By way of introduction, here are a few things that may be helpful to know about Ephesians.
More recent scholarship has argued that this letter is not written by Paul. Without getting too deeply into the issue, my position is that it probably is written by the apostle. In a nutshell, the earliest church witness seems to believe that it is authentically Pauline and, unless there is compelling reason to think otherwise, it seems that we should not dispute that.
This too is somewhat debated as it’s argued that it is not written specifically to the church in Ephesus. There are those who believe that it was intended to be circulated to the church at large and at some point early in its history became attached to the Ephesian congregation.
Likewise, there’s some debate as to whether Ephesians should properly be classified as a letter. Though there are clearly letter elements, it has been argued that it might be more properly classified as a circular homily.
Now, do any of these things, or other academic considerations, really matter? The longer answer to this is that a careful examination of the various exegetical questions can help us clarify certain interpretive difficulties and, therefore, better understand the book as a whole. The shorter answer to this, probably, is “not really.”
So the only reason to bring this up, really, is as some of you are likely aware of these exegetical issues, it’s worth noting the particular position we’re taking as we walk through the book.
Borrowed from Peter O’Brien, here is an abridged outline of the book as a whole:
- Prescript (1:1–2)
- The New Humanity a Divine Creation (1:3–3:21) (You are Saved by Grace)
- Introductory Eulogy: Praise for God’s Blessings in Christ (1:3–14)
- Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Praise to God for Exalting Christ (1:15–23)
- Saved by Grace: Raised and Exalted with Christ (2:1–10)
- The Inclusion of Gentiles in the One Body (2:11–22)
- The Divine Mystery and Paul’s Stewardship (3:1–13)
- Paul’s Intercession for Power, Love, and Spiritual Maturity (3:14–21)
- The New Humanity in Earthly Life, 4:1–6:20 (Now Live Like It)
- Unity, Diversity, and Maturity within the Body of Christ, 4:1–16
- Live according to the New Humanity, Not the Old, 4:17–24
- Specific Exhortations about the Old Life and the New, 4:25–5:2
- From Darkness to Light, 5:3–14
- Be Careful How You Live: Generally and within the Christian Household, 5:15–6:9
- Spiritual Warfare, 6:10–20
- Letter Closing, 6:21–24
So, why the book of Ephesians?
The inspiration for this series (and sometimes outright plagiarism) comes from a course that Eugene Peterson did at Regent called Soulcraft. It was a course about spiritual formation. And this is an idea that has been on my mind for quite some time.
As Peterson is introducing the course, he says that Christians, perhaps particularly Evangelical Christians, are typically much better at getting people saved than in helping people lived saved lives. And I think that statement is remarkably insightful. What does it mean to live a saved life?
When we think of living the Christian life, we tend to think of it in terms of going to church: if we attend church regularly, then we are living the Christian life. Sometimes, worship enters into the equation – often, it barely registers.
When we think of Christian work, we often think of pastors and missionaries. Maybe we include nurses and teachers or people who work for non-profit organizations. But we rarely think of accountants or chefs or electricians or janitors.
We almost never think of hobbies or leisure Christianly – as if God cared about these things. What does God have to do with basketball or pottery or hunting for that matter? The problem, or one of many, is that our lives are so fractured. Everything has become so disconnected. And so our Christian lives, such as they are, have little to do with our work lives, which have nothing to do with our family lives, which are only loosely connected to our leisure time.Our lives have become disconnected. And in that disconnectedness, we have become dislocated. We don’t really have a good sense of where we are and therefore of who we are.
If you’ve been participating in a small group this past quarter, you either will have gone through or are going through the series ReFrame. In a nutshell, it talks about relocating ourselves in God’s story. About finding our place, our lives in the midst of God’s redemption story. The story of God redeeming this world. And then living out our lives with a reframed understanding of who we are and therefore, how we are called to live.
Ephesians chapter 4:1 says:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…
And verse 15:
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
Paul’s call and encouragement is “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” And to “grow up in every way into him who is the head…”
You may remember, we actually discussed this passage a few weeks ago, before I went on vacation. You will remember that, as Peterson says, this word, “worthy” is the Greek word axios. The word is an image of a set of old school scales. Though, according to Peterson, it’s not quite the image of balance. Balance gives us the idea of precariousness, tenuousness, something static. Rather, axios suggests that everything on the one side has to do with everything on the other side. That they exist in dynamic relationship with one another, and that this relationship is not two ones, but rather one whole.
If we look at the structure of the book of Ephesians, what we see is that the book is equally divided between two wholes. In the first half of the book, Paul talks about who we are, and that who we are is not a bunch of isolated (ethnic) individuals, but a community, and this solely by God’s grace. The second half of the book tells us how we should live in the light of that calling.
What we’re interested in then, as we go through this book of Ephesians for the next few months, is what does that mean? How do we do it? What’s important, what’s not important? How do we grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ?
Now I recognize, as we all do I’m sure, that this not a three month project. So these are the kinds of questions I hope we’re asking as we look to the next year and beyond. How are we becoming a people who walk the calling? (Notice that this is a different question than how do we do) We’ll spend some time and energy, I’m sure, thinking about programs and administration. We’ll do lots of planning and evaluating and more criticizing that we probably should. But these are all secondary to the question of how do we become a maturing people of God. No matter where we start, that is the thing. How do we grow up in Christ? How do we pay attention to God? How do we live this new life into which we have been invited? I pray that you’ll all join me, and welcome others to join us, on this journey.