Ephesians – Beginning of a Bible Study

So I’ve decided to start going through the book of Ephesians and do a study, taking it slowly and really trying to digest what God’s Word says. So I may end up posting all of my learnings on here, or I might just post from time to time when I think something is really cool. I was impressed with God pointing me to this book by what my NIV Study Bible said regarding the theological message of Ephesians: “Unlike several of the other letters Paul wrote, Ephesians does not address any particular error or heresy. Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.” While I know I definitely have sins in my life that need working on, this sounds right up my alley based on where I am spiritually.

I decided to take it super slow and start with just Ephesians 1:1, and I was amazed at how much I was able to get from this seemingly innocuous verse.

Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.” An apostle is to be one who not only follows, but also does the work of; there is not reason I can’t be an apostle of Christ in the same way that Paul was. However, in doing so I must admit great responsibility and great failures in sin, because I can’t be ready to do the work unless my own heart is prepared.

The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important. We, as apostles, must align ourselves with Christ. This is what separates us from everyone else, because plenty of other religions and cults, even worldviews, believe in some form of God. But it is our understanding that Jesus Christ is also God and worthy of the same type of honor as the Father that sets us apart. We are Christians because of Christ, so to talk about who God is to someone who doesn’t believe is too broad, because I can talk to someone about God and a Muslim can talk to someone about God, and that person will be confused because “how do you separate the two?” It is Christ, the mediator between the Father and man, that is the difference, so we must be firm in our alignment with our Savior.

Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase, but when I read it in this context it was just another affirmation that nothing can be done outside of God’s purpose and plan. God will only call apostles as He has intended to call them for all of eternity. What’s more sobering is that if we have that responsibility placed on us, there’s really no way of getting out of it. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and basically all I’ve done is run away from God. But if it’s like a game of tag, I can’t forever avoid being “it.” God will catch me, because He is so much greater than me. But if I let myself be tagged, or even run to God to let Him tag me, how much sooner can I start the work, and how much greater could the potential benefit be?

Those in Ephesus are called “saints.” The study notes in my Bible say that this word carries the idea of dedication to a deity. A cross reference to Romans 1:7 and I get this description: “The basic idea of the Greek for this word is ‘holiness.’ All Christians are saints in that they are positionally ‘set apart’ to God and are experientially being made increasingly ‘holy’ by the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that all of this connotation of Christians happens before Paul explains sanctification, and it looks like the words “sanctification” and “saint” probably come from the same root in the Greek. So those in Ephesus were already on the journey down this process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, and I can relate. It is living within the will of God and separating yourself for the relationship with Him. I guess it’s also this separation that allows us to clearly understand what it is we’re supposed to do, since we are focused on God and not on the world, so it’s easier to hear His voice.

These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.” We studied the word “faithful” in Bible study last week as it relates to God’s character, and it is a statement of keeping the promises made, or keeping the covenant. So in a sense, Paul is applauding the Ephesians for continuing to hold fast to God’s promises, although what’s interesting is that the covenant God makes with us doesn’t really get affected by us. God will keep His promises, whether we act or whether we rebel. But the Ephesians were demonstrating the “confident hope” laid out in Hebrews 11, and only in doing that does it seem like we can develop serious spiritual growth.

As part of being “in Christ Jesus,” they have the privilege of being included into the reward of His inheritance through the death of Christ. Notice the difference between “of Christ Jesus” and “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “of Christ Jesus” means we are to be aligned with Him, just like President “of the United States” shows where the President’s allegiance lies. However, “in Christ Jesus” means that we are not just aligned with Him, but part of the family. It is an inclusive statement, meaning we share in His joy, His love, and all of the things that make Him God. This includes the holiness and graciousness that are a part of His nature, so it ties right back to the idea of the “saints” and a common theme that runs through this book.

My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this. In a way, I have been sort of frustrated with God, because I’m having to use arguments that have the potential to swell up my pride, and as I read last night in “Mere Christianity,” “Pride comes directly from Hell.” It is the devil’s sin, and it is my greatest weakness. From this all of the other sins I fail at daily arise. God, I need Jesus to lean on in these discussions. I need to make sure I see these people through His lens, and He loves these people so dearly that He has a deep desire to see them be exposed to His truth. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of that, but I feel so weak. But the verse God keeps reminding me of is that “Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” So I will answer the call, but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joel Wheeler on August 19, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.”
    The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important.
    Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase…
    Those in Ephesus are called “saints.”
    These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.”
    My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists…but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

    Holy smoke! Seven paragraphs to exegete 21 words that basically mean “Dear Ephesians”? And conclude that your mission from God is to engage atheists?

    [Blog Owner Note: A part of this post was removed due to inappropriate and rude language. This blog will not be a home to such statements, thus Joel’s statement will not appear here.]

    Reply

    • Joel,

      You would begrudge someone learning everything he can about the Word of God? You would want someone to not do everything he is capable of to glean from the powerful message of the Lord? Yes, I was able to get 7 paragraphs from 21 verses, because God can take what seems innocuous and teach so much. If you read my blog post with a sincere heart, you will see how He did so, and I’m thankful to God for His revelation in this manner.

      I did not say that my mission from God is to engage atheists. What I said was that God placed me in this position to learn something, and until He tells me to stop I’m going to continue to do my best to learn from Him. Please don’t twist my words into something that they are not.

      It really seemed like you came here with the intention of saying the meanest thing you could think of to me. Well done, sir. In the future, please keep discouraging comments to yourself.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Joel Wheeler on August 19, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    Forgive me. I should have said:

    Topic of exegesis: Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
    “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

    Conclusion: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this.

    It seems to me that it takes a great deal of personal pride to reach the conclusion you reached from the scripture you chose. I fail to see how one follows from the other, and it seems more like you want to engage atheists, since you’ve been visiting their blogs. In other words, it sounds more like you already had that conclusion in mind, and could have supported it with any choice of scripture.

    Drawing your own conclusions and attributing them to God is the very heart of pride.

    I hope that was better/more civil.

    Reply

  3. I agree with Joel. To take apart each word individually is pointless. These words have shifted and changed over the centuries. Many of the basic ideas remain (not all…but many), but the words themselves have morphed (and have been translated) beyond their originals, so studying each word -at least in my opinion – is futile. It is looking at the trees…instead of the forest.

    This is not to say that I condone Joel coming in and demeaning you or being rude…that’s not the case. Your blog is a home for your ideas. I believe you are the type of person who would welcome a person into your actual home to discuss points of contention or disagreement with you. But, I don’t believe that you (or anyone) should tolerate someone coming into your home to insult your cause, your ideas or your mission.

    As for your mission of discussing and trying to change the minds of atheists…I’m afraid Mark 3:22-30 would find that mission to be futile. Matthew 12 also has words to this effect. So, if the bible has written atheists off as eternally and unforgiveably condemned – why is it that there are so many Christians who will stop at nothing to change our minds?

    Reply

    • I’m sorry, Joel, but I wasn’t under the impression that you knew me or what I want. I would hope that you wouldn’t make baseless claims about what I want without really knowing me. The only thing I can say is that God speaks to those who listen, but He doesn’t always speak the same way or even in a way you would expect. Those who don’t hear His voice couldn’t really understand that. I always pray that people who make those kinds of accusations against me will one day come to a relationship with Christ and then realize what I’m speaking about. Until then, it’s really just fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 1:18.

      John, I think it’s a bit premature to think that all atheists are guilty of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think you would find a serious student of the Bible who would agree with you. If anyone who was an atheist was already condemned, then how do you explain C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Antony Flew? The point is that atheists are not lost forever, so for a Christian to write them off as so would be a grievance against God. Christians are supposed to love all around them, and we would be remiss if we didn’t try to share the joy we have found in salvation. Unfortunately, many atheists are as set in their ways as Christians, so in many cases it takes a rational and intelligent argument to start opening their eyes. That’s why I’ve really tried to study up on both sides of the coin, so I might have a starting ground with which to perhaps convince you of the truth. Sometimes, however, a person is past the point of listening to me, and that’s when I have to move on, pray for that person, and hope that God will reach them some other way. I think that’s what’s happening here with you, John. It seems like you are unwilling to listen to my reasoned arguments with objectivity, so I just have to let it go and pray God will reveal Himself to you through someone else or some other means. I wish you the best in your future blogging and other endeavors. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

    • I don’t have Adam’s talent for theological debating. I just want to bring up a very good point I heard at my own church service yesterday. Our passage was from 2 Corinthians 5, and I’ve copied the text in the New Living Translation:

       11 Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12 Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. 13 If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14 Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15 He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
       16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

       18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

      All Christians are called to preach the word to those who do not believe. And even though the Bible has made it clear that the road to heaven is narrow and not all will be saved (despite what people want to think, we have to have faith that sovereign God has laid out His plan for salvation for those who choose it) we finite humans don’t know who God has chosen and who will also choose Him back. Perhaps what Adam is doing is planting a seed, what someone else will call “food for thought.” It’s a hard road for those whom the Lord has called to obedience, and it’s all for the purpose of His glory. What blessings lie ahead for those who have had “the veil lifted” and seek to do His will while fellowshipping with Him. All I have to say is if Adam has been called by God to bring forth these topics then his obedience to follow through will be tough but will ultimately be rewarding since it’s in the will of God. And hopefully people will read it with an open mind, but if not then he has done what has been asked of him by God.

      Reply

  4. I very much liked your blog. I too, am in Ephesians. Keep writing. Love, in Christ.

    Reply

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