April 28, 2014.
Today we will discuss what I see as the fist section of Ephesians, the first three chapters. Remembering what we discussed yesterday, the central theme of the epistle seems to be unity. The first three chapters deals heavily with the unity between the Jews and Gentiles. Before Christ, there was two distinct groups of people in the world in God’s eyes. Israel, his chosen people, and the Gentiles, everyone else. This ideology seems to have permeated into Christianity, understandably so, at the onset as in the beginnings of Christianity, most if not all Christians were Jews.
Because of this ratio of Jewish Christian and Gentiles who were now being taught the good news about Jesus, some of the Jews started to get mad. You have to understand that many of these people had been taught all their lives that they were God’s chosen people and their circumcision set them apart. It is therefore a bit more understandable that when they converted to Christianity, they would think that the Gentiles needed to at least be circumcised. This seemed to be a big dividing point amongst Christians.
I would pick Paul’s thesis statement for these first three chapters as the beginning of chapter three.
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
I think paul states the whole meaning of the letter right here. Almost everything that is said can be drawn back to this point. The Gentiles are now invited into the kingdom as well as the Jews. The Jewish Christians were ok with this for the most part, but their mindset was still on works. Old Testament law was very much based on works. Keep the feasts of The Lord, do the Ten Commandments, sacrifice once a year for your sins, ect. The law was a schoolmaster until the perfect sacrifice was to come, to transition mankind from childhood to adults. This transition was hard for the Jewish Christians. I believe this is why Paul talks so heavily on grace in chapter 2.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in 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 coming ages 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 a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
This was new. Salvation was not obtained through works. No amount of animal sacrifice could atone for our sins. That’s why Christ went to the cross. Keeping the Ten Commandments wouldn’t earn you a ticket to heaven. Circumcision no longer did anything, good or bad, for mankind. It’s almost a transition from physical to spiritual. No longer physical circumcision, but the circumcision of the heart. No longer the Ten Commandments, but the command of love. No longer the law of Moses, but the law of Christ.
Here’s what Paul is not saying: “We are not to do anything to submit to Christ, because that would be us working to get to heaven.” Salvation is still conditional, as it had always been. The conditions had just changed. Before Christ, the condition was you had to be a Jew, or perhaps a proselyte… Maybe. Now, all men are called to have faith. Faith is a condition of salvation. We are called to repentance. We are called to confess Jesus as the son of God before men. We are invited to reach the blood and be raised a new through the watery grave of baptism. All of these are conditions of salvation, but none of them earn our salvation. Salvation only comes through the grace of God, and nothing else. “By grace we have been saved, through faith.” I believe some people take this to the extreme without understanding the context of the whole book.
So what about the beginning, where Paul speaks heavily on being chosen and foreknown? I think Paul starts off this way because he wants the Gentiles to know that they have a place in God’s kingdom. If you notice, Paul doesn’t really make a distinction between the two until the second chapter. He starts the book as if all Christians are one, all have been chosen and the plan had been so from the beginning. The opening paragraph to me seems like something that would have been written to Jews before Christ. I think he opens with this on purpose to show that the Gentiles are spiritual Jews just the same. The one church, the body of Christ, had been planned (foreknown) from the beginning. It wasn’t plan B. The entirety of the Bible points to one person: Jesus.
We are all one in Christ Jesus.
Suggested Daily Reading: Ephesians 1-3.
Let us strive towards the unity of the body.