Children of Light: Finishing Ephesians

For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.

–Ephesians 5:8, RSV

Welp, we did it! We finished Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and it definitely ended on a more positive note than that of Ecclesiastes. Ephesians has proven to be inspiring, instructive, and enlightening thus far and I hope you will experience more of that as we walk through these final chapters.

Beginning with Chapter 5, we find a superb extension from chapter 4 that sums up Paul’s central point about Christian life and relationship. After exhorting Christians to live lives of humility and forgiveness in 4:32, he says to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (5:1-2). This is a fundamental teaching that should give us pause. So often, we view Christ and God as beings that are beyond us, and in one sense, this is correct. However, the whole purpose of Christ’s coming was to teach us the way we are to walk in relationship with God, and imitating God in the Flesh is the primary call of the Christian person. We can’t just treat Christ as a “far and away” hero that we categorize as entirely separate from ourselves. Instead, we should look to him as an example and do our best to walk in his footsteps as “children of light” (5:8).

With that in mind, we come to one of the most controversial sections of Ecclesiastes, namely, the “Household Codes” of 5:21-6:9. It is here that we had to have a (passionate) discussion about the context of Scripture. Paul writes from a time when patriarchy (the inherent leadership and superiority of free males in society) was the accepted norm. As such, any familial advice he gives is going to fit within that particular framework. Unfortunately, this has led to immediate dismissal as an instructive text on the part of those who are offended by the Bible’s inherent (by our standards) sexism. However, if we take a closer look, we can see how Paul was at once a man of his time, while also (inspired by the Spirit of God) someone who saw beyond it.

The section begins (in most scholarly translations) with an essential instruction to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). This alone should give us pause, because Paul doesn’t only instruct the women, as you might expect. Instead, he instructs all believers to submit to each other, and THEN he details what that should look like. He does tell wives to submit to their husbands, but then, he does something that is unexpected in patriarchy by instructing the men on how to love their wives. They must do so selflessly, “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). If such instruction were to be taken seriously (and I believe it is), it is not nearly as one-sided as we may have been led to think in recent times, and no matter what time period we live in, putting others before the self is something we desperately need more of.

Chapter 6 continues our culture shock by giving us a view into the ancient practice of slavery, instructing slaves to serve their masters “as servants of Christ,” chaffing against our understandable modern sensibility regarding the scars of Trans-Atlantic slavery. While the two forms of slavery differ significantly, it is still alarming to see (at best) a clear lack of rebuke regarding the ownership of persons. However, again, Paul does something interesting, instructing masters to “forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (6:9). That is a loaded statement that was definitely not typical of the time.

All in all, while our sensibilities are definitely challenged by the world as presented in Ephesians (Scripture as a whole, really), we still see the Spirit of God at working to change the world into something that better resembles the kingdom of God. Further, we see God’s invitation to live life in a way that imitates and shares his love, helping to establish this kingdom.

My encouragement to you is to remember the call that is extended to you in Christ. This call is not just one to believe in our heads, but to live in our bodies as we go about our daily doings. Just as God transforms implements of war into spiritual sources of edification in 6:10-17, let us accept God’s invitation to transform our mundane, pain-filled, and hope-deprived world into a nation of peace, rooted in love. We do this as our Lord did: one person, one interaction at a time. Let’s get started!

Peace be with you!

More Ephesians: The New Creation

“…Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

— Ephesians 4:23-24, NRSV

We definitely read a lot this week! We technically went through chapter two at our last meeting, but re-visited it quite a bit with this week’s readings, referring back for common themes throughout the letter to the Ephesians. With so much to look at, let’s get started!

Check out Chapter Two.

Some of the most well-known quotes and ideas that are associated with Ephesians come from this chapter. For example, verses 8-9 (“For by grace you have been saved…”). What I would like to draw attention to, however, is Paul’s emphasis on our being “made…alive together with Christ” (verse 5). We are told that “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (verse 10). Paul’s view seems to be that we are newly created when we are resurrected in faith with Christ, and this new being that we have been given in Christ comes with a whole new lifestyle, centered on doing good things.

The idea of good works as pleasing to God is touchy. We live in a time when salvation by works and salvation by faith are separate ideas, but it is important to know that to the biblical authors, there is no distinction. If we believe in Christ, we had better be doing good things for others. If we don’t, then it is doubtful that we ever had real faith in Christ.

With all that said, what is the nature of this new creation? Indeed, in verse 15 of chapter two, Paul refers to a “new humanity,” now that Christ has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (verse 14). In the context of the letter, Paul is discussing the hostility between Jews and non-Jews, known as Gentiles. Christianity was once an all Jewish sect, but the Good News quickly spread to those outside the Jewish community, which became a factor in impending separation of the sect from its mother religion. I would say, though, that this concept applies to far more than the historical enmity between Jews and non-Jews. In Christ, if there is a single new humanity, and we are all new creations, really ANY dividing factors are done away with. Sex, gender, race, economic status, and political affiliations are all revealed to be nothing but superficial and human means of being categorized, and our true identity is that of beloved children of God through Jesus Christ.

            Read through chapter three, and you will note that Paul is now discussing the implications of our newly established family in Christ. With all of our divisions and causes for strife gone, we are all left with “access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in [Christ]” (3:12). We are encouraged to seek the presence of Christ in our “hearts through faith…being rooted and grounded in love” (3:17). This makes for a handy transition to chapter four, which covers the specifics of how this new family in Christ, grounded in love, should be relating to one another.

For example, we are asked right off the bat “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). This includes:

  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • “Bearing with one another in love” (4:2)
  • Maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3)

Note that all of these things make us subject to one another, rather than giving us an edge or advantage. Love in the Christian world is a sacrifice, acceptable to God and loving toward our neighbor. Our lives are no longer to be lived for ourselves, but for “building up the body of Christ” (4:12). This includes not just our actions, but also our words (4:29) and the management of our emotions (4:26)! There is to be no part of our lives left untouched by our new reality in Christ Jesus!

I hope that you really took/take the time to read these few chapters of Ephesians, and I would like to finish with the thought that began this article. We are encouraged to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and…clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:23-24). We are all created in the image of God, but our sin distorts that image. When we come to God through Christ, we regain that image, and must live accordingly. I encourage us all to go into our week and find the things we have kept from God, turning them over to Him in order that we may be truly renewed. It could be our politics, our words, our thoughts, the way we act around or toward certain people, or our self-care habits (lack thereof?). You know what those parts are, and it is my prayer that you know that God’s all-consuming love is enough to heal and inspire you, no matter who or where you may be. Love like this changes the world, and it is about time we got started, don’t you think?

Peace be with you!

 

***Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churhces of Christ in the United States of America.

Ephesians: Digging into God’s Promises

“[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.

Done?

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!