Hello …, Dear…, To Whom It may Concern…, Mr…, Mrs…, To…,
When we receive an email, letter or a postcard, the introduction to whom the letter is sent is often overlooked. We tend to jump straight to the main text of whatever it is we have received.
As we read the letters in the New Testament, it could be very easy for our eyes to jump straight to the bold lettering, normally just a few lines down, and skip over the introduction. But when Paul wrote Ephesians, and his other letters, they wouldn’t have been written in the format of the Bible that we enjoy today. They would have been written on a scroll, so by introducing himself on the first line, Paul would enable the reader to see from whom the letter was sent.
“To Gods holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus”. In this short phrase, Paul is giving us three definitions of what it means to be a believer. Arguably, the minimum requirements in order to call oneself a Christian.
1 : Christians are Holy people - The Oxford English Dictionary describes the word holy as a person “dedicated to God or a religious purpose”
2 : Christians are Faithful - There are two meanings at work here as Paul writes faithful. First and foremost, the meaning of the word faithful is of someone who is exercising faith. A person who has heard the gospel of Gods grace in Jesus and believes it, has exercised faith in it and is now faithful to the gospel. The second meaning is “to continue in faith”, it is the idea that being faithful is something that ones continues to be over time, an ongoing faith to the very end of life.
3 : Christians are In Christ - This phrase is used 164 times in Paul’s writings and goes beyond “simply believing” in Christ or being saved by His actions. It means being joined to Christ in a single spiritual body, so what is true for him is also true for us. This is not always the easiest concept. The Bible provides many images of what this means and we will go into more detail in future weeks but consider the union of the vine and the branches (John 15:1-17), the wholeness of a spiritual temple (Ephesians 2:20-22) or the union of the head with other parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Whether we fully understand being “In Christ” or not, union with Christ is the very essence of salvation, being apart from Christ is entirely hopeless.
Verse 2 : “Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ”
There have been copies of this letter found without reference to Ephesus, leading many scholars to believe that it was more of a generic letter to many churches in many places. Whether that is true or not, one copy of the letter was certainly sent to the Christians at Ephesus, which means that these “holy people”, the “faithful” that are “in Christ”, were nevertheless in the world (in Ephesus) and were being reminded to live for Christ.
In the same way, it serves as a reminder to us to live for Christ here in Ipswich. Which leads to the question, is the world around us here, different to Ephesus 2000 years years ago? Ephesus was a city and a people of sin, as all towns, cities and people are… they worshipped idols, they were materialistic, superstitious, faithless, selfish and so on… With all this sin in and around them, and around in and around us, what can keep Christian people with God in these environments?
There is only one answer, and it is what is mentioned in nearly all the introductions to the New Testament letters… “grace and peace” … especially grace from God the Father. Ephesians goes into detail about how we should live as Christians and what we should do whilst in this world, and we’ve previously studied this at MIE.
There is no hidden mystery and should be no doubt about how we are going to live the life we are called to live. That is by God grace, and by the will and strength of God alone. We have no other strength, ability, power or knowledge outside of Him, and by His grace alone we can live as we are called to live.
The importance of this cannot be overstated, so Paul, along with the other authors of the New Testament letters, opened with this phrase, knowing that the only hope we have, is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's worth remembering that when the books and letters of the Bible were first written, the various authors did not write them as the chapters and verses that we see today. This is especially worth keeping in mind as we come to look at the next two verses. Verses 3 and 4 are part of 12 verses (3-14 inclusive) that were originally written as one big flowing sentence, abundant in overwhelming praise and worship of God the Father (3-6), The Son (7-10) and The Holy Spirit (11-14) I would suggest reading all of these verses as a group before carrying on.
Verse 3 : “Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”.
Christians are trinitarians, we believe in one God, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Looking at this verse and with that mind, we see the blessing comes from “God The Father”, becomes ours “In Christ” and is applied by the Holy Spirit. That is also to say the blessing of the Holy Spirit has been given to us by the Father if we are in the Son. And praise be to God for it!
That being said, in this verse, Paul also has in mind the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms rather than material blessings of this world. As the passage continues, Paul lists the spiritual blessings explicitly and we’ll be looking at those in further detail over the coming weeks but it’s worth noting them now… Election, Adoption, Redemption, Forgiveness, Revelation, Unification, Sealing and Inheritance.
This week we’ll look at the first of these, Election.
Verse 4 : “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”
Now this might make some people feel uncomfortable and will take time to think and talk through. Supposing that God chooses or “elects” some people for salvation, the free will or the ability to choose is removed. However this is not the case. Before we were made alive in Christ we had human will. But it was always directed against God, not toward Him. When we were made alive in Christ, we received a new nature, where God was once undesirable to us, He is now desirable and we are willing to submit ourselves to him.
We have discussed before that there is nothing good outside of Christ. That anything that is good only comes from God. Choice, is a similar concept. What we chose before we knew Christ as our Lord and saviour was always against God. We can try to choose by our own human nature but we would chose wrongly. We can try and do good outside of Christ, but will never succeed.
Jesus says in Mathew 12:30 - “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me”. There is no “middle ground” there are no neutrals. We can take this to mean that anyone that is trying to do good, or make any choices without Jesus, is actually working against Him.
Election teaches that salvation comes only from the Lord, not by anything that we can do outside of him. It is all God's work from beginning to end.
1) What does it mean to be holy?
2) How would you describe to a non-Christian what it means to live a holy life… consider trying to write it down as a single paragraph.
3) Consider what you have just discussed about what it is to be holy. Can you think of examples of where you have fallen short. Unknowingly or by accident… or through your own deliberate fault.
4) How would you describe to a non-Christian, that you are “in Christ” - Consider trying to write it down as a single paragraph.
5) Consider The Fall, how far do you think humanity fell? Far enough that we are damaged by sin but not ruined? Or so far that we are not capable of making any movement back towards God unless he reaches to us first?
6) When did you know you were Elected, or called by God?
7) Consider and discuss the following statement regarding “Election”…
Why one person rather than another? Why more than one? Or why not everyone? Once we admit that God has a purpose in election, it is evident that the purpose must extend to the details of Gods Choice. We do not know why he elects one rather than another, but it is quite a different thing from saying that he has no reasons. In fact, in so great an enterprise, an enterprise which forms the entire meaning of human history, it would be arrogant for us to suppose that we could ever understand the whole purpose. We can speculate. We can see portions of Gods purpose in specific instances of election. But on the whole we will have to do as Paul does and confess that predestination is simply “in accordance with [Gods] pleasure and will”
8) Maybe for personal reflection… Why did God elect you?