Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Part One

The schedule of readings that our church follows calls for eight consecutive Sundays of readings from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this summer. This is part one of a series of posts based on these eight readings from Ephesians.

First, a little bit about the letter. It is one of four letters that Paul wrote while he was in prison in Rome, the other three being his letters to the Philippians, the Colossians and to Philemon. Ephesus, the name of the town where the church was located, is in modern-day Turkey. The church to which Paul wrote this letter has long since vanished.

In addition to its Christian congregation, the city of Ephesus featured a large population of Jews and the famous temple to the goddess Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Thus, one of the main features of this book is unity. One of the most famous unity passages in all of Scripture is found in the fourth chapter:

[4] There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV)

The ruins of Ephesus are a favorite international and local tourist attraction.

According to Acts 19 Paul spent two years in Ephesus, more time than he spent in any of the other cities in which he did mission work. And according to tradition, the Apostle John made Ephesus his headquarters in the latter days of his ministry.

Our first installment in this series is based on a passage in the first chapter of Ephesians:

[3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV)

We have every spiritual blessing in Christ. Who says you can’t have it all? According to Paul in Christ we can have it all, that is, every spiritual blessing. We may be lacking in physical or earthly blessings but in Christ we have every spiritual blessing.

And the opposite is also true; if we are not in Christ we do not have any spiritual blessings. We may have an abundance of physical blessings but if we are not in Christ we do not have any spiritual blessings.

This same thought is expressed elsewhere in Scripture. There is the well known passage from Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Or Paul’s words in I Corinthians 1:7, “you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (ESV)

Then Paul continues by listing some of our spiritual blessings. The first blessing he mentions is being chosen by God before the creation of the world to be adopted as his sons, also known as predestination (verses 4-5). This one is really hard to wrap our heads around. How could God choose us before we were born or before he had even created the world?

Though we can’t understand how this could be it is a powerful reminder that God chose us completely according to his own pleasure, not because of anything in us.

The Jewish people, many of whom would read this letter, took great pride in the fact that, through their ancestor Abraham, they were God’s chosen people. But here Paul says that in Christ we have it even better; we are chosen even before the creation of the world.

The next spiritual blessing that we have in Christ is redemption: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Redemption is a spiritual blessing but it is provided by a physical means, the blood that Christ shed for us on the cross. We are forgiven according to the riches of his grace.

Finally, we have the spiritual blessing of unity: “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” In Christ, things are united not just here on earth, but everywhere, even in heaven. All of us who are in Christ are one.

So being chosen, redeemed and united are the spiritual blessings that Paul mentions here. There are many more that could be listed. As I said earlier, if we are not in Christ we have no spiritual blessings, we are not chosen, not redeemed and not united.

All of this, of course, raises the question, how do I know if I am in Christ and thus possess every spiritual blessing? Is it a feeling? Is it something I do? By no means! We are in Christ by being born again through Holy Baptism: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4, ESV)

And to keep giving us the assurance that we are in Christ, Jesus gave us the sacrament of Holy Communion. As we receive the true body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper we are reminded in a very powerful way that we are in Christ.

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