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Study Notes on Ephesians 1:3

17 Jul

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

We now transition to the body of the letter. And we open with this magnificent sentence in Greek which runs from verses 3-14. You heard that right. Verses 3-14 is one long sentence in the Greek text. It is the second longest sentence in the New Testament, a sentence of 202 Greek words. So though our English translations sometimes break this sentence into parts for the sake of clarity in English, remember that this whole section is one sentence. The fact that it is one sentence means that Paul intended it to be read or heard in a very connected way. So we will be trying to understand throughout how this section fits together and how it fits into the big picture of the book of Ephesians as a whole.

In terms of the section itself, there is a basic structure here. There is a general statement of praise – “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” followed by the general reason for praise – “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” So verse 3 lays out the reason for the paragraph – praise to God, and the basic grounds for that praise – because we have been blessed in Christ. From there the sentence proceeds to show us specifically how we have been blessed. The three specific ways we have been blessed revolve around three aspects of God’s work and the three persons of the Trinity and three periods of time. The first ground of God’s blessing (1:4-6) is election and the focus there is the good plan of God the Father given before the foundation of the world. Election – Father – Past. The second reason we are blessed (1:7-12) is redemption and the focus there is on the good work of the Son which is presently ours. Redemption – Son – Present. The third reason we are blessed (1:13-14) is inheritance and the focus there is the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the focus is on the future blessing of the inheritance. Inheritance – Spirit – Future. Now within this sentence there are, of course, senses in which all the persons of the Trinity are at work. So the work of election is not exclusively the work of the Father, for example. Since we worship ONE God in three persons, it makes sense that there would be overlap and interplay. Yet there is at the same time a certain emphasis in the ministry of each person of the Trinity. Along with this Trinitarian focus there is a threefold repetition of a phrase . . . “to the praise of His glory.” We will get into the meaning of this phrase when we come to it in the text but let me just say for now that Paul’s insertion of this phrase seems to do two things: first, it gives the whole sentence a heightened sense of praise. Chapter 1 really can be divided into two parts: praise (1:3-14) and prayer (1:15-23). There’s not much better to do with our lives than praise and prayer. So this phrase reminds us of the blessing and joy of praise. But in addition to this flavor of praise, this phrase reminds us that while this sentence enumerates God’s blessings to His people and that this is a cause for praise, ultimately all these things have happened for the praise of God’s glory. In other words, election, redemption, inheritance and all the rest are about God, not merely about us.

So on the whole, this sentence opens the book on a note of praise. This is fitting based on the contents of the book and is a good pattern for us. We could probably all benefit from less time trying to solve the world’s problems and more time cultivating the grace of praise.

So let’s get into the text itself now. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Blessed. This Greek word, eulogntos, sounds like our English word “eulogy.” We think of a eulogy as a speech given at a funeral but at its core the word carries the idea of thanksgiving for the life being remembered. Here in Ephesians we have a statement of praise to God for His work of salvation in its many facets. You may notice that this word appears in three places in this verse. The major note of this verse is that of blessing, or praise. Yet the blessing is different in each of the three cases. The first is a statement of praise to God, the second and third describe the blessings we receive from Christ and the location of those blessings, which we will look at in more detail in a moment.

With all this said, let me say that I believe this verse is also significant for its Jewish flavor. This language of blessedness is common in Jewish literature and common in the Old Testament. The book of Psalms in particular uses this formulation several times. Jewish people were taught to pray this way. There were in the first century a series of prayers called the “Eighteen Benedictions” that Jews were taught to pray morning, noon and night. These prayers were all headed by the words “Blessed are you, Lord.” So it appears here that as Paul adopted a common Gentile greeting in verse 2 and reshaped it theologically, now he is doing the same with a common Jewish expression of praise. He uses this same phrasing in 2 Corinthians 1:3 but interestingly, Peter also uses this phrasing in 1 Peter 1:3, meaning that it is at least possible that by this time this phrase was a common one in Christian usage. Based on the Jewish background of the apostles, it is not surprising that they would adapt existing Jewish forms of prayer and language to bring the saving work of Christ to the forefront. In Ephesians 1:3 we are brought  right back to the point Paul is making in this first theological section of the book, namely that through Jesus the universe has been fundamentally reshaped: individual salvation gives us one blessing after another, there is one people of God from Jew and Gentile, the height, and depth and breadth of God’s love has been realized. Causes for praise abound in the New Covenant.

be Here the word “be” is supplied, it does not appear in the Greek text, it is just understood. For clarity in English most translations add it here.

the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ  this phrase tells us that the blessedness goes to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, praise to God. God the Father is the source of every spiritual blessing. The God and Father are not two separate beings. The definite article — “the” – applies to both the word God and the word Father. But notice we have handled the whole phrase here because the God and Father is inextricably linked to our Lord Jesus Christ. This linkage serves at least two purposes. First, Christ is exalted as God through this linkage (as well as through the descriptor “Lord”) and second Christ’s is exalted as instrumental in the praise that goes to God the Father. In some sense (which we will see going forward) the praise that belongs to God the Father comes through His work through Jesus Christ. Notice here it is not Christ Jesus as in verse 1, but Jesus Christ. The emphasis here is not on His saving work as the major note but on His Lordship, His rule. This ruling nature is another mark of divinity, of equality with God. Jesus is Lord. He is Lord in contrast to the ruling Caesars, he is Lord ruling and reigning with God the Father. Praise God. And He is our Lord. He is the Lord of all who believe. He is not simply ours in the sense of possession but He is ours in the sense of our submission. We yield allegiance to Him first and foremost. He is Lord. Somebody sent me an order of service the other day from another church and their July 1st service began with the National Anthem, included the Pledge of Allegiance, contained a patriotic sing-a-long and otherwise made America the center of the service. There is nothing wrong in and of itself with an appreciation of country but it should never compete with our allegiance to the Lord. Our citizenship is in heaven. Jesus is our Lord.

So we praise God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But why? Because He is the One who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

who has blessed us in Christ The Father and the Holy Spirit are essential to the work of God in our lives, but Christ is the center of this passage. In these first 14 verses, Christ is mentioned some 15 times. The phrase ‘in Christ’ or ‘in Him’ is used 11 times. This is so encouraging because all our lives apart before we were saved we were not ‘in Christ’ we were ‘in Adam.’ In Adam we were in sin, under the wrath of God, bound by futility, destined for hell. This reality will be further explained in chapter 2. But the contrast is being implied here at the outset. We are in Christ, we are all through faith in Christ. And that is the place not of curse but of blessing, because Christ has borne the curse. The ESV puts the words “in Christ” at the front of the sentence but they are actually at the back of the sentence in Greek and in many English translations. I think the ESV sounds better in English but just wanted to let you know that.

The focus now shifts to the what of the way God has blessed us through Christ? with every spiritual blessing There are two aspects to note here, seen in the word ‘every’ and in the word ‘spiritual.’ The word every points in the direction of what were are going to see in the next few verses and what we have already hinted at, namely that the blessings of Christ are varied and numerous, encompassing God and His work past, present and future. These varied blessings are spiritual blessings. This may be a contrast to the old covenant realities that many of the blessings of God were material. Land, cattle, a good harvest, etc. were among the blessings promised under the old covenant for those who were faithful to God. When the Old Testament prophets looked toward the new covenant they looked to a spiritual reality that would change everything, particularly realized through the Holy Spirit’s work in the human heart. So Ezekiel and Jeremiah both speak of the work of God in the heart and their words describe how God will put a new spirit within us. Material blessing and the provision of God are not entirely done away with, as we see in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus calls us to not worry about material things even as He promises their provision when we seek first the kingdom of God. It is clear to me that the blessings enumerated here in verses 3-14 are mostly spiritual blessings. And it is telling to me that many people looking at this reality would count the spiritual blessings inferior. If you would count land or a good harvest of more value than eternal redemption, there is a failure to understand the reality of existence. But because these spiritual realities are only now realized in part, we can have more trouble seeing their worth. There is another aspect of this as well. I believe these “spiritual” blessings not only have to do with the realm of spirit as opposed to the physical, it also has to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament promises of the new covenant pointed to the Holy Spirit work, the book of Acts revealed His work and the epistles confirmed His work. The nature of these blessings is found in the fact that they are spiritual, of the Spirit, applied by the Spirit.

John Stott says, “The teaching of verse 3 is thus to seen to be extremely important. Christians are Trinitarians. We believe in one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We affirm with gratitude and joy that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. That is, every blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given us by the Father if we are in the Son. No blessing has been withheld from us. Of course we still have to grow into maturity in Christ, and be transformed into his image, and explore the riches of our inheritance in him. Of course, too, God may grant us many deeper and richer experiences of himself on the way. Nevertheless already, if we are in Christ, every spiritual blessing is ours. Or, as the apostle puts it in Colossians, we ‘have come to fullness of life in him.’

The verse concludes with addressing the issue of where these spiritual blessings are to be found. And the answer is in the heavenly places,

Now this phrase is interesting. When we think of heaven, we usually think of the eternal dominion of God. We think usually of the future. But notice here the spiritual blessings appear to be ours already. And they are in the heavenly places. Now this could be something different than what we normally think. It may be that Paul is contrasting the spiritual with the earthly. In other words, Paul may be saying that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ in the spiritual realm. So are these heavenly places referring to the future reality of glorification or is it referring to our present life? Well, it refers to all of it. In a sense, Paul is reminding us that our union with Christ is so real and so sure that we are already united with Him in the heavenly places. Our future is secure and even now the Lord Jesus intercedes for us. Yet, in this present life we experience union with Christ, we enjoy fellowship with Him, we are empowered by Him.

Bryan Chappell helps us understand what is going on here. “On our family vacations, we enjoy going to a cabin that adjoins a deep set of woods. At certain times of the year the woods are so dense that when we have been out hiking, it is difficult to find the path back to the cabin. As night closed in during one such hike, we knew that we would not be able to spot our regular landmarks. So we began to angle through the woods in the direction we thought the cabin was. It got darker and darker; no familiar landmarks came into view. The children assumed that we were lost. I kept a brave face, as if I knew where we were, but ultimately I turned around to tell them the real situation. But just as I turned, a light from the cabin caught my eye. In the dark and dense woods we had actually walked past the cabin, but seeing the light, I knew we were safe. We were not yet inside, but the light meant that we were already safe and secure. What was my reaction to being ‘home’? Relief, and peace.

It is a similar reaction that Paul intends for us. He does not promise that we will never have to walk through the dark and dense woods. Trials are still here, disease still comes, finances are still hard, jobs and relationships remain difficult, and next steps may remain uncertain, but in Christ we are already home. We do not have to worry that there will be no place for us or that our God will not receive us, because He has already united us to His household through His Son and included us in His purposes. This gives us the confidence to be courageous in the face of opposition whether inside or outside the church.”

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Ephesians: A Verse-by-Verse Study

25 Jun

Last night we began a study of the book of Ephesians on Sunday nights. In this post, I want to explain how we can get the most out of this study and where we are going in terms of our schedule . . .

 

How to Get the Most Out of This Study

  1. Read the book of Ephesians often. The more you can read through the book of Ephesians the more connections and applications you will see when we study through it together. If you could read through the book at least once a week for the duration of this study, you would have read through the book dozens of times at a minimum.
  2. Come consistently to the Sunday Night Study. Your attendance on Sunday night is the key to getting the most out of this study.
  3. Participate on Sunday Nights. We have some knowledgeable people here. There are some who have been pastors and missionaries here with us every Sunday Night. I want to encourage you not to be intimidated. Ask your questions. Make comments. No one knows everything and we can all learn from each other. I expect to learn from you even though I am leading the study and giving significant time to it each week.
  4. Make notes. Use the sheets provided each week and insert them into a notebook. It is a good idea to journal about what you read each time you read through the book. Write down questions that arise and applications you see. Write down truths you can praise God for in your daily life.
  5. Pray through the book. Read Ephesians at times in a meditative way, looking to turn the truths you are seeing there into personal prayer. For example, when you come to chapter 6 and the armor of God, you can pray about each item of the armor, praising God and thanking Him for His provision. Praying through the book in this way can greatly enrich your experience in this study.
  6. Watch the Facebook stream on the weeks that you miss. You don’t have to miss a single week of the study because it is streamed every week on Facebook. Just look up West Hickory Baptist Church and you should find it there.
  7. Keep the conversation going. Talk to one another outside of the Study about things you are interested in studying further. Encourage each other about the great truths we are learning.
  8. Keep application in mind. This study is not about learning. It is about learning which leads to life transformation. Think often about how the truths of Ephesians are shaping you. Think often about how your life can more fully conform to the truths of this book.

A Word About Our Approach

We will be studying Ephesians verse-by-verse. Many Sundays we will only cover just one verse. Some weeks we will spend significant time on just one word. At the same time, we will always be trying to keep the big picture in mind. As we close each week, we will be trying to see how the particular verse or verses we’ve studied is connected to its immediate context and to the book as a whole. At times we will also trace how the themes of Ephesians connect to the rest of Scripture. So we will be concerned not only with understanding each verse but also with understanding the message of the book as a whole.

Our Anticipated Schedule

This schedule is subject to change but this is what I anticipate going forward for 2018 as we work through the book.

June 24 – Introduction to the Study

July 1 – NO EVENING SERVICE

July 8 – Ephesians 1:1-2

July 15 – Ephesians 1:3

July 22 – Ephesians 1:4

July 29 – Ephesians 1:5-6

August 5 – Ephesians 1:7-8

August 12 – Ephesians 1:9-10

August 19 – Ephesians 1:11-12

August 26 – Ephesians 1:13

September 2 – NO EVENING SERVICE

September 9 – Ephesians 1:14

September 16 – CHURCH PICNIC

September 23 – Ephesians 1:15-16

September 30 – Ephesians 1:17

October 7 – Ephesians 1:18

October 14 – Ephesians 1:19

October 21 – Ephesians 1:20-21

October 28 – Ephesians 1:22-23

November 4 – PRAYER DAY

November 11 – Ephesians 2:1

November 18 – Ephesians 2:2

November 25 – Ephesians 2:3

December 2 – Ephesians 2:4

December 9 – CHRISTMAS CANTATA

December 16 – Ephesians 2:5

December 23 – NO EVENING SERVICE

December 30 – NO EVENING SERVICE

 

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