IN HEAVENLY PLACES – Ephesians 1:1-3
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on January 25, 2017 under AM Bible Study |
AM Bible Study Group; January 25, 2017 from Ephesians 1:1-3
Theme: Paul introduces this letter by affirming the blessedness of our present heavenly position in Christ..
(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).
This morning, we begin a study of one of the most exciting, encouraging, and practical of the apostle Paul’s New Testament letters—a letter that many consider to be his masterpiece: Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians.
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Let’s begin by considering …
The Background of This Letter.
This letter (the Greek word epistolē, by the way, means ‘a letter’; and the verb epistellō means ‘to write or send a letter’) is typically classified in the New Testament as one of four of Paul’s ‘prison epistles’—that is, a letter he wrote while in prison in Rome. (There were other letters that he wrote while in prison; but those are considered ‘pastoral epistles’.) These four ‘Roman-imprisonment’ letters are Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
As you might remember from the end of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul had been confined to house arrest in Rome—where, as we’re told, “he dwelt two whole years in his own rented house” (Acts 28:30). He was able to receive visitors freely; and he preached and taught while there. What’s more, he also carried on correspondences with churches and fellow believers that he cared for. He had a particular burden for the community of believers in the city of Colosse; and so, somewhere around 61-63 A.D., he wrote a letter to them to address some of those concerns and to encourage them. And along with that letter to the general body of believers in Colosse, he also wrote the tiny New Testament letter (small enough to be considered the ‘post-card’ of the New Testament)—the epistle to Philemon—and sent them both by a faithful friend named Tychicus.
Consider the letter Paul wrote to Colosse. At the end of that letter, Paul wrote, “Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). It seems that the letter that we know in our Bible as “Ephesians” is actually that letter Paul referred to as the one “from Laodicea”; and it must be that before Tychicus left to deliver those two letters, Paul also wrote this letter we call ‘Ephesians’ and sent it along with him. Compare Ephesians 6:21-22 with Colossians 4:7-8, and you’ll find references being made to Tychicus that sound almost identical. And what’s more, it turns out that in the best and most reliable ancient Greek manuscripts, the words “in Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 do not appear. Ephesus was a large and important city; so it seems best to see this epistle as a letter meant to be circulated around to the churches of Asia Minor—particularly to those in ‘the greater Ephesus/Laodicea metropolitan area’.
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This is important to know, because of …
The Similarity of Content in Both Ephesians and Colossians.
Read Ephesians and Colossians together, and you’ll be struck right away by the surprising similarity of topics that are treated in both of them. In both of these relatively short letters, Paul deals with the great theme of …
– The work of the Trinity in our salvation (Ephesians 1:3-14; Colossians 1:12-18);
– Paul’s prayers for the spiritual wisdom of the believers (Ephesians 1:15-17-19; Colossians 1:9-11);
– The new life brought about by the resurrection (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:12- 13);
– The peace that has been brought about by the cross (Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 1:19-23);
– Paul’s privileged part in the ‘mystery’ of the gospel (Ephesians 3:8-9; Colossians 1:24-27);
– The practical ‘sanctification’ doctrine of putting off ‘the old man’ and putting on ‘the new man’ in Christ (Ephesians 4:17-31; Colossians 3:5-14);
– The call to an attitude of ‘submission’ under Christ’s rule in family and work roles (Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Colossians 3:18-4:1); and
– The call for prayer in Paul’s spiritual warfare for the gospel (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3-4).
Compare in particular Ephesians 5:18-21 with Colossians 3:16-17, and it becomes very clear that the Holy Spirit led Paul to write the same themes in almost the same words in both letters; but with a unique application to their individual audiences.
This letter that we’re now studying—Ephesians—is truly a letter to the faithful saints in Christ everywhere. And considering that Paul wrote it while in prison, it demonstrates to us the great practical value taking inventory of our joyful riches in Christ during difficult times.
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Next, consider its …
Theme and Structure.
Its great theme is the life we should now live on earth in the light of the spiritual position we now have in Christ in the heavenlies. You can easily divide the letter up into two main sections:
I. OUR POSITION IN CHRIST (Chapters 1-3)
II. OUR PRACTICE IN CHRIST (Chapters 4-6)
with the second division clearly being based on the truths developed in the first division. There are many great verses from this letter; but a key verse to understanding its theme and structure is Ephesians 4:1—which marks both the dividing line of those two great sections, and the link that joins them together …
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called … (Ephesians 4:1).
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This letter follows the style that was typical of letters of the day. And so, let’s begin our time by jumping right into…
The Introduction to The Letter.
The introduction is found in the first three verses; where we find …
I. THE WRITER (v. 1a).
A. The letter begins by telling us who the writer is. (That seems like a better way to go about it than the way we typically use in our letters today; don’t you think? Today, you have to look at the end of a letter to find out who it’s from. But in Paul’s day, the letter itself told you right at the beginning.) Verse one says it plainly: “Paul …”
B. There must have been a time in which the story of Paul’s conversion and call to ministry was told to the readers. Paul himself makes mention of his own story in Ephesians 3:1-14; and even tells them, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of grace of God which was given to me for you …” (3:2). He even told them that he had written to them about it briefly elsewhere (3:3-4). It was important to Paul that they understood that he received his understanding of the “mystery” from God, in an authoritative way, by “revelation”. The great and astonishing themes that he speaks of in this letter were not merely the products of his own speculations or imaginations. They are the revelations from God that he was authoritatively commissioned to deliver to them. That’s why he stresses that he is “an apostle [that is, an authoritatively 'sent' representative] of Jesus Christ by the will of God …” (See also Colossians 1:24-27).
II. THE RECIPIENTS (v. 1b).
A. Not only are we told who the letter is from, but also who it was meant for: “To the saints who are in Ephesus …” The word “saints” doesn’t refer to someone who is especially honored or canonized by a church. Rather, it simply means “a set-apart one”—someone called out from the rest as sanctified unto God for His holy pleasure and purpose. And that’s what we are in Christ. We are His “set apart ones”—redeemed from out of this fallen world and declared to be His in love. What a privileged position is ours in Christ! It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t begin his letter by urging them to ‘become’ saints; but rather affirms them as already ‘being’ saints.
B. As we’ve already pointed out, the words “in Ephesus” do not appear in the best and most reliable ancient Greek manuscripts of this letter. And if its absence truly represents what Paul intended, then this would mean that Paul’s letter was (literally) “to the saints who are …” This may mark this as a letter to the redeemed in Christ everywhere—wherever they are “being” such.
C. He adds, “and faithful in Christ Jesus …” It can also be translated “even the faithful [ones] in Christ Jesus”. Pay special attention to that important phrase “in Christ Jesus”; because there is no other way to be a saint than by being “in” a spiritual relationship with Christ by faith. This letter, then, is to all who are such! All of the glorious riches that it describes are precious present possessions that belong to you and me—right now—through faith in Jesus!
III. THE GREETING (v. 2).
A. Every letter in those days began with a warm, personal greeting; and that’s how Paul begins this one. But what a greeting it is! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” ‘Grace’ speaks of the unmerited favor of God—His gift. That, of course, is the only way we can approach Him—never by our own worthiness, but only by His kind favor freely given to us through faith in Jesus. All that we have is by “the riches of His grace” in Christ (1:7). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (2:8).
B. And note that not only do we receive grace from God through faith, but also peace. The peace spoken of here is not merely the absence of trouble or turmoil, but rather the removal of all barriers that place us in enmity toward God. “Peace” here, then, speaks not so much of an emotional feeling or state of mind, but rather of the nature of the relationship we fallen sinners have now been placed into with respect to a holy God. Grace from God must come first; and after the grace comes peace with God. “And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him [that is, Christ] we both [that is, Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:17-18).
III. THE MOTIVATION (v. 3).
A. Now; already, this letter has given us good news! And we haven’t even gotten all the way through the introduction yet. Paul now presents to his readers the great motivation behind this wonderful letter; and he does it by declaring a praise to God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …” To say “blessed” here means to declare the worth and the praise of God. He is worthy of praise for His great grace to us in that we are now at peace with Him through Christ—such peace, in fact, that because Jesus is our Lord, we now share the Lord Jesus’ own God and Father along with Him. Jesus said so at the resurrection! Do you remember how He greeted Mary at the tomb and told her to “go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’” (John 20:17)? Can we have greater peace with God through grace than that?
B. And it’s because of that peace through grace that we now have free access to all the riches of heavenly glory. God—the Possessor of all the riches of heavenly glory—is now our Father; and He freely gives all to us. Paul speaks of our God and Father as He “who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ …” The verb “blessed”, as it is used in this second time in the sentence means “to confer favor upon”; and the noun “every blessing” speaks of “gifts” of that favor. They are “spiritual” blessings; and they are kept for us “in heavenly places in Christ”. Think of it! A letter that begins with three “blessed” references in the first sentence alone! And we should take Paul’s words to heart as meaning exactly what they say! Right now, in Christ, we are immeasurably rich in true, eternal blessings beyond our imagination!—blessed by our blessed Father with every blessing in the heavenlies! And we are free to draw upon these spiritual resources whenever we need them during the challenges and changes of life. The apostle Peter similarly spoke of our resources in Christ; “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue …” (2 Peter 1:3).
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So; that’s the introduction. The first half of this letter is all about telling us what those great and glorious “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places”—which are already our possession in Christ—are; and the second half of the letter is all about telling us how to live faithfully and victoriously in the light of our knowledge of them.
What a wonderful adventure there is ahead of us in our study of this great letter! May God truly open our eyes to all that is ours in Christ!