[belonging to Christ: belonging to each other]
As we come to study this new book – Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – it is not only interesting but also essential that we look at the background to the letter. Who wrote it? Who was it written to? When was it written? What were the circumstances at the time of writing? What is the overall theme of the book?
It is helpful to have a bird’s-eye view before we look at more detail.
Ephesians is a letter about the church. It has 6 chapters – 1-3 emphasize doctrine (teaching) while 4-6 emphasize behaviour. 1-3 is theological and 4-6 is practical.
If you prefer the first 3 chapters tell Christians “What they are!” and the second three chapters tell them “To now become what they already are in Christ!!”.
Paul says “This is what you are! Now live like it!”
To break it down a little more using John Stott’s analysis – it looks like this!
1:3 – 2:10 The new life which God has given us in Christ.
2:11 – 3:21 The new society that Gos has created through Christ.
4:1 – 5:21 The new standards that God expects of his new society, especially
unity and purity.
5:21 – 6:24 The new relationships into which God has brought us – harmony in
the home and hostility to the devil.
[Stott – God’s New Society – IVP Illinois 1979. p.25]
A few years ago, around the time of the Gulf war, President George Bush spoke about “a new world order“; before that Karl Marx spoke of the “new man” and “the new Society” – society restructed in economic terms bringing in a “classless society“;
John Major spoke of a classless society when he became Prime Minister. He did not mean the same things as Karl Marx – I’m not quite sure what he meant!!! “A society at ease with itself” I think he said!!
But these dreams and ideals are beyond the capacity of human power – no matter how hard mankind tries, no matter how sincere they are in their endeavours they fail again and again and again.
We try to be “tougher on crime” – to spend more on education – to provide better housing – to create jobs – rehabilitation programmes for young offenders …………..
ALL of these things are necessary and helpful but the notion that we can improve man’s inner condition by improving the enviroment is doomed to fail – history is littered with social programmes that have failed. Human happiness cannot be bought.
The basic problem with people – all people, is that spiritually we are dead in our sins …
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (NIV)
But Paul in this letter speaks of new life in Christ [for those save by grace through faith], the riches of God’s grace, unlimited blessing, the experisnce of the love and power of God, ……… and much more!
All this from God for the believers – a new life lived in a new community – the community of believers, the Church!! God’s alternative society.
The letter to the Ephesians is a book about the church. The relationship to her Lord, to each other and to the world!!
Christ Loved the church and gave himself for her – the church is HIS body – and Paul’s prayer is that you [the church] may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. [3:19]
With that very brief overview let’s look at v.1-2. We will fill in some background as we go along.
- THE WRITER.
1.1 Paul – a changed man.
Paul was a Jew, from the tribe of Benjamin – he was very well educated – he had studied under the famous Jewish teacher, Gamaliel. He was a shining light amongst the up and coming Jewish rabbis. He hated the christians and set out to make life for them as miserable and difficult as possible. He was prepared to go to any lengths to stop the spread of this new Jewish sect – the peolpe of the Way.
BUT God had other plans – Paul was dramatically converted on the Damascus road.
He spent three years in the Arabian desert and then helped teach and lead the church in Antioch. It was from there that God called Him and Barnabas to there missionary work!!
It is interesting that God called the leaders of the church to go – also that Paul and Barnabas were not on cloud 9 waiting a voice from heaven they were involved in the church where they were —- if you have desires to serve God abroad – the best way is to start serving him here!!
God changed Saul from an anti-christian persecutor into a godly preacher of the good news.
1.2 Paul – a commissioned man.
Paul was an apostle – lit. “a sent one” – This word could be used in a very broad sense to refer to anyone sent out on a mission. We could use it of ourselves in the sense that we too are commissioned by God to be his witnesses. BUT Paul uses it in a much narrower sense with reference to himself and the other 12 who Jesus called.
This apostleship which Paul has received is not because a Church council choose him – nor that he volunteered for the job BUT he was choosen and appointed by God [the will of God] to be a messenger for Jesus Christ. He is not just a great teacher or a missionary hero BUT a God-appointed APOSTLE.
His teaching is therefore in the name of and with the authority of Jesus himself.
That is why when we read Paul’s words in this letter we are reading God’s message to His Church.
God changed Paul and then commissioned him. God does the same thing today – we don’t have leaders with the same authority as Paul and Peter and the other Apostles – their authority is now recorded in scrpiture – but all christians have been changed and commissioned.
This we will see clearly in the letter – changed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive!! Commissioned to live for God and bring glory to his name!
- THE READERS.
2.1. Saints and faithful.
Paul calls the Ephesian christians “saints” – if he were writing to us today he would write ”
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints in …. [BINSCOMBE] .. the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Saints?? Us??? you must be joking? NO! Saints – holy. Those set apart or consecrated to the Lord. Saints are not a groups of super-spiritual elite who are canonized and called “Saint” after they have departed this life!!
In the OT Israel was called a Holy nation – a nation that belonged to God – in fact that same terminology is applied to the church in1 Peter 2v9.
Something that belongs completely and exclusively to God.
ILLUS.: My toothbrush is “holy” mine – it is set apart for my exclusive use – I don’t even want my wife to use it.
You get the idea of what holy – saint means.
Another interesting thing about the word saint in the BIBLE is that it is never used in the singular – 68 x [45 in the NT] but always in the plural.
In our Western individualised world we tend toward viewing our faith and our religious life as a very private matter. BUT it is not – we need to come to Christ as individuals BUT the Christian life is not individualistic – it is a community life. Paul picks this up in ch.3:-
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
We are not just a group of individuals who because we have a few common beliefs join this club called Binscombe Church. This is not a club – We can’t simply pay our dues and then flit in and out – if that is how you view the church then you need to think again.
Saints are also referred to as faithful – if you are a saint you are one of the faithful and if you are faithful you are a saint. It is only possible to be a saint and to remain faithful because of the saving power of God in our lives. He gives the saving faith to believe and then the faith to remain faithful to him.
Faithful not only to Christ but to each other, because being related to Christ relates us to each other. We are all “in Christ”
2.2. ” … in Christ Jesus..”
We said a moment ago that we are not a club – because we are not just in the church as an organisation BUT “in Christ”. This is one of Paul’s favourite phrases.[172x]
“In Christ” means that I have been given spiritual life through Christ and have become part of his body. “In Christ” sums up my whole existence as a Christian. In order to be a Christian you have to belong to Christ – united to Christ.
Jesus spoke of this in term of the vine and the branches.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (NIV)
To be “In Christ” means to be part of the Body of Christ – the church – Therefore to be “in Christ ” = “in the Church” and “in the Church” = “in Christ”. The church not as an institution but as a living spiritual body.
You can be a member of Binscombe Church or any other Church – you may have been christened, baptised, married in the church, you may give money to the Church and be involved in all kinds of religious activities and good deeds BUT ifyou do not know Jesus Christ personally – if you haven’t come to faith in Him you are not “in Christ” and therefore not in His Church – part of his body.
Being “in Christ” means not only that we belong to Christ but also to each other – a body does not consist of detached bits – so if God has placed you here in this body and you are not functioning as you should then you are causing harm to the body of Christ.
2.3. “… in Ephesus.”
We are not just in a spiritual realm but also in a physical one. One of the tensions that Christian have to live with. Between the “already” and the “not yet”.
Paul’s readers lived in Ephesus — [OHP MAP] — this was orginally Greek colony and then later was under the Roman [ at the Time of Paul]. It was a port [now silted up] and it also housed the temple to the goddess Artemis [or Diana] [one a Gk. one Latin]. This was one of the seven wonders of the world –
In Acts 19 we have Pul in Ephesus and in trouble with some of the citizens who were silversmiths – they mad models of the temple and sold them – Paul’s mesage threatened their trade and they were not happy.
23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. (NIV)
Being “in Christ” and “in Ephesus” caused the christians to be in conflict with their world. There will always be conflicting view between the Church and the world – and when there isn’t maybe we need to question our effectiveness for the gospel.
We are always in danger of either pursuing Christ and withdrawing from the world OR becoming preoccupied with the world and forgetting that we are also in Christ.
So we are “in Christ” and “in Binscombe” – God has placed us here to be his body HERE – What the people out there see of Christ is what they see in us. What kind of a picture does the world have of Christ – for the most part they see him as irrelavant and unimportant – why?? probably because that is the image the church has projected! So when we decry the state of the world we need to look inwards and decry the state of the Church.
ILLUS.: 1910 Edinburgh missionary conference – Andrew Murray [known for his devotional writing especially on prayer] invited but could not go – World very optimistic – technology was taking off – telephones, radio, motor cars, flight, before the First World War dashed a few hopes – Theme of conference “We can evangelise the world in this generation” After reading the papers from the Conference Murray wrote a book – not one of his most popular!! He wrote ” It is a wonderul theme but there is only one problem – ‘The State of the Church’”
We are “in Christ” and in the world so that we can bring Christ to the world!!
That is the task of the whole Church working together.
- THE GREETING.
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a greeting that Paul uses many times [sometimes adds mercy]. These themes will follow through this letter of Ephesians –
Grace – “… by grace you are saved …” God spontaneous love that deals with sin and brings the undeserving sinner into a loving relationship with himself. And not just a little bit of his grace but the immeasurable riches of his grace [ch.2].
MacArthur “Grace is the fountain of which peace is the stream“.
Because of his grace we can know His peace – peace with God because our sin and guilt have been taken away by Jesus on the cross – the barrier between us and God has been removed so we can know him. As a result we can be at peace – not a tranquil existence cut off from the real world but a spiritual contentment in the hubbub of life.
This grace and peace is not something that we can invent or work up within ourselves but it comes from … from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ dominates Paul’s thinking :
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus …….,
To the saints ……. in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace and peace … from …… the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus so dominated the life of Paul that he has to almost mention his name in every sentence. That is why Paul could write:
1 Corinthians 11:1
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (NIV)
May this be true of us – my our lives as individuals and esp. as a Church be examples of Christ. And I pray that as we study this letter of Ephesians together over the next few months that the Lord will renew of vision of what the church should be and then by his Spirit help us to be a Church that reflects the character of the Master.
Ephesians 3:15-21 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)
ANALYSIS OF EPHESIANS.
1:3 – 2:10 The new life which God has
given us in Christ.
2:11 – 3:21 The new society that God
has created through Christ.
4:1 – 5:21 The new standards that
God expects of his new
society, especially unity
5:21 – 6:24 The new relationships into
which God has brought us –
harmony in the home and
hostility to the devil.
[[John Stott -God’s New Society – IVP Illinois 1979. p.25]
- THE WRITER. (verse 1a)
Paul – a changed man.
Paul – a commissioned man.
- THE READERS. (verse 1b)
Saints and Faithful.
in Christ – Spiritual location.
in Ephesus – Physical location.
- THE GREETING. (verse 2)
Its Content – Grace and peace.
Its Source – Father & Jesus Christ.