Jul 14, 2012
Today I begin a series of Sermons on Ephesians. Today I want to both speak about today’s passage and also do a very brief introduction to the book as a whole.
Most scholars agree that this letter was written by Paul to the church in the city of Ephasis in what is modern day Turkey. It was written when Paul was in prison. Paul had been imprisoned because of the stir and even rioting his evangelistic work had caused.
It is the most general of Paul’s letters. Unlike all his other letters it doesn’t seem to have been written in response to a need, problem or question that’s arisen in the town to which he writes. In this letter Paul is sharing with his readers his insights into his understanding of how God loves us and has blessed us. At the heart of this love and blessing is Jesus Christ. And this love and blessing is a free gift which is not just for Jewish people or non Jewish people, it is for absolutely everyone.
This love, Jesus and his grace, is ours right now and is at work in us. It is about the future but it is also about the here and now. In all of this it is God who takes the initiative. It is God who sends the Son, does away with the demands of the law, and pours out the Spirit as a down payment, a present reality of what is to come. It is in response to this, to all that God has done that we are called to live. Live in the words of today’s reading “for the praise of his glory”. We are to live in other words lives that are a song of praise for all that God has done for us.
Before I look briefly at a couple of aspects of today’s reading, I need to say a little about how strange Paul’s ideas were in his time. First for Jewish people, they were used to the idea that God was just and even merciful and loving, but for them God’s love and grace were revealed and given in the gift of the Law. Through obeying the Law God gave a way for Jewish people to be reconciled to God. If the Law could be obeyed then God would rescue and look after Jewish people, as a whole nation, and as individuals and families. The idea that God would rescue and look after non Jewish people and Jewish people alike and do it without obeying the Law, but as a free gift, was not only a new idea, it seemed to reject the faith of generations. This was true even if Jesus was the promised Messiah.
On the other hand, for non Jewish people, the idea that the divine, that the gods, were loving and just, rather than capricious. That God acted in love and mercy towards the universe was a completely new idea. In the pagan religions the gods seemed to be like super human beings with all the flaws and faults that human beings have. These gods mostly cared only for themselves, and not for others. Worship of them was a formal duty done to keep them happy, rather than being about love, forgiveness and wholeness.
Now Paul does not write to Jews or to Non Jews, he writes to the early followers of Christ, people with Jewish and non Jewish backgrounds. He writes to remind them about this new faith that they have adopted and what it means in their lives, and to encourage them in their faith and extend their understanding.
So much for the introduction now I need to turn at least briefly to part of today’s reading.
This is no easy task, especially given that there is so much in these 11 verses. As I said a minute ago, for Paul, our faith is primarily not about what we have done but about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. To quote from one of my commentaries...
“These verses are simply crammed with all God has done for us.
So I want to pick on just two verses.
Verses 5 and 6 - He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. Eph 1:5-6 (NRSV)
Or to quote the same verses from the Contemporary English Version: God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God’s own adopted children. God was very kind to us because of the Son he dearly loves, and so we should praise God. Eph 1:5-6 (CEV)
I’ve chosen these two verses because I think they pick up Paul’s main themes in today’s reading and in the letter as a whole. They also pick up the ideas we find in perhaps the most famous part of Ephesians Chapter 2 verses 8-9. I won’t get to preach on these verses because they were used at Christmas time. Those verses say this: - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Eph 2:8-10 (NRSV)
The central idea in both 1:5-6 and 2:8-10 is that God includes, us, saves us, makes us part of his family by grace.
This word grace, means the unmerited love of God. In 1:7-8 Paul says that this love has been lavished on us by God. The CEV usually translates the word grace as kindness or kindness that we do not deserve and the Greek word for grace has about it the idea of a gift. In other words God makes us his Children, God loves us, God forgives us, makes us part of the body, the temple of God as a free gift.
Paul then says that in response to this wonderful gift of God’s freely given and overflowing love in Jesus Christ, that we should live “to the praise of his glory” or “to praise him” or as in 2:10 in response to this free gift we should live to do good deeds.
What does this mean in practical terms? What does this mean on the ground? What does this mean in a person’s life?
In my own case, this idea of grace, of God’s love and blessing being a free gift is very precious. As a child I was bullied a great deal, I was clumsy and poorly co-ordinated, I had few friends. I did not believe that I was a valuable human being. This led me to be self absorbed and self centred. I found it very hard to communicate with others. Even today at times I can be very hard on myself, I still struggle a little with the issues of self esteem.
But it was when I discovered this idea that God loved me as I was that my life began to change. I discovered that I did not have to meet a particular standard, or be a perfect person, or even a good person for God to love me. This set me free from worrying about myself, it enabled me to open up to others and most of all it taught me that no mater how I felt about myself, no matter what I had done, or not done I was valuable, I was loved, I was God’s child, part of God’s family. Jesus was my brother and through him and the Spirit so were all the millions of people in the world who believed in him. All of us were part of his body, brothers and sisters in Christ.
For me, living to praise him, has meant becoming a teacher and a preacher. Being transformed from a depressed timid child into a preacher of the Gospel. It has led to my involvement in various community services and it has allowed me to not just form friendships, but even to marry and have a family.
For Paul it meant being transformed from someone who persecuted Christians and approved of their execution, into the greatest evangelist ever. For Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and others it meant the pursuit of justice and equality for the dispossessed and the needy. For a friend of mine, it has meant that in his family life and in his life as a senior-ish public servant, he strives to be fair and honest and loving, toward all the neighbours at work, in church and at home that God has given him.
For Paul, for me for the millions of others who have been discovered by God’s free gift of undeserved love, by God’s grace, this love not only fills our lives but it overflows into a life lived for his praise.
Have you been discovered by God’s free gift of undeserved love? Or had you forgotten about it and you’ve been reminded today? God’s free and overflowing love is being poured out today and every day. It is yours through faith in Jesus Christ, no matter who you are or what you have done. Amen