Saturday, September 24, 2011

New Testament Lesson #39 "For the Perfecting of the Saints"

Ephesians

OVERVIEW OF EPHESIANS

"The perspective of Ephesians moves from a vastly cosmic picture of God's plan (Chapter 1) and the believer's inclusion in it (Chapter 2), to the role and mission of the church and life within it (3:1-5:21), to a depiction of relationships within the household [in our society broken into family (5:21-6:4) and workplace (6:5-6:9)], to a final description of how, with prayer, each believer stands battle-ready in God's power (6:10-20).  This broad perspective binds the letter together.  God's power to enact the cosmic plan [faith] is the same power available to the believer as armament.  Relations of families mirror those between Christ and the church.  Life within the church reflects God's larger purpose in Christ, 'to gather up in one all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth' (1:10)" (J. Paul Sampley, Professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology, writing for Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2193).

You may want to pass out half-size sheets of paper and pencils to your class members with these questions on them (and space after each to write an answer):

HOW CAN I FOLLOW THE COUNSEL OF EPHESIANS THIS WEEK?
  • How can I help to spread the gospel this week?
  • How can I use my place in the ward/branch to bring others to greater knowledge of God this week?
  • How can I be an example of the believers in my workplace this week?
  • How can I better extend myself to nurture spiritual growth in my family this week?
  • How can I put on more of the armour of God this week?

GOD'S COSMIC PLAN AND OUR PLACE IN IT (Chapter 1)


  • v. 3-12  Overview of the cosmic plan (the plan of salvation)
  • v. 4  Pre-existence:  "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love..."
  • v. 5-6  House of Israel--adoption:  "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved."
  • v. 7-8 Atonement:  "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence..."
  • v. 9 Prophets:  "Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself..."
  • v. 10 Latter-days, gathering:  "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him..."  (See Bible Dictionary for the definition of "dispensation.")
  • v. 11-12 Inheritance in His kingdom:  "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ."
What are some of the things that are being gathered together in our day? (Scriptures, converts, geneologies, families being sealed, information about the gospel...)

Give class members 1 minute to answer the first question on their paper.

THE ROLE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH


4:11-13:  "And he gave some [to be] apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 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..."  The purpose of the church is to perfect the saints, and through the unity of faith, bring everyone to a knowledge of God.  Christ united the Jews and Gentiles in His early church.  Inasmuch as we just discussed all the gathering that is taking place today in the church, it may take us a little extra work to be united.

What does it mean to perfect the saints?  To bring them to the stature of the fulness of Christ.  The definition of that follows in v. 14-15.  "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." The effect of these Christ-like individuals upon the rest of the church follows in v. 16:  "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."

If the cornerstone of the Church is in place, the rest of the building will be sound.  So if Christ is the foundation of our belief, we will be united.  Being Christ-like is the key to unity.  "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens 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 also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (2:19-22).

Paul's prayer for the saints is a great example of how we should view our fellowcitizens in the gospel:  "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (3:14-19).

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the second question on their paper.

WORKPLACE


Terrific counsel in just a few verses:  "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling , in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.  And ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening; knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him" (6:5-9).

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the third question on their paper.

FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS


"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 

"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it" (5:22-25).

This is so opposite of our culture today!  Submitting!  But we are talking about submitting to a husband who is attempting to be as Christ.  Christ is the greatest king of all, as well as the greatest servant of all.  A truly great and benevolent king serves, protects, guides his kingdom.  That is the point of his calling.  Think of king Benjamin and King Mosiah in the Book of Mormon...

The best definition (outside the scriptures) for love is "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth" (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 81).  The Book of Mormon teaches us that Christ "doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world" (2 Ne. 26:24).

Our purpose in family love should be lifting each other closer to God, as Christ has lifted us.

"Can you think of how [Christ] loved the Church?  Its every breath was important to him.  Its every growth, its every individual, was precious to him.  He gave to those people all his energy, all his power, all his interest.  He gave his life--what more could one give?" (President Spencer W. Kimball, quoted in the manual).  President Kimball said that is what Christ asks of a husband.

The husband should treat his wife as a queen, and the wife should treat her husband as a king, while each of them views him/herself as a willing servant to the other.  What a great marriage that would be!  However, if it flips around the other way--the wife expecting the husband to treat her like a queen, and the husband expecting the wife to submit, it doesn't work.  It must be selfless to be love.

"And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (6:4).

We shouldn't argue with our children; we also shouldn't let them "get away with murder."  We are supposed to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  In other words, we should be Christ-like parents, who use the gospel to teach the principles that will help our children to govern their actions and guide their decisions.  (Yeah, I know...easier said than done...)

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the fourth question on their paper.

INDIVIDUAL

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand. 

"Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (6:10-20).

(See The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, (The New Testament Institute Manual), p. 353, for Harold B. Lee's explanation of the imagery of the armour of God.)

(The Church has a video clip called "The Armour of God" on "The New Testament Video Presentations" which you may like to show.  It doesn't appear to be available online.)

Give class members 1 minute to write the answer to the fifth question on their paper. 

Challenge them--and follow through on it as a teacher--to report back at the next lesson any effect they may have experienced throughout the week by following the counsel of Paul to the Ephesians.

2 comments:

janel said...

Wow--what a nice, insightful setup for this lesson based on the format of the epistle to the Ephesians. Thank you, once again!

James Smith (EndorPlumber) said...

I was, just recently, called to teach Gospel Doctrine. For the past 20 years, I've worked with primary and the youth, and have taught every age level, yet this is my first experience being in Gospel Doctrine, let alone teaching it. What adds to my nervousness is that half of the class is brand new members of the church, and the other half were my teachers as I grew up in the church, so my worry is to provide content that will be simple enough to cater to the new members, yet not sound like I'm just repeating lessons that I've learned from the individuals in the class.

I received several compliments from using this lesson. My favorite came from my a man whom I've admired and looked up to for a long time, as he was my Scoutmaster/Deacon's Adviser, when I was a just 12 years old. He told me, "In all my years of studying the gospel, I've never heard the Book of Ephesians taught in this light, before." His compliment meant a lot to me, and I have you to thank for it.

FYI: Using the image of Darth Vader's armor for Chapter 6 makes for a great touch.