Thursday, May 7
Over the last several weeks, we’ve been using the book of Ephesians as a way to look at the question. Here is some of what we talked about along those lines in our discussion of Ephesians 4:
- Unity is a major topic in this chapter. Paul stresses how the followers of Jesus all believe the same thing and we are all part of the same body. In fact, in verses 4-6 Paul uses the word “one” 7 times. We are all bound together by the things we have in common in Jesus Christ. Everyone who says that they follow Jesus should have these things in common. We are all on the same team.
- In the middle of this unity, there is a great deal of diversity. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul mentions 5 different types of people with different jobs within the Church – and these are just types of jobs that are designed to help equip followers of Jesus for the work of ministry. In other places in his letters, Paul lists still other jobs and gifts that God has given different people for their work in the Church and in the world. Different people have different interests, skills and abilities, so God gives them different jobs and gifts so that together the body of Christ can be as effective as possible at affecting the world for Jesus.
- Maintaining unity in the midst of diversity can be a difficult thing. It can be very easy to think “that person isn’t as good as me because they don’t have the same gifts and the same job as I do.” Or sometimes it can go the other way – “I’m not as good as that person because they have more gifts and a better job in the church than I do.” Either attitude can lead to rivalry, hurt feelings, and disunity. These kinds of feelings can make it difficult to remember that all followers of Jesus are on the same team and that we should always be working together.
- Paul addresses this potential problem in two ways. First, he urges us to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love” (4:1). Paul knows that if we are humble, gentle and patient, and if we always have love as the primary way that we deal with others, disunity won’t be a problem. If we can do those things, we won’t be jealous of what we feel like other people have that we don’t, and we won’t be proud or arrogant about what we feel like we have that other people don’t. I really think that these four traits – humility, gentleness, patience, and love – go a long way to maintaining unity. The second thing that Paul does is that he compares the church to a physical body. Our bodies have lots of different parts, and each one has its own function. If any part doesn’t work well, the entire body suffers. And no part can go it alone without the other parts. Paul is saying that the church, which is the body of Christ, works the same way. There are lots of different parts, but they are all necessary. If we don’t all work together, then the entire body suffers. Paul knows that unity is crucial for the church to be as effective as possible in the world.
- If we are going to live like a follower or Jesus, we are going to need to live our lives differently than we did before we decided to follow Jesus. In the second half of this chapter, Paul talks again to the gentiles. In the first half of the book, Paul repeatedly talked about how the gentiles were on equal footing with God as the Jews. God doesn’t see the gentiles as being any different than the Jews. Both have the same access to God. But now, Paul tells the gentiles that, as followers of Jesus, they should no longer live as the gentiles do. Paul says that we need to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22-24). Paul recognizes that in our lives without Jesus, we conform to the actions and ideas of our culture, but these things don’t line up with the desires of God. Paul lists some of the elements of everyday life, such as sensuality, greed, impurity and falsehood. These are things that we still see in the culture around us today. Paul reminds us that these things don’t match up with who Jesus is or what God wants. Therefore, we need to put these things aside. These are part of the “old self” that we should be putting away. Instead, we should be putting on the “new self,” which includes things like righteousness, holiness, truth, building each other up, giving grace to others, kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiving others. Paul makes it clear that following Jesus should have an impact how we live our lives. The things we do and the way we interact with others should be different because of our relationship with Jesus.
This should give you a good idea of what we talked about concerning Ephesians chapter 4. Look for a discussion of Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 in the next few days.
Wednesday, May 6
As you know, at Quest we have been discussing what our lives will look like if we are truly following Jesus. We’ve started looking at the book of Ephesians with that idea in mind. Last week, we discussed Ephesians chapter 3. Here is some of what we talked about:
- Paul continues his thoughts on the unity between the Gentiles and the Jews. In fact, this idea is so important to him and such a new concept that he refers to it as “the mystery of the Gospel” (Eph 3:6) It can not be stressed enough that under the rules and regulations of the Old Testament that God was for the Jews alone. He had a covenant relationship with them and with no one else. This affected the culture of the Jews, the way they treated and interacted (or didn’t interact) with the Gentiles, the way that they worshiped, and even the structure of the Temple. Paul tells us that with Jesus, this division no longer exists. All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are joint heirs and we all have the same access to God.
- We see Paul’s humility in this chapter. He refers to himself as “the least of all saints” (Eph 3:8). I think lots of times that people say humble things because they think it’s expected. Even if we know that we are kind of a big deal, we also know that nobody likes a braggart. But there is more than just that going on here. We can see throughout Paul’s writings that he never forgot that he spent his early life trying to kill Christians. He hunted down people who followed Jesus so that they could be put to death. Because of this, he knew that he didn’t deserve God’s grace. He felt that God would have been justified in condemning him. However, not only did God not condemn Paul, he called Paul to take the message of Jesus around the known world. Because he knew how far God had brought him, he remained humble.
- Paul is writing this letter from prison, and he recognizes that this fact has the potential to affect his readers. When this letter was written, the Christians lived under at least the threat of persecution. Following Jesus created at least the possibility of problems with the rest of society. Paul was living proof of this, as he under house arrest. It would be easy for people to think “if even someone important like Paul can be imprisoned, think what can happen to me.” Fearing the consequences could lead to people being quieter and more passive about their faith in Jesus. In fact, this kind of persecution could create the situation of the shallow soil from Jesus’ parable of the sower. (Luke 8:4-15). In the parable, some of the sower’s seed falls on the rock grew up quickly, but when the sun came out it withered because it had no moisture. Jesus says that this represents people who receives the gospel message with joy but who fall away when the time of testing comes. Paul, on the other hand, knows that the message of Jesus runs against the rest of culture and wants to remind people not to be discouraged. In fact, Paul says that our reaction should be the opposite. Because of what Jesus has done for us, and because of our relationship with him, we should have boldness and confidence.
- Paul prays that God will give his readers strength and understanding. He knows that if his readers have these things, they will not become discouraged. With strength and a fuller understanding of God, people will become bold and confident, and they will no longer be concerned about the consequences from the world around them. Paul seems to indicate that the key to this is coming to understand the love of God. The love of Jesus is so wide and so long and so high and so deep that it surpasses knowledge. It is impossible to figure out where the “end” of Jesus’ love is. If we come to understand that, the love of Jesus will overcome all of the problems we may have in the world.
- God is able to do more than we can possibly ask or imagine. Paul wants to remind us that we can sometimes put God into a box because we think he can only act in the ways we can think of. Paul reminds us that God can do things beyond our imagination. He can also do these things while working through us. Because of God working through us, we are able to do things for Christ that are beyond what we would imagine with God.
- The end of this chapter sounds like an end. It sounds like a conclusion, and it ends with an “Amen.” Paul is clearly wrapping up one section of his letter and is getting ready to move on to his next topic. He has given us a three chapter description of who we are in Jesus. In the next three chapters he will begin to discuss some of the ways that we should live because of who we are in Jesus.
This should give you a good idea of what we talked about concerning Ephesians chapter 3. Next week, we will continue our discussions on the book of Ephesians and look at chapter 4.
Saturday, May 2
As you know, at Quest we have been discussing what our lives will look like if we are truly following Jesus. We’ve started looking at the book of Ephesians with that idea in mind. Last week, we discussed Ephesians chapter 2. Here is some of what we talked about:
- In verses 8-9, Paul tells us that we have been saved by grace through faith, and that this is the gift of God so that no one can boast. There are a number of important ideas here. The first is that we are saved, and we have the ability to have a relationship with God, because of grace. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. In fact, we shouldn’t be able to have it because we proven ourselves unworthy. But in spite of that, God shows us grace and enters into a relationship with that. We are able to receive that grace when we have faith in God. When we act in faith, God gives us his grace.
- It’s important that God’s grace is a gift rather than something that we can earn. If we could earn God’s grace by doing good things or by checking off everything on some religious list, then it would be about us and what we did. We would essentially be able to say “God wants to have a relationship with me because I’m awesome. I deserve it.” This is what Paul means when he says “so that no one may boast.” Because God’s grace is a gift, and is something that we don’t deserve and haven’t earned, it’s not about us or what we have done. It is about God and what he has done. We can’t say “I have a relationship with God because I’m awesome.” Instead, we have to say “I have a relationship with God because he is awesome.”
- Everyone who follows Jesus Christ is one. God doesn’t divide people based on class or anything else. This is not how it has always been. Before Jesus came, God essentially belonged to the Jews. If a non-Jew wanted to become a believer in God, they essentially had to become culturally Jewish. Even then, they could enter the Temple, but they could only enter the Gentile court. There was a wall that divided the court the Gentiles could use and the one that the Jews could use. There was a reminder written on the wall telling the Gentiles that if they tried to get closer to the center (and therefore symbolically closer to God) they would be killed. To the Jews, Gentiles were second class citizens. But because Jesus came, the division between the Jews and the Gentiles has been removed.
- Because of what Jesus did, people who were once separated from God are now able to come close. This has special meaning for the Gentiles, because they weren’t permitted to come close under any circumstances before. However, this is true and important for all of us. As Paul says, we were dead in our transgressions. Because of our sins, we are separated from God. However, because Jesus died and rose again we are now able to draw near to God. We are no longer strangers or aliens as far as God is concerned. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ, we are citizens of his kingdom and members of his family
- At the end of the chapter, Paul tells us that we have “been joined together” and we are being “built together.” If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then we are part of a single group. Unfortunately, as people we tend to divide ourselves back up. We divide on denominational lines. We divide on racial or ethnic or cultural lines. We divide on class lines. Often, even if we want to be inclusive an welcoming, a person who doesn’t share the dominant background of the people in our church can feel like they don’t really fit in. This is sad. In the eyes of God, the followers of Jesus make up a single group – a single Church. He doesn’t see the divisions that we make among ourselves. Unfortunately, these divisions often make it more difficult for us to work together for the benefit of the kingdom of God. In fact, they can even make us spend so much time fighting among ourselves that we waste time that could be spend on advancing Jesus’ kingdom. Paul reminds us that we need to see all followers of Jesus as one. We are all part of the same community, and we need to be able to work together.
This should give you a good idea of what we talked about concerning Ephesians chapter 2. Next week, we will continue our discussions on the book of Ephesians and look at chapter 3.
Friday, May 1
Over the last several weeks at Quest, we have been discussing what our lives will look like if we are truly following Jesus. We recognize that as we follow Jesus our lives and our character will begin to change. That change should affect us both internally and in how we interact with the world around us. We started looking at these ideas in the book of James. Last week, we moved out of the book of James and began discussing the book of Ephesians. Here is some of what we talked about concerning Ephesians 1.
- Paul wrote this letter to the people of the church of Ephesus, although it was likely intended to also circulate among the other churches in the region. The letter was for everyone in the church, so some of its readers would have been well established in their faith, while others would have been new to the church and just checking out this whole “Jesus thing.” It is important to remember that Paul is writing to people who are already part of the church. That means that he is assuming that they already understand who Jesus is and what the message of the Gospel says. You can see this assumption in how he quickly summarizes the story and importance of Jesus in about 3 verses (Eph. 1:19-21). He assumes that his readers already understand the stuff in the first couple hundred pages of the New Testament. He is trying to build on what they already know and believe. He is adding explanation and details to what they know, and he is trying to help them figure out how to put it into practice in their lives. When reading the epistles in the New Testament, we need to read them through the lens of the Gospels, because Paul is assuming that his readers already understand that part of the story.
- We’ve been adopted by God as sons. This is a big deal, for a couple of reasons. First, Paul is making it clear that God has accepted Gentiles on the same basis as the Jews. In the Old Testament, God belonged almost exclusively to the Jews. If someone from the outside wanted to worship God, they essentially needed to become culturally Jewish. If they didn’t become Jewish in every way, then they weren’t permitted to worship God. After Jesus, this is no longer the case. Everyone who is willing to follow Jesus has been adopted into the spiritual family of Abraham. Gentile believers in Jesus have the same inheritance as the Jewish believers in Jesus.
- The even more significant message here is something that is easy to miss for those of us with a 21st century, Western view on adoption. In our society, we generally adopt children as an alternative way of having a family. We adopt children, and then raise them into the family. This is not typically what adoption mean in the 1st Century Roman world. In that time, many women died in childbirth, and many people died early in life. Also, it was only the sons who inherited from the parents. (Women would be married, and so they would benefit from their husband’s inheritance.) It was not uncommon for an influential or wealthy man to have no son to inherit his property. Rather than having the property go to some other, more distant part of the family, these men would adopt someone, who would then become their heir. However, they did not adopt children. Instead, they would find someone who was already an adult, and whose character they admired. In adopting this person, they would essentially be saying “you are worthy enough to be my son.” That is what God does for us. In spite of the fact that we are sinful, in spite of the fact that we have damaged our relationship with God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, God looks at the followers of Jesus and says “you are worthy to be my child.” What an amazing, powerful, humbling thing.
- In verse 18, Paul says that he prays that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened so that we know the hope to which he has called us and that we will know how rich and glorious his blessings are. Right before Quest, I had been reading some of the stories about Elisha in 2 Kings. In one of the stories, the enemies of Israel sent an army to capture Elisha. As the enemy surrounded the city, Elisha’s servant became afraid. When he asked Elisha what they should do, Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes. When God did, the servant saw and army of chariots of fire surrounding the invaders. One of the lessons of this story is that God is always at work, and there is always more going on than we see or understand. Like Elisha prayed for his servant, Paul is praying for his readers that our eyes will truly be opened to the things that God is doing and that we will truly be able to see those things that God is doing around us.
- Paul also prays that God will give us a spirit of wisdom and understanding so that we will know him better. One of the things that this tells us is that we will never completely and fully know and understand God. In one sense, some people may find this discouraging because it tells us that we will never fully “arrive.” We will never get to the point that we completely know and understand everything about God. On the other hand, this can also be very refreshing. It tells us that our relationship with God should never get stale. There is always something more to learn about God. There are always going to be ways that we can get to know him better. In fact, we can spend all of eternity with God and still be learning more about him. That’s a very cool, very amazing thing.
This should give you a good idea of what we talked about concerning Ephesians chapter 1. We also recognized that chapter 1 is really a kind of preview and introduction to the rest of the book. Paul covers a number of topics quickly before diving into the meat of what he wants to say in his letter. Next week, we will begin to get into the meat of the letter in chapter 2.