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Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 8/31/1997
"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:"
We begin this morning the study of one of the greatest documents in the possession of the Christian church. The English poet S. T. Coleridge called it "one of the divinest compositions of man." Dr. A. T. Pierson called it "the Switzerland of the NT," and rightly so, for in it Paul rises to the most exalted Alpine heights of impassioned reasoning, exhortation, and doxology. Martin Luther called Romans "the most important document in the NT, the Gospel in its purest form," and Dr. D. M. Lloyd-Jones adds, "If Romans is the clearest expression of the Gospel, Ephesians is the sublimest." The comparison between these two epistles is not accident. They are the two most systematic expressions of the theology of salvation and its implications for the Christian life, unlike most of the other epistles which were written more ad hoc to deal with a church's specific problems (like the Corinthian correspondence, for example).
The Theme of Ephesians then is the systematic treatment of salvation, the church, and the Christian life from the standpoint of God's eternal purpose in Jesus Christ.
The Purpose of Ephesians is to encourage us to attain God's purpose for us in Christ by rebuking our small and unworthy thoughts of God and his salvation.
And the Effect of understanding Ephesians is to be brought out of the dark and tangled thickets of discouraged and defeated Christianity into the heights and into the full blaze of the glory and greatness of God, shining in the majestic sweep of his purpose for the ages and the wonder of your place in it. It is to be revitalized by the knowledge of who you are in Jesus Christ and of the powerful and infallible means God has already begun to employ to make you that person.
By way of introduction, then, let me ask you to assume two identities today that you may not be used to.
"It is always a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts," said Sherlock Holmes. Let me then relate to you a puzzling collection of facts which may seem unrelated but are the clues to one mystery.
If your head is swimming, let me suggest one simple solution that makes sense of all these facts. Supposing Ephesians was written as a circular letter for all the churches in Paul's orbit. The original manuscript would then have had a blank spot where the name of the church went (hence the three surviving copies which do not have the name of a church). If Tychicus carried the letters from Rome, he would have passed through Laodicea on his way to Collossae (hence the instructions to the Collossians to read the letter coming from Laodicea). Ephesus was the great cultural and economic center; therefore most of the later copies came from their's, reproducing the "Ephesus" in their blank. Marcion happened to have one copied from the copy Tychicus left in Laodicea. So the Letter to the Laodiceans IS in fact Ephesians, and has survived after all. There are no personal references because the letter was written to Christians in general, not to the members of a particular congregation. Elementary, my dear Watson!
The Meaning of the Mystery is this:
Ephesians is a very important epistle, with teachings Paul considered too basic and crucial for all believers to be given just to one church. Its teachings are needed by all Christians. "The Philippians can get by without 1 Thessalonians if they have to, but I want ALL my disciples to have this." Now, all Scripture is inspired and therefore profitable, but Galations is going to be especially relevant to those struggling with legalism. All Scripture is profitable, but 1 Corinthians is going to be especially needed by those struggling with the excesses of Pentecostalism. Ephesians is especially relevant for all believers, no matter who. It is especially for you. It is the one letter Paul wanted to make sure that everybody had.
You can drop that first identity if you want. The second is one I want you to keep. This letter is written to the Saints at Toccoa (if we take the liberty Paul apparently wanted to have, and fill our name into the blank). What does that mean?
In popular thinking, a Saint is a kind of spiritual olympic athlete, a spiritual superstar like Mother Teresa. But it is clear that the NT does not use the word that way. Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2, Phil. 1:1, Col. 1:2, Eph. 1:1--it is clear that Paul was neither addressing only the elite within each church nor implying that these churches were not full of believers who still had significant problems. In the NT, "saint" is simply a synonym for believer, for Christian. Its basic meaning is "holy one," i.e. "set apart," one separated from the world unto God for service. It is one who has been marked out by baptism as separate/different from the world, one who has the identity and destiny of real holiness upon him--but not necessarily one who is already perfect. It is a statement of Identity, not Attainment; of Selfhood, not of Success; of Position, not of Performance.
To understand how it is that being a Christian makes you a saint is to understand the central message of the whole first chapter; we will see this pattern again and again. In Christ you are already holy in God's eyes. This identity of sainthood does not depend on your performance or your attainments in spirituality. It does depend on the work of God in Christ: it depends on the fact that he has chosen you for (v. 4), predestined you to (v. 5), redeemed you for (v. 7), and sealed you in Sainthood (v. 13). Because he has done these things, sainthood is already true of you positionally and officially; and in experience, it has already begun to happen! And it will be perfected in the day of Jesus Christ.
You are not a saint because of anything you have done, can do, or will do. You are a saint because of what GOD has done and is doing and will do. We live in the shallows and on the edges of the Christian life because we are satisfied with small and unworthy thoughts of God, of his work, and of WHO WE ARE on the basis of that work. You will never make any progess in the Christian walk until the Holy Spirit opens your eyes to the truth of this book and gives you the faith to believe it.
Can you see yourself as a saint? In Jesus Christ, you are! In yourself you are still a miserable sinner, but in Christ, in God's reckoning, in the Heavenlies you are already a saint. For this is the epistle written especially to all the churches; it is from Paul the apostle to the saints who are in Toccoa who are faithful in Jesus Christ. In Christ, and there alone, are these things true; in Christ, and there alone, we have contact with these spiritual realities. And therefore, let us close as is our custom by celebrating our union with Him in the Lord's Supper.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams