Archive for August, 2018

Reading Between the Lectionary Lines: Ephesians

August 4, 2018

We’re taking a short break from Mark and making a detour into the epistle, or letter, to the church in Ephesus– Ephesians, we call it. Last Sunday in worship we read the introduction:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In 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, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In 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; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

These verses are essentially the writer’s thesis statement, which can be summed up in this way:

  1. The Ephesians are blessed in Christ and chosen in Christ by God, destined for adoption into the family of God
  2. They are redeemed and forgiven by grace that God has freely chosen to give to them
  3. This was God’s plan from before the beginning of time and includes all things earthly and heavenly
  4. The people who were the first to believe in Christ have received this as an inheritance
  5. Others who hear and believe also receive the inheritance and are marked by the Holy Spirit

Our upcoming passage from Ephesians is a lovely passage about the coming together, in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles. The two groups, who had once been adversaries, who once considered each other to be cut off from God, were now one because of Christ. For more on this passage you can come to worship this week!

Between the passage about the young church’s inheritance in Christ, and the description of Jews and Gentiles being unified under Christ, the lectionary skips over 1:15-23 and 2:1-10. Chapter 1 verses 15-23 are some more introductory words from the writer of the epistle– who may or may not be Paul– but who certainly knew the church in Ephesus. There is praise and thanksgiving for the faith of the Ephesians, as well as a little more edification about the inheritance in Christ that the author wants the Ephesians to ‘see with the eyes of their hearts’. Chapter 1 concludes with glowing praise of God who has made all things possible in Jesus Christ.

But it is in skipping chapter 2:1-10 that we really miss out. These verses are a preface and a lens through which we read verses 11-22 (our passage for Sunday, August 5.) V. 1-10 is as follows:

You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in 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. 3All 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.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

This is what God has done for us. God, who always loved us– even when we were “dead through our trespasses” (living in unbelief and disobedience)– has taken us out of that way of life and shown us a new way through Christ Jesus. What God has shown us is that the worldly way is unable to bring us completeness, unable to mend our brokenness, repair our relationships, create clean hearts within us. Only God can do that, and God has done that. For all of us.

But that isn’t the end of it. What we see in vv. 11-22 is that God wants something from us– or wants a change to happen within us. God desires for us to be unified in Christ– all Jews and Gentiles (or Muslims and Christians or gay and straight, or pick your opposing groups) together as one in Christ Jesus.

Not that we are all the same. Think of Christ as an umbrella, and we’re under it. When you’re under an umbrella in the rain with someone, you and that person don’t become the same person, right? You each retain your own individuality. However, you’re both under the same umbrella and must cooperate with each other in order that both stay dry. It’s similar with Christ: once we are in Christ we are new creations, not in the sense that we become just like others but in the sense that we are changed towards each other and the world so that welcoming and hospitality and healing and love are the response to others whether we are like each other or not.

Questions for thought:

When we read things like verse 3 we typically think of “sexual sins.” What other behaviors might be included in passions and desires of the flesh? Is there another way to understand passions and desires of the flesh as something other than things we do?

What does it mean to you that by grace you have been saved?  Do you believe that statement? Do you believe it for other people, maybe even people you don’t get along with or who have wronged you?

What are we saved from? What are we saved for?