Friday, May 1

Ephesians, Part I

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.

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