INTRODUCTION: Dry kindling is placed together. The match lit. The fuel ignited. Hands held over the flame begin to warm as it grows. He has seen this same fire before, in other places. (“You once were darkness but now you are light in the Lord.” 5.8) The fire is both fragile and all-powerful. It could be extinguished in a moment or become a raging inferno or furnace for smelting iron ore.

Ephesus, was an important coastal city of Asia Minor. There, the Apostle Paul helped fan into flame the spiritual fire. As pastor-teacher, it was time to counsel and encourage. Many forces would be at work to quench the Spirit of God. The Spirit’s fire threatened to consume the center of worship for the goddess Diana. However, the flame would not be left alone. It never is.

This letter anticipated the enemy’s counterattack. As with all Scripture, it applies equally to every age. Knowing who we are in Christ (burning) is half the battle. Knowing how Satan desires to douse our flame and how to “take our stand against the devil’s schemes” (6:11), is the other half.

1:1

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”

Romans 10:14-15

“Paul, an apostle of God by the will of Jesus Christ, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus…”

Sent from God, those were Paul’s credentials. Being an apostle was not his idea. He was Saul, living in Tarsus, making tents and minding his business. Then Barnabas visited.

God’s will was revealed after Barnabas took him to help with the Church in Antioch. The Holy Spirit spoke to the leadership in that bustling Syrian church, Saul and Barnabas were to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Their fluency in Greek and experience in non-Jewish environments would suit them well in spreading the Good News of Christ Jesus.

Saul took on the Greek name Paulos or Paul. One of his missionary stops, recorded in Acts 19 & 20, was Ephesus. He stayed there two years (19:10) establishing a base of believers. Great wonders and signs accompanied his teaching and preaching so that “the seven sons of Sceva” thought they could invoke Jesus and Paul’s name in casting out demons (13-16).

It was the Lord’s will Paul was sent to the “saints” in Ephesus. When he found them, they were sinners not saints. Only after the preaching of the Word would “the elect” in Christ surface. They were chosen from the foundation of the world according to God’s sovereign will and good pleasure. The evidence of their calling was demonstrated to all in their faithfulness to Christ Jesus.

In this salutation Paul establishes God’s work. The church knew his story. Paul was a prime example of what it means to be saved by grace. Every reader of this letter is faced with these two truths working together: divine election and God’s grace. Both are the groundwork for salvation.

Paul’s ministry is not a solo act. “… and all the brothers with me,” implies the gospel is spreading and taking root. The Ephesian body would know by name most of those with Paul. They proved themselves faithful as well. Tychicus, for one, was intending to come to them to give the details regarding Paul’s well being (6:21). No doubt, that faithful servant would deliver the letter.

1:2

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”  Romans 5:1-2

      “Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”    

Salvation is a gift that includes several precious gifts. Grace and peace are two of them. How freeing to know salvation is not based on merit. It is ours through unmerited favor. How great to know that peace is not purchased by the wealthy alone. It’s a gift. Purchased by God. Given to us.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

                                                                                                       John 1:17

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one…”

                                                                                                     Ephesians 2:13-14a

            From our verse above and others we read truth, grace and peace are in a person. This person, Christ Jesus, is presently in heaven giving these gifts and others to all who follow and obey. And what astounding gifts they are! Grace that is greater than all my sin; this is the measure of God’s favor. Peace that flows over us like a river; this is the way God gives his peace.

            Oh, the matchless grace of Jesus, oh, the peace that surpasses our understanding, through Him who saved us. Oh, the love of the Father to provide grace and peace for us in His Son, Jesus. No way, can we fathom the depths of grace or peace since Christ is limitless. Yet, we gladly try.

2:4-5

                        “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

                                                                                                                        Romans 12:1

                                               

            “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead- it is by grace you have been saved.”

 

Nothing in us can make us worthy. If our sin separates us from God, then it matters not which sin or how far removed we are from his presence. There is no room for boasting. Since all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, claims of goodness are baseless before Him. If and when we stand before a holy God, it is all because of mercy.

We stand in the same precarious place. Each of us is a mere step from hell entirely dependent on God’s mercy. It is all because of love that we receive God’s help in our time of trouble. This mercy is found only in Christ Jesus. No longer objects of God’s wrath we become objects of his love and mercy. No longer under condemnation for our sins, we become heirs of salvation. What grace!

No longer under the curse of death, we have become partakers in the life of Christ. Exactly what kind of life is that? It is life without limits, life without end, and life without sin. This is called resurrection life. Our Lord died upon the cross, was laid in a tomb wrapped in burial cloths, but made alive by the power of God. The same power that raised Christ is living in us. Through his death we have been made alive. Though we were dead, those who believe now share in his life.

Grace is the reason we have been saved. Glorious grace that comes from God is the only explanation for the life we enjoy: life without limits, without end, and without bondage to sin. When the sting of death was ready to encompass me, love came to me and set me free. How can I thank you enough, O Lord, for this matchless grace of Jesus? Father, allow me to show this grace to others.

May 11, 2013

2:17-18

“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit.”

For decades thousands and thousands of graduate and post-graduate students have been coming from the Peoples Republic of China to our universities and colleges in the U.S. This year, on approximately 45 of those campuses, there will be mission teams waiting to reach out to the brilliant scientists, engineers and leaders among them. The goal is to seize the opportunity to share the gospel and make Christian disciples. They were far off but have been brought near to the truth by their government. Among the Chinese population, the intelligentsia, the scientists and the business leaders are the least evangelized.

Eventually, the Chinese students will travel back across the wide expanse and return to their homeland. Some will bring Jesus with them and take him to their own people. The gospel of peace will be proclaimed to those who were formerly far off once again.

We were all far off. Those who do not look toward Jerusalem and Judah to pray are the ones to whom Paul refers to as far off. By design, we were not heirs to the promise but separated from God. At that time, we were separated from the covenant of God and lived in ignorance. Yet, in these last days, we have been drawn in to a relationship with Christ and found peace.

The journey is remarkable. The distance traveled is amazing. Once foreigners and aliens, we have become a holy nation, a people belonging to God. We have been brought closer among the saints to be a chosen generation, joint heirs with Christ, and adopted into God’s royal family. Without hope before we are filled now with an inexpressible and glorious joy as we await our inheritance when our brother, Jesus Christ, is revealed. Once we were strangers. Now we are sons.

3:4-6

“’Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’”  Daniel 7:27

“In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body; and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus.”

The Jews that inherit salvation through faith and the Gentiles that do also form one body called ‘saints’. At the close of this present age, there is a dividing wall of hostility separating the two. However, prophecy tells us that Christ’s coming will destroy the wall and the two will become joint heirs of salvation and co-heirs with Christ.

To the Canaanite woman Jesus said he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24). Jesus came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him (John 1:11). In explaining worship to the Samaritan woman at the well, Christ said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22b). When the disciples asked the resurrected Lord when he would be restoring the kingdom to Israel, he responded by telling them it was not for them to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority. But his committed followers would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be Christ’s witnesses: First in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:7-8). God’s plan for salvation starts in Jerusalem and advances outward to the far four corners of the earth.

What had been a mystery is revealed to the evangelist taking the Gospel beyond the current boundaries of Christianity. Preaching the same gospel to the same people who have heard it for decades is not going to reveal anything. Trying to pump up the crowd that gathers ritualistically once a week for church does not bring the joy that seeing one face light up with the Spirit gives. It is the power of the gospel to unite people to Christ and to one another that excites us and opens our eyes.

3:17b-19

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 Romans 8:38-39

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul was speaking of God’s power of love. All the external forces in creation put together cannot separate us from Christ’s love. If we are isolated from the love Christ gives it is because we have willed it internally. This is where the enemy takes the battle. To pit us against the love of Jesus he creates a battlefield in the mind.

For that reason the Apostle prays for that which is internal in each believer. Whether we lived in Rome, Ephesus or elsewhere, we take our battlefield with us. To win this internal civil war that tries to divide us against Christ’s love, our spirits must be founded and supported with love based on truth. In the same way a house needs a foundation of pure stone instead of earth if it is to last, our minds have to be founded on the love of Christ.

It is not enough for our minds to start with love and then grow stale. After being rooted and established in love we must grow in the knowledge of it. That takes power from God. So, as Paul intercedes for Christ’s followers in Ephesus, his priestly prayer for them is to have understanding of the incredible dimensions of this love God has offered them through Christ.

This prayer continues to be heard in heaven every time a believer reads the words. It is Christ’s prayer for all of us who believe and receive Christ by faith. Oh, that we may understand, lay hold of and attempt to wrap our finite minds around the infinite love of Jesus. May the One true God grant us power to know his love experientially and allow it to fill us more and more to overflowing.

A communist officer told a Christian while beating him, “I am almighty, as you suppose your God to be. I can kill you.

The Christian answered, “The power is on my side. I can love you while you torture me to death.” (From In the Face of Surrender, Richard Wurmbrand, p. 16)

Such is the depth, width, height and breadth of the love of Christ. His love alone is almighty, externally against torture as well as internally against hate. The love of Jesus is all I will ever need.

4:2-3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Philippians 2:3

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

If there is one thing that leads to division among the body of Christ, it is pride. Subtle pride is the most dangerous of the evils. I cannot see it or detect it unless I am intentionally humble. Subtle pride gets hurt feelings. Subtle pride insists in having its own way. Subtle pride is always right and shifts the blame on others. Without guarding against pride and putting on humility like a set of clothes, I will naturally descend into the pride of arrogance and strife.

Love has to be my goal. With those who are spiritual I must strive for unity. It will take all my energy and effort to maintain spiritual unity in the bond of peace. Once I have it, I will need to fight to keep it. John has to get out of the way so that Christ’s love shines forth and has the victory.