- August 24, 2008
Most of us have had some experience planning a “big event.” Some of these—such as weddings —take a lot of planning. We reserve the facilities, make the decorations, decide whom to invite, address and send out invitations, and do all we can to make the occasion something special and memorable for all who attend.
In this opening passage in Ephesians, Paul describes a “big event”—a celebration—God was and is planning.
Ephesus was a great Greek city. It had a theater that was the envy of many in the ancient Mediterranean world. It was the site of games, athletic competition similar to the recent Olympics in Beijing. A magnificent temple to the Roman goddess Artemis—listed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—was in Ephesus. Celebrations of many and various sorts were a consistent part of life in Ephesus.
Given Paul’s circumstances, it would seem he had little to celebrate. Three times in Ephesians, Paul implies he was writing from a jail to the church at Ephesus. In 3:1, he calls himself “the prisoner of Christ Jesus,” in 4:1, “the prisoner for the Lord” and in 6:20, “an ambassador in chains.” This is why we refer to Ephesians as one of Paul’s “Prison Epistles” (Philippians, Colossians and Philemon are the others). The book of Acts ends with Paul under something like house arrest. During this time news and various concerns came before Paul that led to his writing these letters.
In writing Ephesians, Paul was dealing with reports of two problems at Ephesus. Apparently, he had heard some were so relishing their freedom from the law that their moral standards had become lax. Also, there had risen more tension between the Gentile and Jewish Christians.
Paul opened his letter in his usual way. However, notice that, after identifying himself, Paul addresses in an inclusive manner. This letter is for “the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.” He is starting with that which all of them—Jew and Gentile alike—have in common.
Despite his imprisonment, Paul knew he was not alone in living out faith in Jesus. He also recognized those Ephesian Christians were doing the same despite all their problems and struggles. How strange, Paul must have felt, that in the midst of so many celebrations in Ephesus, the church there was, instead, finding so much to drive them apart.
In our passage, Paul points to reasons Christians should live lives of celebration. First, despite our sinful nature, from the beginning God has planned to make us righteous and holy (vv. 3-4). Second, despite our sin, from the beginning God has planned to adopt us (v. 5). Third, it was God’s own sacrifice—not our own—that made all this possible (v. 7). Fourth, God’s plan is to “lavish” grace on us (vv. 7-8). Grace is not shared grudgingly nor with hesitation. Rather, like the loving father of the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32), when we turn to God, we are showered with love, mercy and grace. And as was true when the son returned, the celebration began (Luke 15:24).
If God’s word is true (and, of course, it is), God’s does not want for “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Also, try reading through Romans and counting the number of times the word “all” appears. Here are just a few. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God is the “father of all who believe” (Romans 4:11). “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).
There was so much that already joined the Jews and the Gentiles in the church in Ephesus, but they lacked unity. What is “God’s plan”? Paul writes that the plan “to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment [is] to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (v. 10).
This is first a call to unity. Despite their many differences, the Ephesian Christians were called to celebrate what they had in common in and through Jesus Christ. After all, they did share God’s grace and adoption. Then, they were to be holy and blameless. They were to be and act like God’s children. All this, Paul writes, is not only possible only by and through God—it is all done for God’s glory (v. 14).
God has planned the same celebration for us. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, everything has been done and made ready. God has invited us to participate in this lavish plan. The question is that of our response. How will we live in unity with other Christians? How will we live holy lives as God’s children? How will our living bring glory to God?
Questions to explore
• How has God’s work for us in Jesus made possible our unity as Christians?
• How and why is Christian unity a vital part of God’s plan?
• How can/will our living holy lives and in unity with other Christians bring glory to God?