Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter to the Ephesian Church (in Asia Minor). He also identifies himself as an apostle, which means “sent one.” In other words, Paul is saying that he is an ambassador on behalf of Christ Jesus, called and empowered to do so by the “will of God.
He addresses his audience in Ephesus, calling them “saints” and “faithful in Christ Jesus.” The title of saints indicates the calling of this community of faith – to be holy. The word for “saint” is rooted in the same word for “holy.” Holiness is connected to the idea of being “faithful in Jesus Christ.” This goes beyond simple obedience but aims at the heart of our obedience. One may adhere to the Law perfectly and yet fail to fulfill the Law (think Pharisees, for example). Sanctification (saint), the process of becoming holy (becoming like God, restored to the image of God), is right actions lived out of the overflow for love of God (holy love).
This is also why Wesley will say that holiness is not the absence of sin. This obedience is not about sinless perfection. Rather, holiness is about perfection in the sense that we are fulfilling our purpose, even if our performance is not perfect.
A mother planted flowers one Spring. She had cultivated the ground and worked hard on getting the flowers in the soil. Her young son came home from school, walked in the backyard, came back inside with a hand full of those same planted flowers with the dirt still clinging to the roots. He handed them to his mom, saying, “I love you, momma, and I picked these for you.” She graciously received the flowers and put them in a vase with water. The mom understood that it was an act done in love, even if it did uproot her hard work.
In a similar fashion, our sanctification does not mean that we won’t mess up, but that everything we do, even our mistakes, are derived out of a deep sense of love. Thus, even while we might be holy, we are never done confessing our sins to God or to each other. Why is it so difficult for us to confess our sins?
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul finishes his greeting by giving a blessing to the community. What would it look like to extend God’s blessing to each other? What would that mean for our relationships with one another?
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
Paul begins the body of his letter with praise for God and what has been given to us through Jesus Christ, that is, “every spiritual blessing.” Before challenging and encouraging the community, before addressing the issues facing the Church, Paul draws the community’s attention to God’s character and nature. God is one who gives abundantly and generously – EVERY spiritual blessing. God is not stingy. God does not withhold any part of God from the Church. If the Church’s character is to reflect God’s character, it will look like an abundant blessing to others. Are we really a blessing to others or do we expect others to bless us?
4 just as he chose us in Christ[b] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
I’m sure the issue of election and predestination will come up here. Here’s some quick thoughts. God created everything to be a reflection of God, especially humanity. Obviously, what God desired is only temporarily realized until sin enters the world. God’s will is, at the very least, resisted. So, just because God wills something does not then mean that Creation cannot choose differently. There is potentially an element of free will at work in God’s election.
God’s deep desire for all Creation is to be “holy and blameless in love.” It is a gift which God gives all the opportunity to receive “to become children of God.” God desires to adopt us as God’s children. But, because God is Love, and love always has an element of freedom, God does not force the Creation or us to receive this gift. We can, and have, rejected this invitation. Now, that was the plan from the beginning, but this verse also hints at something new. It has been offered (again?) through the Beloved, which is Christ Jesus. God has made his appeal through Jesus to us to become children of God. This is a Love that pursues us doggedly, as C. S. Lewis calls God: “The Hound of Heaven.”
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.
It is through the “Beloved” that God is doing this holy work of reconciliation. To “redeem” is to literally “ransom.” We have to be careful with this metaphor, because if we push the metaphor too far we will do damage. But, essentially, this idea of redeeming underlines the impossible situation that we needed to be delivered from. Sin was a prison from which we had no key. Christ unlocked our prison to set us free.
This redemption is made possible “through his blood.” That’s another way of saying “through Jesus’ very life.” Forgiveness of our trespasses is possible through the “riches of his grace.” Mercy is God’s gift. Jesus exhales his “spirit” or “breath” on the cross, exhaling his very life back into the Creation. His blood seeps into the soil of Creation. His body is buried in the ground like a seed. The entirety of Jesus’ life and death is the means of our life and reconciliation.
With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Jesus is the Word (Logos of John 1) through whom the world is created. Logos (Word) is the Greek word from which we derive “logic.” Jesus is the key to understanding the purpose (telos = goal, also telos = perfection, we are talking holiness here) of God’s good Creation. What was a mystery is unfolded, unveiled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The plan “for the fullness of time” (Kairos = God’s timing, not Chronos = chronological timing). This plan is to “gather up all things in him (Jesus), things in heaven and things on earth.”
This is a powerful reminder that God is not simply destroying the Creation at the end of time. That which is in Christ Jesus is a “new creation.” In other words, it is through Jesus that all of Creation is redeemed, restored, and renewed! Not only that. Jesus also gathers up things in heaven as well. In other words, as Revelation will announce toward the end of the vision.
Revelation 21:1-3 reads:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them”
In this way, God will be all in all. In a miraculous way, Love and Life win. There will be no place in all the Creation in which God will not say, “This is mine. It is good.” Jesus is the first seed of the New Creation. Furthermore, Jesus is also the first fruits of the New Creation. In other words, Jesus is the means by which New Creation is created and Jesus is the substance of that New Creation.
11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
As mentioned, Christ is the seed of New Creation. As we participate in his life, so we also participate in the New Creation. We are made part of the New Creation. We are made new creations. None of this is accomplished through our own power but through the power of Jesus. It is through Jesus that we receive this inheritance, which was God’s purpose all along.
The purpose of this does not stop with our receiving the blessing. But, as it was with Abraham’s blessing, we are blessed to be a blessing. This inheritance is given to us as we “set our hope on Christ” with outcome resulting in “living for the praise of his glory.” Holiness does not draw attention to us; it draws others’ focus and gaze toward God. And what is the glory of God? According to St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is [humanity] fully alive.” So, in many ways, holiness is reciprocal. We glorify God by reflecting God character and nature of holy love. As we reflect God’s character we are fully alive and fully human, which means we are glorifying God.
13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
This seed of New Creation is planted in us through the life of the Spirit in us. In other words, God resides in us (the Creation), thus connecting God’s Life with our life. The Spirit in Genesis 1 is the primary agent of God’s creating work. The Spirit (Hebrew = ruach, pronounced ru-awk) is also the Breath of God by which life is imbued in the Creation. This same Spirit is given as a “deposit” or “pledge” of that inheritance in the New Creation.
The Spirit continues to work in us the power of the Resurrection and the Life of New Creation. But, this redemption is not simply personal salvation and redemption. It is redemption of God’s holy people together – again, “to the praise of his glory.” Redemption is both personal and social holiness. As John Wesley would say, “You cannot have personal holiness without social holiness.”
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
The only way Paul would have heard of their “faith” is if it was being lived out in tangible ways – faith in action – demonstrated as “love toward all the saints.” It likely reaches out to those outside the Church as well. People may know where we are located on a map, but do they know us because of our “faith in action?”
17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Now, holiness is essentially rooted in relationship to God. Paul prays that the community will be given wisdom and revelation. Wisdom is understanding how to live well in any given situation. Revelation is God’s Self-revelation to the world. God makes God’s Self known to us. Paul prays that we will both see God and God at work in the world and that we might faithfully respond and live wisely. This is an ongoing process “as you come to know him.” In other words, there is never a point in time where we cease to learn, grow, and deepen our relationship with God. If we think we have God figured out, that is a time to be cautious and prayerful. God tends to break out of those boxes we construct. Rather, this is a continuous seeking after God and developing that relationship with God. “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”
This is the means by which “the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened.” John 1 comes to mind. Jesus is the Wisdom (Logos) of God and the Light of God in the world. To see the world and ourselves and God correctly with our hearts requires that we are connected with Jesus. Jesus gives Light and Wisdom by which everything in our lives and world is ordered and given context. This Wisdom and Light is the foundation of our hope to which we have been called. It is not “hope” as in wishful thinking. Rather, it is the “hope” that inspires (inspires – as the Spirit breathes into us) us to move forward as parts of God’s New Creation. It is also the “glorious riches of our inheritance among the saints.” In this merciful movement toward Creation’s redemption we begin to see and understand “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” God’s power does not violate God’s holy love. It is the fulfillment of God’s holy love.
20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
The power of God is demonstrated in the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Death’s dominion is undermined. Death is put to death. All “rule and authority and power and dominion” that act as agents of Death are put in final notice that their reign is abolished. Resurrection and Ascension is the enthronement of God as King over all. The enthronement of Jesus over heaven and earth is the fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer: “May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We tend to think of heaven as a place apart from earth. But, where Jesus is, there heaven and earth are wed. Heaven is the place where God’s reign is enacted in totality. With Jesus being seated at the right hand of God (the place of power/authority), God’s reign is established in full, both in heaven and on earth.
Dr. Tim Crutcher states it this way: “Easter Sunday is not just about the resurrection of Christ as the anchor of our hope for new life. It is God’s decisive declaration that God will deal with all death-bringing realities in only life-bringing ways. God does not fight death with more death, hate with more hate, dark with more darkness. Death does its worst, and God brings life. Hate has full rein, and God offers love in return. Darkness rules and God says, “Let there be light.” As resurrection people, let us be daily living reminders of this reality.”
22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Resurrection power is also something that is given to the Church, through Jesus. As Eugene Peterson tells us, we are called to “practice resurrection.” In other words, even the world around us still lives as if Death reigns, we are called to live as those who have received God’s resurrection power. Which is to say, that we are called to live and act differently than a world bent on Death. We are to live as ambassadors of God’s mercy, bringing life to others, to the Creation. We are called to spread the seeds of New Creation in the soil of our world.
The Church is the “fullness of him who fills all in all.” That is an incredibly awesome responsibility and gift. It is also incredible power to live out, to practice resurrection. God equips and empowers us to live as new creatures now, not just in the future. As Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. Resurrection is not about preserving our lives but in giving our lives away, even as Jesus demonstrated on the Cross. Death is a defeated foe. Life is swallowing up Death. What are some practical ways we can practice resurrection in our community?