An Enduring Foundation – Ephesians
Lesson 9 – Well-Structured
How organized are you?
- A place for everything, and everything in its place
- I can find what I need (most of the time)
- I’m forever searching for something
God endowed each of us with a unique personality. Some are uncomfortable when things are messy, some are uncomfortable in the presence of perfect. One size does not fit all. One approach isn’t right and all others wrong.
A few years back, I read a suggestion that I adopted as my housekeeping goal: never spend more than five minutes looking for something. It works for us.
My in-laws, on the other hand, can’t abide clutter. There are no dirty dishes on their kitchen counter, no unread newspapers piled on their dining table and no shoes hiding under their couch. They never have to hunt for something, because everything is always where it belongs.
Let’s consider Paul for a few moments. Do you see him as a neat-nick or more the absent-minded-professor type? I doubt that he had much in the way of possessions; he could pack his bags in a minute when the Spirit called. But I picture him carrying a case filled with words: notes to himself, letters from old friends, opinions of wise colleagues and, of course, Scripture. We have a hint of this in his personal note to a dear friend:
2 Timothy 4:13
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
It’s not clear what was included on these scrolls and parchments, but he asked Timothy to bring them to him in prison. “I want my jacket and my papers.” Perhaps this was a man whose thoughts were better organized than his possessions.
Structurally, the book of Ephesians is a product of an unusually disciplined mind. Different commentators label the sections differently, but many identify a symmetry between the first three chapters and the last three chapters.
J. Vernon McGee, Bible teacher and radio minister,1904-1988
(from Notes and Outlines: Ephesians, Thru the Bible Radio Network
|Chpt 1||Church as a body||Chpt 4||Church as a new man|
|Chpt 2||Church as a temple||Chpt 5||Church as a bride|
|Chpt 3||Church as a mystery||Chpt 6||Church as a soldier|
Daniel B. Wallace, seminary professor, 1952-present
Chapters 1-3: Unity of the Church Positionally
Chapters 4-6: Unity of the Church Practically
Henry Drummond, Scottish evangelist, 1851-1897
(from Introduction to the New Testament)
- The Doctrinal Part, treating of the Unity of the Church (chapters 1-3)
- The Practical Part, containing Exhortations to a Conversation worthy of the Calling and Unity of the Readers (chapters 4-6)
Warren Wiersbe, teacher and writer, 1920-present
(from The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2)
|Doctrine: our riches in Christ||Duty: our responsibilities in Christ|
I’m a visual person, and I found this sketch of Ephesians fascinating:
Charles H. Welch, Bible scholar and writer, 1880-1967
Thus far, we’ve studied concepts imbedded in Ephesians. This lesson focuses on the structure of the book. What does the structure teach us?
First, we don’t have to all agree on every detail. These commentators offer differing views, all of which have value. That’s part of what makes the Word of God unique—its power to speak uniquely to each of us. As a writer, I work hard to choose words that will deliver the same message to different people. God’s Word, on the other hand, is custom designed for each one of us.
If you read all of Paul’s letters with an eye to their structure, Ephesians is unique. Symmetry like this doesn’t happen by accident, it takes planning, an outline, and careful editing. What’s behind the difference in Ephesians?
Some scholars suggest that Paul wasn’t the author (even though his name is in the first verse). Others wonder if the scribe taking down Paul’s words imposed the structure on his message. Paul wrote Ephesians from prison; perhaps he had the time to work and rework the letter. If he considered it one of his final messages and knew it would be passed from church to church, it would have warranted his special attention—and our special attention.
Is it too much of a stretch to think that the symmetry is the work of the Holy Spirit? Paul himself acknowledges the power behind the words:
2 Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is God-breathed . . .
Did God “breathe” the structure into Ephesians? Consider for a moment the order in God’s creation: DNA, the water cycle, the Golden ratio of a seashell. Ours is a God of order and organization. If God counted the Ephesians message worthy of this unusual structure, then the message is worthy of our careful attention.
This may be fanciful on my part, but I see a message within a message in Ephesians. My quick summary: the first half relates to who I am in Christ (Lesson 10), the second half is about what I do in Christ (Lesson 11). The first half is about learning the Word, and the second half is about doing it. In this, Paul and James were of one mind.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
How do I get from knowing to doing? It comes through discipline, through structuring my life to make time to study the Word of God, a balance between seeking God’s revelation and applying it to my life. It comes as I emulate Paul.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.
Put into practice the balanced knowing and doing demonstrated by Paul.
My routine includes praying my Bible reading for the day into my life. A couple days ago, the study guide I’m following directed me to a passage from Ephesians:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
I had a vague sense of the meaning of debauchery. I checked the Greek (easily done via http://biblehub.com/). Debauchery comes from asotia meaning what can’t be saved, waste, prodigality (spending resources without care or restraint, as in the prodigal son).
Here’s the prayer from my journal:
Well, Lord, it isn’t wine that calls me; I struggle with chips, coffee, chocolate. Thank you for this image of wasted resources: calories and time are my weak points. Teach me, Spirit, to avoid waste, to live lean, to do what has value.
What waste do I encounter daily? Do-overs at work because I skipped an important step, an afternoon slump due to calories wasted on sweets, time frittered away on the internet, an extra trip to the store because I didn’t bother with a list. Lack of discipline = wasted opportunities. I see where I miss the target of living lean.
Think of Paul, longing for his scrolls and parchments. In prison, on the road or in ministry, his routine included the structure, the disciplines of Bible study and prayer. He knew Scripture, and he put it into practice.
Does your daily routine include ample time to read the Bible and pray? Is your life structured to learn and do what’s in God’s Word, in accordance with your unique personality? Let God breathe his customized structure into your life.
“We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician’s instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not ‘disciplined’?”
A. W. Tozer, Christianity Today, November 20, 1987