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The Gospel According to Ephesians
The next three Wednesday nights I’ll be leading a study of Ephesians at the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon. This will piggy-back on Dr. Dee Bratcher’s just-concluded excellent study of the book of Isaiah, and will continue the theme of mission. If you’re in the area, come on by at 6:30—or come early and join us for supper.
February 1: “The Centrality of Christ”
February 8: “The Business of the Body”
February 15: “The Reality of Resistance”
The Ephesians Road
I think it was Scot McKnight who suggested that the “New Perspective on Paul” would make a lot more sense to traditional Protestants if they assumed that Ephesians was the epitome of Pauline theology rather than Romans or Galatians. (He may have merely been reporting an observation of N. T. Wright, and I don’t have time right now to look it up.) If that’s the case—and I think it is—then the “Ephesians Road” version of the “plan of salvation” developed by Trevin Wax and now elaborated by Derek Leman will be of interest.
According to Leman, the “Romans Road,” familiar to evangelical Christians, is not untrue, but it is incomplete:
Whereas the Romans Road says, “You can be forgiven and live forever,” the Ephesians Road says, “God is making a perfected cosmos and you can join in.” The Romans Road is limited because it ends in mere acceptance of future blessing. The Ephesians Road is more complete because it ends in all things united in Messiah and calls for us to work with Messiah through the community to bring about healing and redemption for the world.
Here is Leman’s summary of the “Ephesians Road”:
- Salvation is about God’s plan for the world (Ephesians 1), including the election of Israel, the adoption of Israel as the people of God, the inclusion of Gentiles in salvation, and the uniting of all things in Messiah symbolized by the new unity of Jew and Gentile in Messiah.
- Salvation is only by unearned favor (Ephesians 2:1-9), raising us from the dead and saving us from God’s wrath.
- Salvation comes with a calling that must be fulfilled in the community of faith (Ephesians 2:10-22), including good works, kingdom community of mutual blessing between Jew and Gentile, and imaging God to the world.
What do you think?
Depends on What I’m Reading
iMonk has asked his Liturgical Ganstas, “When were you saved?” Had he asked me, I think I would be tempted to answer, It depends on what I’m currently reading:
If I’m reading Ephesians, I was saved many years ago by grace through faith when God, who is rich in mercy, made me alive in Christ, although I once was dead through the trespasses and sins in which I lived (Eph 2).
If I’m reading James, I am being saved today when I supply the bodily needs of a brother or sister, bringing my faith to completion by my works, since faith by itself is barren (Jas 2).
If I’m reading Hebrews, I will be saved at the last day, and therefore I am making every effort to enter into that rest, so that I may not fall through disobedience (Heb 4).
Ephesians: Trench Warfare
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
The last major section of Ephesians is a call to stand firm in the struggle to make God known. The author is insistent that the true enemies in this struggle are not people who disagree with us or even governments that oppose us, but unseen “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Modern Christians may wonder about this interest in the demonic, but we should make the following observations.
First, Paul accepts the reality that spiritual forces stand opposed to God and God’s people, but he is not obsessed with the idea. He doesn’t go looking for demons under every rock‚Äîbut if there’s a demon under his rock, he’s going to do something about it!
Second, by identifying the enemy in the spiritual plane, it is possible to see the human opposition to the gospel in a more gracious light. The people who reject Christ are not the real enemy; they are victims: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4).
Third, if the real enemy is spiritual in nature, so must be our defense. Rather than conventional tactics, Paul advocates a life of faith and virtue as the proper form of resistance against the anti-God forces of the world. Righteousness, truth-telling, and prayer can accomplish what marches, lobbying, and violence cannot.
Ephesians: Family Matters
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21)
I might have wished that Paul had somewhere given us an explicit denunciation of patriarchy or slave ownership, but he does not. Instead, he seems to be comfortable with the idea that people should seek to follow Christ where they are, sociologically speaking. To the Corinthians, he said, “Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you” (1 Cor 7:17). He goes on to give some examples of the sorts of “lives” he has in mind: circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, married or unmarried. To Paul, these things mattered only a little‚Äîor not at all‚Äîcompared to the joy of life in Christ.
Even so, Paul sows the seeds of later social transformations. His argument that Philemon receive back his runaway slave as a “beloved brother” (Phmn 16) certainly undercuts the very idea that Christians should own slaves. Likewise, when he urges Christian families to practice mutual submission in marriage, you can just barely hear the sound of the old patriarchal system beginning to crumble.
Perhaps Paul understood that society can’t be transformed overnight, or even in a single generation. It is enough for each generation to do what it can while preaching Christ to great and small alike.
Ephesians: Tell the World!
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles‚Äîfor surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you. (Eph 3:1-2)
Being a missionary involves having the ability to separate what is truly the gospel from the cultural trappings in which we experience it. For Paul, that meant distinguishing between the scrupulous form of Judaism in which he was raised and to which he was committed and the spiritual needs of pagans throughout the Mediterranean world.
Not everyone is cut out to be a missionary. To be honest, many Christians have a hard time coming to terms with their own culture, much less a completely foreign one! That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone can bow out of the biblical mandate to share the good news of Jesus with others.
We should thank God for missionaries. And whatever gifts we possess, we should find ways to use them to proclaim the gospel.
Ephesians: “He Is Our Peace”
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph 2:14)
The second half of Ephesians 2 deals with two topics of highest importance to Paul. First, there is a discussion of the salvation of the Gentiles (vv. 11-16), building on the previous description of salvation by grace through faith (vv. 1-10). Paul argues that, although they were once outsiders with respect to the long history of God’s dealings with Israel, through Christ this longstanding spiritual divide has been erased.
The gospel is for everyone because, by dying for all, Jesus has torn down the walls that divide us from each other. Since everyone is saved by grace through faith (2:8), everyone may come near to God through Christ. If we have been reconciled to God, we must accept that we have also been reconciled to each other and are growing together into one holy temple, the church.
Second, Paul reflects on the nature of the church (vv. 17-22). Having brought Jew and Gentile together in salvation, both are now citizens of God’s kingdom and members of God’s household. They are being built into a holy temple-a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit‚ with Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
Ephesians: Thoughtful Words
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. (Eph 1:3)
Like most (former) pastors, I am generally able to speak in public without too much effort. Need a word of welcome at the beginning of the children’s Christmas Pageant? You got it! A brief “devotional” thought on love for the Valentine’s Banquet? Sure thing, and if you give me more than five minutes’ notice, it might even be coherent.
I can pull off these sorts of stunts (my seminary education wasn’t a complete waste of time, after all!), but I would rather give more thought and preparation to what I say. So much of the platitudes we bandy about, especially in church, don’t really amount to much in the long run. I find that I am a much more effective communicator when I have something to say.
Paul had the right idea. He began his letter to the Ephesians with a lengthy meditation on the person of Christ. Christ was his theme, and he never strayed from it.