Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
The NT consist of a number of different writings.
Matthew Mark Luke John – primarily about the life of Jesus
Acts primarily about the spread of the gospel and the founding of the church
Most of the rest are letters. Written by the likes of Paul, John, James, Peter. Some were written to teach doctrine, some to rebut error, some to challenge behaviour and attitudes
This letter – Ephesians was written by Paul to the Church at a city called Ephesus on the west coast of modern day Turkey. It was the most important city in the region.
Paul and his companions had been travelling throughout Greece, modern Turkey, modern day Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Coming to new areas, preaching the kingdom of god, seeing people converted and churches started
Sometimes Paul went back to revisit those areas where churches had been established. Sometimes he sent some of his companions like Timothy to visit and strengthen and encourage the churches, sometimes he sent them letters and some of those letters are the ones we have in our bibles.
Our book of Ephesians is one of those letters and Paul’s purpose in this letter is to explain God’s world purposes and how the people of God are at the centre of God’s purposes. How they fit in to God’s plan. Not just god’s got a plan for you but you fit in to God’s even bigger plan.
So the letter starts in the way that any letter of that time would have started. The author introduces himself, says who he is writing to and wishing blessings on the recipients.
In just the same way that we would start with a certain format. Thank you letters. Address, dear … I hope you are well…
But Paul infuses his letter with real meaning. He is writing not out of obligation but out of his passion for the church. Even these first two sentences have a wealth of meaning to them.
- He describes himself as an apostle. This is how he starts most of his letters. For Paul this is his calling. It is not his job title or position it was a description of what he did.
So what is an apostle? What does an apostle do? Gk work apostolos – It literally means a sent one. Apo from, stello to send
Now we know – we have the 12 apostles – they were the ones who Jesus specially commissioned – sent them out to preach the gospel of the kingdom. So apostle and disciple are not interchangeable. A disciple is a learner. An apostle is someone who is sent with a commission.
Now Paul was not one of the 12. But he and others in the NT are also called apostles. Of course we are all sent to bring the gospel of the kingdom to people, but there are some who are given this specific job role of apostle.
Sent by who? Jesus. An apostle of Jesus Christ. He knows he has a commission from Jesus.
Sent to do what? To bring the good news of the kingdom of God
There are very few uses of this word “apostle” outside of the bible. But Greek writers before Jesus time Lyssicus and Demosthenes used it to describe a commander of a fleet of ships sent out by his king to discover, explore, conquer, and establish his government in new territories.
He wasn’t just a diplomat, not just a messenger boy, not just a good organiser but a warrior at the head of an invading force. Often his role was to transform the place they were invading to be just like home. To have the same culture and laws and way of life as the country they came from. Eg Roman Britain. When the Romans invaded they sought to impose their culture, laws, way of life.
We can use this helpfully in understanding the role of an apostle –his role was to invade the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of God. To change the culture and way of life to be like the kingdom of god – to make it like heaven.
Now we can press this picture a little further. The apostle was not a lone ranger – he was at the head of an armada – an expeditionary force that were together on the same mission. Each ship would be different, they would have different roles within the expedition – one might be a battle ship, one might be a troopship, one may be a supplies ship, each under the charge of it’s own captain but they were all on this mission together.
We can see this expressed in how churches in our day work together on our apostolic mission to reach the world we live in. Both AoG and Newfrontiers describe themselves as being apostolic – on this kingdom of God extending mission – networks of churches that relate together. Newfrontiers actually recognises some specific people as apostles – people with a specific role in heading up the group of churches on its mission.
But an apostle was not just an organiser, a good teacher, a good conference speaker, a diplomat – he was someone who was the embodiment of seeing the kingdom of God extended. Paul preached the gospel, he saw the miraculous happen, he saw people become Christians and then he established them as churches and helped and strengthened them, visited, sent letters to help them to keep on fulfilling the apostolic mission that they had together.
So when Paul says at the beginning of this letter “Paul, an apostle” – he’s not just giving his job title, his position, there’s a whole wealth of meaning behind that.
By the will of god
This was not his own self promotion. This was not because he was appointed by other people. This was his calling – more accurately God’s calling on him. The evidence was in what he did. The evidence was the fruit of his ministry.
We are not all called to be apostles – but we are on this apostolic mission. What is God’s calling on you? What is your part in this apostolic mission?
To the holy ones
More archaic versions use the word “saints”. I think that unhelpful – it obscures the meaning.” Holy ones” is more literal, more accurate, clearer to understand and less religious.
Greek word is hagios and it means “different” or “set apart” or “separate”.
So Paul is writing to the hagios in Ephesus. So to be called hagios means that you are different from the world you are living in. You are set apart for God – you are actually part of God’s great expeditionary force to see the world converted. The apostle in the ancient world didn’t try to sneak in unseen and set up communities that were just the same as those around but a bit nicer. The apostle came in to bring in a radical different way of doing things that put God first. And churches were communities that were not conformed to the culture around but outposts of the kingdom of God, bringing the kingdom of God to the communities around them.
As such they were separate from the world. Different.
In the temple there were items that were – holy – they were set apart for God – they were hagios. And the temple was the place of god’s presence. You are hagios. You are holy. You are set apart for God and have God’s presence as you go around doing your normal stuff.
So when Paul is writing to the “holy ones” he is writing to those who are different to the world around … and that can be difficult to be different, it can be painful to be different.
The word holy doesn’t just mean morally upright or someone who spends lots of time with God. That’s often the first thing we think of. It also means different from what’s around, devoted and set apart for God. Lets say you have a twin brother who doesn’t know God and you do. You are holy – he is not. You are set apart for god – he is not. You are different from the world – he is not. He may do lots of good things – but he is not holy because he does not know God. You may do lots of bad things – but you are holy because you know God. So being holy is not first and foremost about doing good things and avoiding doing bad things but being holy will naturally lead to doing good things and avoiding bad things. Repeat.
Being holy is not being weird, old-fashioned, it’s not about being religious. It’s about having the presence of God. The whole point in the temple of the holy things was that they contained the presence of God.
The faithful in Christ Jesus
How does Paul know that they are faithful? He’s not there! Is he just a natural optimist?
- Because he believes that the work of the spirit in them will produce faithfulness. That their faithfulness doesn’t depend on them but it depends on Gods empowering. It is normal for you as a Christian to be faithful
- Because of his belief in God’s sovereign plan and purpose. Faithfulness is normal. In the world faithfulness is not normal. Unfaithfulness is normal. But we are holy people – we are distinct from the world. The world is unfaithful but Paul’s expectation is that God’s holy people will be faithful, that they will endure under hardship and temptation. That they won’t backslide, they won’t fall away.
God loves your faithfulness.
Grace and peace to you
Not going to go into this in detail
BUT – God’s heart is to send grace and peace to you.