May 31, 2015.
Daily Reading: Ephesians 1-3.
Background: The book of Ephesians is a letter written by Paul to a church that was probably founded by his first journey there recorded in Acts 18, where he has a short visit; the work seems to be carried on by Priscilla and Aquila. At the time of his letter, Paul takes an active, but distant role in his teaching. Unity (Jews and Gentiles, mainly) is one of the central themes of this letter, perhaps even the key point. Paul begins by making his case that he was called to preach to the Gentiles, to tell them the good news that God had now given all men, Gentiles and Jews alike, an invitation into the kingdom. There was no longer “circumcision” and “uncircumcision.” There was no Law of Moses to separate the Jews from the rest of the world. God was now calling all men into on unified body through Jesus. After Paul finishes writing about unity (as the main focus at least), he divides up responsibilities. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, teachers, servants, masters, Paul talks to them all. The concept of unity does not dismiss different roles. Paul was adamant that though we truly are all one in Christ, each of us has our own part to play, and all parts will add up to the whole. Thus, even when Paul addresses the different roles, he is still addressing the concept of unity in a way. Disunity seems to be one of the major problems plaguing the church in the first century, specifically that between Jews and Gentiles, and Paul spends much of his time trying to fight against this disunity.
Concepts and Connections.
The spiritual blessings in Christ: Though the main point of the book of Ephesians is unity in Christ, Paul does not start out by addressing the problem of disunity, but rather addresses the church as though they were acting as one, pointing out the spiritual blessings that the members of the body experience as part of the church. The church was predestined before the foundation of the world (not as a plan B when things went wrong) to bring salvation to what would become a fallen world (see Romans 9-11). This salvation was brought by the Christ, who gave His life as a ransom for all of our sins, both those of the Jews and those of the Gentiles. In Him do we receive every spiritual blessing, and through His cleansing blood can we stand blameless before the Father in heaven. We have the Holy Spirit as our guarantee (see Acts 2:38) of this eternal salvation, securing our place with Him (think of it as a downpayment, if you will). Paul’s love for the church is very apparent in all of his letters, as we see it here with him rejoicing when he heard of the faith in Christ and love for the brotherhood. He prayed for their continued wisdom and maturity in Christ, and then paints a wonderful picture of Christ seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, having been given authority and dominion over all both now and in the time to come. This is our King, and we are His body.
1. Saved by grace, through faith: Paul continues his address to the church as one here, noting by what mechanism they had obtained their salvation. Perhaps one of the most difficult concepts for believers in the first century to grasp was a salvation that was not based on works. The first people to become Christians (though they were not known by this name at the time) were Jews, and the church remained almost solely Jewish for a good period of time. The Jews did not have a full understanding of a salvation that was not based on works, for righteousness in the Old Testament was closely tied to works, such as circumcision and animal sacrifice. Though these were given in order to consecrate the people and the priest, the blood of bulls and goats never had the full power to truly forgive sins (see Hebrews 10:4). Thus it was necessary for Jesus to come and offer Himself as a pure sacrifice for sin. Through Christ, the Law had been fulfilled completely, and there no longer remained a need for the works of the Law, works that never actually had the full power to save. Paul makes it clear in this section that we are not saved by any works of the Law, but by grace alone, grace that is obtained through faith. It is only by the grace of God that anyone could even hope to have salvation. This does not negate the conditions of accepting this gift (such as a confession of faith, a commitment to repentance and submission in baptism), but rather makes it clear that it is not through works that grace is obtained, so that men could boast in their own righteousness. There is none that is righteous, not even one (see Romans 3:10-11). Paul is showing that no one can become righteous enough to stand before God through the works of the Law.
2. Once two, now one in Christ: Before Christ came to sacrifice Himself for the world, it was true that there was a delineation made between God’s chosen people and the rest of the world. Without the blood of Christ, the Gentiles were separated from God and had no hope. However, now that Christ did come, though His blood that was shed on the cross, the whole world was invited to become one in Him, both Jews and Gentiles. Through His sacrifice, the Gentiles were offered entrance into spiritual Israel, which was the kingdom of God. There was no longer a distinction to be made between the two groups, for both groups became one in Christ Jesus. They were no longer aliens, but fellow citizens and saints in the body. Christ came to break down the wall of hostility that was between the two groups by abolishing the law of commandments, that both groups might be one in His body.
1. The mystery revealed: At the beginning of this chapter, Paul discusses his specific calling as a minister to the Gentiles. In fact, this is the mystery of the gospel revealed to the sons of men now that the Messiah has come: that the Gentiles too are fellow heirs and partakers of the promise that was given to God’s chosen people. There was no longer any need for distinction between the two in terms of salvation, both had the same opportunity to be saved. It was always the plan of God to include the Gentiles in His kingdom, however this plan was hidden until the fullness of time had come about, revealing the Messiah. Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles the good news of Christ that they might gain the spiritual blessings and salvation that can only be obtained through Christ.
2. Spiritual strength: Paul then prays for them to have spiritual strength, so that they might be rooted and grounded in love, having Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith. Paul wanted them to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge and to understand His power and His ability to abundantly supply our every need, and more. Notice Paul’s focus on Christ throughout this letter, as is typically his style, which indicates the bigger picture that those who were fussing and fighting over Jew/Gentile differences were missing. Paul never missed Christ in his bigger picture. May we ever give glory to Him throughout our generations.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Exodus 33-36.
Let us be all one in Christ.