Inspired by Ephesians 1:1-14
Today we begin a four-week series in the letter to the Ephesians. These little series that we get to do in the summer months are nice because we get to dive a little deeper into so many books of the Bible that we really don’t get to spend much time on normally. And even when we do read them in worship, pastors rarely actually preach on them. This letter to the Ephesians is another example of these types of Bible books.
So, before we dive in, let me give just a bit of context and background about this letter. I’ll try my hardest not to bore you to death. The letter begins with the two words, “From Paul.” I hope this doesn’t burst anyone’s bubble too badly but most scholars agree that this letter was not written by Paul. It was a common practice in that day to write a letter in the style and rhetoric of someone else, and even to put their name on it. It was a way to honor someone, not to plagiarize in the way that we would think of it today.
Now, I won’t go into how they know that Paul didn’t write this, that would probably bore even a Bible nerd like myself. Suffice to say, it was probably written by a colleague or close follower of Paul. Similarly, scholars aren’t even convinced that this letter was really written to the Christians in the city of Ephesus! The oldest transcripts that we have do not contain the name Ephesus anywhere in them, but was added later for some unknown reason.
Scholars believe that it had a more general audience rather than a specific city. Which actually will serve us quite well in the coming weeks, it will make this letter all the more applicable to us, even two thousand years later. Because, as you will see, the issues that are addressed in this letter are very timely. It will become clear that the issues of that day are the same issues that we struggle with today. That will give us both a sense of comradery with those early Christians, as well as a sense of sadness that we still haven’t figured these issues out, let alone solved them.
We will address those issues in more detail in the next two weeks, leaving the fourth and final week for the, “so what” finale, so to speak, the, “what do we do with all this” finale. For this week however, the author wants to give us a firm foundation for the coming weeks. The author wants to give us a starting point, some basics of the faith, some biblical truths, that we will need to move forward through this letter with. These opening verses are chock full of biblical truths but there were three in particular that I wanted to point out to you. The first two are simple, profound but simple. It’s the third one that I’d like to spend a little more time on though.
The first one is very straightforward, but it’s something that we often shy away from. The author begins by pointing out that we have been given every spiritual blessing that we need to do the work that we are called to do. But there’s a catch and think this is where we get tripped up. The author is not speaking to us as individuals, but as a collective group. Meaning, together we have been given all the spiritual gifts we need to do the work that God has called us to do together. Hopefully, if I do my job well, in the coming weeks you will see why this is a significant detail to point out.
And the other simple but important point that I’d like to bring to your attention before we dive deeper into the last one is just how Christ-centered this author is. And that might seem a bit odd to say from a Christian text but what I mean by that is this, for the author, Christ was not only the core of our belief, but was the ultimate authority in our lives, and therefore should be the ultimate priority in our lives, even over ourselves. As we will see from the rest of this letter, Christians in that day had a habit of placing other things, including themselves, above Christ; placing their own priorities above Christ’s priorities. Kinda just sounds like being human, right! Like I said, I think this letter is going to turn out to be quite contemporary.
Loving someone in and of itself is a very special thing, don’t get me wrong, but choosing to love someone, when you don’t have to, that’s on a whole different plane. I was talking to my dad on Father’s Day and we were talking about the pain of losing a spouse. And I said that I could only imagine what that must be like. He looked at me kind of puzzled and said, “What do you mean? You lost your mom, so you know what loss is.” I said, well, yes, but we don’t get to choose our moms. And though the loss has been tremendous, there’s something very special about the bond between spouses. They didn’t have to spend the rest of their lives together. But they chose to do that. They chose each other. They chose to love one another, even though they don’t have to. That is a kind of love that is on a whole other plane of existence.
It’s this same kind of love, this love based on a choice, that I think is what makes me so in awe of adoption, and the same could be said for someone who raises someone else’s child because of a divorce. It’s a love that is grounded in a choice to love that person. This is how the author of this letter wanted us to see our relationship with God, first and foremost. As being loved by God, not because we think God has to love us, not because we think we are somehow entitled to that love, not because we’ve been good enough for that love, not because of some legal agreement, not out of pity for us; no, we are loved out of pure grace, out of a desire of God’s to love us, by a choice to love us. That is a love on a whole different plane, that we get to see glimpses of, in the here and now, even if it’s in our fallible human kind of way.
Ok, so this sermon isn’t gonna end with a tidy neat little bow. And I think that’s because this has all been to set up what’s to come. And this kind of love, this love based on a choice to love, is going to be so crucial to what is coming from this author. So, stay tuned! Think of this as a multipart sermon if that helps! Or one of those infomercials that says, “But wait, there’s more!” Because isn’t that always the way, with God’s grace? There’s always more. So, until then, know that you are loved by a love deeper than you can possibly imagine, because God has chosen to love you. Thanks be to God. Amen.