Posted by: mikebackup | July 10, 2009

Excited by God

Ephesians 1:3-14 (New International Version)

Spiritual Blessings in Christ
3Praise 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. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

11In him we were also chosen,having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

These verses are some of the most beautiful in the whole Bible. They praise God with a depth and resonance that call us to return, rejoice and most of all enjoy them. In many ways they are very Jewish in style. They begin with how blessed God is, and this has similarities with Psalm 41.13, and Psalm 72.18-9.

13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Amen and Amen.

18 Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvellous deeds.

19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

Other Jewish features can be seen in the verses, particularly in the way God’s mysterious purpose is heading towards its climax despite all our failings as a human race.

Looking at the likely history of this letter gives us even more to praise and reflect on. Firstly some details that might surprise you. All evidence points to this not being a letter directed toward Ephesus, nor it actually being written by Paul. There is no reason to have a crisis of faith at this. It is by looking deeper at these details that we are given that cause to praise. The earliest and best copies we have do not mention Ephesus in verse 1 and the letter does not direct itself to any particular church or individual. It was through the close similarities with Colossians and the mention of Tychicus ( Tychicus accompanied Paul and was a messenger and letter carrier) and that is was probably written in Asia is why it became so closely associated with Ephesus.

This then raises questions about why it was written. Out of a number of important reasons, including helping to resolve Jewish and Gentile differences, it was probably used to build the church up. It would have been read out in church for a similar reason that we still have readings. They encourage, inspire, comfort, challenge and enable us to to reflect and meditate. Remember in the early Christian church there was no Bible to read from, even the Gospels were still being formed. So this letter was probably not an isolated personally directed letter. Instead it was there to help, encourage and enrich the early Christian church. After all they were part of an amazing time in God’s plan for the world but they needed practical and spiritual guidance.

Let us move on the the likely author. Clues in the style and theology point to this being written shortly after Paul’s death (A Bible study could look into this in more detail). Many people today are uncomfortable with this idea. This is because it says Paul wrote it, so if someone is attributing false authorship, surely that calls into question the whole integrity of the letter. That however is looking at this from our 21st century perspective. Claiming false ownership or plagiarism today is wrong, but these issues only came into being from when printing was invented. In the 1st century as soon as something was written down it was in the public domain to use and change as people wanted. More importantly, the way significant traditions were developed and passed on was by using recognisable characters and styles. It was the only way to give writings integrity. So it is likely a recognised associated or disciple of Paul, possibly someone like Tychicus wrote this letter. This person would have been seen to represent the tradition after his death and so without deceit continued the work that Paul had started using his name.

A modern equivalent can be seen in the corporate business world, with a very good example being Walt Disney. Everything the company does tries to build on the work and tradition started by Walt Disney. With integrity they put his name on everything they do. We know that Walt Disney himself has not done the work but know it faithfully represents and builds on what he started. This is what the likely author of Ephesians did.

It is here we can have that moment to rejoice. If all this is true, then just a generation or so after Jesus himself, enough people had heard the Good News and had the Spirit working in their lives that a very important tradition was being sustained and developed. But this was not just any tradition and this can be seen in these wonderful verses. It is a great testament to the work and reality of Jesus that people recognised this carpenter from Nazareth was the Christ, who was before, is now and will forever be part of the creator God. These verses are colossal and unless there was a recognised tradition that had really shown this to be based in truth it couldn’t have been at the point it was. People simply would not have believed it. So by using the means they had at the time they carried on the work entrusted to them by Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Nearly 2000 years on, is it not incredible that we are entrusted in our time and place to continue the work entrusted by Jesus himself under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not only that we stand on the shoulders of giants. We can see all Christians history before us. We know what has truly carried on the work and what hasn’t. We know that we are better placed through standard of living, technology and religious tolerance to continue the work of Christ than anyone in the last 2000 years.

This helps draw together the reflections on our missionary future. We have considered what it means to be mission shaped. It means being personally challenged and engaged in new outreach and work that prepares the ground with Kingdom values. We have looked at the dangers of living church life with an uncreative certainty. It might may life feel comfortable now, but ultimately it brings about the day that the doors are closed for the last time. We have to sow seeds in that prepared ground. That requires us to go out there and get our hands covered in the soil. We have to sow very carefully because once out there we will come across people that through who they are will challenge out core and inner prejudices. Remember we may be the only Bible someone ever reads. If they do not read love, justice, peace, respect and tolerance then we are not representing Christ.

Finally we are reminded that in our time and place, ordinary people in an ordinary part of an ordinary town we are entrusted by God to continue his work. That means preparing the ground with Kingdom values. It means nurturing and protecting the shoots that appear. Some seeds will not take and some will wither, but Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower that we are not going to be able to make disciples of everyone. So that is not our failure if we know the ground they were in was good ground that represents the Kingdom of God. The community of Alvaston is the ground we have been entrusted to tend. It is here we must get our hands dirty in the soil, make our knees and back ache and wipe the sweat from our brow. By doing this we can stand there and say ‘through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are showing God’s lost people how the one true living God transforms darkness into light and death into life’.

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