Ephesians 1: 1-2 – Part 3
It is not my intent to go through the book of Ephesians verse-by-verse. However, how often do we skip over the salutations at the very beginning of a New Testament book thinking it is so much blah-blah empty words and just a formality? However, in this study in Ephesians we’re going to pause for a blog-length to look at the first two verses of Ephesians before we go any further as the introductory words have some truths to say to us today.
When you receive a letter, where do you have to look in order to figure out who sent it? In most or all countries in Western Civilization, you need to go to the very last page to find the closing of the letter to determine who wrote the letter. How much sense does that make? About as much sense as the English practice of describing some object. In English, we list off all our adjectives before we state the object that all those adjectives are describing: It is a very large, dilapidated, faded red house. In Spanish, though (for an example of another language), one would name the object before describing it: It is a house very large, dilapidated, faded red [note: Don’t judge my Spanish. My Spanish is 54 years old – and my memory is older!].
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
[Ephesians 1: 1-2. NIV]
As we look at this passage, we know immediately who wrote it. It’s Paul! He refers to himself as an apostle. This is important to him and to his readers as the term apostle originally was applied to the twelve core followers of Jesus who were called by Jesus Christ himself to follow him and to be trained by him. Paul came along later only after his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-30). His claim of apostleship rested on his testimony that Christ himself extended the call to Paul/Saul to follow him. We are going to discuss apostleship more when we get to Ephesians 4.
To whom is this letter addressed? “To the saints in Ephesus . . . :” If you are believer, do you think of yourself as a “saint”? Traditionally in some Christian circles, a saint is one who has been considered as extra close to God as exemplified by their goodness and very godly life. In some circles, this is indicated by the person demonstrating their close relationship with God through the fulfillment of a miracle of some sort. Instead, this merely means “one who is set apart” for a certain purpose. In this sense, all believers are saints – ones who are set apart for a certain purpose. I just heard someone say last Sunday that they weren’t good enough to be a saint. That thought is a carry-over from Christian denominations who set aside exemplary individuals for sainthood. All believers are saints. And we as believers/saints are all developing a closer relationship to God through our prayers, our meditation, our thoughts and our actions. Paul even labels in verse 1 as “the faithful in Christ Jesus.”
Next, Paul casts some good wishes toward the believers in Ephesus. “Grace and peace” was a common greeting in ancient times, but Paul wishes to expand on it with a more spiritual meaning. Paul used the term “grace” twelve times in Ephesians and “peace” seven times.
What is “grace”? I grew up as a Baptist, and since my childhood I’ve heard the definition of grace as being “God’s unmerited favor.” I tend to listen and observe the words and practices in local churches, and I try to determine if they are valid for today or just a tradition without modern meaning. If you didn’t grow up in a church, this phrase “God’s unmerited favor” likely has little meaning to you.
Let’s now discuss the definition of “grace.” I propose that “God’s unmerited favor” has little meaning to non-believers – and many believers – today. Perhaps a better short definition would be “God’s undeserved love.” We humans have done nothing to earn our place in the presence of God; we don’t deserve to be there based on our actions. But God’s love is always reaching out to us to believe in him through his Son Jesus Christ regardless of if we perceive we deserve it. So I propose that our simplified catch-phrase for the definition for the word “grace” be modernized and better understood by a simple “God’s undeserved love.”
Then Paul wishes “peace” to his readers. What brings about a lack of peace? Aren’t they often barriers in some form or another that keep us separated? Peace implies that barriers are abolished. What barriers bring about a lack of peace? Just on our own, we find ourselves separated from the great love that God has for us. But God abolished those barriers through our relationship with him in Jesus Christ.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. [Galatians 3: 26-27. NIV]
Without faith, one isn’t a child of God. There is a barrier. Faith abolishes the barrier of separation between us and God to the point that we could be said to be “clothed” with Christ. No separation.
But there is another barrier – and that’s between people. In the United States, there are numerous barriers between people brought about by political differences, ethnic differences, socioeconomic differences, racial differences and gender differences – as a few listed among many. What does Paul say about these barriers in the succeeding verse to the one above?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Galatians 3: 28. NIV]
There were among the readers of Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia those Christians who were ethnically Jewish, but they adhered to their Jewish laws and traditions to the point that they felt new converts who weren’t Jewish (Greeks) should have to obey the laws and rules of the Jewish faith they came from. The barrier to peace was that there were Jews and Greeks (non-Jewish believers) who weren’t getting along. The Jews who felt this way were called “Judaizers,” and Paul wrote Galatians in part to combat this train of thought. Paul insists that in the freedom we have in Christ, there are no Jewish believers and non-Jewish believers. They are one.
In the church at Galatia, there were also slaves and those who weren’t slaves (“free”). In effect, there were those who didn’t have money or any kind of social standing or rights called slaves, whereas those who were free did have money, social standing and/or rights. [OPINION coming:] In Western Civilization, we technically don’t have slaves, although I wonder about the same effect for those who are not paid enough for their family to live on, and often they do work that people with more social standing, education, and/or money consider is beneath them. What about the person serving you in a regular or fast-food restaurant, cashiering or stocking shelves in a store, harvesting your fruit and vegetables in the hot sun? [End of opinion]. Paul is saying that there is no separation between the ones with social standing and those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder with no skin color implied.
And now there is the question of male and female. Is Paul saving the best for last? Among believers there should be no difference in religious status or position in the church between males and females. In some Christian churches, women are not allowed positions of leadership within a church. I recall a panel discussion in an MSW class on “Women and Social Work” that included a seminary professor of theology – who happened to be female. She recounted how often, when she would speak in a church, she was not able to stand on the platform where the pulpit was, because she was a woman. She had to stand on the main floor of the sanctuary with a portable lectern to present to the congregation. And the skew is still all too prevalent today with women staff (if they can even be on staff of a church or denominational office in the first place) being paid less than their male counterpart. [Opinion again] Regarding the question of female pastors or females in church leadership, who am I to tell God who he can or cannot call to serve in a professional role in a church? If someone (male or female) feels the tug of God’s calling to professional service, and that person is counted as worthy through a FAIR examination of their beliefs and the conduct of their personal life, then I am not about to stand in the way of that person’s calling and service. [End of opinion]
God’s grace (his undeserved love for us) and his peace through the abolishment of barriers through Jesus Christ should bring about for his church a confidence and strength that sadly is too often lacking.
As you have read this, may this be a time of introspection and strengthening of your own faith. And may you look for opportunities to make wrongs right within his church. I hope you have a great remainder of your week. – John –