The third chapter is a continuation of the same general theme as
occupied us in our reading of the second chapter; viz., the behaviour
that becomes believers as being in the house of God. That this is the general subject is plainly stated in verse 15 of our chapter.
Now God is a God of order and hence in the Christian assembly
where He dwells all things are to be done "decently and in order" (1
Cor. 14: 40). For the furtherance of this the two offices of Bishop and
Deacon had been established in the church, and are referred to in this
From the first verse it would appear that there were some at
Ephesus who were aspiring to become bishops. The Apostle acknowledges
that what they aimed at was a good work but he insists in this
connection upon the all-importance of character. It is not that the
bishop may have all the spiritual qualifications that he mentions, but that he must. Moreover,
before he is appointed to take care of the church of God he must have
proved his fitness for such a work by the way in which he has governed
the far smaller and humbler sphere of his own household. He must not be
a novice, one who though possibly well on in years is only a beginner
in the things of God, else being lifted up with pride in his new-found
importance he may fall into the very fault that caused the overthrow of
Satan at the beginning. Diotrephes, who is spoken of in 3 John 9 and 10
would seem to be an illustration of what is meant.
In many of the primitive churches bishops or elders were
officially appointed, in others they do not appear to have been. But
even if duly appointed the one thing that would confer real weight upon
them would be the character of Christian godliness that Paul here
describes. Who would be disposed to pay attention to their exhortations
otherwise, or submit themselves to their shepherd care and direction in
spiritual things? Moreover there was the outside world to be
considered, as verse 7 states. The world has sharp eyes and quickly
hurls reproach if there is the least ground for it; and to accomplish
this the devil lays his snares.
The word translated "bishop" simply means "overseer." The word
"deacon" means "servant." There are many services to be rendered in the
church that are not primarily of a spiritual nature, such as those
mentioned in Acts 6. But if men are to handle such ordinary matters as
these in the service of God they need to possess very definite and high
spiritual qualifications, and to be tested first ere they begin.
The wives of deacons are specially mentioned in verse 11. This is
doubtless because diaconal service was of such a nature that they not
infrequently took part in it. Phebe, for instance, was "a servant [deaconess] of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16: 1), and was highly commended by the Apostle.
We must remember that bishops and deacons were to possess this
sterling Christian character inasmuch as they were to set an example to
the mass of believers who looked up to them. Hence all of us reading
this chapter today must accept these verses as delineating the
character which God desires to see in us. Can we read them without
feeling rebuked? How about that greed of money, or the slander, or even
the being double-tongued-the saying of one thing in one direction and
quite another thing in another direction? Pretty searching
The service of a deacon might seem a very small matter, but
nothing in God's service is really small. Verse 13 definitely states
that such service faithfully rendered is the way to higher and larger
things. This is clearly illustrated for us in the subsequent history of
two who are mentioned in Acts 6: 5. Stephen advanced to become the
first Christian martyr: Philip to become a greatly used preacher of the
Gospel, the only man designated an evangelist in Scripture (See, Acts
21: 8). Every true servant of God has begun with small and humble
things, so let none of us despise and shirk them, as naturally we are
inclined to do.
Notice that phrase in verse 7, "them which are without." At the
beginning things were quite sharply defined. A man was either within
the church of God or part of the great world without, for the church
and the world were visibly distinct. Now, alas! it is otherwise. The
world has invaded the church and the lines of demarcation are blurred.
Not blurred, of course, to God's view, but very much so to ours. It is
consequently far more difficult for us to understand how wonderful a
place is God's house and the conduct that becomes it.
Verse 15 tells us that the house of God is the church of the
living God. We are evidently to understand that the fact of our being a
part of the church, and therefore in the house, is not a mere idea void
of practical significance. The living God dwells there and He has said,
"I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Cor. 6: 16). He scrutinizes
everything and He operates there as is illustrated in Acts 5: 1-11.
Hence we should be marked by suitable conduct.
Then again, the church is "the pillar and ground [or, base] of
the truth." Pillars had a two-fold use. They were largely used as
supports, but they were also commonly erected not to support anything
but to bear an inscription as a memorial. The reference here is, we
believe, to the latter use. God intends that the truth shall not only
be stated in the inspired words of Scripture but also exemplified in
the lives of His people. The church is to be like a pillar reared up on
its base on which the truth is inscribed for all to see, and that in a
living way for the church is "the church of the living God."
The church then is not the authoritative teacher and interpreter
of truth as Rome claims but the living witness to the truth which is
authoritatively set forth in Scripture. To differentiate between these
two things and to keep them in their right relative places in our minds
is of extreme importance. AUTHORITY lies in the very word of God which we have in Scripture alone. The
living witness to what Scripture sets forth is found in the church, but
at the present moment that witness is sadly obscured though it will be
perfect and complete in glory. Compare verses 23 and 21 of John 17, and
note that what the world has failed to "believe" now it will "know"
when the church is perfected in glory.
If verse 15 speaks of the church as the witness to the truth
verse 16 gives a wonderful unfolding of that which lies at the heart of
truth, the very revelation of God Himself, spoken of as "the mystery of
godliness." There is no thought here of godliness being a mysterious
thing. The force of the sentence is rather-that beyond all question
great is the hidden spring from whence flows such godliness as is here
taught. The godliness displayed by saints in different ages was always
in keeping with such knowledge of God as was available to them, and
never went beyond it. The New Testament unquestionably indicates a
higher type of godliness than the Old Testament. But why? Because we
now have not a partial but a full revelation of God.
The godliness then which the Apostle enjoins is only produced as
we know God. In the revelation of God lies its great "mystery" or
"secret." It is a secret because made in a way not appreciated by the
world but only by believers. "God was manifest in the flesh" in Christ,
but in seeing Him unbelievers found "no beauty that they should desire
Him," only believers in seeing Him saw the Father. Verse 16, then, is a
condensed summary of the way God has revealed Himself in Christ.
The verse is one that baffles the profoundest meditation-as we
might expect. It consists of seven terse statements, six of them
summarizing the great revelation. The first of the six shows us God
manifested in Manhood, and the last shows us the Man Christ Jesus, in
whom God was manifested, received up into glory. The intervening four
give us various ways in which the reality of that manifestation was
God was "justified in the Spirit." Compare with Romans 1: 4. The
resurrection justified Jesus, declaring Him "Son of God with power
according to the Spirit of holiness" when the world had crucified Him
as an impostor. After all, He was God manifested in the flesh.
"Seen of angels." Had angels ever really seen God before?
Certainly not as they saw Him when the great outburst of angelic praise
took place at Bethlehem.
"Preached unto the Gentiles" or "proclaimed among the nations,"
for He had been so really manifested in historic fashion as to become
the subject of gospel witness among the peoples who had been far from
the actual scenes of His manifestation.
"Believed on in the world." Not by the world, notice, but in the
world. Though the world knew Him not yet His manifestation was not an
intangible something existing only in the subjective consciousness of
the onlookers or hearers, but something real and objective, verified by
competent witness and hence received by those in whom faith existed.
The one who knows by faith this real, true, historic Christ, the
true God manifested in flesh, and who as Man has gone up into glory,
possesses the secret of a life of godliness. No unbeliever can possibly
be godly though he may be of most kindly and amiable disposition as a