PFOA: Ephesians 1
The 6 chapters of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians can be read in 20 minutes, yet Samuel T. Coleridge called it “one of the divinest compositions of man. It embraces every doctrine of Christianity; first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity, and then those precepts common to it with natural religion”. During the next weeks we will read and reflect on this short letter. There are two ways to understand reflection. Firstly, we want to reflect on what the Holy Spirit is saying to us through what Paul is saying. Secondly, we want to reflect out by our lives the application of the truths in this portion of Scriptures.
In the first century, Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, now western Turkey. Paul first visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey after visiting Macedonia and Achaia in Greece. He visited the city again on his third journey and had three fruitful years of ministry there.
Much of the context of Ephesus would have been similar to today’s modern cities. The contemporary pursuit of wealth, sports, spirituality and sex could be well satisfied. Ephesus, being a seaport, derived much wealth from trade. Located in the city was an amphitheatre where up to 25,000 of its inhabitants could gather to watch sporting events. Worship of the Roman Caesar was encouraged, even demanded. Immorality was rife – Ephesus was famous for a temple built in honour of Diana, the ruins of which remain today. Among other things, sexual services by temple prostitutes were freely available.
Did you know that the standard template that you use to write your email has been in used since the first century? Ephesians 1:1 can be formatted as:
First Paul, as the sender, identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ called by God. The acronym “d.v.” was commonly used up to a hundred years ago and stands for “deo volunte”, being Latin for “God Willing” (see James 4:15). It’s a practice we should revive when making decisions and commitments. Although in classical Greek “apostolos” simply means a messenger or literally an emissary, the NT uses it in a narrower sense to refer to those who were directly appointed by Jesus. Paul was a special case, receiving his call in his vision of seeing Jesus on the Damascus road. When some false apostles attacked Paul’s apostleship – Paul described them as “super apostles” because of their grandiose claims – he vigorously defended his call to be the apostle to the gentiles (2 Corinthians).
Next, Paul addressed the recipients as the Saints at the church in Ephesus. He identifies them as saints. Who are these saints? Most of us would feel embarrassed if someone addresses us as saints. I suggest this is a case of false modesty resulting from an unbiblical church tradition.
The Roman Catholic Church is in the process to “canonise” Mother Theresa of Kolkata to declare her a saint. The qualifications required are that she should be pure in doctrine; have two miracles attributed to her; and the process is started only after her death. In other words, you have to be really holy and dead to become a saint.
This is a reversal of the biblical order where because you are a saint, you are to be holy. Having been justified by faith through the grace of Jesus Christ, you have already been set-aside for God. By position and status you are a saint, a child of God, a citizen of His kingdom. From this point, the process of sanctification begins but perfection will not be reached in this life. As saints, we are to live holy lives. Elsewhere, we have the scriptural command to “be filled with the Spirit” and it is He who enables us to obey the command to “be holy”.
Identity is important. It was Paul the Apostle who wrote this letter. And he had addressed it to the saints, the disciples, the followers of Jesus in the church at Ephesus.
Its seems that Paul understood mail-merge in the program as well. Some manuscripts have been discovered without the reference to the city of Ephesus. The conclusion drawn by scholars is that Paul had intended for copies to be taken to other cities as well, possibly to the nearby cities of Colossae and Laodicea; the messenger would then just filled in the name of the city when he delivered the letter. This finding is collaborated by the absence of personal references to specific people in the church, even though we knew that Paul had some three years of fruitful ministry in Ephesus.
From this we can understand that the contents of this letter is relevant to readers who may be separated from Ephesus both geographically and temporally, i.e. this letter is relevant to us today.
Grace & Peace (v.2, we should use this uniquely Christian greeting more often).