Paul shows us that deep theology should give rise to high praise. To know God is to love him—this is the essence of all true worship.
Doxology: PsH 318:4
Psalm 25: [HB 372, PH178, PsH 25, RL 94, TH 583]
Psalm 98: [HB 161, PH 218, PsH 98, RL 119, TH 15]
"Come, Thou Almighty King" [HB 244, PH 139, PsH 246,RL618,TH89]
"All Glory Be to God on High" [PH 133, PsH 247, RL 620,TH92]
"Eternal Spirit, God of Truth" [PsH 422]
"Stand Up, and Bless the Lord" [PH 491, RL 499, TH 14]
"O Spirit of the Living God" [HB 242, RL 378, TH 253]
"Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power" [HB 137,PH137,RL602,TH219]
The Lord and Giver of Life
Scripture: Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:1-8
Major Theme: Regeneration
No preacher of the gospel will want to pass by an opportunity to present the New Testament doctrine of regeneration, or new birth. Here Paul describes first of all the condition of humanity under sin. He describes human depravity in terms of hopeless totality. But the light of God breaks in on this darkness. Christians are persons who once were "dead in trespasses and sins" but now have been made alive "together with Christ."
It would be a mistake to pass by these verses as having nothing to say about the work of the Holy Spirit. We see from John 3 that Jesus taught that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8, Paul registers his hearty assent. Here a link is forged between Easter and Pentecost, between resurrection and regeneration.
The title chosen for this week is taken from the Nicene Creed. The believer declares, "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life." The Nicene Creed should be used more frequently than it now is in Reformed churches. As an alternative to the Apostles' Creed, it lends a special luster to the act of confessing the faith during the high seasons of the Christian year.
Doxology: PsH 361:4
Psalm 51: [HB 282, PH 195, PsH 51, RL 438, TH 413]
Psalm 87: [HB 230, PH 446, PsH 168, RL 393, TH 369]
Psalm 116: [HB 32, PH 228, PsH 116, RL 153, TH 536]
"Breathe on Me, Breath of God" [HB 235, PH 316, PsH 420]
"Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns" [PsH 539, TH 298]
"I Greet My Sure Redeemer" [HB 144, PH 457, PsH 248, RL 366, TH 135]
The Temple of the Living God
Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-22
Major Theme: The church as the true temple of God
Here Paul presents the first of two extended metaphors that set forth his doctrine of the church. In chapter 4 he will discuss the church as the body of Christ; here he presents the church as the temple of the living God.
It is clear that the apostle has the Jerusalem temple in mind as he writes. He builds a series of strong contrasts. The Jerusalem temple had walls to shut the Gentiles out; Christ has broken down these barriers, and Gentile and Jew mingle together in the church as one people of God. The Jerusalem temple threatened death to any Gentile who might dare to enter in; but in the Christian church Gentiles are granted "access to the Father by one Spirit." The Jerusalem temple was built of dead stones; the church stands upon a living foundation ("the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone") and it is those "made alive with Christ" (v. 5) who are "joined together" and grow into a "holy temple in the Lord." Finally, the Jerusalem temple was but an empty shell, bereft of the glorious presence of God (see Ezek. 10:18); the church is a "dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
Today's services should celebrate the privileges and glory of the church as the temple, the city, the people, and the kingdom of the living God. Such a view of the church will go far to correct the prevalent individualism of much of Christianity today.
Doxology: PsH 135:9
Psalm 48: [HB 438, PsH 48, TH 307]
Psalm 84: [HB 14, PH 207, PsH 84, TH 303]
Psalm 149: [HB 408, PH 257, PsH 149, TH 288]
"I Love Your Church, O Lord" [HB 435, PH 441, PsH 510,RL409,TH280]
"Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" [HB 433, RL 392,TH268]
"How Glorious Zion's Courts Appear" [HB 277]
Measureless Might, Unchangeable Love
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-19
The indwelling Spirit
Knowing the love of Christ
The mighty power of God
The Holy Spirit dwells not only in the church, but also in the individual Christian. It is in this sense that the believer is said to be "sealed" with the Spirit, as we learned from chapter 1, verse 13.
God indwells the believer as the Spirit of power. Here Paul prays that God the Father would grant that these Ephesian Christians be strengthened "with power through his Spirit in your inner being."
Christ also indwells the believer through the Spirit. The Heidelberg Catechism declares that "Christ is truly human and truly God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is not absent from us for a moment" (Q & A 47). The ministry of the indwelling Spirit of Christ leads us into an ever-growing awareness and experience of the love of Christ. Paul's prayer closes on a high note of praise to God for his ability to give us "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine."
Paul's prayer should serve as a model for those who lead in prayer. Here doctrine, language, and holy zeal combine in an act of worship that stretches human capacities to the very limits.
This week's title is taken from Robert Grant's hymn, "O Worship the King." See stanza 5 in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, and stanza 6 in the Trinity Hymnal (where the word "ineffable" is used instead of "unchangeable").
Doxology: PsH 68:9
Psalm 31: [HB 332, PH 183, PsH 31, RL 58, TH 563]
Psalm 27: [HB 47, PH 179, PsH 164, RL 439, TH 568]
Psalm 29: [HB 487, PH 180, PsH 29, TH 36]
"Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid" [PsH 425]
"O Worship the King" [HB 26, PH 476, PsH 428, RL 2,TH 13]
"Come, Dearest Lord, Descend and Dwell" [HB 531, RL 501,TH250]
The Unity of the Spirit
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-30
The church as the body of Christ
The unity of the Spirit
Sins against the Spirit
Once again Paul is dealing with the doctrine of the church, which he now presents as the body of Christ. Christ is the head of the body, and believers are its living members. The life and unity of this body are found in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, "Through the Holy Spirit, who lives both in Christ and in us, we are united more and more to Christ's blessed body. And so, although he is in heaven and we are on earth, we are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. And we forever live on and are governed by one Spirit, as members of our body are by one soul" (Q & A 76). Christians must endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v. 3). Sins against fellow Christians stir up strife and are said to grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30).
This emphasis on "the unity of the Spirit" is a much-needed corrective to modern ecumenism, which tends to interpret Christian unity as a matter of uniting organizations and denominations into ever-larger amalgamations. The unity of the Spirit is first of all a matter of common beliefs (vv. 4-6,13) and secondly a matter of loving relationships among believers (vv. 25-30).
The lengthy Scripture passage can be divided into two units, verses 1-16 and verse 17-30. Consider using the first half as a responsive reading in the early part of the service and reading the second half before the sermon.
Psalm 95: [HB 29, PH 214, PsH 95, TH102]
Psalm 122: [HB 439, PH 235, PsH 122, RL 500, TH 276]
Psalm 133: [PH241, PsH 514, TH283]
"The Church's One Foundation" [HB 437, PH 442,PsH 502, RL 394, TH 270]
"Blest Be the Tie That Binds" [HB 473, PH 438, PsH 315,RL407,TH285]
Be Filled with the Spirit--Part I
Scripture: Ephesians 5:1-21
Our vocation as followers of God
The fruit of the Spirit
Be filled with the Spirit
This is the first of two units dealing with the vital matter of being filled with the Spirit of God. Here the apostle leads up to the great statement of verses 18-21 with a presentation of our calling to be "followers" or "imitators" of God in the way that children tend to follow or imitate the examples of their parents. The Father's love, and the love of Christ for sinners, are the patterns we must live out.
Paul points out the kinds of behaviors that are in conflict with our vocation (vv. 3-7). These he describes as "the fruitless deeds of darkness" and by contrast calls upon Christians to bring forth "the fruit of the Spirit" (verse 9, Kjv) or "the fruit of the light" (niv; see also rsv). To that end nothing could be more needful than to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The meaning of the phrase is made abundantly clear in the context. Paul draws a contrast with the experience of being drunk with wine. To be so mastered and controlled by this destructive power lays waste the mind and the powers of the drunkard. To be filled with the Spirit is to be mastered and controlled by a very different power, one that stirs and elevates and enhances all our faculties as we devote ourselves to the worship and service of God. The result is a great outpouring of praise and thanksgiving to God. Here once more Paul's trinitarian thought is in evidence: we worship the Father in the name of the Son and in the power of the Spirit. The hymns for today should be filled with praise as the Spirit-filled congregation sings their new song to the Lord.
Doxology: PsH 325:1,2
Psalm 97: [HB 83, PH 152, PsH 97, RL 70, TH 59]
Psalm 98: [HB 161, PH218, PsH 98, RL 33, TH 15]
Psalm 119: [HB 258, PH 233, PsH 119, RL 437, TH 447]
"O Day of Rest and Gladness" [HB 70, RL511, TH321]
"Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart" [HB 236,PH 326, PsH 419, RL 445]
"How Vast the Benefits Divine" [PsH 497, TH 97]
Be Filled with the Spirit--Part II
Scripture: Ephesians 5:18-6:9
Be filled with the Spirit
Again our theme centers on being filled with the Spirit—this time focusing on the consequences of the Spirit's presence within us. The very first evidence or result of being filled with the Spirit is an outpouring of praise to God. Here is a most important insight into the nature of true worship: worship is much more a matter of the spiritual state of the worshiper than a matter of technique or liturgies. The elaboration of our ritual, or the substitution of new rites for the old, cannot produce the same result as that evoked by the full presence of the Spirit.
But Paul is holistic in his view of the Christian life. The consequences of being filled with the Spirit go beyond the limits of the worship of the gathered church. The Spirit also transforms relationships among Christians—relation-ships between wives and husbands, children and parents, servants and masters. Here we have some of the best stuff Paul ever wrote—soaring and majestic theology that is entirely practical and connected with the daily things of life.
Take care to present the notion of submission in its true context as the duty of all Christians in whom the Spirit engenders the tender emotions of love and humility (v. 21). With the psalmist we must all learn to sing, "I have stopped my haughty frown, curbed my dreams to fit my gifts" [PsH 131].
The wide range of hymns suggested for today reflects the wide-ranging consequences of the working of the Spirit among God's people. What rises in the heart overflows and spreads out to fill the earth.
Doxology: PsH 316:3
Psalm 96: [HB 37, PH 216, PsH 96, RL 286, TH 65]
Psalm 105: [HB 434, PH 452, PsH 105, RL 178, TH 269}
Psalm 128: [PH 239, PsH 128, TH 626]
Psalm 131: [PsH 131, TH 578]
Psalm 134: [PH 242, PsH 134, TH 348]
"O Father All Creating" [TH 628]
"judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor" [HB 517, TH 620]
Our Spiritual Warfare
Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20
The Christian in complete armor
The sword of the Spirit
A warfare of prayer
The advance of the gospel as our aim
As Paul brings his epistle to a close, he adds an extended oration on the subject of spiritual warfare. The study of this subject is much needed today. On the one hand, we have the modernist who denies the very existence of the devil and of supernatural evil in the universe. Such a point of view is unbiblical and spiritually myopic. On the other hand, we have those involved in the revival of belief and concern about the matter in evangelical circles today—but not always the healthiest or most biblical form of belief and concern about spiritual warfare. Here is an opportunity to expound the real teaching of God's Word on these matters.
In treating the extended metaphor of the Christian's God-given armor, we must not fail to see that the greatest of our weapons is the written Word of God as "the sword of the Spirit." The Spirit works with the Word, not apart from it; this is the distinctly Reformed view. Likewise our warfare is not one of "swords loud clashing" nor of words with other Christians; it is a warfare of prayer in the Spirit (v. 18). The great aim is not to advance our own interests but to advance the cause of the gospel, seeking by prayer to open doors of opportunity for those who preach the good news.
A mindless pacifism has decried the singing of the martial hymns. We must reject this position as essentially false. To be a Christian is to be a soldier in the midst of a great battle. To deny this, or to be ignorant of it, is merely to be exposed to terrible spiritual dangers.
Doxology: PsH 149
Psalm 35: [HB 12, PH 466, PsH 35]
Psalm 108: [HB 50, PsH 108]
"Stand Up, Stand Upforfesus" [HB 349, PsH 559, TH447]
"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" [HB 91, PH 260, PsH 469,RL179,TH81]
"Onward Christian Soldiers" [HB 350, PsH 522, TH490]
"Soldiers of Christ, Arise" [HB 362, PsH 570, TH 482]
"O'er the Gloomy Hills of Darkness" [TH 373]
Series Service Resources
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, telling the mighty works of God. This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh."
—Acts 2:1-4; 11; 16-17 RSV
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.
—Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 105:3-4 NIV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Therefore it is said, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light."
—Ephesians 1:2-3; 5:8,14 RSV
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.
—Ephesians 3:20,21 N
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying.
—Ephesians 6:23-24 RSV