Just before I was first married, I came back to the United States from Israel for a few years, working in an assembly plant of a computer robotics firm in Elkhart, Indiana. Dottie and I got married and moved out to a place where we knew no one, but it turned out to be, in some ways, a very fun time in our lives! Being newly married to my sweetheart and learning about life together in a big old broken-down house with excruciatingly tight finances, we had to figure it out and make it all work. At my job, it was a stimulating time for me, as I was learning about Cyber-basic as a programming language, and how to assembly electronic robots that in turn built everything from diapers to car stereos in plant locations around the Midwestern United States. I started on the factory floor in the assembly section, and was moved after a year to a training position for new people who were hired to do that work. The company taught me my first computer language, and I explored a whole new world of tools and robotic methods that I had never even heard of before. Here is what I know: The assembly of complex robots is nothing less than a thoroughly fascinating craft, in which thousands of parts are meticulously assembled and wired to a panel, and the misplacement of ANY single part can have devastating consequences.
Let me ask you a question: “Have you ever tried to put something together that was really complicated?” The truth is, if you are a Christian, you are in the middle of learning that right now! You are learning to allow God’s Spirit to help you assemble LIFE, to live according to God’s Word, and to walk with Jesus joyfully. Like any complicated arrangement, it is not easy to learn – but there are some instructions that will help.
I think there are three simple yet profound words that can strike fear into the heart of a parent of a toddler when they bring a large box into their home… The simple words “Some Assembly Required”. The problem is that many instruction sheets seem to be written by an engineer who originally came from a Swahili-speaking village with only a marginal knowledge of English grammar and syntax. Thankfully, some manufacturers help by mercifully embedding into the instructions a series of drawings or pictures that visually show how the assembly is supposed to come together.
If you think assembling yard toys is difficult, assembling a life that honors God is exponentially more complex. Yet, again we have instructions with pictures. In the second part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we have a series of “pictures” (though they are admittedly “word pictures”) that show how a believer is to be “constructed”. Yet, because we live so long after the letter was written, the pictures may not pop out at us with the clarity they did when read two thousand years ago. I am referring to the clear and compelling word pictures Paul used in a letter to first century believers to give them clarity on the conduct of a believer – and how certain actions of the Christian should be patterned into their daily life to help them become what God intended.
Key Principle: God offered us instructions on life choices through a series of pictures that were designed to illustrate how He wants to work in and through us!
In our last lesson, we looked at the “Call of the Believer” in an effort to draw out some encouragement from the idea that believers are neither a mistake nor a surprise to God – and we found some consolation in God’s clear choice to love and care for us. Let’s move forward now into the next section of the letter that is referred to as “The Conduct of the Believer” (Ephesians 4:1-6:9). For an historian and archaeology student – this is the really FUN part of the letter – since it was relayed through a series of images from the Roman world.
Before I jump into the Roman past, let’s be clear about the direction the Apostle Paul took in the letter. Here was his bottom line: Paul argued openly that each Ephesian believer had a great calling of God, yet there was a practical side to His call. The rich inheritance believers received from the Father necessitated that they cease living as though they were still in “lost” society, following the desires of the fallen flesh. To make his point, Paul used pictures common to Roman life to address what the WALK of a believer was intended to look like.
There were six images well known to the Ephesian Roman citizens to instruct them on HOW TO WALK as a believer. In fact, Paul used that term “WALK” repeatedly between Ephesians 4:1-6:9, and we will try to make note of each as we study this section. Let’s begin with the first image…
#1: THE ROMAN FORUM SLAVE MARKET:
Ephesians 4:1-3: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
When the Apostle Paul spoke from his “light chain of arrest” to the people of the church at Ephesus, he told them to WALK WORTHY (the terms “peripateo axios” mean literally: conduct your life in a worthy manner). The image was borrowed from the familiar shopping area or forum at Ephesus – the heart of the ROMAN SLAVE MARKET for the cities of Asia Minor. Even earlier in the letter, Paul made the point believers were “slaves to sin” that had been set free and that each believer was subsequently adopted by a family of great stature (Ephesians 2:11-13). This followed the familiar post war market pattern…
In the first century, when the Romans conquered a tribe from among the Gauls or Celts, they routinely enslaved the populace and eventually made them into Roman servants, transporting the best to the slave markets across the Empire. Each Gaul or Celt had to be legally adopted and registered as part of a family “gens” or clan of Romans – and they became in the patronage system like a member of the family. Yet they needed more than a name change – they were supposed to change their lifestyle to match their new name!
As Ephesians 4:1 began, Paul anticipated something about his readership. Romans fully believed they had the unmitigated right to own conquered peoples. These were not just for the wealthy – slave ownership was common among Romans. The law demanded that dealers disclosed the ethnic origin (natio) of the slaves they were selling. In the market placards (tituli) were hung from the necks of the slaves for sale detailing their place of origin, unique abilities, special talents and (of course) less frequently, their bad points. Most were sold with a “money back” guarantee.
Paul reminded the believers they were BOUGHT by Jesus, and need to live up to the titulus placard of their skills. Look closely at Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore (parakaleo: encourage) you to walk in a manner worthy (viewed as suitable because the cost “matches” actual value) of the calling with which you have been called…”
Paul said: As I sit here under house arrest, unable to travel about freely, let me encourage all of you at Ephesus to walk in the way that matches the value of what our Lord paid to purchase each of you – and enlist you in His service. You are a servant purchased with His precious blood – the highest price ever paid. Walk like you were right for your chosen position He placed you in.
Here is the point: Jesus paid an incredible price for us – and we should serve the role that He placed us in with certain specific character traits. What are they? We should serve with these five characteristics today:
1. 2 with all humility (other person centeredness) Put the other people in your life before yourself.
2. with gentleness (prah-oo’-tace: feminine noun from the root pra-, emphasizing divine sourced “gentle strength” which expresses power with reserve and gentleness). Care for others tenderly.
3. with patience (makro-thumia). Don’t easily boil or erupt with them.
4. showing tolerance (an-ekh’-om-ahee: endure, bear with) for one another in love (agape). Bear with their needs, and meet them where you are able.
5. 3 being diligent (spoo-dad’-zo: be swift, quick) to preserve (tay-reh’-o: to guard) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Catch every opportunity to build up and keep people together.
I am walking with Jesus well when I put others before myself – just as Jesus did in dying for me. I am pleasing Jesus in my walk when I am tender to others, not snapping or angry in responses to them. I make Jesus smile when I look with understanding at my needy brothers and try to meet their needs – even when it will cost me. I please my Lord when I am swift to hold believers together, and keep the unity that He gave us in Jesus. In a strange way, Paul said, rise to the price you cost God, and that will please Him.
There was a sign around your neck when Jesus chose you – and it showed what He could make out of your life. Read it, and then try to live accordingly.
#2: THE ROMAN TRIUMPH PARADE (Virs Triumphalis)
How were the massive number of slaves brought from Gaul or Celtic territories to the ROMAN SLAVE MARKET? In grand Roman triumphalism, it was done by city “triumph celebrations” that began in Rome and were mimicked in major cities, along with the erection of monuments following the parades. Telling believers they are “slaves to Christ” is accurate, but would have been no doubt humiliating, and there was a balancing truth of SIGNIFICANT VALUE that was also illustrated by a common image from the Roman world – A VIRS TRIUMPHALIS Roman victory parade.
Paul followed up the imagery of the slavery with the imagery of THE TRIUMPH PARADE of Jesus, where he led the captives and spread out gifts before the crowds gathered in His honor.
Ephesians 4:7 “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9 (Now this [expression], “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
As Rome spread her control over the Mediterranean Basin and beyond, it was her custom to welcome her victorious generals and their troops with a massive procession that would work its way through the Forum under a series of “triumphal arches” showing the new triumph’s connection to the history of Roman domination. It was a day of celebration that eventually became the template for such parades across major cities the empire. It was a day for heroes! The crowds attended because “sparsiones” were tossed to onlookers, like tickets for free beer or conquered brass jewelry chains, etc.
In order to celebrate the Triumph legal conditions had to be satisfied: The general in attendance must have been the field commander. The campaign had to be completed, the region pacified, and the troops brought home. At least five thousand of the enemy must have died in battle. The conquest must have contributed to Roman expansion and civilizing of the masses of barbarians. It must have been against a foreign foe, not a civil war.
The Procession typically would follow this order:
1. State officials and the Roman Senate.
3. Spoils of war (eg., The golden candelabra, the Table of Showbread/Presence and gold trumpets in Titus’ Triumph of the Jewish War.)
4. Pictures of the conquered land, models of ships destroyed and citadels captured.
5. A white bull to be sacrificed.
6. Captives in chains: Enemy princes, generals and leaders to be executed.
7. Lictors: Minor officials bearing fasces (bound rods) who cleared the way for
the person(s) to be honored.
8. Musicians playing lyres.
9. Priests carrying censers of perfume. To the victors it was a perfume of joy,
triumph and life. To the following captives it spoke of defeat and death.
10. The general in a chariot drawn by 4 (white?) horses. The general wore a
purple tunic with gold palm leaves and over it a purple toga with gold stars.
11. The general’s family.
12. His army wearing their decorations and shouting “Lo triumph!”
The line of march there would have soldiers holding flowers and urns of burning incense. The aroma would be sweet to the victors. The days of celebration would follow during which many of the captives would be offered to Roman vanity and bloodletting in the arena. For the victors there were fame, fortune and honors. For the captives there was slavery or death. Do you recall how Paul related this to the early Christians? In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 Paul wrote: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”
Paul’s image was this: the conquest of Jesus over the enemy demands a triumph ceremony where the demonic world would smell the aroma of death – completed in Revelation 20. For the saved, the same aroma was a fragrance of the life of Christ given to us – and meant to be flowing from what we are, what we do and what we say.
Paul again referred to the “triumph of Jesus” in Ephesians 4, noting that Jesus came to the “Lower parts of the universe, namely the earth” and in the triumph parade recalling his victory, He spread out sparsiones – gifts of conquest – in the form of men who were “apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers,”. These were to be seen as treasures that Christ provided from His conquest – men who were liberated by Him and tossed into the crowds to transform the world. Part of the Triumph was the reminder that Rome conquered, but left behind in those places men of honor that would “civilize” the barbarians and bring them into the world of Roman influence. In a way, these were also gifts spread to take the world into the cause of Rome. Jesus did it similarly with men who He prepared in one place, and then “tossed” them into a new place to grow His kingdom until the local population comes to the unity of Christ.
#3: THE THERMAE (ROMAN BATH):
Ephesians 4:17 says: “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 2 1if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in [the likeness of] God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Let be careful to look at the words and see what Paul was saying to the believers through the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
• All free Romans knew well the inside of a Roman bath. Most business contracts in the city were forged either in the shadow of the union hall called a COLLEGIUM or in the bath complex. Lawyers in Rome took client meetings at the baths.
• Every Roman bath had a locker room called an APODYTERIUM, where slaves stood guard over their master’s clothing, or had that clothing cleaned while the master bathed and lounged in the hot, tepid or cold bathing rooms – or perhaps in the porches or athletic gym areas attached to the baths.
• In every Roman bath complex where the artwork is still visible archaeologically, there are two themes – sexuality and pagan mythology. Nude statuary abounds with some of it designed to be quite provocative.
• Paul’s instruction to the believers was to recognize that the pagan mind doesn’t have the connection to God, and therefore has NO SENSITIVITY to pleasing God. They are self-centered about pleasure, and calloused about sensuality. They live to please appetites, not to please the Creator that made them.
Believers need to take off the old clothing of that life and put on godly behavior –that includes the distinctive behavior of right acts and holy deeds. In the end of the chapter (4:25-32), Paul applied the practice of this walk to WORDS about each other, PATIENT BEHAVIOR to one another, PEACE between believers, and the IMMEDIATE CEASING of anything that hasn’t been pleasing to God. Here is what God instructed through Paul:
Don’t walk like the world. Be distinct in pure thinking and pure words. Show good behavior between believers – not lustful and shady acts and words. If you are taking what isn’t yours – quit. If you are letting your mind wander – stop. It is time to change your clothes into new garb God wants you to wear! In this image God simply said: “Put on the distinctive clothing of one who walks in purity!”
#4: THE ROMAN THEATRE
Paul kept pressing common imagery, and we read more in Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and [there must be no] filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Rome was a vast empire, spread across three continents, with a variety of people groups and national backgrounds. They didn’t have a common alphabet, or common background. They were ethnically diverse with no common history. How can you mold that variety into an empire that sees itself as a singular people? The Romans used spectacles and entertainment to do it. They borrowed from the Greeks the theatrical entertainment used in Greek cities to tell tales of pagan mythology and morality – but the Romans moved the plays into more action and less thought. They liked violence, and they exploded with laughter over crude groin humor.
The Greeks had “tragedies” – where the gods and goddesses would mess with men and bring a turn of fortune to human characters. “Comedies” emerged that were produced to show how the foolish slave may show more wisdom than his wealthy owner – and surprise endings like that. Rising quickly in the Roman theatre was another kind of play – THE MIME. A mime didn’t act like they do in parks today – they were more like a “Saturday Night Live” presentation that was thoroughly base and sexual in its speech. The characters and situations were farcically portrayed as they MIMICKED characters of government – much like Tina Fey imitated Sarah Palin on stage a few years ago. The coarse dialogue and ludicrous actions were to get the crowd laughing.
Paul leaned into this image with the words “Be imitators of God” (using the term “mimic” – a theatrical term). Mimicking God means to walk in love – to meet needs of those around you. Mimicking lost men was to walk controlled by insatiable lusts. Follow God meant NOT walking with a coarse speech. Our mouths should show our Savior. We should speak truth, not empty chatter. We should speak in a way that builds up – not sensual and base speech. People should know we are believers by the way we speak. They should know by the way we encourage. They should notice that some words we used to use – we WON’T use now. They should see that even our sense of humor was changed by Jesus.
In this theatre image, Paul said: “Don’t imitate actors, imitate God!” His words are true, loving, encouraging and helpful – they are never base or inappropriately sensual. His children should speak like their Father speaks – not like the street speaks.
#5: THE VIGILES (Night Watchman) of Roman Street
“Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the fruit of the Light [consists] in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.”
Roman cities were teeming with people in the daytime, but the streets were not full after dark. Because there was no refrigeration or way to keep food fresh, markets had to be resupplied every night for the next day’s commerce with fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. Since the streets were so full, many cities would not allow load carts to occupy the streets during the daylight hours. As a result, the people on the street in the darkness of night were delivery carts, those leaving the brothels and pubs, and a range of seedy characters associated with the darker side of Roman life. “Respectables” traveled together from a dinner party as a caravan, and were accompanied by body guards. Theft and murder were much more common in a world that had so many poor in close proximity to the rich, and didn’t have the advantages of a “CSI” to find the guilty.
The Romans established the Vigiles Urbani (“watchmen of the City”) as both firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. In the beginning, the “Triumviri Nocturni” were privately owned slaves of the state, organized into a group that attempted to watch over the city at night. They were respected by law abiding citizens, and feared by thieves and thugs. They worked to please the magistrates of the city who called them to this excellent service. Paul told the believers to be like the night watchmen – the vigiles. They needed to wake up in the darkness, and use the light of their torches to expose the dark deeds of men. They weren’t to be naïve, nor were they to be ANY part of the dishonesty and darkness. The people of God carry a torch in the darkness. They help law abiding people to feel safe. They create safe places for people by their trustworthy character and their refusal to be involved in the shady work of wicked men and women. They work to please their Master.
Notice that Paul especially pointed out that when believers walk as children of the light, we get excited about learning what will bring our Master joy. Mature believers seek God’s delight – and not their own. They plan their day around things that will bring their Master honor – and not simply care for their desires. Paul told the people to be like the NIGHT WATCHMEN that walk in dark streets – but believers should carry the light of the truth – and that brings a measure of comfort to others around them while it makes God smile because of them.
#6: THE ROMAN PUB (Popinae and Tavernae)
Another reference to a “walk” is found in Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; 21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Here Paul had another image at his disposal. Roman’s celebrated Bacchus – the god of wine – and his gift daily. They had a fundamental belief that wine was a daily necessity to daily life. They made the drink “democratic” and ubiquitous: it was available to slaves, peasants and aristocrats alike. Wine bars are found all over Pompeii and Herculaneum – cities uncovered by archaeologists. The Roman popina (plural: popinae) was an ancient Roman wine bars, where a limited menu of olives, bread, and soups or stews were sold, along with a selection of wines of varying quality and taste. This was the common pub for plebians of the lower classes of Roman society – the part of Roman social culture where so many believers came from. Every one of them knew about the popina, as we would know about a “Chilis” or “Outback Steakhouse”.
The wine bar had simple stools and tables. They provided food and drink, but also often provided sex and gambling. Respectable Romans of the upper classes considered these as seedy places of crime and violence. Though gambling with dice was illegal, huge numbers of dice have been uncovered in excavations of popinae in cities like Pompeii that most people ignored this law. Several wall paintings from Pompeian popinae show men throwing dice from a dice shaker. Prostitutes frequented popinae, met their customers and took them elsewhere. Some of them, perhaps many of them, had players of music, and provided background for drinking songs that echoed into the night…. Paul told the believers not to be foolish as the people who gambled away their money and fell into a drunken stupor. He called to their attention a different kind of song they could sing-the spiritual and uplifting song both on their tongue and in their heart before God.
The term DRUNK is literally “dominated by” – and refers to an issue of control. Don’t be CONTROLLED by wine – it is a waste. Rather, be filled with the Spirit of God – dominated by HIM. That domination of the Spirit – as opposed to “spirits” will lead to SONGS for the believers, and placing others ahead of ourselves.
Drunks don’t care about how loud they sing in the dark streets. They aren’t concerned about the baby they will awake. They are unaware, and empty of caring and consideration. Spirit-filled believers are filled with song that builds up, song that pleases the Master. They have songs of the heart, and songs of the lips while the do service with their hands. Paul told the people to get out of the “spirits” of the PUB and into the Spirit of God.
Here is the truth: Slave markets, Roman Parades, Baths, Theatre shows and Pubs – were all places Ephesians and all Romans knew. Paul wanted to make clear that their lives needed to be distinct, worthy, wise and dominated by God’s Spirit – and he used the best images he could think of to make the point. In the end it comes down to this: Life is like a coin. You can spend it anyway you want, but you can only spend it ONCE. Will it be for you, or for Him?