Sunday, May 14, 2017

Saints and Faithful: Ephesians 1:1-2

When our Lord prophesied of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, he did not dwell upon the remarkable or the miraculous; rather, he told them that “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (Jn. 16:13).  According to our Lord, one of the primary goals of the work of the Holy Spirit post resurrection and ascension was to communicate truth to the apostles, and to unpack the theology that was in many ways hidden from them during the earthly ministry of our Lord.  Later, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, would argue that the truth he was communicating to the believers there was the direct result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. . . . God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:7, 10).

There is, of course, a sense in which all believers are illumined by the Holy Spirit.  But the illumination that the apostle Paul is speaking about, and the illumination that our Lord prophesied, is the process of inspiration whereby God’s truth is infallibly communicated to the church.  It was necessary because the work of our Lord which culminated in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven, needed to be correctly interpreted.  And the only one who can truly interpret what happened is God himself.  Our Lord predicted that it would happen and the Holy Scriptures are the product of God’s infallible interpretation of the meaning and theological implications of our Lord’s earthly ministry.
The book of Ephesians is a product of this Spirit-inspired process of inspiration.  Studying this book together is especially fitting after studying Matthew together because the theology of Ephesians will help us to unpack the implications of the history that Matthew has given us. 
And Ephesians is one of those books that has had a tremendous impact upon the church throughout its 2000 year history.  The fourth century church father Chrysostom said that this book contains some of Paul’s “profoundest conceptions; and the Epistle itself is full of sublime thoughts and doctrines.”[1]  J. Armitage Robinson considered Ephesians to be “the crown of St Paul’s writings.”[2]  On his deathbed, the Scottish theologian John Knox had Calvin’s sermons on Ephesians read to him often.[3]  Paul’s imagery on Christian warfare has inspired hundreds of books, including John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  Some claim that apart from Romans, no book in the New Testament has had a greater impact upon the life of the church than this little epistle.[4]  Certainly, this is a book worth studying.
But most of all, I want us to study this book because I believe it can and will have a significant impact on our own walk with the Lord.  I don’t know about you, but often I have found myself looking at the waves and the wind instead of Christ.  Do you ever feel like a spiritual Pig-Pen, with a cloud of ingratitude following you everywhere you go?  There should be no reason why a Christian should go around like this.  We get this way because we forget about the blessings that are ours in Christ.  We forget about what God has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us in eternity.  Or we may know it on an intellectual level, but we haven’t really appropriated it for ourselves.  And so we become focused on ourselves rather than on Christ, and we become gloomy and morose. 
There is a story that came out several years ago about a homeless man in Utah whose brother bequeathed to him a considerable amount of money.  However, for several months he continued to be homeless, pushing around his shopping cart with all his belongings, and sitting on park benches with nothing to do.  Fortunately, a private investigator was hired who was finally able to track him down and give him the good news.[5]  In the same way, I think a lot of Christians live like that homeless man; we have been given riches untold through the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and yet we continue to go on as if we have nothing.  And sometimes it’s because we just don’t know what we’ve been given because we have not truly absorbed what is promised to us in the word of God.  Hopefully, the book of Ephesians can be for us what the private investigator was to this homeless man in Utah.
Hopefully, this morning we are going to begin to do this as we look at Paul’s introduction for his letter to the Ephesians in verses 1 and 2.  It’s important that we linger over these verses because even here the apostle is packing a lot of theology in these words.  And I want to look at these verses through the lens of three questions.  First, why should we study this book? (We’ve already answered this to some extent, but it merits more consideration.)  Second, how should we apply the teachings of Ephesians?  And finally, what does this introduction indicate about the message of this epistle?
Why should we study this epistle?
Paul begins this letter in much the same way as any first century letter-writer would.  Today, we usually begin a letter denoting to whom we are writing and end the letter denoting who it is from.  I’ve always thought that a little strange, and personally I think the first-century format had a little more common sense to it.  At that time, a person would begin a letter indicating who the author was followed by an announcement of the recipient of the letter followed by a greeting.  As you see, Paul is following protocol here.  However, he Christianizes it, and there is marvelous significance in the way he Christianizes his introduction.
Thus Ephesians begins with a statement of its author: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.”  And here we have the reason why we should study this epistle.  It’s important because it is written by an apostle of Jesus Christ.  To see why this is important we need to consider the implications of the title which Paul is giving himself here.  In the ancient world, “apostle” was a word that could be used of a naval squadron sent out on a mission, or of an ambassador sent out by a King.  Literally, the word means “one who is sent, a messenger,” and it denoted someone who was officially appointed to carry a message or carry out a mission.[6]  There are several uses of the word apostle in the NT.  Jesus is called the “apostle and high priest of our profession” (Heb. 3:1).  It is used of messengers of the churches in 2 Cor. 8:23 and Phil. 2:25.  However, most of the uses of “apostle” in the NT refer to a select group of men who were personally chosen by our Lord to represent him to the world, and to provide special leadership for the world-wide church of followers of Jesus.  These men were endued with power and authority from our Lord that no spiritual leader since can properly lay claim to.  Thus, when Paul says that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, he is telling us that his words are authoritative and worth listening to.  As an apostle, what he has to say is important.  The apostle John made the same point in his epistle, when he was contrasting the message he was carrying with that of false-teachers: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.  Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 Jn. 4:6).  In other words, those who refuse to accept the teaching of the apostles are not of God.  In fact, following the teaching of the apostles over the false-teachers that sometimes infiltrate the church is a mark of true faith.
We are living in a day when this principle is especially important to grasp.  People in the church today will often complain if you call out another professing Christian for teaching false doctrine.  They will tell you that you should not attack another professing Christian but rather that we should just all embrace Jesus.  The problem with this attitude is that you cannot embrace Jesus without embracing the teaching of his apostles.  If someone who claims to be a Christian teaches something that is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the NT, they need to be called out.  They are not following Christ if they are not following his apostles.  Now that does not mean that we should be savage about it.  And it seems to me that people often conflate confronting false teaching with being hateful.  But you can oppose false teaching without being mean and ugly about it, and we ought to do that if we want to be faithful to our Lord.  We are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
Now Paul underlines his authority with the words, “by the will of God.”  He is saying that apostleship is not something he applied for.  He did not choose this line of work; rather, God chose it for him.  He was not a self-made apostle as so many others were (then and today); he was a God-made apostle.  In his letter to the Galatians, where he was having to deal with false-apostles, he makes this point with unusual directness: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).  Later, he writes, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by men is not man’s gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12, ESV).  To hear the apostles is to hear God.  Not that the apostles are divine; it is just that they carry a divine commission in what they speak and teach.  To reject their message is to reject God’s word. 
The epistle to the Ephesians is therefore not just the word of Paul.  It is the word of God, and worth your attention and mine.
How should we apply the teaching of this epistle?
Another way to ask this question is, how should we listen to the teaching of this epistle?  And this is an important question, because if this is the word of God, then, as our Lord put it, we should “take heed how we hear” (Lk. 8:18).
The answer to this question lies at least partly in the way the recipients of the letter are described: “to the saints which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  If you open a letter that is not addressed to you, then the contents of the letter are probably not going to be applicable to you.  Now this letter is addressed to saints and faithful.  That is to whom Paul is writing.  He is assuming that his readers share these characteristics when he writes what he does in the following words.  So the first thing we need to ask ourselves as we approach this letter is, are we saints and faithful in Christ Jesus?  Because if you are not, then it would be wrong for you to appropriate the message of this epistle to yourself.  On the other hand, if you are, then it would be wrong for you not to appropriate the truths in the following chapters.  Who then are these “saints and faithful in Christ Jesus”?
First of all, Paul describes his readers as “saints.”  Unfortunately, the word “saint” has become a way to describe someone who is a bit closer to heaven than earth, someone who is on a spiritual level that none of us could imagine joining.  However, the NT uses this word, not to describe a very small group among the multitude of believers; rather, it assumes that everyone who follows Christ is a saint.  In NT parlance, “saint” is just another word for a follower of Jesus.
The word “saint” is a form of the word “sanctified.”  To be sanctified means to be made holy.  So a saint is a holy one.  To understand the implications of this for us, we have to go back to the OT.  In the OT, something or someone was sanctified or made holy, when it or they were set apart for God.  Thus, the tabernacle was holy, all the instruments of the priesthood were holy, and the priests themselves were holy.  Why?  Because they were set apart for the service of God.  In the same way, every believer in Christ has been set apart for God and his service.  This is what the apostle Peter was getting at when he wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:9-10, ESV).  Once we belonged to the world; now we belong to God, and that’s what makes us a saint.
We need to realize is that everyone who belongs to Christ is a saint.  They have been set apart for the service of Christ.  They belong to him.  The first thing therefore that we need to understand about the implications of the meaning of sainthood for you and me is what an incredible privilege this is.  To belong to Christ!  What does it matter what the world thinks or says of you or me if we belong to the King of kings and Lord of lords?  You and I may go through life without ever being noticed.  We may never be appreciated.  But in the end, if you are a saint, that doesn’t matter.  Why should we crave the approval of man when Christ has personally claimed us?  Why should we care if people pass over us when God himself has chosen us for himself?
But the second thing we need to understand about this is that being a saint does imply certain things about our habits and lifestyle.  It implies that we are devoted to God and Christ, and that this is a reality, and not just a claim that we make.  It implies that though we are not perfect (nor ever will be this side of heaven), we want to be more like Christ and that there has been some measure of growth in godliness since we became a Christian.  This is why the apostle Peter also urged the saints to whom he was writing, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of [conduct]; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:13-16).
In particular, it implies that we are not trying to be like the world.  It implies that the lusts and desires and goals and priorities of this world are not ours.  As Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, it implies that we are not being conformed to this world but that we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).
Let me point out that the difference is primarily internal, not external.  There have been a lot of people throughout history that have tried to make holiness of thing mainly of external differences.  You can wear this but not that, eat this but not that, and so on.  I’m not saying that there are no external differences; of course there will be.  But being a saint does not mean being different for the sake of being different.  Nor does it mean being weird.  I like how the apostle Paul inserted “to the saints which are at Ephesus.”  They are saints, yes, but they are still citizens and inhabitants of Ephesus.  They didn’t pack up their belongings and go join a commune.  They didn’t wall themselves from the world.  Rather, they learned how to shine the light of Christ in the darkness.  That is what we must do as saints.
And this is what saints have always done.  Consider the situation of the Ephesian Christians.  We may grieve the fact that our culture is post-Christian, but Ephesus was thoroughly pagan, and life in this town was greatly influenced by the worship of the god Artemis whose magnificent marble temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.[7]  Paganism has never set well with Christianity, and the idol-makers tried to expunge the influence of Paul in Ephesus, creating a riot in the process (cf. Acts 19).  It was probably very difficult to live there as a Christian.  In addition to idolatry of the worship of Artemis, there was the problem of what you might call black magic.  Recall that in Acts 19:19, we read that “a number of those who 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 silver” (ESV).  To put that in perspective, that’s fifty thousand days’ wages!  It must have been pervasive.  Evil was all around the believers, every day and in every part of the life of the city.  And yet the believers there learned how to be in this world without being of this world.  They learned how to love their neighbor as themselves, while retaining ultimate allegiance to Christ.  They learned how to be holy in an unholy world.  That is what you and I must do as well.  It is to this kind of person to whom this letter is addressed.
But Paul doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to describe his readers as “faithful.”  Those who belong to Jesus don’t give up.  They can be relied upon.  Recall that our Lord in the parable of the sower differentiates those who give up after persecution or the cares of this world dry up their appetite for spiritual things from those who bring forth fruit (Mt. 13:3-23).  The person who is a saint is going to persevere.  That doesn’t mean that they never sin.  It doesn’t mean that, like Peter, there can’t be lapses of faith.  But it does mean that faith wins out in the end.  Not because we are strong but because the God who gave us faith is strong.  Remember that we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed at the last day (1 Pet. 1:5).  The saint is dependable, he or she can be relied upon; they are faithful.
But there is another meaning to this word.  It could be translated “believers”; in fact, this seems to be the translation that most commentators prefer.  This word is translated this way in Jn. 20:27 when Jesus says to Thomas, “Be not faithless, but believing.”  This points to the fact that one of the essential characteristics of the Christian is their faith in Christ – note the following words “in Christ Jesus.”  What makes a Christian a Christian is not how nice they are or what charitable causes they have championed.  There are plenty of pagans who can do all those things and more.  What makes a Christian is their faith in Jesus.
And it means that if we want to be able to claim any of the blessings and promises of this book, we need to make sure that we trust in Jesus Christ.  All of the saving blessings from God to man comes only through Jesus Christ and they are appropriated only by faith. 
However, we must be careful by what we mean by “faith.”  Our culture has redefined this word to mean “believing something is true when there is no evidence for it.”  But that is self-evidently not the meaning of the word in the Scripture.  To have faith in Christ means that you trust in him.  And you trust in him because you have reason to do so.  Perhaps he has spoken to you in your heart as you have been in his word.  Perhaps you have looked at the evidence for his resurrection and been convinced.  However a Christian comes to faith, they do so because they are convinced, because they have reason to believe.  It is no “leap in the dark,” no closing my eyes to evidence.  It means that I trust in Christ because I have every reason to believe that he is Lord and Savior and that there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby I must be saved (Acts 4:12).  Do you trust in him?  If so, then this letter is for you: keep reading!  If not, then stop immediately, and get on your knees before God and seek his face.  Ask him to reveal his Son to you, and put your trust in Jesus.
This brings us to our final question:
What is the message of Ephesians?
The message of this letter is summed up in Paul’s greeting: “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now there were standard greetings in Paul’s day.  A Greek might greet someone with the word, “Chairein! [Rejoice!]”  A typical Jewish greeting would be, “Shalom” – “peace.”  Paul changes “chairein” to “charis” [grace], and adds “peace.”
I think Paul has chosen his words carefully and they are worthy of our studied consideration.  Grace and peace sum up the message of this epistle, and indeed of the Christian message.  Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor, given to us because Jesus Christ has merited every saving blessing for God’s chosen people through his costly sacrifice for them.  Grace therefore describes how God brings the blessings described in this book to us. 
On the other hand, peace describes what we receive by grace.  What has grace brought us?  Grace brings peace: peace with God through the forgiveness of sins and adoption into his family.  You could say that most of the first chapter is an unfolding of this aspect of our salvation.  Furthermore, grace causes us to be at peace with other people.  Men are at each other’s throats because they are first of all enemies of God.  Most of the efforts at peace in this world by men who know nothing of Christ and his salvation are useless.  They do not deal with the main issue, which is enmity and hostility towards God and his Son.  Therefore, Paul goes on to say in chapter 2 that Christ not only reconciles us to God but also to each other.  Jew and Gentile, once at irreconcilable odds, are now part of one family in Christ.  He heals relationships, so that husbands and wives sacrificially love each other instead of jockey for their own preferences.  Children obey their parents and parents bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Employers and employees work together instead of against each other.  All of this is a product of the peace that grace brings us through Christ.
Both grace and peace come from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  Once again, we see that no blessing comes to us apart from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  You cannot come to God apart from Christ, for all blessings come from God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Moreover, they cause us relate to God as our Father and to Jesus as our Lord.
Probably the central theme in this epistle is the union that believers have with Christ.  The phrase “in Christ” or its parallels, occurs 36 times in this epistle alone.  You see it repeatedly in verses 3-14, Paul’s extended praise to God for his spiritual blessings in heavenly.  But it occurs again and again throughout the epistle.  Perhaps the best single verse that summarizes the message of Ephesians in this respect is 1:9-10, where Paul writes that God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (ESV).  What is God’s saving purpose?  It is to “gather together in one all things in Christ.” 
Thus, if we would sum up the message of Ephesians, we could say that it is about the union that believers have with Christ and all its implications for us.  In Christ, we are given new blessings (chapter 1), made a part of a new society (chapter 2-3), enabled to live a new life (chapter 4), and put in new relationships (chapters 5-6).[8]
These are breathtaking realities, and if we truly believe that these are ours in Christ there is no reason why we should not be able to “rejoice without ceasing” and to “in everything give thanks.”  There would be no reason why we could not be the happiest, most content, most secure and fearless people in the world.  With the early saints, we would experience “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”  Paul’s prayer for the saints and faithful at Ephesus was that they would “be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).  As we study this book, my prayer is that this would become a reality for myself and for everyone who hears these messages.  May God our Father grant grace and peace, through our Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] “Homily on Ephesians,” see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230100.htm
[2] Quoted in Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 2002), p.1.
[3] W. Curtis Vaughn, The Letter to the Ephesians (Convention Press, 1963), p.1.
[4] Hoehner, p. 2.
[5] See http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/106572/homeless-man-was-actually-rich-and-didnt-even-know-it/
[6] Vaughn, p. 5.
[7] Hoehner, p. 83.
[8] The inspiration for this division is John Stott’s similar division for Ephesians.

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