A series of Bible study guides following the format and content of the NIV Application Commentaries Series.


  • SKU: 9780310276548
  • UPC: 025986276546
  • SKU10: 0310276543
  • Title: Ephesians: Living the Faith
  • Series: Bringing the Bible to Life
  • Qty Remaining Online: 6
  • Publisher: Zondervan Publishing Company
  • Date Published: Aug 2008
  • Pages: 93
  • Weight lbs: 0.25
  • Dimensions: 8.80" L x 5.90" W x 0.40" H
  • Features: Table of Contents, Price on Product, Price on Product - Canadian
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: STUDY GUIDE
  • Subject: Biblical Studies - Bible Study Guides
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Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

Ephesians 1:1-2

* * *

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Original Meaning

Letters in the ancient world followed a set form. They began by identifying the writer and the readers or addressees. This was usually followed by a greeting and a prayer or wish for health (even in secular letters), then the body of the letter, and finally the closing, which contained any details about the sending of the letter and another greeting. An example of this form appears in Acts 15:23-29 (without the prayer).

Christian writers adapted this set form to their purposes, "christianizing" it by changing or expanding the traditional elements. The author and recipients are not merely identified; they are also described by their relation to Christ. The greeting was also made specifically Christian. Instead of merely "Paul to the Ephesians, greetings," Paul described himself as "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" and his readers as holy (NIV, "saints") and "faithful in Christ Jesus." And instead of using the standard word "greeting" [chairein], through a play on words Paul changed his greeting to read "grace [charis] and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

An apostle of Christ. Paul's identification of himself as an apostle appointed by God is his customary way of beginning his letters. (Cf. the exact parallels in 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1.) Often Paul had to defend his legitimacy as an apostle, but here the tone is merely descriptive. The term apostle carried several connotations in the early church, all of which were true of Paul. It referred to someone who had seen the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1), to those sent out by the church with a missionary task, or more broadly to anyone who functioned as an agent or representative. This self-description emphasizes the authority with which Paul wrote. If he was an apostle because of the will of God, what he wrote must be seen as communication from God.

The will of God is an important theme in Ephesians, appearing more frequently here than in any other letter. The concern is not about Christians finding the will of God; rather, the emphasis is on God's purpose with his actions for humanity. The point here is that Paul was an apostle because God wanted him to be.

In Paul's letters, "Christ" (meaning "the Anointed One") is often no longer a title as it was in a Jewish context. Particularly among Gentile Christians it became a name, linked with the name "Jesus." But of the forty-six occurrences of the word "Christ" in Ephesians, twenty-three have the article in Greek, some of which may still point to the role of the Jewish Messiah in the salvation of the Gentiles (see 1:10; 2:13; 4:20).

The holy ones. The identification of the recipients as "saints" (lit., "the holy ones") is Paul's usual description of Christians. "Saints" is not a helpful translation, for this English word usually refers to extraordinarily pious people. Paul's first intent was not that these people lived especially holy lives-he described the Corinthian Christians the same way (1 Cor. 1:2), and yet he had no illusions about the sanctity of their lives. Rather, his primary concern was to emphasize that just as he had been appointed by God to be an apostle, they too had been separated to God (separation is the key idea in the word "holy"). Paul's addressees were holy because God had set them apart to be his people. The focus is entirely on God's action and the reference is to God's saving work.

The recipients of this letter are also described as "faithful in Christ Jesus" (cf. Col. 1:2). "Faithful" can refer either to someone who has proven to be faithful or to someone who is a believer, someone who has faith. The latter seems the better choice here (cf. John 20:27; Acts 10:45; 16:1, 15; 2 Cor. 6:15).

With the expression "in Christ Jesus" we encounter one of the most significant and difficult points in Paul's writings. Paul is not merely saying these people believed in Christ; rather, they were in Christ positionally. This concept of being in Christ is one of-if not the-most important parts of Paul's theology, for this is the center from which he understood and explained salvation. The thirteen Pauline letters use "in Christ," "in the Lord," "in him," or some similar expression 164 times to express a variety of ideas. "Christ" is usually used in contexts talking about salvation and its benefits, whereas "Lord" is usually used to talk about Christian behavior and life. Sometimes these terms are used to convey what believers obtain in Christ (as 1:7: "in him we have redemption"), at other times "in Christ" describes what a person does (4:17: "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord"), and at still other times the focus is directly on the fact that a Christian is a person who is in Christ. This language expresses the oneness and the identity that a believer shares with Christ. Paul's gospel is a gospel about union with Christ, and this is the meaning in 1:1. Ephesians focuses more on union with Christ and on beingin Christ than any other letter (36 times).

The greeting. The wording in this verse is paralleled exactly in seven other Pauline letters. "Grace and peace" are important themes throughout Ephesians: Both are key words that describe God's initial salvation, and both describe God's continuing work among his people. As we will see in 1:3-14, "grace" is one of the most important words in Paul's theology. Even though other writers use this greeting (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:2; Rev. 1:4), no other writer comes close to placing as much emphasis on grace as Paul. Not by accident, he begins and ends every letter with "grace," as if to emphasize that all of life is lived in the parameters of grace. Though not used as frequently, "peace" too has a foundational role in Paul's theology. God alone is the one who conveys grace and peace, and Paul wants his readers to experience this.

"God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" are together the source of grace and peace. Right from the beginning Paul's thought is theocentric, focusing on God's activity in Jesus Christ. The apostle had no hesitation in linking Jesus Christ with God, but he also maintains a healthy demarcation between them. Usually he used the terms God the Father when speaking of God and Lord or Christ when referring to Jesus. "Lord" was used in the Old Testament in reference to the God of Israel, and the appropriation of this title for Jesus is striking.

Bridging Context

The foreignness of Paul's thought to our culture is apparent. Already in this section we face vocabulary, a christianized letter form, and theological assumptions that require bridging.

Vocabulary. Expressions such as "apostle," "saints," "in Christ," and "grace" are not common language, and the realities to which they point will occupy us through much of this commentary. While we struggle to grasp Paul's intent, for him they were the breath of his life, and he was confident that his readers understood them well. But most churchgoers today would have a difficult time explaining such concepts with any depth. Bridging has to convey the theology of these words, a task that will begin when we treat 1:3-14.

Letter form. The way Paul adapted the form of letters in his culture to make them specifically Christian is impressive, but it also creates a problem for us. When modern believers attempt to christianize letters or other aspects of our culture, the result is often archaic and artificial. We may copy Paul's theological language without grasping its depth or finding adequate words to convey it. The difference may be that we are imitating something we have not experienced. Paul is not merely using nice theological words, but expressing his encounter with, and his life with, the God that confronted him on the Damascus road.

If we are to bridge the years and cultural differences in biblical texts, we must do more than merely copy theological words. We must experience the reality to which the words point and find contemporary ways to describe it. We must not only ask what the text teaches about God, humanity, life with God, and other subjects; we must own what it teaches and create language to give the reality a home in our own souls.

Theological assumptions. Especially in a short section like this, texts often assume more than they express. If we can see the assumptions by which Paul lived and thought, we have important material for reflecting on our own life with God. Two assumptions dominate this introduction: the activity of God and Paul's sense of "geography."

(1) As will be shown in detail in 1:3-14, Paul viewed God as intentional, purposeful, and working at great lengths to bring humanity to himself and to equip people for life. Paul saw his own life as part of God's plan of salvation. His ministry was not merely a job or a choice he made, but part of God's work to bring salvation to humanity. The rest of the letter will detail this activity and how people should respond.

(2) To speak of Paul's sense of "geography" is an attempt to describe the "place" where he thought Christians live. In Paul's mind, just as these Christians live literally in the region near Ephesus, they also live in Christ. The terrain, climate, values, and history in which people grow up and live helps to define who they are. As really as this region near Ephesus defines who they are, Christ defines who believers really are. He is the "sphere of influence" or "power field" in which they live and from which they benefit and are transformed. That is, his Spirit, values, character, history, and purposes shape their lives. People can live in other spheres (cf. 2:1-3), but Christians live in Christ. Jesus Christ must never be depersonalized by such language, but we will not understand Paul unless we learn to think of life as lived in Christ. As the 1:3-14 will show, the implications of this are enormous.

Contemporary Significance

Paul's relation to Christ changed even the form of his letters. How can we show the reality of Christ in our lives? We must do this not merely by using external language, so that we appear pious, but by actual transformation resulting from our relationship with Christ.

Gospel and culture. Paul used his culture's letter form to write specifically Christian letters, but his method raises a crucial question: How do culture and gospel relate? The gospel defines life for Christians, but that life is always lived out in a culture, a culture that also seeks to define us. Christians must therefore understand the culture they live in and must decide what in culture may be legitimately adapted and enjoyed and what must be rejected.

All too often we confuse our cultural expression of Christianity with the gospel itself. The early Church faced this problem in Acts 6 over the distribution of food and in Acts 15 with the "Jerusalem Council" over the necessity of observing Jewish legal practices. In a similar manner, we must separate the heart of the gospel from our cultural expression of the gospel. Christianity in African tribal communities, for example, does not need to look like Western Christianity.

We must also determine how to relate to our culture. Will the use of religious language help or hinder a conversation? Given the religious fanaticism and the division between the "religious right" and other groups in the United States, for instance, religious language often hinders communication about Christianity. Acts 17 and 22-26 present a much different tone from Paul in addressing non-Christian audiences from what appears in his letters to Christians. Sensitivity to the reception of the message determines the selection of the words.

The primary ingredient for Christians in relating to culture surely is authenticity. We should not try to communicate Paul's experience of Christ; we must communicate our own. We learn from Paul, but our own experience of the gospel must be lived out authentically before God and people. This is not to elevate experience over Scripture, but we cannot live out a theology that we do not know firsthand. Anything less is a sham and will not convince. Our expression of the gospel in our culture must be a natural flow of the depth of our relation with Christ, not the borrowing of mere words that we have labeled religious.

If God is active, what are we doing? Every writing necessarily assumes numerous ideas or facts as obvious. Otherwise each writing would be intolerably long. Therefore, reflection on assumptions in a text is an important part of application. Of course, the assumptions need to be justified, preferably drawn from other parts of the same letter. The present text assumes that God is actively setting a people apart for himself. In other words, grace, salvation, human responsibility, and ethics are already in view even before we begin reading this letter.

Too often people relegate any sense of God's activity or planning to the distant past, as if he worked in the first century but not now. Yet God still sets people apart for salvation and still calls some to be his special agents. Whether we assume God is active or passive determines our own expectation and readiness to respond. By believing God is active, we precondition ourselves for healthy response to God.

Caution is in order, however, for any idea may be taken to an extreme. Unfortunately, some people conclude that since God set them apart, they are superior to others. Some conclude that since God is active, solutions to life are simple, or that every act is the result of God's action. But the Bible is not so simplistic, and application of the biblical text should never be merely application of individual texts. Texts should be applied within the frame of the entire Scriptures. Other texts prevent the abuse of individual passages. As 1 Corinthians 1-4 points out, for example, the message of the cross does not allow feelings of superiority. Or as Job, Habakkuk, and the psalmists lament, God often appears inactive, and life has no easy solutions. Only against such a backdrop can we apply a specific text.

Paul's sense of geography-in Christ and in the world. Paul's assumption about "geography"-about living both in a specific place and in Christ-is a profound insight into life with God. The Christian faith is not an attractive set of ideas or a nice avenue to follow. Rather, it is so deep an engagement with Christ, so deep a union with our Lord, that Paul can only describe it as living in Christ.



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