Later this fall I’ll have the privilege of leading a group of leaders through an exploration of Ephesians. I won’t post the details here, but you can email me (email@example.com) if you want more information or are prompted by God to support some leaders whose resources are limited, yet passion for the gospel remains unwavering.
Let’s camp out in this book about a church which receives significant scrutiny in Scripture. We first learn of the city of Ephesus in Acts 19-20. Paul arrives in this community and soon links up with some disciples of John the Baptist.
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ “John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues (languages) and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”
A few reflections –
1) A disciple is a follower or learner. John had his learners. Jesus had his likewise. This is the account of John’s disciples becoming disciples of Jesus similiar to what is recorded in John 1.
2) Christians, especially leaders, question others about their experiences in the faith. With other leaders, I’ve been criticized on occasion for asking questions. This text and many like it show that we should assume nothing about the spiritual state of others. Good questions are necessary in diagnosing spiritual health or the lack of it.
3) Paul expected confirmation of the Spirit’s presence in the life of believers. The book of Ephesians will give clear instruction on pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit’s person and work.
4) Ignorance is not bliss. These ‘disciples’ were not aware of the Holy Spirit as an indwelling presence in their lives. We might compare them with Old Testament believers who were looking forward to a future fulillment of God’s promises.
5) Further teaching led to new obedience. I’ve had a few conversations in recent weeks on the subject of baptism and its place as an ordinance. These disciples model a submission to yield to clearer instruction as I would argue should be evident in those who are growing in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. I may have observed a certain practice in a previous gathering of God’s people, but new teaching, clearer Biblical exposition draws me to a fresh obdience to what I have learned. Why would I stubbornly refuse to yield to God’s Spirit who has brought deeper understanding to me through my own study or the instruction of Spirit-appointed teachers and preachers? I’ve rebaptized a few Christ-followers during my years of ministry.
6) The ‘new’ faith confessed in Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism is confirmed in this chapter with a visitation of the Holy Spirit. This is not the place for a lengthy dissertation about speaking in tongues, but we must wrestle with how ‘descriptive’ or ‘normative’ this experience is. Does the balance of the New Testament lead us to expect, even demand a ‘supernatural’ sign when an individual is regenerated? Is there a difference between these ‘languages’ and the ‘gift’ of ‘languages’ in 1 Corinthians 12-14? There, in that lengthy discussion, tongues are NOT to be vocalized if no interpreter is present. The goal is church edification (1 Corinthians 14:5) not some personal status symbol of spirituality.
I’m sure I’ve prompted some ‘reaction,’ so I’ll wrap up this post with a prayer. ‘God, by your Spirit, grant us discernment in what is true and what is false. Glorify Christ in our lives and make us more submissive to your will and ways. Build your church, O Christ, and help us to use our time, talents and treasures for eternal purposes. Amen.’