This past Sunday I was reading the Lectionary passages for Christ the King Sunday in which the epistle is Ephesians 1:15-23, in which Paul gives thanks for the Ephesian believers. I find the style of Ephesians quite fascinating, and especially these long prayer passages. In fact, I used two of them in a pamphlet I wrote some years ago, Prayer Scriptures for Prayer Warriors in which I paraphrased some passages of scripture into the form of prayers.
The image to the left is of the inside of my wedding band, which is inscribed Ephesians 3:14-21. This passage of scripture was read as a prayer and Jody’s and my wedding, and it’s something we want to be reminded of regularly.
As I finished reading Ephesians 1:15-23 I couldn’t help but go on reading. I ended up reading the entire book and then going back and reading the first 14 verses as well. There were a number of things that struck me and I’m just going to mention a few thoughts that came to me as I read. One element, that of thanksgiving, stuck with me through the week. I’m going to blog about it for my Energion Publications thanksgiving message. This is a rambling post as the title indicates, so be warned!
Even though I read 1:1-14 last, let me start at the beginning of the book. Right in verse one the words “by God’s will” stood out to me. Paul is an apostle by God’s will. Frequently I think we remember our will and our gifts in connection with whatever vocation we follow. We may acknowledge God’s call, but we remember mostly the human process and recognition. I have heard people talk about who was involved in laying hands on them and praying, as though this was more important than the call of God. I do not want to diminish the historical connection to the community that’s involved in the human recognition, but I think we’re in much more danger of forgetting that we are who we are by God’s will. I can say, “I’m Henry Neufeld, publisher by the will of God.”
Now there could be a tendency to make this a matter of pride. I am what I am by God’s will, therefore all must recognize how important I am. But this isn’t the point here at all. In fact, we will see some comments on our call later, the call to be a servant, not an overlord. We like to read “chosenness” and “calling” as something that makes us special and puts us above. That’s not the way it works in God’s kingdom.
I’m going to skip past the entire Thanksgiving prayer of 1:15-23, as I plan to base a thanksgiving message on it, but it has been an encouragement to me all week. I’ve been thinking about thanking God always, particularly for people. Who are the people you can thank God for?
Ephesians 2:8-10 provides one of the greatest encapsulations of the gospel in a few words that we’re going to find anywhere. I think if we read it frequently, it would help us. We’re saved by grace through face, and it’s not the result of works. But at the same time one of the gifts God gives is to begin restoring to us the purpose for which we were created. One analogy I like to use for salvation is that it is like the gift of a toolkit. A toolkit is a wonderful thing, but merely having it is not very useful. There are many things it can do. Now the toolkit analogy can break down. All happens as God works in our lives. Both our justification and our sanctification are God’s gifts to us. We may debate the matter of choice between Arminians and Calvinists, but whether we have a choice about receiving this gift and remaining in God’s plan, but in either case it is totally God’s power.
2:20-21 – the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ the cornerstone remind me of Hebrews 1:1-4 and 2:1-4, an interesting set of parallels.
3:12 – both “access” and “boldness” remind me of Hebrews 4:14-16.
4:1 – walk/live in a way that is worthy of your calling. I tie this back to verse 1, by the will of God. Our temptation is to think “special me.” God seems to see it the other way around. We need to live up to the calling. Continuing through verse 14, look for all the instances of various forms of “one” and “all.” It’s an interesting theme. Again, this looks back to our calling. We are always called to help build up the body.
4:15 – “speak the truth in love” is one of the most difficult ones to keep, but the most important. We are often tempting to abandon truth for a form of love, or, on the other hand to abandon love while we boldly defend some height of truth. Very few are the vigorous defenders of truth who nonetheless are able to do so with respect and in love.
4:22 – I’ve heard Ephesians and other epistles divided between the faith and salvation part and the “works” or the “what then” part. Ephesians mixes these together with another example here. It is because Christ is faithful that we can leave behind the former behavior.
4:34 – giving grace to others. There is a call of grace. We are treated graciously and called to gracious living. God provides the example
5:1-2 – imitators of God. That’s a high standard, but it’s one that is quite common in scripture. This is one reason it’s very important to look at the nature of God. If we are to be imitators, we need to know what God is like. Is God a God of violence or gentleness? Love or hate? Or are those alternatives actually appropriate? Perhaps God combines characteristics in ways our minds find difficult to comprehend. “Be imitators” is a challenging task.
We should note further that this opens the section on family relations, which is often read as though it is about authority. But as we get to 5:25 we realize that husbands, whatever else they may be charged with, are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That means being ready to die for her. If we’re fighting for any position here it’s for the privilege of being the first to die. Any volunteers?
Of course chapter 6 brings us the familiar “armor of God” passage. We should remember that this armor is designed to be used in fending off evil, not in attacking other people. The spiritual warfare metaphor can be very helpful, but if someone doesn’t pay attention to the entire message, it can be used very destructively. I’d strongly recommend the entire book of Ephesians so as to understand the context in which the armor is provided.
Be imitators of God. Imitate God. Ouch! Wow! I think that one will stick with me for some time.
You may wonder why I wanted to ramble through this book. There are two reasons:
1) I’m frequently asked how one can enjoy reading the Bible. Many people find it to be a task. I don’t find it easy to answer this question empathetically. For me the odds are more that I will get carried away reading the Bible and get lost in thought. I didn’t come by that attitude by my own efforts. To a large extent it started with the way my parents taught me. Scripture can be hard to follow in early reading. The first time you read through the Bible or even just the New Testament you may find it slow going. But the more you know, and the more you can draw connections, the more interesting it gets. My early studies of computers were similar. I had to put the work into early reading so that later reading could be much easier. In the case of the Bible, my parents got me started, and it’s a start I’ve been thankful for ever since.
2) It’s important to do devotional study. One of the strong temptations of my life is to neglect my devotional life while telling myself it’s OK. I’m reading plenty of Bible passages in preparing to teach Sunday School or to write something. I’m usually at some point in the editorial process of a good Christian book. So my excuse for not doing devotional reading is that I’m reading plenty of scripture. But you also need to spend time with God through scripture, not checking references or debating someone’s theology or preparing a manuscript. Ephesians has stuck with me through the week and helped me deal with certain things that were going on. If I hadn’t let God lead me to do this reading, I would have had a more difficult time during the week.
So I encourage you to find time for devotional reading, time when God can lead you to the next passage or the next thought. And keep at it until it becomes second nature to you, however long that may take!