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Description: God’s View of Reality
God’s View of Reality
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’re going to start Ephesians. If you open your Bible into Ephesians, we’ll try to begin. I’ll
explain a little of the historical and geographical end of it, loved ones. [Pointing to map in the
Bible:] That’s Italy of course, and then Greece comes down there and then you’re over and down in
Jerusalem. That’s the Mediterranean. This is Africa, and here’s Rome and there’s Ephesus and
Antioch. This is Palestine here and Jerusalem is down here.
About 54 A.D., Paul started his third missionary journey. [Still pointing to Bible map:] I believe
he went like that, and then up around there, and back. He arrived in Ephesus. The journey went on
to about 58 A.D., and he arrived in Ephesus and spent from 54 to 57 in Ephesus — so probably longer
than he had spent in any other church. He established a church there and was there roughly two
years. And then you remember, he was arrested and taken to Rome. In 62 A.D., he wrote three
letters and one of them was the letter to the Ephesians. So that’s a little of the background. As
we go through Ephesians over the next 10 years or as many years as it takes us, we’ll talk more
about the background of the church, but those are the historical issues.
He did three missionary journeys and it was during his third one that he traveled to Ephesus, spent
two years there in a church, went on around, then came back, and then was arrested and taken to Rome
in probably about 60 A.D. He was allowed there to remain in fairly safe house arrest and it was
during that time that he wrote many of his letters — and one of them he wrote to the Ephesians.
The church at Ephesus was quite mature and therefore there were not a lot of problems in it. In the
letter to the Corinthians, he had to deal with the man who was living with his father’s wife and all
that kind of thing. They had problems over communion and the celebration of the Lord’s supper and so
he was dealing with specific issues there. But in Ephesians he isn’t. The church at Ephesus had
not a whole lot of problems. Old Luther described the letter to the Romans as the purest and
plainest expression of the gospel that you could find — and that’s one of the reasons I attempted
to expound it over those years. But I think Lloyd-Jones is right in saying that if Romans is the
purest and plainest exposition of the gospel, then Ephesians is the sublimest and the most majestic.
It is a wonderful book and it’s only when you begin to see the complexity of the old Greek
sentences that you realize how full of eloquence it is. You begin to see this is not an ordinary
exposition of the gospel at all. You could in fact say there are many characteristics that it has,
but one of them certainly is that it’s reality described from the standpoint of God. It’s reality
described from the standpoint of God. Actually, it’s describing reality from the heavenly places
and so it is more real than most of what we are concerned with. We’re concerned with, “What can the
Lord do for me? What has the Lord saved me from? How is the Lord going to help me in this
I remember the gentlemen, Edwin Ore. I think he’s now with Jesus. He was a very intelligent, very
scholarly man from Belfast who went to Cambridge University, had two or three Cambridge degrees, and
then traveled all around the world in the 1920s and ‘30s, believe it or not, as an evangelist having
very, very large meetings in America, and Britain, and in Africa, and in Europe. So really, he was a
very powerful man. Many years ago, when Irene and I met with him for lunch in Los Angeles, I
remember him saying, “So much of today’s Christianity is like the song, ‘Is there anyone around who
could lift me off the ground?’”
I think that that describes a lot of what we call, Christianity”. It’s very egocentric. It’s
utterly preoccupied with, “Was it a good meeting?” not, “Did it bring glory to God?” but, “Was it a
good meeting in that it brought satisfaction and pleasure to me?” And, “Was this a good prayer
meeting?” usually means, “Was I inspired by it? Were there a lot of emotional prayers that lifted
me up?” So often we’re thinking in terms of, “What can the Lord can do for me? Or, “I’m not going
to that church anymore because the teaching isn’t as good as I want”, or, “I’m not going to THIS
church anymore because it isn’t doing anything for me.” So we’re utterly preoccupied with
ourselves. It’s really atheism, but we give it the name of “Christianity”.
Well of course, Ephesians is a complete corrective to that. It talks about reality from the point
of view of heaven, the “heavenly places”. It’s full of language that defies the use even of
ordinary adjectives. So you find that Paul piles adjective on adjective on adjective because he’s
really beginning to hit those things that no one can describe in ordinary human words. It has
another great corrective to our attitude here because he makes no excuse for saying, “There’s a
mystery. There is a deep mystery in God. There is a mystery that we will never completely
understand.” Of course, we silly little people have said, “Oh, there must be no mystery. We must
understand it fully otherwise, we can’t accept it.” We understand little of it because we’ll only
accept what little we understand and we will not go on trust at all. We miss all the glory, and the
beauty, and the wonder of what God has for us because we’re always analyzing the thing, taking it
apart, finding out how you do this.
Think of how often you hear: “How do you pray? How do you get filled with the Spirit? How do you
speak in tongues? How do you witness?” We’re always talking about “how to” — how to so that
somehow we think we can do it. Well of course, Paul says, “There is a great mystery here. There is
a mystery, some of which you will never plum, and you will need to trust your Father.” Of course,
often we end up in our methodological atheism because we will not accept there is a mystery and we
won’t trust our Father. We’ll only trust ourselves and our pea brains, because that’s about the
size they are compared with his. That’s why we often see our Christianity as so human or so
humanistic. It’s really deteriorated into a kind of atheistic salvation much like Buddhism.
Ephesians, of course, changes all that because Paul says, “It’s God. It’s GOD that matters. God is
the center of everything. God is the controller of everything.” We always want to control. That’s
why many of us end up with tranquilizers and many end up in psychic wards — because we try to
control our own lives the way WE want. We want to control everything, every little thing. We grow
tighter and tighter and we actually shrink more, and more, and more until actually, we don’t have a
very large sphere of reality at all. It’s a very small sphere.
We live in a very tiny world and inside that tiny world, as Chesterton said, “The insane are very
logical and they’re very logical inside their own insanity. It’s just they don’t reach out to
reality.” So we’re very logical in that. That’s why people shrink and grow smaller, and smaller.
I didn’t catch it completely, but I think Sheila was saying that some guy killed an old age
pensioner by pushing a grocery trolley into him yesterday. That’s why we do this kind of thing.
That’s why we have road rage because we have this tiny little world that gets smaller, and smaller,
and smaller, and we alone matter — nobody else matters. It’s utter unreality. God, of course, is
allowing dreadful things like that to happen — to give us warning, “You’re shrinking into a hell of
Ephesians takes it out into reality and Paul says, “God, GOD is the one who controls everything.”
Why did Jesus wait for 2,000 years to come after the century began? Well, because God times
everything. God times things. God determines things. But you know, we have learned even to rebel
against that. We want, “Oh, but why did he? Why did he?” And so dumb-dumbs like me try to explain
why he did — but finally, it’s right what God has said in Ephesians, God is God. He owns the
thing. He owns the whole thing. He’s made it all. It’s his. He can do what he wants. He can
turn the thing upside down if he wants. So of course, we have turned it upside down by putting our
mighty selves, all the little dwarfs, standing on the communion table. That’s what it’s like —
lots of little pigmy’s saying, “Me, me, me.” Underneath is the Christ who has bled, who is the one
who has made the table, has made the dwarfs, has made everything. So, it’s utter unreality the
egocentricity of our Christianity today. Ephesians of course says, “No. God is the one who has
control over time. He has predestined you to be his sons through Jesus Christ from before the
foundation of the world.” It’s that great realm of eternity that Paul begins to deal with in
Ephesians. It is a mighty gospel.
Those are some of the characteristics of it, but let’s begin right at the first verse. You see it
there, Ephesians 1:1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are
also faithful in Christ Jesus.” An “apostle” of Jesus Christ is that word, “apostolos”
(ap-os’-tol-os) in Greek. You can see it (“apostle”) in English. Paul, first of all, calls himself
an “apostolos”, an apostle. What is an apostle? Well, you can look at it there as he describes it
in 1 Corinthians 9:1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives the first
characteristic of an apostle, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”
In the charismatic circles, they say, “Oh, that’s an apostolic work.” I remember one dear fellow
came to me come from Nelson Publisher. He wanted me to write a book in the old days in Minneapolis.
He said, “You’re involved in a real apostolic work.” (I didn’t take him up on it.) Well, we’re not
talking about that kind of apostle. They mean by that, “That’s very remarkable work”, or “That’s a
work” — they dare say — “on the same level as the apostles” — which is ridiculous.
So, it’s not that use of the word apostle. It’s “apostle” in the sense, “I saw Jesus. I saw Jesus.
The disciples saw Jesus alive physically. I also saw him. I saw him on the road when he struck me
blind. I saw Jesus.” So a historical apostle is, first of all, one who has personally seen Jesus.
That’s why they talked about the apostles and that’s why we talk about the Apostles’ Creed. It’s
tied to those days when Jesus himself was seen physically by men. So first of all, “Am I not an
apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?”
The second characteristic of an apostle is that there are people who have received Jesus and been
changed in their lives under his ministry. That’s why he says, “If to others I am not an apostle,
at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” So an apostle is one who
has seen Jesus alive and who has also seen God work in other’s lives through his ministry.
There’s something else about an apostle, that comes from a Greek verb that looks like that,
“apostelo” and it means “to send”. Look at Mark 6:7, “And he called to him the twelve, and began to
send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” It’s someone that
Jesus has sent. It’s not someone who has seen a need. It’s not that. It’s not someone who has
seen a need, has seen the poor children in a certain city and felt, “Somebody should try to help
those.” It’s not somebody who sees, “That place needs a church. I think I ought to go and found a
church there.” It’s someone who is sent by Jesus.
An apostle is not someone who says, “Well, I have this talent,” and then it really is like this — I
know we don’t say it like this, but it is like this — “How shall I use it for the Lord?” I mean,
we’re so pathetic, but it’s not that. The apostles had none of that. They didn’t get together and
say, “Now Peter, you’re good at this. Now Paul, you’re good at this. Now you’d be good at this.
The Lord must mean you to do that.” They didn’t – they didn’t even think of talents. They knew
talents were of no value in doing God’s work, so there’s no thought of that. There was only one
thing that made them an apostle and that was they were sent by Jesus.
Nor was it that they thought, “Well, I think that ministry would fulfill me. I think I’d feel
fulfilled if I were doing that. As I imagine myself, day-by-day counseling, I think that I would
feel fulfilled. I think it would make me feel I was doing something worthwhile. It would give me a
sense of satisfaction. I could go home at night and feel that was a good day’s work.” What would
you do as you wipe the blood off from the stones? What would you do as you pulled the sword out of
your side? Would you feel, “I fulfilled the day? I feel I fulfilled my ministry?”
In other words, the apostles didn’t feel that way at all. They knew they had one thing ahead of
them, and that was probably not simply discomfort, but probably suffering and death. The only
reason they were apostles is they were sent by Jesus, not because they felt they would be fulfilled,
not because they thought, “This would be a nice life.” It doesn’t take me to paint it too vividly
for you to see, of course, we’re way off-beat. We’re completely off-beat. We’re completely
self-centered. “Well, I think I’m a good speaker, so I’m a good preacher.” “Well, I think I’m good
with young people, so I should work with young people.” “Well, I think I’m a good musician, so I
think I should be on the music ministry.” “Well, I would like to go there.” “Well, that place has
a need for the kind of person I am.” None of that.
An apostle is one who is sent by Jesus — that’s it. One who is sent by Jesus. That’s why Paul
says, “An apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Of Jesus Christ” means belonging to Jesus Christ. It means
somebody who is owned by Jesus Christ completely. It’s not just somebody who was SENT by Jesus
Christ, but someone who is actually OWNED by Jesus Christ. It’s someone who for him to live is
Christ. He thinks of nothing else but Christ. Does he think about whether he can do some good in
this church? No, he doesn’t. Does he think whether he can fulfill himself in this ministry? No,
he doesn’t. Does he think whether he can fulfill a need there in that country? No, he doesn’t. He
sees only one thing, Jesus Christ. You’re right — his world is small but it’s bigger than the
universe because Jesus Christ is the one who originated it.
To just have your eyes full of Jesus Christ is to be full of reality in a way that is far beyond
even an awareness of the world around us or the universe around us. An apostle of Jesus Christ is
someone who belongs to Jesus Christ, who is owned by Jesus Christ, who is preoccupied by Jesus
Christ, who is obsessed with Jesus Christ, who pleases no one else but Jesus Christ, who wants only
to be close to one person above all others and that’s Jesus Christ. So he’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus —
Jesus until you think the guy is crazy with Jesus. That’s what an apostle of Jesus Christ is and
that’s how you can ever know if Jesus sent him. I think all of us get into trouble when we think,
“Well, how do you know you’re sent?” Well, if you’re that close, if you’re utterly preoccupied, if
Christ fills you completely — of course you know the blink of his eye, of course you know the beat
of his heart. You feel like him. You sympathize with him. You want what he wants. So of course,
he’s able in a moment to gently transmit to you what he wants you to do — so that is there any
doubt? There is no doubt. “Woe is me, if I preach not the gospel.” [1 Corinthians 9:16] It’s not,
“Oh, I’d like to do a little preaching.” It’s, “I will die if I don’t preach.” That’s it, “I’ll
die if I don’t do what God has called me to do.” So an apostle of Jesus Christ is one who utterly
belongs to Jesus Christ.
Now, I think there’s an important verse in connection with that that we ought to just look at for a
moment because I think that it may help us ourselves and it may help us in our dealings with others.
Romans 8:9, “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God
dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” An apostle
of Jesus Christ, one who belongs to Jesus, has the Spirit of Jesus, and I think that’s a fair way to
just look at ourselves from time-to-time, and certainly a fair way to ask of others — have we the
Spirit of Christ? Have we the Spirit of Christ? Are we meek? He said, “I am meek and lowly of
heart.” Are we meek and lowly of heart or are we proud? He was humble. He kneeled down and washed
the disciples’ feet. Are we humble or are we arrogant, self-assured, and self-righteous? Are we
merciful and have we tender mercies? Have we a gentle and soft kindliness to others? Have we a
hunger to be with God? Do we enjoy prayer? Do we enjoy being with him, with our Father in heaven?
Have we the Spirit of Christ?
There are two kinds of people who fall. I think one falls, sins, does something wrong and well,
they’re annoyed with themselves. They think they’re partly wrong and they’re going to try again
next time to do better. And then I think there’s another who has the Spirit of Christ and they fall
and their hearts are filled with tears. They are disgusted with themselves. They know they’re
wrong. You only have to say something that is in accordance with Jesus’ will and they say, “Yes,
that’s what I want.” So they have the Spirit of Christ.
So, anybody who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ. If a person hasn’t the Spirit of Christ
they may believe in Christ, they may try to serve Christ but they don’t belong to Christ. If you
belong to Christ, Christ fills your whole being and he is the fountain and the source of all your
feelings and all your attitudes. An apostle is one who belongs to Jesus Christ and has the very
Spirit of Jesus Christ — and then you can see what Paul does is that he really reinforces that. In
Galatians 1:15 you can see it, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called
me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among
the Gentiles.” Verse 15 again, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born.” That’s what he
has just said in Ephesians: “An apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, when he who had set me
apart before I was born.” Not, “I’ve had such and such an education.” Not, “I’ve had such and such
an upbringing.” Not, “Because, I have these talents.” That’s all such silly, foolish, temporal
“When he who had set me apart before I was born called me.” In other words, God knew each one of us
before we were born and he foresaw our lives. He planned what we should do. The only thing we need
is not talents, is not ability, is not to know what our interests are, or what our major is at
university, or how we come across to people, or what we like to do, or what we would feel fulfilled
doing — the only issue is, what did God set me apart for before I was born? That’s it.
We’re in the same situation. God knew why he sent each of us to earth and he set us apart for that
before we were born. All we need to do is find out what that is and then, that’s what we do because
it’s God’s will alone that matters. It’s not what we’re like, or what abilities we have or what
talents we have. It’s what God’s will is for our lives. That’s the only thing that matters. And
so actually, today you can see it’s not, “What would I like to do this afternoon? What would give
me pleasure? How could I help somebody even?” — it’s, “Lord, you saw this day. What did you
have in mind for me this day? Rather, Lord, what did you have in mind for your Son Jesus using this
body that I used to regard as mine?” That’s it. That’s reality. That’s God-centered. That’s
We only got half a verse done today, but let us pray. Dear Lord, we bow before you. Oh Father, we
want to see the world the right way up, not this upside down world that we have been brought up in
where we have put ourselves in front of everything else, in front even of you. Lord, we want to
come into reality. We also want to be able to say, “[Our name], an apostle of Jesus Christ by the
will of God.” We ask you to bring us into this reality Holy Spirit. Now the grace of our Lord
Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us now and
ever more. Amen.