Time for a new devotional series! We start off a journey through Ephesians, one of the letters of the Apostle Paul, dripping with riches. Join me today for the introduction and first Bible reading note.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians may be relatively short, but it has shaped the lives of countless Christians. Some have called it the crown of Paul’s letters; others say that “pound for pound,” it is the most influential document ever written.
Paul may have intended for churches throughout Asia Minor to read it, and not just at the church at Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey), for it is less personal than his other letters and he does not address specific concerns and heresies. Rather he outlines God’s cosmic plan of redemption through his Son, Jesus Christ, and then gives the new believers instructions on how to live.
The first part is a song of praise for Christ, and how God has revealed to Paul the amazing mystery of our (that is, the Gentiles’) salvation through him. God has lavished his grace on us through Christ and has sealed us with the Holy Spirit. Now we are now heirs of his glorious riches.
He then explores the old life versus the new, urging the believers to dwell in Christ, leaving their old selves behind. For Christ has shattered the former divisions between peoples and races, and calls for a life of unity and peace. No longer are we foreigners and strangers, but citizens and members of God’s household. Now we dwell in Christ, being rooted and established in him.
If the first half of Paul’s letter is cosmic, theological and lofty, the second half is deeply practical. Paul gives instructions for unity and maturity, urging the believers to live a life worthy of the calling they have received. No longer should we give ourselves over to drunkenness or debauchery, but we should be filled with the Holy Spirit. As we put on the new self, we take on the virtues of humility, love, patience, grace, holiness and kindness. We submit to each other out of love for Christ.
At the end of Paul’s letter, he calls the believers to action. He urges them to put on the armor of God so to stand firm in the battle that rages around us, namely in the heavenly realms. As we arm ourselves with his resources, we will stand.
As you engage with the riches of Paul’s letter, may you have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined… in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Ephesians 1:3–4, 7–8, 11–13 (TNIV, abridged)
In the Greek, Ephesians 1:3–14 is all one sentence, forming Paul’s expression of praise for what God has done through his Son, Jesus Christ. Repeated throughout these verses is the phrase, “in Christ.” In the Greek it appears 11 times and in the whole of Ephesians, 36 times. In Paul’s writings overall, it shows up 164 times. Many biblical commentators, including Klyne Snodgrass, author of The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians, name this theme as Paul’s central theological idea.
What does it mean to be in Christ? We see various meanings here: God chose us in Christ to be his children; through Christ we are redeemed and forgiven; we are to hope in Christ; through him we believe. We are in Christ and he is in us; we are joined with him and have union with him.
This oneness with Christ changes us from the inside out. It is mystical, for this is the realm of the unseen invading our lives. But this union is practical too, for as we dwell in him, we find the resources to live in his way. That could mean being an advocate for the poor, joyfully making a cup of tea for a builder, spending time with someone who is housebound, reigning in our tongues or spreading peace and love with those we meet. Christ defines us and our understanding of reality. He truly is, in the words of the popular praise song, our “all in all.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I find my identity in you. Fill me with your presence this day, that your love, grace, and truth might overflow from within.