Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 09/07/1997
"Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Last week as we began our studies of Ephesians, we began to learn some vitally important truths about the book and about ourselves. We saw that its theme is the systematic treatment of salvation, the church, and the Christian life from the standpoint of God's eternal purpose; that its purpose is to encourage us to attain God's purpose for us by rebuking our small thoughts of God and his salvation; that its effect is to be brought out of the tangled thickets of discouraged Christianity into the full blaze of the glory of God, by seeing the majestic sweep of his purpose for the ages, the wonder of our place in it, the marvel of who we are according to it, and the power of the infallible means God is already employing to bring these things about. We saw that its destination was not Ephesus but all churches as a circular letter, which tells us its strategic importance in the body of Paul's epistles. It is to the Saints at Toccoa; these exalted truths are things you are meant to embrace and have a stake in.
Today we want to get a larger overview of its teaching. So it is appropriate that we come to 1:2, which summarizes not only the message of the book but the whole biblical teaching about salvation in two magnificent words: Grace and Peace.
The standard greeting of a secular Greek letter was CHAIREIN "Rejoice!" or "May you have joy." Paul does a variation on that with the related word CHARIS, "grace," that which causes rejoicing. Then he combines this with the standard Hebrew greeting, SHALOM, or "Peace," to produce a uniquely Christian greeting.
So what is Grace? In the NT it has the technical theological meaning of God's unmerited favor toward Man. It has been well expressed in the acrostic G.R.A.C.E., God's Riches At Christ's Expense. The Apostle Paul is always diametrically opposed to any idea of salvation by works or human merit. The word emphasizes that salvation is God's work from beginning to end, and implies the Good News that it is therefore something we can have by faith.
Grace is one of the main themes of Ephesians. Not counting synonyms like mercy, kind intention, and love, the word itself occurs eleven times in six chapters. Also it appears in verbs like "chosen" (v. 4) and "predestined" (v. 5), which entail Grace as defined by Deut. 7:6-8a. God's choosing and predestining is not based on worthiness--he elects out of the ranks of sinners. And he predestines those sinners to privileges that they could not even begin to imagine earning, such as adoption. Then we are redeemed through Christ's blood (v. 7), the ultimate expression of Grace. And we are sealed in v. 13, showing that not only the provision but also the application of salvation is the work of God alone.
So it is no accident that Ephesians contains the classic passage on Grace, 2:8-10, where we are saved by Grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. Why? 2:1, we were dead in trespasses and sins. Such was the depth of our need, such our inability, that only by God's unmerited favor could anything be done for us. If God's eternal purpose is to be acheived for us, it must be by Grace, by Grace supremely, and by Grace alone. It is an absolute watershed dividing biblical from false religion. The Christian who is saved by Grace says, "Nothing in my hands I bring; / simply to thy Cross I cling." Every man-made religion wants to find a way to say, "something in my hand I bring." But that is to make salvation impossible for sinners like us. Therefore Grace is to us the greatest and most glorious of God's attributes. That is why Bunyan titled his autobiography "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," why Newton wrote "Amazing Grace," and why Paul, piling superlative upon superlative, speaks of the riches of the glory of his grace. Grace alone.
And that leads us to Peace, which is the end product of the Grace of God. The modern English word is insufficient to capture the full meaning, for it means the negative absence of strife. But the Hebrew which lies behind the NT usage is a positive word which connotes reconciliation, blessing, harmoiny, fulfillment, love, and fellowship: SHALOM.
As a theme of Ephesians, SHALOM works like this: God's work of Grace leads not just to release from Hell but to a state of SHALOM which has cosmic implications and will one day reign throughout all of Creation, centering in and working through the Lord Jesus Christ, and manifesting itself primarily, both now (imperfectly) and then (perfectly), through his Body the Church.
This involves reconciliation with God. The adoption as sons means the restoration of SHALOM between rebellious, sinful, alienated Man and a righteous and wrathful God. It also involves reconciliation between man and man (2:12-13, 19). If the division between Jew and Gentile can be overcome, all divisions can be. God intends to take greedy, selfish, warring men and bring them in the Church into a state of SHALOM with one another through his Grace. It also involves cosmic SHALOM (1:10). God will bring about this cosmic SHALOM by choosing from lost, fallen, sinful, and doomed mankind a people on whom to pour and in whom to display his Grace. He will do this by predestining them to sonship, redeeming them from the curse of sin, the penalty of sin, and the power of sin through the shed blood of Christ, by joining them in SHALOM to one another and to their Lord Jesus Christ in one body, and then by ranging them, not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers (6:12) until through them, in Christ, the forces of sin and Satan are defeated forever, to the eternal praise of the glory of his Grace.
That--nothing less--is the plan. Do you see it? No wonder Paul prayed that the eyes of his readers' hearts would be enlightened. I pray the same prayer for you as we continue our studies of this book. But I do more. I call upon you to forsake your small and unworthy thoughts of God, to give up your small and unworthy thoughts of the greatness of the salvation, the SHALOM he has won for us by his Grace, and thust to divest yourself of your small and unworthy thoughts of what is at stake in your participation in the Body of Christ and in the ministry of this congregation of it. This is something much bigger than whether or not you have to go to Hell. It is not about you at all, but about God, his Son, his Glory, and his Grace. But we can be part of it. Will you?
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams