Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul which he wrote into the saints which were at Ephesus. More specifically, today’s reading is found in verses seventeen through twenty-three of the fourth chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture within the epistle of Paul unto the Ephesian congregation you will find that he transitions from the language he used in the previous sixteen verses to now speaking about the former manner of life in which they used to walk. As you come to he seventeenth verse of this chapter you will find the apostle Paul drawing their attention to what manner of people they used to be prior to their experiencing Jesus Christ through the gospel which he preached unto them. What is actually quite interesting about this passage is what we read prior to the words contained within this passage. If you turn and direct your attention to the verses which prefer this particular passage you will notice that they are essentially the foundation upon which the apostle proceed to make his appeal unto them at this point. Immediately after the apostle Paul speaks and writes to them concerning Jesus Christ descending into the lower parts of the earth and leading captivity captive. The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian congregation concerning the ascension of Jesus Christ after He had been raised from death to life according to the power of God which was wrought by and through the person of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus Christ ascended on high after leading captivity captive the apostle Paul goes on to write that he gave gifts unto men—gifts which would be described in the verses which immediately proceed those words. In fact, when you come to verses eleven and twelve of this particular passage of scripture you will find the apostle Paul write how the Lord gave some apostles, some apostles, some prophets, some pastors and some teachers. This is actually quite remarkable when you consider it, for when the apostle Paul writes concerning gifts which were given upon the ascension of Jesus Christ he proceeds to list these five gifts which were given unto and for the church.
When you read verses eleven through sixteen of this passage of scripture you will notice that while the apostle Paul spends two verses describing that which was given by our Lord when He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men, you will immediately by struck with the reality of the sole purpose and intention of that which was given unto the church and body of Christ. If there is one thing you must recognize and understand when reading the epistles and writings of the apostle Paul it’s that everything Christ does is for the sake of His body which is still present upon the earth. While Christ who is the Head of the body is in high at the right hand of His Father who is in heaven, His body remains present upon the earth in His absence. Towards the end of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation—specifically in the very next chapter—you will read of the great love which Christ has for and toward His body. Perhaps this is what is so interesting and amazing about what we read in the opening chapter of this epistle, for just before the apostle Paul spoke of his praying for this particular congregation he speaks—not only of their faith in the Lord Jesus, but he also speaks of their love toward and unto the saints. In all reality, I am convinced that one of the ways we are most like Christ is when we have an effectual love and affection for and toward the saints which are around us. We must remember what Jesus said while He was on the earth, for He emphatically declared that by our love for and toward another shall men know that we are His disciples. Jesus emphatically declares that it is by our fruit shall we be known, and this holds true—particularly and especially when we speak of the reality and concept of love. If you journey to the fifth chapter of this epistle you will find the apostle Paul writing unto this church concerning husbands and how husbands should love their wives even as Christ loved the church. What’s more, is that the apostle Paul goes on to write concerning the action Christ took toward and for His body, for He gave Himself o behalf of His beloved bride and body which remains here upon the earth. It is absolutely unmistakable that everything Christ did while on this earth and everything she continues to do is for the sake of His body which remains here upon the earth.
As you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in verses thirteen through sixteen of the fourth chapter of this epistle you will find that immediately when speaking to them concerning those gifts which were given by Christ when He ascended on high he goes on to write the purpose for those gifts given unto the body. Would you be surprised and shocked to hear that these gifts were not given for and unto those individuals themselves? Would you be shocked that everything apostles, prophets, Evangelist’s, pastors and teachers should never be about themselves? When I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus I am completely and totally gripped by the reality surrounding the gifts which are mentioned in this passage of scripture. If we are truly willing to take the words which the apostle Paul wrote at face value we must readily acknowledge that the words he wrote emphatically declares and reveal that these gifts weren’t given unto those who may walk in and exercise them, but unto and for the body. I am convinced there are countless men and women who may serve in the capacity of these roles who move and operate as if it is all about them. There are men and women who minister within the church and who operate as though everything is and everything should be about them. Oh it is true that they do in fact minister within and among the body, but their ministry is and has always been done with and from a place of selfish motives and intentions. I fully recognize this might come as a shock to you who are reading this, Howie Vee, if we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit that there are men and women among us who treat the ministry as a means to an end. What’s more is that there are men and women who treat the ministry as a way to line their pockets and a way to make themselves rich at the expense of others.
I feel the need to present you with the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus beginning to read with the twelfth verse of this chapter. If you read this particular portion of Scripture you will come face to face with the undeniable reality that when Christ gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, He did so with and for a very specific purpose in mind. Beginning to read with and from the twelfth verse of this chapter we find the sole reason and purpose for the giving of such offices and roles within and unto the body of Christ. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote beginning with the twelfth verse of this fourth chapter: “…for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:12-16). Oh please don’t quickly glance over that which the apostle Paul writes in this particular set of verses, for within this particular passage of Scripture we find that the gifts, the offices, and the roles which were given unto the body of Christ have absolutely nothing to do with those who may operate within such roles and offices. The more I Read the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation the more I am confronted with the fact that Christ has something very specific which He intends and desires on accomplishing and fulfilling within the body which exists within and upon the earth. It is true that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son in order that whosoever chooses to believe shall not perish but have everlasting life. Even with that being said, I would present you with the question of what happens next? What happens once you have confessed with your mouth and believed with your heart that Jesus is both the Christ and Lord, and have made the decision to follow after and pursue Him? You’ve been baptized in water? Now what? You’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit? Now what? You’ve confessed with your mouth and believed in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord? Now what?
In order to help drive this point home even further, and in order to help explain what the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus it is necessary and imperative that we turn back to the New Testament book of the Acts of the apostles. I realize and recognize that by now you might be growing sick and tired of having to turn back to the New Testament book of Acts, however, I would strongly encourage you to have the New Testament book of Acts readily available and accessible when reading the epistles found in the New Testament, for the book of Acts provides us with the backdrop and foundation upon which the epistles found in the New Testament were written. To grow discouraged, tired and weary of reading the New Testament book of Acts while also reading the epistles found in the New Testament is the same as growing tired and weary of reading the books of First and Second Samuel, as well as the books of First and Second Chronicles. If you read the Old Testament book of the Psalms you will find that much commentary and additional information surrounding the individual psalms which David wrote can in fact be found in the Old Testament books of First and Second Samuel, as well as the Old Testament book of First and Second Chronicles. The book of Acts is absolutely necessary to have available when we read the epistles which are found in the New Testament, for the New Testament epistles have as their foundation the events which took place during the days of the early church—events which the beloved physician Luke recorded for us in the treatise he wrote unto the most excellent Theophilus. One such passage of Scripture that must be read and considered in order to understand that which the apostle Paul was writing unto the saints which were at Ephesus is the nineteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts. Consider if you will the words which Luke writes and records beginning with the first verse of the nineteenth chapter of this book of Acts:
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were you’re baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve. And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:1-8).
When you read the words which are found and recorded in this particular passage of Scripture you find Luke recording how when the apostle Paul came unto Ephesus he found certain disciples there. Upon encountering these disciples the apostle Paul asked them concerning the baptism which they had received. These disciples—which were twelve in all—responded by speaking of John’s baptism as being the baptism they had experienced up until that moment. What’s more, is these twelve disciples readily admitted that they had not so much heard that there was a Holy Spirit until the apostle Paul spoke of Him in their midst. Immediately following this, the apostle Paul declared unto them that John’s baptism was a baptism of water unto repentance, but that this baptism was but a precursor and preparation for an encounter with One who had come after John. Upon hearing these words Luke records how they were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ—an event which prepared them for what was going to take place next. Luke goes on to write how the apostle Paul laid his hands upon them, and that immediately after he laid his hands on them they received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues and prophesying. Now, while this is truly astonishing and remarkable, for it reveals the tremendous reality that the name of Jesus was being preached among the Gentiles, and that the gift of the Spirit was being given unto the Gentiles, it only presents us with part of the picture. It would be very easy to get excited to read of these disciples how they had already been baptized with John’s baptism, and how they were now baptized with the Holy Spirit, however, that is only part of the picture. In all reality, I am convinced that what we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture is only part of the picture for these disciples which the apostle Paul encountered while in Ephesus. We read how they were baptized with both the baptism of John, and now the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but what comes of those two encounters? What comes of their being baptized with both water and now the Holy Spirit and fire? In all reality, I am convinced that we must again turn our attention to two specific passages within the New Testament book of Acts to help shine light onto what comes next. Consider if you will the words which Luke records in the second chapter of the Book of Acts beginning with the forty-first verse:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
This particular passage of Scripture paints a very clear picture—not only of the tremendous growth that took place on the day of Pentecost, but also of the environment and atmosphere that was present among the early church. Luke records how those who received the word which the apostle Peter spoke on the day of Pentecost, and those who were baptized in water and believed in their heart completely and utterly threw themselves into life among the body of Christ. At that point in time language such as “the bride of Christ,” and “the body of Christ” had not been released and revealed. The only thing the apostles knew, the only thing the rest of the one-hundred and twenty which were in the upper room knew, the only thing the three-thousand souls which were added to the early church was that they needed each other. When I read the words which Luke writes and records in this passage of Scripture I can’t help but find within his writings that all those which were present at the conclusion of the day of Pentecost knew that they desperately needed the teaching of the apostles—those who had walked with Jesus Christ for three and a half years—and that they desperately needed each other. Luke describes the atmosphere and the environment that was present during the days of the early church, and how those who were found in the early church gave themselves to the apostles teaching, as well as to the breaking of bread and the fellowship of the saints. BELIEVING! BAPTIZED! BREAKING BREAD! That which Luke records in this passage of Scripture describes that which comes after the confession, that which comes after the baptism, that which comes after belief within one’s heart concerning Jesus who is both the Christ and Lord. What’s more, is that Luke would again record a similar reality in the fourth chapter. If you begin reading with and from the thirty-second verse of the fourth chapter you will find additional commentary concerning the early church and the environment and atmosphere that was found among the believers:
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).
I can’t help but also be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Philippi in the epistles which was sent unto them. Beginning with the first verse of the second chapter of the epistle we find the apostle writing the following words: “IF there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5). If you read the words contained—both within the second and fourth chapters of the book of the Acts as well as in the second chapter of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the Philippians you begin to notice a picture that emerges concerning that which Christ and the Spirit desire to accomplish in the body of Christ after baptism in water, after the baptism of the Spirit, and after believing with one’s heart and confessing with one’s mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. In all reality, I can’t help but see a strong connection and a strong parallel between this concept of confessing with one’s mouth and believing in one’s heart, and the confession which Peter made in the company and presence of the disciples. In the tenth chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome we find the following words: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:8-11). Now, consider if you will the confession of Peter in the company and presence of the disciples and Jesus who is the Christ: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Joan: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-19).
The apostle Paul wrote and declared that if we confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus, and if we believe in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead then we shall be saved. I am convinced that we see the reality of this confession in the life of the apostle Peter in the sixteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew. Within the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew we find the apostle Peter confessing that Jesus is the Christ, and that He is the Son of the living God, which is the beginning of the confession which the apostle Paul wrote about in the epistle which was written unto the saints which were at Rome. At the time Peter made this confession in the company of the disciples and before Jesus He hadn’t sacrificed Himself on the cross yet, nor had He been buried in the grave and raised from death to life, so the apostle Peter could not believe in His heart that God raised Him from the dead. What’s interesting, however, is that Jesus declared unto the apostle Peter that flesh and blood did not reveal this reality and confession unto him, but his Father which was in heaven. What’s more, is that Jesus declared that it was upon this rock that He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Now, there have been many who have believed that it was upon the apostle Peter Christ would build His church, and they do so because Christ uses the word “rock” and changes the apostles name to Peter, which literally means “rock.” The truth of the matter, however, is that I do not believe for one minute that that which Jesus was speaking about was the apostle Peter, but rather the confession which the apostle Peter made with his mouth. I am convinced that the confession which the apostle Peter made with his mouth would be the rock upon which Christ would build his church, for it would be upon this confession Jesus would build the church. This is why the apostle Paul could make such a statement as he did in the New Testament epistle written unto the saints which were at Rome, for he spoke of confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus, and believing that God raised Him from the dead. We dare not miss the tremendous significance of this, for while it would be this confession which Christ would begin to build His church, the confession itself would only be the beginning.
As I continue to study the epistles which the apostle Paul wrote, as well as the New Testament book of the Acts of the apostles, I am convinced that the church of Jesus Christ which was built within and built upon the earth was built upon the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God the Father raised Him from the dead. The early church would be built upon the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that God the Father raised Him from the dead, and it would be this confession that would lead men and women to the place of John’s baptism where they would be baptized in water unto repentance for the remission of sins. There would, however, come a separate and secondary work that would accompany John’s baptism—namely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit which was released and given unto the body of Christ by Jesus Himself when He ascended unto the right hand of His Father which was in heaven. Even with that being said, however, it is absolutely imperative that we recognize that while the church was built upon the confession of faith that is made with one’s mouth, and while baptism in water, and then baptism with the Spirit were secondary works and responses to that confession, there is still a greater work that is accomplished within the body of Christ. I am convinced that it is this work which the apostle Paul writes about in verses twelve through sixteen of the fourth chapter, for the apostle Paul goes on to write about “the perfecting of the saints,” “the work of the ministry,” “the edifying of the body of Christ,” “the unity of the faith,” and “the knowledge of the Son of God.” What’s more, is the apostle Paul goes on to write that all of this leads to and brings us to the place where we become a perfect man, unto the measure of the statures of the fulness of Christ. The purpose of this is that we would henceforth no longer be children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness. The additional work which accompanies baptism in water and baptism with the Spirit is a work that includes our growing up into Christ in all things, which is the head of the church and the body. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we fully and completely recognize the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this passage of Scripture, for it answers the question of what happens next after we have believed with our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, after we have confessed with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and after we have been baptized with John’s baptism of water, as well as with the baptism of Jesus which is a baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire.
Perhaps the single greatest question that I can’t help but ask when writing this particular piece right now is whether or not this reality is taking place among us within our churches. We speak a lot about the realities of the early church being manifested within our midst in our churches—signs, wonders, miracles and the like. We speak a great deal about the reality of the early church, and whether or not a similar reality is found to be present within our churches today, yet I am convinced that more often than not we only have part of the picture when we speak such things. In all reality, we want the signs, we want the wonders, we want the miracles, and we want prisons shaking, houses shaking, and the mighty rushing wind and the sounds from heaven, yet we want absolutely nothing to do with the reality of Acts 2:42-47. We may confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus, we may believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, and we may even be baptized with John’s baptism, and perhaps even the baptism which Jesus baptizes with—the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire—and yet we want nothing to do with the greater work which has great need of manifestation among us. I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of this epistle and I am completely and totally confronted with the reality of what comes after confession and what comes after belief. What’s more, is that I am confronted—not only with what we need to readily and wholeheartedly pursue with everything that is within us, but we also need to understand that this is ultimately what is designed and intended for the body of Christ. When Christ established the body—His body—within and upon the earth, He did so in order that His body might be perfected within he earth. When Christ established the body within and upon the earth He did so in order that His body might continually and increasingly be edified day in and day out. Furthermore, Christ designed and intended that we all come in the unity of the faith, as well as in the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the statures of the fulness of Christ. Essentially, that which Christ desires for His body is that it would grow up, and that it would mature into a perfect man within and upon the earth. In all reality, Christ desires more than simply confession with one’s mouth, and belief within one’s heart—although it is upon this confession that Christ builds His church.
When I read the words which Jesus declared unto Peter concerning His building His church, I can’t help but notice that He mentioned absolutely nothing about what takes place once the building has begun. It would be upon this confession that Christ would build the church, and yet the church would need to continue being built within and upon the earth. I reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote earlier on in this particular epistle, for in the second chapter of this epistle we find the following words: “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). Built, building, and builded—these are the words which the apostle Paul used to describe the church and the body of Christ within upon the earth, and he writes that the foundation of the church is the apostles’ teaching, and that Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone. The chief cornerstone would be Christ, the foundation would be the teaching of the apostles, and Christ would begin to build His church upon the rock of the confession that He is in fact the Christ, and the Son of the living God. With that being said, we must also understand the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of this epistle, for Christ desires that His church be perfected and edified, and that His body and Church attain unity of the faith, as well as the knowledge of the Son of God. What’s more, is that Christ desires that His church grow and become a mature man within the earth—a reality which we find was not present among the Corinthians, for the apostle Paul wrote unto them that he could not write or speak to them as mature, but as babes in Christ, and even carnal. It is absolutely necessary that we pay close attention to what the apostle Paul writes in this particular passage of Scripture, for the words he writes in this passage of Scripture wonderfully and powerfully reveal the work which needs to take place after the confession, after belief, and after the two-fold baptism of water and fire. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are growing up, or whether we are remaining children who are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and sleight of men. Are we truly becoming a mature man within the earth, or are we remaining stagnant and stale within the earth? Oh that we would carefully examine what is truly taking place within our churches, for signs, wonders and miracles aren’t always the true test and measure of a mature church that has grown up in all things in Christ.