Ephesians 1-3 Reconciliation and healing in a world of exclusion and violence
Consider the following outline of Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus:
1. God's plan for the world: Ephesians 1
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Paul has two essential messages of good news - one expressed most carefully in his letter to the Romans: Justification by faith. Second, through Ephesians we discover the Pauline understanding of God's plan for universal salvation: Reuniting all things through Christ. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul describes God's design.
- God had this plan in mind even when laying the foundation of the creation. It was kept a secret, a mystery, even from the angels. In the fullness of time, God has revealed it.
- God's design is revealed in Jesus Christ, so that in and through him the whole creation will be reconciled and brought to a unity and harmony. The life, work, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus thus was not an isolated event at a certain date in history but an event of universal significance, forming the centre and focus of God's action in this world.
- The majesty of God's plan is that it takes into account every created being including the believers in Ephesus and other churches. All believers are reconciled into one body and also are instruments for reconciliation. This explains the identity and mission of the body of Christ.
- Paul starts with the universal and then comes to the particular. The whole pattern is drawn first, as in a jigsaw puzzle, and then the bits are fit into place within the whole. That which is true of all may be demonstrated in the particular.
- Jesus Christ is the pattern and the centre of the whole fabric. He is both God's mystery and men's and women's salvation. In him, all the universe joins together and, with him as the head, offers eternal sacrifice to the Father.
- Human beings are defined in terms of this greater significance and purpose. In Jesus Christ, humanity is made whole and restored to the purpose for which God has created man and woman. This is healing or salvation (in Greek, sostham).
v.9: mystery of his plan - a secret now made known
v.10: gather all things in Christ - IN CHRIST - abiding - dwelling in Christ
v.13&14: Holy Spirit - the sealing and the first installment (araborn) - safety security.
v.18: That you may "know" - experience at the depth of your being - reason and revelation.
v.22&23: The church - Christ's body - filling all things.
Questions for discussion
- Why is it that we do not often recognize the signs of God gathering all things together in Jesus Christ? Is it that our inner eyes are not yet open?
- The church is the fullness of him that fills all in all. Where is it? Where do the church's structure and essential being come into conflict?
- If this is God's design and purpose, how does our exclusiveness affect God's plan? Can we name our exclusion of others as sin - as that which tries to destroy God's plan?
Glory and honour to the eternal one sitting on the throne. Thanks and praise to God for Jesus Christ in whom we have inherited our participation in the Spirit's movement towards the unifying of all things.In Christ's name we pray. Amen.
2. The human predicament: Ephesians 2
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called "the uncircumcision" by those who are called "the circumcision" - a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands - remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
Paul speaks in uncompromising words about the condition this world is in. What we were as created humanity, before the fall, is in direct contrast with what we are. No attempt at rationalizing, compromising and explaining away the fall of the human race, in cultural and ethnic terms, will remove the depth to which we have fallen. An acceptance of this leads us to a broken and contrite heart and to receive, at the foot of the cross, a new and totally different way of life. The picture drawn is both individual and collective - of each of us as persons, and of all of us as a community. Look at the words the author uses - "dead in trespasses and sins", "walk according to the course of this world", "the prince of the air", "the lust of our flesh", "children of wrath" - these words are deep and penetrating.
As deep as was our fall, so great is God's love. God bestows redemption on us freely. All this demonstrates God's plan of universal reconciliation. The path through which God achieved the bringing together of all came first by creating one New Humanity and then breaking down all the middle walls of partition that divide person from person. The cross is the foundation of this unity. We approach God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, at the cross of Christ. The process of reconciliation still continues.
Some important verses
- Reality of the old nature - old world v. 1-3; and the transformation, v. 4-7.
- v. 8-10: A short summary of the experience of salvation.
- v. 13&14: In Christ - the heart of Paul's theology: peace, breaking down walls as already having been accomplished in him.
- v.19-22: Secret of growth in the body of Christ - "Become what you are!"
- To name SIN as real and serious, cutting through the inner being of persons and communities, is necessary to recognize if we are to enter freely into the experience of being forgiven. Attempts at calling sin by any other, lighter name will mean only that we deceive ourselves.
- The love of God is far greater than any sense of our unworthiness. Justification, therefore, is by faith not by works. We are children of grace.
- People and society are created for good works, plans for which have already been laid by God. If we obey God's plans, unity and reconciliation are guaranteed. And we will have the joy of knowing that our lives are significant and sacred as instruments in God's hands.
- Can we trace the malice in our world today, and in persons and families, to its real root cause of alienation from God, and recognize malice as sin which can be overcome only by the blood of Christ on the cross at Calvary?
- The worth of a human being often is calculated today in terms of money, position, influence etc. Can we acknowledge and admit our mistake in judging according to these measures, saying boldly that our worth is based on the Almighty's reconciling us to God and to one another, and assigning us a role in the reconciliation of the world to God?
- "Household of God" - Is that not what the church is called to be? The foundation is historic: the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. This household is a building fitly framed together - growing into a holy temple in the Lord. Does that describe the church we know? If not, we should check where we have gone wrong.
We praise you, Lord, from the depth of our being, for your abundant love, which you have shown to us by cleansing us and building us together into your holy temple, a household of faith. Forgive us our lapses. Heal us, and build us up by your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
3. Therefore, the task ahead: Ephesians 3
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles - for surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul brings up his own role as an illustration of how human beings participate in the divine design, despite the context of the human predicament of sin. At a significant point in history, Paul played a role in liberating the church from being seen as a mere sect within the Jewish faith. As an apostle, he set off into the wide world to reveal God's wisdom. In doing so, in all humility, he helped to disclose God's great design for coming generations. God's plan is to unite all things in Christ and all who accept their role in the church, the body of Christ, discover this intention. He calls us to become fully engaged, bold and courageous in the face of frustrations and persecutions. What else can we do now, except to bow in prayer before God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ask that the indwelling presence of Jesus be in all, so that we may have a glimpse of his love above everything else?
Verses to note
- v. 8&9: the unsearchable riches of Christ - a key topic in Paul's preaching.
- v. 11: the wisdom of God - the plan is to be known to all.
- Prayer: v. 14-19
- To be strengthened in the inner person.
- Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith - which is healing.
- Prayer, v. 14-19 - to know God's love.
d) Filled with all the fullness of God.
- God acts in history to bring history to a focus point, so that history has meaning, purpose and direction. History is a dialogue between God and humanity. That is the way in which history should be interpreted.
- To understand this unique plan of God, one has to take his/her stand along with fellow believers within the unity of Christ's body the Church. The role of the church is to reveal God's plan to the world through believers. This is mission.
- In taking this stand with the multitude who are called, we experience the indwelling presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is healing, health and wholeness. Physical well-being contributes to this, but it is not identical to wholeness - which is salvation, discovering the true meaning and purpose of life.
- If healing is wholeness, it is necessary that the ministry of the church should proclaim removal of all divine walls of partition caused by caste, creed, colour or culture. Can we then assert that any such divisions we may see within the church are a denial of the very nature of Christ's body, and so are sinful?
- Where do we start building up unity - in persons, family, church, world?
- What practical steps may we take to re-assert the wholistic, unifying nature of our mission - on the personal and community levels?
Abide in us, O Lord, that we may increasingly abide in you. And thus, while experiencing wholeness in community with others, may we proclaim and demonstrate to the world the unity and reconciliation you have offered freely to us and to the rest of mankind. Turn us from patterns of strife and exclusion, and make us one in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.