Study Notes on Ephesians 1:1-2

17 Jul

As we begin to look at the text of the book of Ephesians tonight, we open with the greeting, a feature prominent in many letters from the ancient world. The greeting normally was composed of three parts: a statement of the identity of the author, a statement of the identity of the recipients and a wish of blessing or greeting from the author to the recipients. Paul follows this pattern in Ephesians but infuses his greeting with Christian meaning. Let’s read it together, see how it breaks down and then see how it ties into the rest of the letter . . .

 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s look kind of phrase by phrase through these verses to get the lay of the land.

PAUL – Here we find the author of the letter, and like Galatians and Romans, Paul is named in the greeting as the sole author. This is a little bit surprising in Ephesians since we might expect Timothy to be named as a fellow worker in the greeting, as he is in other prison epistles (Philippians, Colossians and Philemon). We might especially expect Timothy to be named since he would have a ministry as an elder in the church in Ephesus. Yet he is not named here. We can’t know the reason why. There is just not enough information to even speculate. It will have to be sufficient to say that Paul is named as the sole author. Of this Paul I trust you already know much. A Hebrew of Hebrews from Tarsus, raised and trained under the Pharisaic strain of Judaism, a fastidious observer of the law. A man who, observing the nascent movement to Jesus among first century Jews, was alarmed and offended. A man who joined in the offense of the Jews at the preaching of Stephen, holding the cloaks of the men who went off to kill Stephen by stoning. A man who, in his offense at the followers of the way, made it his aim to pursue and prosecute and persecute Christians. A man who, while on his way to carry out persecutions in Damascus, was blinded by a great light and encountered by the risen Christ, who asked Paul, “why do you persecute me?” So identified in Christ with the sufferings of His Church that when Paul picked on the followers of Jesus he was picking on Jesus Himself. Jesus revealed Himself to Paul that day and Paul was led to a man named Ananias who reluctantly received this persecutor into his home even as God told Ananias of the special call and mission he had put on Paul’s life to be His messenger to the Gentiles. The epitome of Judaism, the epitome of one who can see, is blinded and sent to the Gentiles. And so much of Paul’s appeal to the Gentiles springs from this very truth. If one who persecuted Christians now praises Jesus, if one who was convinced of the sufficiency of Judaism now relies on the sufficiency of Christ, what of my gods, what of my idols? If one who had little to gain on this earth because he follows Jesus and much grief to receive instead, should I not consider this Christ? Paul’s own story was a powerful part of his ministry and should continue to be so for us today. We should never skip over just precisely who it is that is writing these letters, what his former life was like. There is not only the aspect of transformation, for which we praise God, there are also the theological underpinnings of Paul’s life, wherein we see that his statements about the insufficiency of the law to bring salvation and the insufficiency of Jewish ritual to bring peace come out of a background which had tried these things and found them wanting in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord.

 

An APOSTLE. Here we have an intentional title. At its core the word means “one sent, an emissary.” Here it is intended to enhance Paul’s authority in the eyes of his readers. Paul is not just a leader in the church, not just a missionary, he is an apostle. As such he is tied to those who established and founded not just the church in Ephesus but the Church worldwide. The apostles were those who had been eyewitnesses of Jesus who were then commissioned by Jesus to establish His Church, the gathered people of God. Paul was an unique apostle because his eyewitness account of the risen Jesus is from the Damascus Road. It was through that event that Jesus also commissioned him. This is in part probably why Paul calls himself elsewhere “the least of the apostles” and “an apostle untimely born.” His experience of Jesus was different that the other apostles. But it was no less legitimate. This reality that Paul was an apostle should cause the readers of the Ephesians to take special notice of his message. It is also important for us to remember that Paul calls himself an apostle when we reflect on three passages in Ephesians which highlight the importance of the apostles to the early church (2:19-21; 3:1-10; 4:11-12).

 

Of CHRIST JESUS. Paul is not an apostle unto himself. He is an apostle that belongs to Christ Jesus. Paul’s identity is not rooted in his knowledge or his past spectacular experiences. Paul’s identity is rooted in Jesus. This focus on identity is seen most clearly in his letter to the Philippians (1:21; 2:5-11; 3:7-14). Many people have written about the word order in Paul when it comes to Jesus, how sometimes he says “Jesus Christ” and sometimes “Christ Jesus” or sometimes just one name or the other. I think in this case the most likely significance with the word order is that Paul is pointing to the identity of Jesus, namely that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior. In a letter that will center so richly on the blessings of salvation (1:3-14; 2:1-10 for example), Paul makes it clear from the outset that the one who secures the blessings of salvation is the Savior Jesus.

 

By the WILL OF GOD. This phrase is a re-affirmation of Paul’s authority. A fuller statement of the idea of this verse is found in Galatians 1:1 where Paul asserts that his authority comes not from man nor through any man but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. So this phrase simply makes it clear that Paul’s ministry is from God and through the will of God and for the glory of God. Bryan Chappell says Paul’s statement that he ministers according to the will of God is his defense, his offense and his confidence. His defense in the sense that he can defend his authority to the church by rooting it in the will of God. His offense in the sense that he has been commissioned as an apostle by God to push against the darkness of this present evil age. His confidence in that Paul knows whom he has believed and is persuaded that He is able to keep that which Paul has committed. Paul is confident that He who began the good work will complete it. Paul is confident that God is faithful. The will of God gives us this sense of confidence. The will of God further gives us a sense of purpose. Therefore, where we see in the Word of God things that call us specifically in the will of God (our Sunday morning sermon from last week on 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 is an example) we can move forward with confidence that God will honor that course. One of the places we see this confidence in Paul is in Ephesus in the book of Acts. We read in Acts 19:11-30 . . .

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way.24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him.

Did you notice that last line? Paul was ready to rush out into the crowd when they were on the verge of rioting. Why? Because he was confident in the will of God. Paul faced an overwhelming opposition with great confidence.

Chappell says of this, “We may face similar cause for despair, such as decades of abortion acceptance in our culture of promiscuity. Yet when we believe that the Word of God has spoken and that it is the will of God to use His people to overcome the greatest challenges, we will not only still dare to speak – we will also bother to speak. When we face the consequences and devastation of generations in poverty, we still fight for justice because we know the Savior we serve still delights in mercy and ministers His grace through it. When we face unbelief, ridicule, and long resistance to the gospel in our own families, we will not give up because of the faith that God’s Word can be on our lips. We will believe that God’s will in choosing us as His servants is our defense (even though others know our weakness), our offense (even though others may say we have no right to speak) and our confidence (even when there’s little likelihood of change from a human perspective).”

To the SAINTS – In calling the believers in Ephesus “saints” Paul is using a term that had often been used in the Old Testament to refer to the people of God (Psalm 16:3; 34:9; Daniel 7, etc.). The people of the old covenant were called “holy ones” because God had chosen them and set them apart. They were to reflect His holiness through their lives (Leviticus 11:45). In the new covenant, this language was adopted by Luke (Acts 9:3), Jude (Jude 3), John (Rev. 5:8) and the author of Hebrews (Hb. 3:1). But nobody uses the language of saints more than Paul. Most of his letters greet believers as “saints” including Ephesians. It is important to remember here that when Paul uses saints, he is not referring to a group of elite believers, as the word is often used today. Sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church is probably the most obvious expression of this kind of thinking. But when Paul used saints, he was thinking of all true believers. He even used the term to refer to churches that were less than stellar in their attitudes and actions (Corinth) but were still composed of those who had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. The significance of Paul’s use of this term for the Ephesians though should not be lost on us. Markus Barth says, “Paul bestows upon all his pagan-born hearers a privilege formerly reserved in Israel for special servants (especially priests) of God.” And we too, through the work of Christ, are saints, set apart to God’s person and purpose.

In EPHESUS – The fact that these saints were in Ephesus should not be passed over lightly. As we said last week, Ephesus was an important city in Asia Minor and the center of the cult of Artemis, a cult of pagan worship complete with sexual immorality and greed as notable elements. It was a place of pervasive sin. These believers were plopped down in the midst of a crooked and twisted world, yet their location was a part of their identity. Yes, they were saints. But they were in Ephesus, not a saintly place. Chappell wrestles with this in his commentary . . .
“For how could there be ‘holy ones’ in a placed where politics, philosophy, economics and religion all intertwined to capture an entire culture in pervasive sin? This is a question not only for Paul’s day. For once we face the pervasiveness of sin around us and in us today, we too may wonder if there can be any holy ones where we live. Can there really be saints, consecrated ones, in a culture of pervasive sin? At one level the answer must be no. For if materialism pervades a culture, how can even Christians not misplace priorities about work, money, time, and family? Can a mother of small children not on occasion feel victimized by them for denying her a better career path? If pornography surrounds u, how can even those whose marriages are healthy and whose morals are right not be tainted by impurity? In a religious culture that worships numbers, affluence and size, are there any who are not guilty of pragmatism for the sake of success or envy of those who apparently have more than we? In a political culture convinced that human power is a path to glory, have any escaped the lust for power? In a culture where sin is pervasive, there are none who are untouched, but that does not mean sin is overpowering. By some measures our challenges will always appear pervasive and overwhelming, but through the gospel we should also realize that they can be overcome.”

And are FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS – This word translated ‘faithful’ in the ESV is taken by most commentators and some translations as “believing” or “who are believers.” This is the way the Bauer Lexicon, the major Greek lexicon, takes it. They hold that it has an active force and is not looking so much at the track record of behavior among the Ephesians as at the trust they have placed in Christ. Faith is a major theme in Ephesians (1:13, 15, 19; 2:8; 3:12). Where I want to land in this phrase though is not in the discussion over the translation of the first words but in an emphasis on the last words. These believers are “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has set up a deliberate contrast here in the two phrases he has just laid before us. On the one hand these saints are “in Ephesus” on the other hand these believers are “in Christ.” They have a physical home but they also have a spiritual home through their union with Christ. They may be surrounded by sin but they are secure in Christ. This is the secret to living in a pagan world in holiness: our union with Christ. Yet we live in the world. Stott captures these ideas nicely, “Paul’s description of his readers is thus comprehensive. They are ‘saints’ because they belong to God; they are ‘believers’ because they have trusted in Christ; and they have two homes, for they reside equally ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Ephesus.’ Indeed all Christian people are saints and believers, and live both in Christ and in the secular world, or ‘in the heavenlies’ and on earth. Many of our spiritual troubles arise from our failure to remember that we are citizens of two kingdoms. We tend either to pursue Christ and withdraw from the world, or to become preoccupied with the world and forget that we are also in Christ.”

Let’s finish up tonight by taking a look at Paul’s classic greeting in verse 2 . . .

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul uses this greeting in many of his letters but it may be that he uses it with greatest significance to the rest of the book here in Ephesians, for both grace and peace are prominent themes of the letter.

GRACE to you – Paul replaces the common greeting of the day, charein, with a word with a deeper Christian meaning, charis, “grace.” Clinton Arnold says, “Paul could choose no better word than ‘grace’ to characterize the heart of his gospel message and, in fact, the heart of his theology. For Paul, God’s grace was the defining characteristic of the new covenant: “for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all (Titus 2:11). The term itself was well-known in the Graeco-Roman world and was often used to denote the favor of the gods or the emperor toward people.”  But Paul probably also had in mind the old covenant concept of grace seen in Exodus 34 in the description given of God as gracious and kind and slow to anger and abounding in faithful love for His people. Paul believed in grace. He used the word almost 100 times in his letters. Grace is God’s favor to sinners through no merit of their own, secured through the merits of Christ, whose perfect life and atoning death God accepted as a sacrifice in the place of sinners. And the grace that saves also sanctifies. As Titus 2 says, this grace has appeared that we might say no to ungodliness and live upright and godly lives in this present evil age. The reminder we need for our lives is the one the Lord gives us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you.” We are not under law but under grace. Grace will be a major theme in Ephesians, most notably in 2:5, 7, and 8 along with 4:7.

and PEACE – Here is the Jewish greeting, the shalom wish. It is especially appropriate in Ephesians, where Paul spills much ink explaining how Jesus has abolished the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile to bring forth one people of God, that his greeting contain elements which would put both groups under the same umbrella. In the midst of a pagan world, the saints in Ephesus needed peace. In a mixed church of Jew and Gentile, the saints in Ephesus needed peace. But most of all, before a holy God, these former idol worshipers needed peace. Thankfully, that peace comes to them through the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the chief promises of the New Covenant is the promise of peace. Ezekiel calls it a covenant of peace. Isaiah says it will be inaugurated by the Messiah, who is called ‘the Prince of Peace.’ Zechariah says it will be established by a humble king who will ‘come and speak peace to the nations.’ The angels announce at the birth of Christ, ‘peace on earth to men on whom His favor rests.’ Jesus announced in the Upper Room, ‘peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’ And of course Paul has dealt with the issue of peace with God most powerfully in Romans 5:1, “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians, peace is seen supremely in the way the gospel brings peace among Jew and Gentile, making the two one and tearing down the wall of hostility. Altogether, grace and peace are referenced 20 times in Ephesians. So Paul’s greeting here may be more intentional than in his other letters. The very themes of Ephesians flow from this simple greeting in verses 1 and 2.

Finally, we see tonight the last phrase . . .

from GOD OUR FATHER and the LORD JESUS CHRIST – Here the emphasis in on two of the three Persons of the Trinity. The Spirit will later receive great attention in Ephesians, making the book one of the most deeply Trinitarian books in the Bible. At this point, the emphasis is on the Father and Son as the source of grace and peace. The focus on the Father here is that He is God, in contrast to the false gods of Ephesus, and that He is OUR Father, we are part of His family. Those who were far off have been brought near. The focus on the Son here is that He is Lord, in contrast to the Emperor, and that He is our Savior, who opens the way to life with God.

Stott sums all of this up very well when he says, “Finally, before leaving the introduction to the letter, we must not miss the vital link between the author, the readers and the message. It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For Paul the author is ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus’, the readers are themselves in Christ Jesus, and the blessing comes to them both from God our Father and from . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, who are bracketed as the single spring from which grace and peace flow forth. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ dominates Paul’s mind and fills his vision. It seems almost as if he feels compelled to bring Jesus Christ into every sentence as he writes, at least at the beginning of this letter. For it is through and in Jesus Christ that God’s new society has come into being.

 

 

 

 

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