Oct 06 2010

48- THE EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL TO THE EPHESIANS part 2

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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians

(Part 2)

E- Explanation of the Epistle, (contd.)

1- Greeting at the Beginning with Grace and Peace (Eph. 1: 1, 2)

St. Paul presents himself to those whom he serves in Ephesus as the apostle of Jesus Christ by the will and selection of God.  He calls them all as “saints” because all believers in Christ Jesus, who have dedicated themselves and their lives to God, are saints.  This is not a title for particular people, but to all the believers in Christ.  As the apostles learned from their Master, and as St. Paul usually does in his epistles, he asks for them the abundance and richness of “God’s Grace”, and the greatest gift of God “Peace” with God, with their souls, and with people, that is send from the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit.

2- Praising God for His Salvation Plan (Eph. 1: 3-14)

He starts by saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  He gives the following reasons for this praise: 1- “Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (realms) in Christ” (1:3), 2- “For He chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined to adoption as sons (i.e. we become children of God, Jn. 1:13) by Christ Jesus (i.e. through the death of the Lord and His resur­rection), in accordance to His pleasure and will (God’s pleasure and satisfaction is the salvation of man)” (1:4,5). 3.”To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins …” (1:6-8). 4. He describes the plan that God intended as “the mystery of His will … that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times (i.e. the time of fulfill­ment), He might gather together all things in heaven and on earth together in one, all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him” (1:9,10).  So, in Christ Jesus, the heavenly and the earthly, God and man, are united, the gates of heaven are open on earth, and God whom “no one has seen” (John 1:18) becomes “God with us” (Is. 7:14, Mat 1:23).  We (the Jews) “who were the first to hope (or first trusted) in Christ” (1:11,12) have received our share of this redemption through our predestination which was before our creation (Rom 8:29).  Also “you” the Gentiles, who have heard the Gospel of salvation and believed, have received like us, the seal of the Holy Spirit, who was sent by our Savior, when you were baptized and chrismated. And what we (both Jews and Gentiles) have received in Christ is the “guarantee (as in down payment) of our inherit­ance” in His kingdom, when all the fullness of salvation will be revealed (1:13, 14).

3- A Prayer for Wisdom & Enlight­enment (Eph. 1: 15-18)

St. Paul announces to the believers in Ephesus, of whom he has heard about their faith and their generous giving to the saints, that he will remember them in his prayers, that God, the “Father of glory” (as Christ Himself is the glory of the Father – Heb 1:3), may give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that they may know Him better, and to open their mind in order that they “may know what is the hope of His calling” and “what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (1:18).  The natural man does not comprehend what belongs to the Spirit of God.  Therefore, there is a need that the Holy Spirit works in the mind of man to reveal to him the hidden mysteries of the word of God.  Here, he points to two matters: First: The hope of Christ’s calling to us on this earth, to enjoy salvation, and to live the new life, and in the coming age, the richness of glory prepared for us in the Kingdom with the Saints.

4- Christ is above all and is the Head of the Church His body (Eph. 1: 19-23)

St. Paul, in the following verse (1:19) points to the Second matter that requires an open mind enlightened by the Spirit, to know “the exceeding greatness of His (God’s) power toward us who believe” as revealed in His work in Christ for our sake:  1-He raised Him from the dead, 2- Sat Him at His right hand in the Heavens (Rom. 8:34, Col. 3:1, Heb. 8:10, 10:12, 12:2), 3- He subdued under His feet “all principality, power, might, dominion, and every name”, now and forever, and 4- He made Him the Head of the Church (i.e. the believers), the Church being His body who fills all (Col. 1:18).

The glory of the risen Christ the Savior, His victory over death, His ascension into the Heavens, and His sitting at the right hand of the Father in the highest, becoming greater than all the orders of Angels,  submitting everyone in heaven and on earth, and under the earth (the dead), every throne, authority, and power, and every name from now and unto the end of days, to Himself, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phi. 2: 9-11).  This glory was also conveyed to the Church whose members are united to Him as members, who form His body extending from heaven to earth, on one hand.  And, on the other hand, He is the head of this body, and from Him all grace, blessing, and power (for the building of the Church, Eph. 4:12) over­flows to the Church.  He became also “head over all   things to (or for) the Church”.

Christ Himself has spoken before on this organic relation that binds Him with the members of the Church and binds them together saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5); and when He said “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).  As much as Christ fills the universe and what is beyond, also His body, His Church that is united to Him “of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30), will fill the universe.  And because Christ is the fullness of the Church, He fills her with His divinity, His mysteries, His gifts, and His grace “to present her to Himself as a glorious (radiant) Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).  Along the same thought, St. Paul speaks to the Corinthians saying “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2).

5- Saved by Grace (Eph 2: 1-10)

A- What we were by nature (Eph. 2: 1–3):

St. Paul talks to the members of the Church in Ephesus who were before estranged from God, and by faith in Christ they became “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19).  He reminds them of their past to realize the difference between what they were and what they became.  “As for you, you were dead in your trans­gressions and sins”.  The death of the body is common to all, but sinners suffer from a worse death which is the separation from God, the originator of life, and the result is eternal death.  And that is what Adam and his descendants suffered, “the day you eat from it, you will surely die” (Gen. 1:17), until the Savior came.  In this way all people became under the power of the devil, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience”, those who obeyed him, and did his will before the coming of the Savior.  Those included also St. Paul himself and the Jewish believers, before the knowledge of Christ.  He says as a confession “we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (2:3). Were it not for God’s mercy that rescued us, we would have been no better than them, but like them, under the same divine wrath.

B- What we became by His grace (Eph 2: 4-10):

In fact, it is the bountiful mercy of God, resulting from His great love, that has rescued us from our death to live with Christ, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (2:4,5).  Christ took our sins in His flesh on the cross and died on our behalf; He descended into Hades, took to Paradise all those who have died in the faith, and rose from the dead, because He is holy and righteous, and death cannot seize Him.

+ God raised us with Christ (2:6). He has given to all who believe in Him, the resurrection from sin’s death, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be (united with Him) in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we no longer be slaves of sin” (as St. Paul wrote to the Romans in Rom. 6:5,6).

+ And seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (2:6). Christ who took our flesh, was crucified, died, was put in a tomb, and was risen in this flesh destroying death, and entered also with this flesh to the holies, and sat at the right hand of God.  This means that we, “His body”, entered into the heavens and sat with Him in the highest place.

In all of this, we did not deserve, and we did not offer anything, because we did not have what to offer.  What we received of salvation, rescue from death, son-ship to God, and entry into the heavens, was a free gift from God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (2:8).  And you what did you offer? Faith, but this was not of course any sort of price paid from us. Faith is just accepting the gift.  However, it is a condition for receiving the grace (free gift), for it means our readiness to get rid of the old life, follow Christ, and accept the cost to the end, “Justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).  Nevertheless, this precious divine plan of salvation and this faith through which we are saved, are “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (2:8,9).

Truly, there are no works of self-righteousness that we can offer (or the work of the law for the Jews) in order to deserve this salvation.  These are all “rubbish”, and without faith in Christ they are all dead works.  There is no place for accepted works before or without faith in Christ, “not according to our works” (2Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:5).  The grace of God is plenti­ful and enough, and offering any works to obtain salvation is like a stab to the sufficiency and the wholeness of God’s grace. Also, it opens the door for boasting, considering it as a price: We have offered our works of righteousness or law, and God has given us salvation for that.  Therefore, neither faith nor works are price in anyway, “Not of works, lest anyone should boast” (2:9).   For faith is a gift of God, and a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and good works also are gifts to the believers.  They are not from themselves but they are the work of the Spirit who dwells in them.  They cannot be therefore a price for salvation and entering the Kingdom, but a manifestation of a true and living faith.  Also, good works decide our status in eternity according to our love and faithfulness, when the Fathers, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Disciples, the Martyrs, the Saints, the Ascetics, and all the faithful, will lead and will shine “like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom” (Mt. 13:43).  However, the Kingdom will include all the true believers, even the most simple, and the most humble (Rom. 12:3).

St. Paul says, in this respect, that God has created us in Christ Jesus to do good works “which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  It is God who gives holiness and its proof.  The role of God in faith and works is very evident, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2: 13).  His Grace is always prevalent in our salvation.

(To be continued., part 3)

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspond­ence. Write to us:
PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

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