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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS and to the beginning of our verse-by-verse study of Paul’s letter to the Believers at Ephesus.
Introduction to Ephesians
During the first century A.D., the city of Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. It was well-known for its art, science, and trade but it was especially renowned for its Temple of Diana (Greek Artemis), which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was a building of Ionic architecture, four hundred and twenty-five feet long and two hundred and twenty feet wide. It was supported by one hundred and twenty-seven marble columns that were sixty feet high. Thirty-two of these were beautifully carved. Some of the stones from this temple are on exhibit in the British Museum today. You can still visit the site today, but the temple is in ruin, as is the city, and yet it is regarded as the best preserved places of antiquity in Asia Minor.
Ephesus was located near the Aegean Sea. The city itself was made near the Cayster River that was scoured into a full harbor emptying in to the Mediterranean making it a significant seaport. Three important roads met at Ephesus. One brought trade from the east via Colossae and Laodicea. One came from Galatia via Sardis and brought trade from Asia Minor. The third important road was to the north. This system of roads, coupled with the important seaport, made Ephesus the fourth greatest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch).
The Origin of the Ephesian Church
About 49–50 A.D., our Apostle Paul began his Second Missionary Journey “to strengthen the churches” (Acts 15:36 to 18:22). Barnabas had been Paul’s main companion and fellow laborer during his First Missionary Journey. He chose Silas for that role on this trip. Paul had wanted it to be Barnabas, again, but they had a disagreement about taking John Mark with them. John had quit the first missionary journey early (Acts 13:13) and Paul was greatly disappointed with his decision. To resolve the matter, Barnabas took John Mark with him and they sailed to Cyprus, and Paul took Silas with him, and they started north over land.
As they passed through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6). The Bible does not say why. But clearly the door of opportunity for preaching the gospel in Asia was not open yet. God had decided the door was opening in Europe instead, and Paul was guided there by the Holy Spirit. Paul didn’t make it to Ephesus until 53 A.D. At that time he was accompanied by his faithful helpers Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:18-21). As usual, Paul entered the Jewish synagogue there and reasoned with them using the O.T. scriptures (v19), but nothing is said about them being influenced by his preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they wanted Paul to stay awhile longer with them, but, pressed for time, he was not able to do so (v20), although he did promise to return to them, God willing (v21).
This book says Aquila and Priscilla remained in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-19) and became leaders in the only house church there. Sometime after Paul left the city, Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, who had been instructed in “the way of the Lord,” but only knew the “baptism of John,” (18:25) encountered Aquila and Priscilla. They took him under their wing, so to speak, as his knowledge was incomplete, and explained to him the “way of God” more accurately (18:26). Apollos was extremely grateful after this and desired to cross over to Achaia and “the brethren (at Ephesus) wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him” (18:27). The use of the word “brethren” here is telling. It indicates there are others at Ephesus who are now Believers besides Aquila and Priscilla. But we don’t know who these folks are and we don’t know their number. We can assume this house church remains small because it’s still meeting at the home of Aquila and Priscilla.
Getting back to Paul, in 54 A.D. after he began his 3rd Missionary Journey, he returned to Ephesus (Acts 19). Upon his arrival he found some converts who had not yet been baptized into Christ; they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. They only knew “the baptism of John.” I find this strange as did Paul, so “Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “they were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit…” (19:2-6).
Paul then goes into the synagogue and speaks boldly for three months; “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). But strong opposition to his teaching arose, so he withdrew the Believers to the school of Tyrannus. He devotes the next two years of his life to teaching the gospel from there (Acts 19:9-10).
Altogether, Paul spent about three years at Ephesus with great success (Acts 20:31). This success can be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit in men and to the city of Ephesus’ excellent location. It was ideally suited for the spread of the gospel. Acts 19:10 says: all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. The spread of the gospel was accomplished because of the great number of people passing through the city. They heard the word of truth and carried this “good news” back to their homes located throughout Asia. This is remarkable since Ephesus and Asia, in general, were full of charms, magic, superstition, and things pertaining to the occult. This is why, I’m reasoning, God permitted “extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out (of them)” (Acts 19:11-12).
But also some of the Jewish exorcists who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches” (Acts 19:13). But they were confounded by the same evil spirits they were trying to exercise: And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (19:15-16).
Paul’s ministry there brought about a change of heart in many pagan Gentiles: Many also of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone (19:19a). The word of the Lord was spreading and grew mightily and prevailed (19:17b-20).
According to 19:22, Timothy and Erastus also spent some time with Paul in Ephesus, but he eventually sent them into Macedonia, while he remained in Asia. Not too soon after this, there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way (19:23). A silversmith named Demetrius who made shrines of Artemis gathered together with the workmen of similar trades and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence (19:25b-27).
This news upset the people greatly. Paul’s travel companions, Gaius and Aristarchus from Macedonia were seized and dragged into the theater (19:28-29). It’s clear from this account they weren’t taken there for a lecture on proper business practices. Their very lives were in danger. Our Apostle Paul wanted to go into the assembly but the disciples would not let him (19:30-31). They feared the worst if Paul dared to appear before that unruly mob (19:32).
Alexander was recognized by the Jews, apparently in an attempt to defend them from “the guilt by association” assumption currently in play. They clearly didn’t want to be linked with the renegade Jews (i.e., Believers who followed Christ) and “this fellow Paul” whom Gaius and Aristarchus helped. Chaos ensued for two hours 19:34).
The city clerk eventually established order from disorder in the theater and dismissed the crowd. Then Paul called the disciples together, embraced them, and departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). He sailed to Macedonia and then traveled to Greece where he stayed for three months. Then, he, with his eight travel companions (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, Trophimus, and Luke), returned to Asia via Macedonia, stopping over at Troas. Sailing on to Miletus, about 30 miles from Ephesus, he called for and met with the elders of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17-38).
Timothy, a native of Lystra, was probably converted on Paul's First Missionary Journey (Acts 14:6-23). By the time of Paul's Second Missionary Journey, he was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium (Acts 16:1-2). He was with Paul in Ephesus on the Third Missionary Journey, but was sent to Macedonia just prior to the disturbance over the goddess Diana (Acts 16:3, 19:21-22). After Paul's release from his first Roman imprisonment, he left Timothy at Ephesus (I Timothy 1:3). While in Ephesus, Timothy received the letters from Paul known to us as First and Second Timothy.
The Time and Place of Writing
Paul undoubtedly wrote this letter from Rome during his first Roman imprisonment, which was for two years (Acts 28:30). This would make the date of this letter somewhere around A.D. 62. It was hand delivered by Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21).
The Purpose for Writing This Letter
Paul does not write this letter to the Ephesians to rebuke them for their conduct, like he does the Corinthians, nor for perverting the gospel, as he does the Galatians. This letter speaks of joyous praise for God's eternal purpose.
In chapters 1-3, Paul shows the church was preordained by God, that it has been redeemed, and that Jew and Gentile have been made one in Christ. In chapters 4-6, Paul follows up on the practical application of the truth stated in the first three chapters. He writes of unity, love, newness of life, walking in the strength of the Lord, and the need to put on the armor of God. Thus, there is a clear-cut division in this letter between the explanation found in the first three chapters and the exhortation found in chapters 4-6. In chapters 1-3, the truth is stated; in chapters 4-6, the truth is applied.
The State of the Church in America
While in Ephesus, our Apostle Paul learned about the numerous problems that arose in the newly formed church in Corinth, Greece. He wrote I & II Corinthians for the purpose of rebuking them which means: to criticize sharply, to reprimand; to turn back or keep down; to straighten out (to encourage repentance). Here are a few reasons why Paul rebuked the carnal Corinthians:
The members of this church were disunited because they were pledging allegiance to human leaders rather than God (1 Corinthians 1:10-12).
They not only tolerated an extreme form of sexual immorality in their midst but became arrogant (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
They disagreed with establish church doctrine (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).
These proud Believers were suing one another in civil court (1 Corinthians 6:1-11).
They were associating with temple prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6:16).
They were not only critical of Paul they denied his apostolic authority (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
They were also abusing the Lord’s Supper, their spiritual gifts and each other… I could go on pointing out their misdeeds and mistakes, however, the point I’m making is the church today is repeating their mistakes.
If you asked the question “Is America a Christian nation,” the majority of people would say, “Yes.” But here’s the thing, the facts reveal the truth. “Christianity is declining. Americans have given up on God, and the ‘Nones’ – those who have no religious-ties are on the rise. It is indeed true that parts of the Christian Church in America are struggling, while a growing number of Americans are far from God.”
Ed Stetzer, EMQ, September 12 2016.
Pew Research studies show there is a consistent and noteworthy decline in those who identified themselves as Christians. In 2007, eight in ten people said they were Christians. In 2014 that number dropped to 7 in 10, a statistically significant change in a relatively short period of time. Right now only 46.5% of Americans identify as Protestants (non-Catholic) for the first time in American history. What’s significant is that number continues to decline.
What’s Going On?
Research groups have picked up on some of the reasons for this course change. The primary reason for these declining numbers can be attributed to a complete breakdown in communication between God and Christians. They have discovered the majority of American Christians do not read their Bible or pray. You may assume since these folks aren’t reading their Bible, they are not studying their Bible. Therefore they are not maturing in the faith just like the Corinthians. Instead of drawing their wisdom from God (His Word), their knowledge is obtained from the world’s systems, i.e. philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations, and false religions of the world are under Satan’s control which means every one of them has been corrupted (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Research reveals the sad truth only about 3% of Christians are aware of what the Bible actually says. I’ll use the Christmas story as an example, since it’s most recent:
The vast majority of Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable
They think Mary traveled to Bethlehem on a donkey
They believe angels appeared “singing” to the shepherds in the field
They think Jesus was born on December 25th, i.e. Christmas Day
And three wise men visited Jesus a few days later, bringing Him gifts
None of these things are mentioned in the Bible.
The Bible does not say how Mary got to Bethlehem.
The Bible does not give us the date of Jesus’ birth. The date we celebrate Christmas comes from the pagan Roman festival Saturnalia.
Even though Hallmark thinks Jesus was born in a stable, the Bible doesn’t say this.
The angels did not appear “singing” they appeared “praising God and saying…”
And there were more than three wise men; the Bible doesn’t give us the exact number. This book says “magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem…” This enormous caravan suddenly appearing in Herod’s city asking for directions to the newly born King of the Jews is what greatly troubled Herod. And Jesus was approximately two years old when the magi arrived to pay Him homage.
In 2013, the Barna Group reported if Christians do read their Bible, 57% of those polled said it was four times a year or less. Only 26% of Americans said they read their Bible regularly (which amounted to 4 or more times per week and we’re talking about a few Bible verses here and there) these folks were not involved in a verse-by-verse Bible study or in a program to read through the Bible in one year. Let’s be clear; reading a few Bible verses before heading out the door in the morning or before retiring at night is not studying your Bible.
I read an article just recently from a pastor who wrote a stinging letter to his church stating he was cancelling every one of the adult programs, including adult education (Bible study) in their church. Why? The church was investing time, effort, and money in these programs because they believed the attendees would be spiritually rewarded, but no one was showing up. When he asked churchgoers why they didn’t make it to Bible study, again, most often the response was, “I wanted to come last Wednesday night, but I have too much going on in my life.”
He decided to “Dig Deeper” into this church controversy and discovered “too much” meant they used what precious free time they had for the things they really cared about; those things that brought immediate “reward or gratification.” Reading between the lines, this means the churchgoers didn’t care too much about their church or God’s Word. Some cared about adult continuing education classes because a few of them had signed up and were attending classes on Wednesday night. One individual was working for a civil rights organization promoting the rights of the LGBT agenda (that’s strange). A couple of the other people were volunteering at a local homeless shelter; others were volunteering on a food line downtown helping to feed the hungry. But the others he spoke to didn’t have an excuse, unless “I forgot” counted as one.
People are not reading this book, obviously, but if they did they would discover God has commanded every Believer to study His Word: Study to shew thyself approved unto (who) God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 - KJV).
The ultimate goal of the true Believer should be to please God in all they do, since all they are and all they have is credited to God (Romans 11:33-36). We are merely stewards of God’s resources (1 Corinthians 9:17; Galatians 4:1-2; Philippians 4:13). Certainly, for the Believer, a critical part of walking in newness of life is their rightly dividing and understanding of the Bible.
Since we’re all commanded to study this book, I would think one of the questions we’re going to have to answer at The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ is, “What did you do with My Word? Did you share it with others, or did you bury it?” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Will you hang your head in shame or will you instead show yourself approved to God, as one who properly handled (rightly divided) the word of truth?
We learned in our study of Galatians what we do and why we do it matters to God. Certainly included in this is knowing what we believe and why we believe it! This should not be a revelation to anyone. God is keeping a “running account” of our lives. Maybe it’s all on video; I wouldn’t be surprised. But we make hundreds of choices each day and with each decision we’re either sowing in the field called the flesh or the field called the Spirit. Each decision we make is literally a “building block” in the life we are making; and these choices have eternal ramifications.
God Wants to Communicate
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
When all is said and done the real purpose of communication is understanding. To that end, God has given us the Bible and through it He communicates who He is, how much He loves us, how we can come to know Him, the blessings He gives us, and how we are to live our lives as His children. But as great as the Bible is, it is not His highest form of communication. The ultimate form of communication from God is His personal revelation through His Son, Jesus Christ:
God, after He spoke long ago the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world, And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).
God communicated His love toward us by becoming “one of us,” sharing our humanity, our pain, our sorrows, our trials, and taking our sin upon Himself, forgiving them all. He then made a place for us all at His Father’s side (John 14:1-6). The very name of Jesus communicates God’s love for us: the name Jesus means “God is salvation.” And another name for Jesus is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”
God has taken the initiative for all mankind to come to know Him, and He invites us to communicate with personally through reading and studying the Scriptures, through personal prayer, and through fellowship with others who have a personal relationship with Him. But for this to work the lines of communication have to be open. The Bible remains a best-seller year-after-year. Statistics reveal the majority of Americans have purchased a Bible. It’s in their home, somewhere. But it’s of no use unless people make use of it.
Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I might not sin against You (Psalm 119:11).
Instead of exposing our heart and mind to God’s Word regularly and treasuring it, we’re exposing them daily to a constant barrage of ungodly words, music, and images. God’s being “shut out.” So to combat this we’re to take responsibility for our life. We’re to fill our heart and mind with God’s Word instead. When we do this, we create a defense against the evil that exists in this world (Ephesians 6:10-18).
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely; whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).
(To be continued)
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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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