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TEXT: Ephesians 1:1-2
SUBJECT: Ephesians #1: The Greeting
Today, with God's blessing, we'll start up a new series of sermons, this one through Ephesians. I chose this book, in part, because it is my favorite Epistle of Paul, but mostly because of what it's about.
What is it about? It's about the unity of God's People, which is God's gift to give and our responsibility to maintain and improve. What does Ephesians want us to do? Two things:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
This is what Ephesians is about and what it wants us to do. So, before we move on in the study, I've got to ask you: Do you want unity in the church and home? And, if you do, What are you willing to do about it? Be particular. There are no generalities in our lives; everything is specific. Think about what's needed for unity in the church and home and do it-even if it's hard or boring.
The text of today's sermon is vv.1-2 of the first chapter. They're called The Greeting, or if you read older books, The Salutation. Paul begins all of his letters in pretty much the same way, and there is nothing distinctly 'Christian' or 'Inspired' in the form he used. All letters at the time in that part of the world opened with the name of the writer, something about him, the one he was writing to, and good wishes.
But if there's nothing especially Christian about the form of the greeting, the content is something else altogether! It's full of doctrine and meaning and application to our lives. Only a little bit of which I can give you today. To fill in what I left out, I recommend the tried-and-true practice of meditation with prayer the Lord would-
Open your eyes, that you may behold
Wondrous things out of His law.
Even something as ordinary as a greeting.
The author is Paul. He doesn't give his last name because he doesn't need to; his readers know him well, for it was he who founded the church in Ephesus, and stayed there (I think) longer than any other place (of his own will, I mean, and not locked up in jail). You can read of his work there, mostly in Acts 19, and it's quite a story-with both the power of Christ and the rage of the devil on full display.
Paul had a personal interest in the church of Ephesus; he was a father to them and they were his children in the Lord. But as dear as these feelings were, on both sides, it was not they that qualified Paul to write this Letter to them.
Why did Paul write Ephesians-and not someone else? Apollos had preached there before Paul did, and being the scholar he was, he might have written a far more polished and impressive Book than Paul did. John would show up later, and the Letter might have waited for him to write it. But it didn't.
The Lord chose Paul to write the Epistle, and He did it for a very good reason. Who is better qualified to write on Church Unity than Paul who was its very embodiment?
Today, churches are divided for many reasons, from doctrine to race to style of worship to age to income to you name it. These things, of course, frayed the Early Church too. But not nearly as badly as something else.
The fault line back then ran between Jew and Gentile. It was this difference that threatened the unity of the Church like nothing else.
So.what's Paul got to do with this?
Like no other man, he was both totally Jewish and completely Gentile at the same time and without contradiction.
Start with his background and his formal training. He said of himself, in Philippians 3, he was-
Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is of the law, blameless.
In another place, he says he was taught by Gamaliel, the most respected conservative Rabbi in Israel. And not only 'taught by him', but was his prize pupil-skipping grades (we would say) and graduating from seminary at an unheard of early age!
Paul's connection to Israel was never lost, nor was he ever to stop loving his people, even though they treated him badly all his Christian life. In Romans 9, he opened his heart toward the people-
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.who are Israelites.
Paul, therefore, is the most Jewish man in the world. He understands what their concerns were about worshiping God with Gentiles, eating with them, and who knows? Maybe even inter-marrying with them.
But this Hebrew of the Hebrews had a special calling from Christ and was given a unique understanding of the Church.
He was called to bear [Christ's] name before the Gentiles. And, to enable him to do it with confidence, the Lord revealed the mystery He had hidden from all other ages (and people)-
That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.
In Paul's own life, God had reconciled Jews and Gentiles at the feet of Jesus Christ. And what Paul knew and felt qualified him to write the masterpiece of Christian unity we call Ephesians.
If Paul's experience supported his authority, it didn't come from his experience, but rather, from his office. He says, in v.1-
Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
The word, 'Apostle' means 'one who is sent'. In a certain way, all Christians are apostles-but not in the same way Paul was. He was a 'sent man' with a special authority from Christ. In the first words of Acts, Luke says our Lord began.teach some things. But what He began on the shores of Galilee, He didn't finish-not by a long shot. Near the end of His life, He told the Twelve-
I have yet many things to tell you, but you are not able to bear them.
This doesn't mean we've missed out on what we might have had if He had lived another forty years. No! He taught every lesson He meant to, some personally, but most of them, by His Apostles (including and especially Paul).
To say Paul's an Apostle, therefore, means more than he's a preacher or a missionary; it means he speaks with authority equal to Jesus Christ-because it is the authority of Jesus Christ! Ephesians-like the rest of the New Testament-is no less the words of Christ than the Red Words we have in the Gospels.
Paul is an Apostle, and he says, he didn't claim the authority himself and he wasn't elected to the office by the other Apostles, or by a church, or by anyone else.on earth. He is an Apostle.
By the will of God.
He makes this point-not to get us to admire or envy him-but to make us understand the authority by which he speaks, and to submit to it.
Later in the book we're going to find things that are rather distasteful. Men who have stolen (or mooched) their whole lives are going to be told to quit living off others and make a living for themselves and give to others! People who have been hurt, offended, and humiliated are going to be told to quit talking about what they've suffered in life, stop feeling resentful, and forgive the ones who did them wrong, just as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven [them]. Husbands will soon be told to love their wives; wives to respect their husbands; children to obey their parents; and parents to be gentle and wise with their children.
It's easy to dismiss these things as Paul's advice or the counsel of the ancient world. But we cannot do this.because of the office Paul occupies and how he got into it-
Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God!
THE FIRST READERS
The letter is written to people who are described in three ways. They are-
Saints.faithful in Christ Jesus.in Ephesus
We've read these words so many times, we've lost their shock value. Saints in Ephesus! What a contradiction!
Ephesus was one of the darkest corners in a very dark world. Its Number One deity was Diana (the Bible calls her) or Artemis (in Greek mythology). She was a fertility goddess whose image was naked. This means the whole town was awash in sexual immorality. It was the kind of city where Madonna, Paris Hilton, or Jennifer Lopez might be a celebrity. Unlikely place for saints-but there they were.
Because Christ loves to shine His light into the darkness! What was said first of Galilee is also true of Ephesus-
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light!
There's a lesson in here for us. The world all around us is dark and only we can dispel it for the only light of the world is the Gospel. How are we interacting with 'bad people'? Are we staying clear of them? Are we sitting in judgment over them? Are we ignoring them in our prayers-or even praying against them?
Or, are we living the Gospel for them to see and speaking it to them when we have the chance?
I had breakfast one day with a man named Johnson. He was a professor at a seminary, his parents were believers in Christ, as were their parents, several generations back. He had a wonderful Christian heritage, for which he was thankful. But he told me, Johnson is a Swedish name. I come from a people who drank the blood of their enemies!
Have we forgotten how dark we were before we saw the Light of the Gospel? If we have, it's no wonder we hide our lights under a bushel. The whole world is Ephesus, and Paul can't go there anymore. Except as we carry him and the One he carried, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's high time to stop cursing the darkness, and start lighting candles!
The believers in Ephesus were called, saints. The word means, 'holy ones'. Were they especially godly people, way better than other Christians? No, they were about the same as you and I are: mediocrities.
Then why does Paul call them 'saints'? Is he flattering them? No he's calling them what they are-and what all Christians are-in spite of our failings and weaknesses and more.
Objectively, we are holy people because God has chosen us for holiness. Back in the Book of Leviticus, bowls and spices, and garments were called holy-not because they were moral undershirts or virtuous pots and pans-but because they were in the Lord's service.
I'd like to think of myself as the Golden Cup, brimming with the richest wine on God's Royal Table, but, in fact, I'm more likely the trash can in His stables. But that's fine with me because the important thing is belonging to God! We're saints-not because we never sin or do everything we ought to do-but because we belong to God!
Belonging to God had a practical effect on our lives. It makes us holier than we would be otherwise. Far from perfect, of course we are! Very mature? No, not really. But still, we try to do the Lord's will, and when we don't (which is most of the time), we say we're sorry, we ask for grace, and we try again.in hope.
This is what a saint is and what he does.
FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS
The saints are also faithful in Christ Jesus. There's a question about the meaning of 'faithful' in this place. Does it mean 'believing' or 'dependable'. I see no reason to make a choice. I think it means both.
The Ephesians-and all Christians-believe in Christ and, to some degree, we follow Him.
The greeting ends with a double blessing-
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
In most letters of the time, this was the place for 'best wishes'. And Paul offers them-in a manner of speaking. But the words mean far more than 'good luck'. They are echoes of the priestly blessings of the Old Testament. The one I know best goes like this-
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
In 'blessing' the people, Paul was exercising his priestly gift. Without believing the words work magically, he believed the Lord would back them up and confer the very blessings he invoked on them.
This is our privilege, no less than his. For the priesthood of the Old Testament didn't become the priesthood of the Apostolate or of ministers, but of all believers without exception. This is why we ought to bless others in God's Name and pray the blessings wished on them will be given.
What he wants them to have is, Grace and peace. 'Grace' means 'God's favor' and 'peace'-here I think-means 'the peace of mind' or 'peaceableness' that will promote the unity of the God's People.
These are the things Paul wants them-and us-to have because.why? Because they're the things they-and we-most need! But are they the things we most pray for? Or the things we work hardest for? Or the things we really want most? Or, would we rather have money? Or a nicer home? Or an easier job? Or, is what we really want most.our own way?
Maybe we don't have more grace and peace because-deep down-we don't really want them. If we could see what they were really worth, compared to the things we want more, 'grace and peace' would be at the top of our list.
One other things here. You notice blesses them in the name of God and Christ. This means-over against the cults-Jesus is equal to the Father in every way; in other words He is God-not Godlike or Godlight-but the same in essence, equal in power and glory.
I think we're pretty clear on this, but there's another side to it. It also means God is equal to Christ. He is no less merciful, compassionate, patient, and generous than the Man we see in the Gospels.
The message of vv.1-2 is easy to state, though hard to practice. The People of God are united-not should be, but are-under the authority of God and Christ, and also under the mercy of God and Christ.
Have we forgotten who we are-who we all are in Christ? Can you look at the motley crew sitting around you and say, with thankfulness to God, We're the body of Christ?
Are you living as though what you believe must also be practiced? Are you living with your husband or wife or children or parents as though they too are members of the same Body?
I close with an assignment for this week: What practical steps can you take to:
Relieve the disharmony of church and family?
Promote their harmony?
Don't be vague. It is said, 'the devil is in the details', and so he is. But so is God. Think hospitality, think generosity, think humility, think patience, think of what Christ would be and do. Then, Go and do likewise.
Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
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