Sunday, May 18, 2008

Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

I just completed an Eastertide sermon series on Ephesians this morning. It's my hope that our small congregation has been blessed listening to the messages as much as I have in studying and presenting them. Here are a few of the things I learned...
  • Ephesians may have been a circular letter, written to several churches in the region of Ephesus (modern-day western Turkey). Its teachings are more generalized than most of Paul's epistles; there doesn't seem to be a specific occasion or issue that he is addressing.
  • The opening and closing of Ephesians are very brief. (1) Opening (1.1-2), (2) Closing (6.21-24).
  • The Body of the letter is divided into two main parts. The first part (1.3-3.21) consists of prayers and extended meditations that grow out of those prayers. Instead of following the customary pattern of opening a letter and then setting forth one's business, Paul fills the early part of his epistle with a long blessing, a prayer that leads to two long meditations, a second prayer that is interrupted by an intensely personal meditation before being completed, and finally a doxology. Not only are Paul's words filled with the most profound truths, but his method of communicating them shows that true theology is never a merely academic or intellectual matter. Theology and doxology must go hand in hand. Knowing the truth must lead to devout meditation and prayer.
  • The second part of the letter's body (4.1-6.20) is hortatory, built around the word "walk." Paul urges believers, blessed with all spiritual blessings (1.3) to "walk worthy" of their high and privileged calling. He speaks of walking in unity in the Body of Christ, using our diverse gifts to help the Body become mature (4.1-16). He speaks of walking in the way of Christ, rather than in the ways of their former, pagan manner of life, which includes walking in love and in the light (4.17-5.14). And he speaks of walking carefully, in wisdom and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, transforming their household relationships as they pursue them in Christ-centered ways (5.15-6.9).
  • The Body of the letter concludes with what I call Paul's "pre-game pep talk" (6.10-20). In this final passage, he recapitulates themes from the earlier parts of the letter and calls his readers to "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power" as they take what he has written and apply it to their daily lives in the world.
  • The ultimate theological theme of Ephesians is found in 1.8-10, "With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." The Gospel proclaims that God has invaded the world with his grace and salvation in Christ to overthrow the powers of evil, sin and death and inaugurate the final process of making all things right and new in him.
  • Christ's coming, as one theologian put it, was like D-Day, the decisive event of WWII. When the Allied forces invaded France and gained a foothold in Europe, the tide turned and their victory was essentially secured. However, the battles continued for a year until VE-Day, when the Axis powers surrendered and the war was over. Even so, Ephesians tells us that, right now, all things are under Christ's feet (1.17-23). The decisive victory has been won, the outcome is sure. However, the battle is still on, and we continue to battle the powers in Christ's strength (6.10-20) until the final day of redemption.
  • This all sounds very heady, but the reality of the battle is down-to-earth. It involves "walking" throughout our daily lives, relationships, vocations, and communities in the way of Christ.
"Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph 6.23-24)

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