Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the book of Ephesians in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- Charlie Handren opened the series by looking at Ephesians 1:1-2.
Christian, do you long to grow closer to Christ? Do you hunger for a greater vision of his glory? Do you desire to grow in your desire for him? Do you crave the kind of practical insight that will teach you how to live for his glory and the good of others and the joy of your soul?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, then the Letter to the Ephesians was written for you. This is why its author, the Apostle Paul, prayed for his readers in Ephesians 1:17, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him…” Paul’s desire is for us to gain a greater sight of the glory of Christ (revelation) and renewed insight into what his glory implies for our lives (wisdom). Paul’s longing is for us to possess the power of the Holy Spirit that we might be one with Christ and gain the ability “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of who he is (Ephesians 3:14-21).
Accordingly, over the next several weeks some of us at Servants of Grace will be blogging through this sacred letter with the following aims in mind. First, we pray that our readers will, in fact, acquire an expanded vision of the glory of Christ, both in its details and its breath-taking beauty.
Second, we pray that our readers will grow in love, admiration, and passion for the Christ who has gone to such great lengths to unite us with himself.
Third, we pray that our readers will gain practical wisdom for life and power to live by that wisdom for the glory of Christ.
Fourth, we pray that our readers will be better equipped for the war that is the Christian life and so play their part in advancing the Kingdom of God in the world.
Finally, we pray that our readers will grow in joy as they see and savor the wisdom and revelation that is the Letter to the Ephesians.
One final word of introduction: as you read each of the posts in this series, please let our words drive you to meditate on the Word of God itself. With Jesus’ help, we will do our best to articulate the truths we see in Ephesians as well as we can, but at the end of the day, our words are not God’s Word. So again, let these posts be a catalyst that leads you into deep meditation on the sacred Word of God. As you do that, know that we’re praying for you in the sure hope that Jesus will make the aims of this series take root in your lives and ours.
Paul, An Apostle of Christ Jesus
Let’s begin by pondering Paul’s opening words in Ephesians 1:1-2. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians begins with a common, formal introduction that so tightly adheres to the standards of the time that we might be tempted to miss the treasure that’s in it. First, Paul begins by identifying himself and asserting that he’s an apostle of Jesus Christ, and this by the will of God. It’s bold enough for one to claim that he’s an apostle, but to further insist that he is such by the decree of God is beyond bold. It’s almost arrogant. And Paul makes this claim in even stronger terms in Galatians 1:1 where he writes, “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
So how are we to understand the heart and intention of Paul’s opening words? The answer is simple and important: Paul was not boasting in himself, rather, he was boasting in the grace of Christ that was at work in his life. As he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” And his specific purpose in boasting in Christ here is to establish the line of authority that caused him to write and that gives divine weight to his writing.
Indeed, Paul’s heart is not to be bold to the point of arrogance. His desire is not to exalt himself or pull rank or drop names. To the contrary, his heart is to glorify Christ by stating what he’s done (made Paul an apostle) and by committing to paper what he’s revealed (the letter to the Ephesians).
Beloved, the Letter to the Ephesians is a deep ocean of revelation. Ephesians is a portal into the glory of Christ that will help us see and savor things that have the potential to transform our lives. Literally. We need to listen carefully and take what is written here seriously. Therefore, Paul begins by humbly establishing the line of authority that brought his letter into being. We would do well to receive it as coming from the very heart and lips of God.
To the Ephesians, Faithful Saints
Having established his basis of authority, Paul moves on to identify his intended audience, namely, “the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” The ancient city of Ephesus was an important Greek-then-Roman port city that was, in fact, a conglomeration of over two-hundred small villages or towns.
Paul had spent the better part of three years in the area, and then later sent his protégé, Timothy, to pastor God’s people there and appoint elders in every local gathering of believers. Thus, Paul knew the place well, he knew the people well, and he wrote with the whole metroplex in mind. To be more specific, he wrote with the broader Ephesus-area body of Christ in mind and not just to one local congregation.
Accordingly, he addressed them as “the saints who are in Ephesus,” that is, the ones who have been made holy by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and have thus been set apart for God. Even as it’s bold to claim that one is an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, it’s bold to claim that others are “holy ones” before Jesus Christ. But as is the case with his self-assertion, so it is with this assertion: Paul is merely exalting the glory of Christ by asserting what he’s done in his beloved ones. Specifically, Jesus has taken sinners, who were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3), and made them into holy ones. Beloved, this is stunning grace!
Because Christ has done this work in his people, his people have become “faithful in Christ Jesus.” That is, though they are far from perfect, they are devoted to their God and Savior in a covenant of love specifically because they’ve become one with their God and Savior through that same covenant. This is why Paul says that they are faithful “in Christ Jesus” and not merely in themselves. Please take note of this because Paul will go on to use the words “in Christ” or “in him” or “in the beloved” about thirty times in six chapters. In other words, Paul will use these phrases to open our eyes to the fact of our union with Jesus, by grace through faith.
So again, since the Christians in Ephesus were who they were by the grace of Christ, and since we are who we are by that same grace, it’s actually humble and appropriate to refer to them as “saints” (holy ones) and “faithful” ones.
Grace to You and Peace
Finally, Paul completes his introduction with the blessing, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Although these words might seem formulaic and therefore somewhat superficial, they are in fact packed with meaning and glory. But rather than spell out for you what I see in them, I will simply invite you to ponder them carefully and to understand that the remainder of Ephesians is an unfolding of what is in them. Or to put it the other way around, these words essentially summarize all that’s in the Letter to the Ephesians.
Indeed, it’s no accident or small thing that Paul concludes Ephesians with the words, “Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:23-24). So as you ponder the words of this sacred letter with us, revisit this initial blessing and watch in wonder as your Father reveals to you the meaning and glory that’s concealed in it.
Our God and Father, thank you for the heart of love and grace that sent Jesus Christ into the world to live and die and rise again that we might have eternal life through him. Thank you for what you have done in the life of the Apostle Paul, including the writing and distribution and preservation of the Letter to the Ephesians. O Father, use the words of this sacred letter to open our eyes to the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ, that we might have a renewed passion for you and power to submit our lives to you. We pray these things with thanksgiving in the great and gracious name of Jesus, amen.