Paul and his letters… Ephesus would have been a booming community in the shadow of the Roman Empire, and mostly likely the third largest city in the Mediterranean basin. The city population was at 250,000 while the local theater would have accommodated 25,000 people. The people were oppressed by Roman military and the use of slave labor. And, it is in this metropolis that Paul was able to establish the fledgling church of Ephesus who would later reach the world around them.
Paul spent time in Ephesus developing the church there. At the time that Paul wrote this letter in the mid-60s he had been arrested in Jerusalem and then sent to Rome where he endured further imprisonment. It was from the Roman jail that many scholars belief that Paul wrote this letter and continued to guide the churches under his charge. The believers would soon grow into maturity and would eventually share the Good News with the neighboring cities (western Turkey). But these new believers were struggling with the connection between belief and behavior. They understood belief and behavior were closely linked together. Paul provides for the believers at Ephesus tools to grow their faith.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians…
2.1-5 The Fall of Creation: “We were dead because of our sins…” (Ephesians 2.5 CEV). Dead in Sin. Disobedience. Personal experience of being dead in sin and now they are alive as a new creation in Christ Jesus. Our salvation comes through faith in Christ.
2.6-10 The Ascension: “And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2.6 CEV). Paul understood that as Christians we must identify with all of Christ’s life – his incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension. The ascension secures our authority to reign over the sin in our lives. Paul wants people to live in the way God intends for them – victoriously. This salvation comes by faith, grace, and God’s own goodness. Paul understood that people would not follow Paul’s plan unless they truly believed that the leader is authentic. Psalm 110 is quoted more than any other Old Testament reference by the New Testament writers – 23 different times. The Jews understood this text to refer to the Messiah. This idea of enthroning Jesus pointed to the fulfillment of the Messianic texts. The proclamation of the Ascension is the final fulfillment of the prophetic texts for Jesus. Christ has all power, all authority, and sovereignty. Heaven and earth are joined forever. The Ascension is more than a doctrine to behold. It is a life to be enjoyed.
2.11-13 The Cross: “…you who were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2.13 CEV). Brought Near by his Blood: unity made simple. Corporate experience of unity in the cross of Christ. As Christian we need to renew our perspective each and every day. We must think like God thinks. We must let go of our old patterns of living to take on a Scriptural way of being. We can no longer afford to hold on to our old self, our old baggage, and our old citizenship (membership). Instead we must die to the past. We drift when we have lost sight of why God has redeemed us on this earth. Our goal is participate in God’s redemptive plan for the world.
2.14-18 The Holy Spirit: “We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit” (Ephesians 2.18 CEV). Christ is our Peace. Christ our reconciliation between God and humanity as well as humanity with each other through the work of the cross. Jesus’ desire was for people to be reconnected with the Father. All hostility and hatred has now been healed through Jesus.
2.19-20 Heaven is Waiting: Already and Not Yet: The Kingdom of God. Paul wrote, “I am writing you these instructions so that… you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 3.14-15 NIV
Bad News in the text…
At one time you and I were like a dead person because of the things that we’ve done wrong to and we were offensive to God. We used to act like most people in the world. We followed the way of destruction and disobedience to God’s will. We chose our own will over God’s will. We used to do what felt good, whatever we wanted, and we were headed for punishment.
Good News in the text…
That while you and I were dead as a result to the things we did wrong, God brought us back to life. He did this because of his great love (agape) for us (Eph. 2.4). In the English language we only have one word for love and we use it for every kind of affection. We use the same word for loving a particular kind of bubble gum as we do for the way we love God.
But in Jesus’ day there were several words that meant love – storge love or affection, phileo or friendship love, eros or romantic love, and agape love like the love God has for us. Storge love is the affection we have for eating ice cream or sitting with a friend in conversation. It is the most humble loves. Phileo love is the expression of companionship when people find they have things in common, or a common goal. Eros love is the least thought about but the most felt in our emotions. Eros love is what is meant by “being in love.” When the bible talks about God’s love, it is agape love. Agape love is charitable love. It is loving the unlovable. It is the love for the ugly duckling, the underdog. It is a love that is undeserving, the most selfless kind of love. Our understanding of social justice or restorative justice would fall into the category of agape loving.
John Wesley grounded his sermon entitled “The Scripture Way to Salvation” here in this passage of Ephesian 2.8. “The Scripture Way of Salvation” was written in 1765 when John was at the rise old age of 62. John understood that salvation was all about God’s grace for us… his free, unearned, unmerited love. This agape love is universal and available for everyone, not one person is excluded from God’s love. This agape love is made manifest in Jesus Christ.
Theologians have made loving others more complicated that it needs to be. Wesley aimed his theology to the common ordinary people. He wanted everyone to know how much God loved them, and how easy it is to accept this agape love. My mentor Bob Tuttle would say that “loving others is simply showing up and paying attention.” But this requires our self-sacrifice, and that’s why most folks struggle with agape love. Agape love requires selfless giving sacrificially of our time and our financial. It is the surrender of our spiritual gifts and physical talents for the sake of the community. It is offering prayers and being present in worship and bible study. It requires the sharing of our personal witness of God in our lives.
God planned for us to be transformed in such as way that loving others with this agape love would become our nature. Through the expression of agape love, we who were fall off have been brought near to God. We now have an opportunity to be in relationship with the God of the universe. We now can participate in God’s covenant plan of redemption. We now can receive God’s promise, and our inheritance in the Kingdom of God. There was a time when we had no hope, when we had no God but ourselves. It is through the shed blood of Jesus, a selfless act of agape love for the sake of the world that we now can receive grace and mercy.
Through God’s act of agape love, Christ has become our peace. The barrier between those who belong to God and those who do not has been removed. The barrier of hatred that divided those who are in the community of faith and those who are outside the community of faith has been broken down. The Law has been cancelled for our sake. Because of the cross our hostility toward God comes to an end. Because of the cross we can become one with God and neighbor. Because of the cross the Good News can be heard by us. Because of Jesus we are now the recipients of God’s Spirit. And, through Christ by the Spirit we have access to the Father in heaven. Through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer strangers and aliens to God and his people. Through Christ by the Spirit we have a community with which we belong to – God’s household. We belong to God and his people. We are family. We are able to come together in love because of Jesus’ agape love.
Because of Jesus’ agape love we now have a foundation. Our relationship with God is built upon the apostles and the prophets with Jesus himself the cornerstone. The whole community is joined together in Christ Jesus. When we grow up, our whole self is dedicated to the Lord. Now Christ is building you and I into a place where God lives through his Spirit. This is the ultimate outcome of Christ’s agape love – life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is where agape love flourishes.
Bad News in the world…
The world needs agape love – the unmerited love of God in and through us. God desires for each one of us – no matter our age – to express this unconditional love toward others. In the world today we express love differently that what God requires of us. We have misconstrued the “great commandment” that Jesus has given to us. The “great commandment” calls us to first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and second to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems that we have our understanding of grace and love out of sorts. We love our neighbor with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we love God as ourselves. We have distorted our love for God and our focus is more about our neighbor. We spend more time developing our relationship with our neighbor than we do developing our relationship with God.
Different streams of Christianity focus on loving God in specific kinds of ways – some love Jesus as their friend. Some enjoy Jesus as if they were sitting down with a good cup of coffee. Still others see Jesus as the lover of their soul. All of these have some merit in scripture. The error of our ways is when we have failed to recognize God as the Creator of the Universe who deserves all our affections – not just in part.
Good News in the world…
But God. God has the remedy to our dilemma and that’s the Holy Spirit. Our text today points to the ultimate answer to our struggle with sin and death and that’s the transformation that is ours in Christ Jesus. The questions today you and I must inquire of our self are the same questions John Wesley asked of his people.
When John Wesley was a student at Oxford, he created questions for reflection. The questions were rooted in his accountability group called “The Holy Club.” The list appeared about 1730 and Wesley continued to publish them through his later years as late as 1781. If John Wesley walked among us today, these are the questions he would pose to us.
Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite? Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence? Can I be trusted? Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day? Am I enjoying prayer? When did I last speak to someone else of my faith? Do I pray about the money I spend? Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? Do I disobey God in anything? Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? Am I defeated in any part of my life? Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? How do I spend my spare time? Am I proud? Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? Do I grumble or complain constantly? Is Christ real to me?
Ways to assess the text…
What is social justice (prevenient grace)? The fall. What is restorative justice (justifying grace)? The blood. What is social holiness (sanctifying grace)? The Holy Spirit filled life living in the household of God (not only personal but corporate accountability).
Ways to remember the text…
Released Past – Paul gazes at Jesus and tells his people that the past is the cornerstone for the future to built upon. Our past is the place of prevenient grace where we have met God. It is often the place where we experienced someone’s social justice actions (compassionate acts).
Remembered Purpose – Paul desires for the people to take responsibility for their past sins, and accept the grace that is theirs in Christ. Paul points to the grand plan that the incarnation, cross, resurrection, and ascension have always been the pathway to holy living. It is in the place of dealing with our sin that we discover our purpose in life. When we are restored in our relationship with Christ, we experience in some way God’s restorative justice as we begin to own our issues, stuff, and sin.
Renewed Perspective – Paul aims for his people to grasp a higher view of themselves particularly their identity in Christ Jesus. When we find ourselves seeking transformation beyond the immediate relationship of confession, we have entered into sanctifying grace. This is what John Wesley always aimed for in his life and the life of his people.
Ways to Cast Vision from the text…
Paul communicated vision to the church at Ephesus by reminding them of our fallen nature that has been redeemed in the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension. Who Christ is and what Christ does is at the heart of the matter for Paul. The plan is devised by God himself. It’s not a vision that comes from people, but from God. God had always planned to unite people who were both far off and near to himself. Christ himself is our peace; creating the unity we all long for in our relationships with both God and neighbor. Christ joins people one to another. Christ joins heaven to earth, and earth is placed under his feet. We know that Paul, although being Jewish, was lead to preach to the Gentile folks. And, he often experienced challenges because people didn’t understand his population. Paul was called to the outcast people – Gentiles. Remember how the Jewish people viewed the Gentiles – really any person who did not convert to Judiaism. The purpose of Paul’s writing aims distinctly at unity across the people groups. He calls those who have accepted this new unity to live a life that is distinctly Christian – not like the life they used to know. The people must learn to live into their Christian identity and heritage of holy living. This new life is gathered together collective into a new humanity. This is a mystery – the mystery of our faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This unity with the Godhead and each other can only be understood as a mystery – a deep, hidden truth that none of us can work out our own salvation instead it must be revealed by God alone. Paul desires for people to catch the vision of this unified people group called Christians, One Church. The invitation is before. Unity is simple.