“[God] destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
–Ephesians 1:5, NRSV
Since my departure from ministry in the church, my wife and I have been hosting a home-based Bible study that has acquired interest from a growing handful. It’s been great to just sit back, enjoy some coffee, and dig into all of our questions and thoughts as we explore Scripture. The next few posts, I’d like to share what we cover as we are now exploring a really inspirational New Testament text that I think we could all benefit from: Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
Now, Ephesians is a fun little letter. We don’t know if it was really Paul that wrote it, as there are features of the letter that seem a bit “off” from Paul’s usually rigid structure. On the other hand, even if it wasn’t Paul, it was definitely someone who was familiar with his work.
The Letter to the Ephesians is written “to the saints who are in Ephesus,” which tells us that this letter is not written to all Christians or to Jewish Christians, but to Gentile Christians. Remember, Christianity was once a sect of Judaism that eventually broke away, partly due to the large numbers of non-Jewish believers being brought into the fold. With this in mind, we can already say that Ephesians is going to emphasize the Gospel’s call to those outside the Jewish religion. Let’s look at the text!
Read Ephesians chapter 1, either in your own Good Book or by following the link, and note what you think are the talking points of the letter.
Some points include: adoption as God’s children (verse 5), redemption through Christ’s blood (verse 7), the mystery of God’s will (verse 9), inheritance (verse 11), and Christ’s ultimate dominion (verses 20-23).
If you picked up different points or have questions about these, that’s fine! You can even comment and let me know. After all, I could have missed an important one, and you could be the one to help me learn something, too!
As you read over Ephesians 1, really note this language of redemption and inheritance. We are redeemed through the blood of Christ, which sounds morbid to us in the 21st Century, but remember, the ancient world understood that life can only be redeemed (purchased) by life, and blood was seen as that which carries the life of a person. Christ paid the price to free us from slavery to sin, but because sin costs life, he offered up his to settle the debt. This fits perfectly within the ancient model of slavery, economics, and sacrifice, so just remember that when the blood talk seems a bit… much.
As a side note, if we forget this contextual information, then the whole concept really does become a bit morbid, serving as the basis for a lot of poor ministry practices. Domestic abuse, imprisonment, and oppression have all been justified by the idea that suffering (in general, but especially undeservedly) connects us to Christ and should thereby be accepted and even invited. Leaders have sent women back to abusive husbands, claiming that they are suffering as Christ suffered, and God will eventually pay them back. This is way wrong. It ignores the reasons why Christ’s sacrifice and the cross actually make sense, and it costs people their lives and sense of peace.
Now, finally, this notion of inheritance bears mentioning. You and I, unless we happen to be Jewish in descent, are Gentile believers. This letter is great for us because it emphasizes the fact that we are still children of God (literally, “sons” in Greek, as sons were the ones who could actually inherit; yes, ladies, y’all are sons!). As such, we are included in the ultimate hope, love, and blessing of God’s presence in our lives, right here and right now. This is great news, especially if you, like me, have always struggled with belonging, wondering if there is a place for you in this crazy world. The truth is that there is a place for all of us, and God is ready for all of us to come inside and spend some quality, eternal time with Him, each other, and all the saints that are a part of this big ol’ family in Christ.
Peace be with you! See you next week for a more in-depth look at chapter 2!