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.