Ephesians Notes

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Introduction to Ephesians

The approach is to probe into the depths of the passage in Ephesians, while drawing from other authors and scholarship that is relevant to the text at hand. There is a sense in which we ‘interrogate’ (interpret) the text and also a sense in which the text interrogates us. Your questions and thoughts are key to opening up the meaning. It works best if we come with a teachable posture with a view to discover fresh insights.

Ephesus is in the area of present day Turkey (Asia Minor). It was major city (250,000 persons), second only to Rome or Athens, at the intersection of major trade routes, with a pluralistic culture, am many different religions. The theatre would hold 24,000 people. Not that much different than Vancouver and UBC. The two major religious cults were Artemis (Diana) and the Roman  Imperial cult: Caesar Augustus was seen as Son of God, warrior god of order, saviour. The calendar was remade around his birthday. See Acts 19: 23-31. Artemis (the hunting goddess) was the godmother of Ephesus. The temple to Artemis was one of the seven great wonders of the world, larger than a contemporary football stadium, four times the size of the Parthenon. The city had a major market in pagan religious goods and services, many magical practices and occult.

Who is Paul the Apostle? He was a Jew, a Roman citizen, and now a key leader of the early church. He was trained under the top Rabbi of the day Gamaliel (in turn he was trained under Hillel). He was brilliant, the equivalent of a Nobel Laureate. He once was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the church and threw people in prison for following Jesus; he literally hated Christians. A radical change came when he was blinded by a beatific vision of Jesus, an I-Thou encounter, an epiphany. Eventually he became the greatest interpreter of the life and teaching of Christ, and one of the most courageous apostles, facing down tremendous odds. He spent about three years preaching in Ephesus during AD 53-56. Two years later he was imprisoned (three years in Caesarea and two years in Rome).

Ephesian Amphitheatre where Paul may well have preached for three years

The Letter to the Ephesians It is one of the most important letters of Paul the Apostle (from Roman prison in 62 AD) that was circulated to all the churches in the ancient world. He attempts to recalibrate/re-think reality for and with them, or expand their horizon of the grace and goodness of God, and his eternal purposes. He wants them to realize the potential of their lives as they discover their giftedness and their calling to grow up into maturity in Christ. You could say that he lays out the high goals of Christian community and the amazing resources available to human flourishing: fullness in Christ. His message is a profound one: we must realize that despite the powers that be, Jesus Christ is Lord. It is an outright power encounter with Diana/Artemis and Caesar, a deconstruction of these cults. Paul is declaring these myths broken (oppressive) and seeks to liberate the people from their power and control.

He offers them an alternative view of reality (a different social imaginary or worldview). Christ is the new Caesar, the new Artemis with a difference, he has a new temple in heaven (NT Wright in his body). He rules the entire cosmos and brings heaven to earth. Transcendence has a new name and this changes everything; we live and move and have our being in Christ. He is the great gift giver, seeking to bless the whole world. He announces that we, our lives, are gift from beginning to end.

The book is balanced on a knife edge, an axios, with chapters 1-3 constituting the call of God on our lives and chapters 4-6 focusing on our response. Paul writes “Live your lives worthy (axios) of the calling you have received.” The response to calling is walking. Peterson writes, “When our walking and God’s calling are in balance, we are whole; we are living maturely, living congruently with the way God calls us into being.” And again, “The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to…. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word to get us going. Fundamentally it is a call…. Call comes into our ears, beckoning us into the future, bringing us into a way of life that has never been experienced in just this way before: a promise, a new thing, a blessing, our place in the new creation, a resurrection life.”(34)

There is a breathtaking grandeur and majesty to Ephesians–reconciling and unifying all things and all peoples in Christ. Paul wants to expand the horizons of people. We are part of a new humanity, a new society with a new identity. We are the interface between heaven and earth. This letter was circulated throughout the empire among the churches. Ephesus is like London or Paris in that day. The message helps them grow their identity and it provides an anchor in the storms of life. Paul wants us to see the world from a Jesus perspective, an enchanted perspective, where heaven and earth come together in Christ and in his church. There are many gods and many cults alive at this time, but Paul presents Jesus as above them all, the ultimate object of our spiritual longings and imagination.

Tom Wright above at Wheaton College gives a brilliant overview of the book through six verses: 1:10; 2:10; 3:10; 4:15; 5:14; 6:13 This is a cross-section or spine of the letter.

1:10 The unity of all things in Christ is the big goal.

2:10 We are God’s handiwork, his poem. Jew & Gentile come together in Christ, Old and New Testament, creation and redemption. We are called to creativity and contribution to the health of society.

3:10 We are witnesses (or God is our witness through us) to the powers that be, to all culture spheres.

4:15 We see the mature and complex giftedness of Christ’s body, the church. We find our fullness of identity as one another in community and communion.

5:14 We are called to wake up and pay attention to this grace, to get in stream with what God is up to in the world, to rise to our full calling. Get in the game; put this into practice.

6:13 We are called to access all of God’s equipment to confront evil and promote the good. There is always a sense in which Christians are part of a resistance movement against darkness.

Jesus brings us home, Jesus brings us together, Jesus breaks down hostility, Jesus creates us as a unified humanity, Jesus reconciles all of us to God. Peace is complex and many-layered. A lot of action goes into making peace–and Jesus is the action…. Church is where peace is understood comprehensively as Christ present and working among us. (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 2010, 124,126)

Sept. 28/22 Ephesians Chapter 1: 15-23 is about blessing. Peterson writes, “The language of blessing permeates the language of Scripture. We receive the blessing and absorb it into our obedience”. This is practicing the presence of Christ in our lives.   It is all part of the dynamic of living the resurrection life. We are constantly underestimating God and what he wants to do with us, in us and through us, continuously. This passage entails an invitation to grow up, become mature, to live into a resurrection kind of existence. That’s our new paradigm as we find our full identity in Christ–resurrection life. Women and men are blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed, lavished with grace, called and gathered by God to do good in the world, to serve others. Seek first the kingdom and righteousness of God everywhere you can, and God will find you, heal you, bless you, guide you into all truth and wisdom.

God Reveals Himself in Personal Relationship and only in personal relationship. God is not a phenomenon to be considered. God is not a force to be used. God is not a proposition to be argued. There is nothing in or of God that is impersonal, nothing abstract, nothing imposed. And God treats us with an equivalent personal dignity. He isn’t out to impress us. He’s here to eat bread with us and receive us into his love just as we are, just where we are. ( E. Peterson, 2010, 87) We ought to recognize that God is actually a verb; he is diligently at work in the cosmos: acting, moving, gifting, creating, redeeming, healing, grace momentum. Thus, we can activate his grace in our lives and the lives of our friends. He wants to bless us with multiple blessings so that we can glorify him and give thanks for all his gifts on a daily basis. This is endemic to the whole Bible from beginning to end. We need no longer to be ‘lost in the cosmos’, but grounded/stabilized in God’s ways. Don’t be shy to receive God’s gifts. They are for you specifically: the gifts of God for the people of God.

There are five major gifts that Paul mentions in this passage, five means of attaining a God-oriented identity.

·      Wisdom and revelation James 3:13-18

·      An enlightened heart

·      Hope in God’s reality, fullness and promises.

·      The riches of his glorious inheritance (I Peter 1)

·     The immeasurable greatness of his power which raised Jesus from the dead. 

“What is God doing in our time?” and “How can we be a part of it?”

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts). Lean in and listen, because he is speaking.

Rethinking the Language of Saints: Eugene Peterson writes: “The institutional way of looking at us in our schools and businesses and governments gives it imprimatur to this systematic and pervasive de-souling, de-personalizing, debunking anything in us that has to do with God…. With all these voices coming at us from every direction and at all hours, how do we acquire a God-oriented identity?” Saint is about what God is doing in us, for us, through us. We need to be positioned in ways which allow us to carry out God’s assignments. Holiness is a committed posture, a stance. Seek priority-wise the kingdom.

Peterson writes that saints are the “bowels of the church”, the ragamuffins,  and yet “from within these bowels comes a continuous witness, sounds of praise, the totally unexpected word “resurrection”, talk of healing and forgiveness, preaching and praying…. loving of scandalous men and women who are called their ‘brothers and sisters’ and watching them take on their identity as a new creation. Baptism marks a radically new way to understand ourselves and one another: not by race, not by language, not by parents and family, not by politics, not by intelligence, not by gender, not by behaviour, but as saints, people who are called in God’s way.”

Humility and Servanthood  is key to this whole thing: Don’t pretend; don’t presume; don’t push. Just speak the truth in love and good things will emerge. James 3:13-18. Wisdom from above will guide you into good paths. The greatest threat to the kingdom of God is ‘my kingdom’, my hangups, my ego, my cynicism, my selfishness and laziness to pursue this wonderful, dynamic giftedness. The world has not yet seen what your life could look like if you were to place yourself fully in his hands and his will. Let God discover and define you if you want to grow. 

 Prayer can become prayerfulness, a lifestyle of inviting God into everything, all day long, everyday of your life.

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