The Post (Week 22: Galatians 6 & Ephesians 1-6)
This week we enter into one of my favorite letters from Paul. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been called “The Queen of the Epistles” because of its timeless quality and theological reflections. It seems to capture beautifully the heart of the gospel and the things that are most important to Paul. The famous English Author Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it the “divinest composition of man” (I think that means this letter is a close to being divine as any other written composition authored by a human) It’s almost a poem in prose as some of the sentences are amazingly long in length. (In fact, look at 1:3-14, that’s one sentence in the Greek language).
Ephesians is different from the other 3 letters we have read from Paul in that it is very impersonal and that may seem strange. Actually, Acts 20 tells us that Paul lived in Ephesus for 3 years and as he was leaving he gives an intimate and affectionate farewell to the elders of Ephesus. Therefore, one would expect this letter to be very detailed with personal hellos and reference to specific events, but there are none. This may be the key to why this book is seen as the quintessential theological tract or religious meditation.
Most scholars see this letter as one that was circulated from church to church. If it was Paul’s intention to circulate the letter to the Ephesians to other churches, it would make sense to share the keys to the Christian faith and to leave out the personal touch. One commentator, William Barclays says the theme to the book is found in 1:9-10. Paul speaks of God, “having made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ as a plan, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ”. In other words, God’s plan is to bring unity everywhere through Christ.
Paul wrote this book from a prison in Rome, so maybe he saw how Rome had unified the region through the use of force. The Romans called this period “Pax Romana”, the peace of Rome. It is ironic to consider that the way Rome had acquired peace was by killing all those in its way. No doubt Paul saw this and realized there was a much higher level of unity, that is, the unity of everything under the love of Christ He heard the calling God had placed on the body of Christ to in love and unity and to proclaim it to their culture.
Paul talks a lot about unity, love and reconciliation in Ephesians . First he describes how God has reconciled individuals to Himself as an act of grace. And now He has reconciled these saved individuals to each other. (Chapter 2) But God has done something beyond this; He has united these reconciled people into one body, the church. This body has spiritual gifts given to work out this unity in practical ways. This “body” is called a mystery not fully known until it was revealed here and in the book of Colossians, which is extremely similar to Ephesians. In fact, 55 of the verses in the two letters are almost verbatim.
Ephesians 5 addresses how husbands and wives should live in this unity in roles. The men are called to love as Christ loved the Church, a love symbolized by giving not getting. The woman is called to believe in the husband. These roles are hard, but I believe when the man loves in this way, as a servant, and the woman encourages in this way, a beautiful cycle of unity begins.
Chapter 6 ends the book with a call to fathers. Fathers are to honor and express understanding of how his child is created by God. It works again to create unity in the family.
An important question to ask ourselves then, if God is gathering all things together in Christ, then how am I being a part of this? Is this truth shown in my house, at work, in relationships with other members of my lifegroup? (Am I in one?) Our world is in chaos and the only hope is Christ. How am I using the gifts God has given me to be His tool in His kingdom work today?
Tips for Reading (Interpretation tip #4)
(Note: This section is help for Bible Reading in general. It has been building throughout the year under the topics of Observation (what the Scripture says), Interpretation (what it means) and Application (what it means to your life). Feel free to look back over past weeks to get the whole picture.
In “A Preface to Paradise Lost” C.S. Lewis writes: The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew to a cathedral is to know what it is-what it was intended to do and how it is meant to be used. After that has been discovered the temperance reformer may decide that the corkscrew was made for a bad purpose, and the communist may think the same about the cathedral. But such questions come later. The first thing is to understand the object before you: as long as you think the corkscrew was meant for opening tins or the cathedral for entertaining tourists you can say nothing to the purpose about them.” The same can be said of the Bible. As we read the scriptures it is helpful for interpretation to know what type of literature you are reading. For example, we are going thru the expositional writings of Paul now. This style is usually giving a straightforward argument or explanation of an objective truth. It is a form that appeals first to the mind. These books are great for us to study because their meanings are close to the surface. Their purposes are easier to grasp. As you read Ephesians this week try to figure out what you think the purpose of the book is. Then under the topic, you can try to put the two or three things that support the big idea. If this sounds like outlining, it is. It is also a very good way to see what’s really being taught and gets you closer to understanding.
Notes from David's Journal
As you read the book of Ephesians, remember how Paul often writes in these "letters" (this one to the church at Ephesus). The first half of the letter is orthodoxy, great Christian doctrine. The second half is orthopraxy, how to rightly live Christian doctrine. So, in Ephesians, the first half is right doctrine in chapters 1-3. Notice how often we are "in Christ" in chaptert one alone! How we are saved by grace and grace alone by faith in chapter 2. How much we are loved by Christ in chapter 3. If this is true, then Paul gives practical advice on how to live in harmony and unity (chpater 4). How to live with one another in love (chapters 4 and 5). How to live in relationship with our spouses (chapter 5). How to live with our children and bosses (chapter 6). And how to defeat the evil one and his wiley schemes (chapter 6). Ephesians is extremely rich in orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Read it and enjoy! It's one of the most beautiful epistles in all the New Testament. I think Paul really loved the Ephesian church. He spent 18 months there when it was first established. After reading this letter, you can see why.