Ephesians Bible Study ~ Week 3

Tonight was a rich discussion of God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians. How humbling to realize that our salvation allows us to participate in the power of Christ over sin and the powers of the enemy. Can we ever truly comprehend such a mystery?

Ephesians 1:15-2:10

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A.      Thanksgiving, Intercession, and Digression #1

1.       Organization

a.       Normal Greek letter:

Salutation→Prayer→Thanksgiving→Intercession

Ephesians is different:

Salutation→Blessing →Thanksgiving→Intercession

b.       Order of Ephesians is very similar to many Jewish prayers (eg, prayer of Abraham in Jubilees 22 [Jewish pseudepigrapha) and is nearly analogous to II Corinthians 1.

2.       Structure

a.       In Greek, 3 sentences (1:15-23; 2:1-7; 2:8-10)

b.       In terms of subject matter, can be broken up into thanksgiving (1:15-16a), intercession (1:16b-19), and a digression (1:20-2:10). Very similar to I Thessalonians.

  • The digression elaborates points presented in the blessing and intercession. In most Pauline letters this is part of the main body of the letter, but in Ephesians the digressions break up the prayer.

B.      The Text

Salutation (1:1-2)

Prayers: using the language of worship to reinforce Christian identity (1:3-3:21)

Berakah: blessing God for blessings bestowed on believers (1:3-14)

Thanksgiving: thanking God for the readers’ faith and love (1:15-16a)

Intercession: asking God for the readers’ enlightenment, especially that they might know God’s power at work in them (1:16b-19)

Digression 1: God’s power at work in Christ and in Christians (1:20-2:10)

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[15] For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, [16] I do not cease to give thanks for you,

Thanksgiving: The thanksgiving portion of the letter begins with the phrase “for this reason,” which refers back to the berakah of 1:3-14 and the description of the many blessings bestowed on believers by God. The phrase also refers forward; as “Paul” continues by elaborating that he has heard about the faith of the readers of the letter as well as their love towards other believers. For this, “Paul” is thankful.

remembering you in my prayers, [17] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, [18] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, [19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

Intercession: The intercession portion begins with the indication that “Paul” has been praying for these believers. Specifically, praying that they would be enlightened by God.

Talbert points out that the wording of v. 17b-18a sounds very similar to the following text from the Dead Sea Scrolls: “May he illuminate your heart with the discernment of life and grace you with eternal knowledge” (IQS II, 3).

It is hoped that this enlightenment will allow the Gentile believers to experience 3 things:

1) “the hope to which he has called you” meaning their salvation (cf 2:12 where we are told that Gentiles formerly had no hope, and 4:4 where we are told that there is one hope of their calling);

2) “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” meaning their membership among God’s inheritance, which is His people (cf 2:19 where the Gentiles are referred to as fellow citizens, 3:6 where they are referred to fellow heirs, and Paul’s conversion is Acts 26:18); and

3) “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” meaning the power of God and Christ that is at work in all believers. (This exact nature of this power is elaborated upon in the next section of verses.)

[20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, [21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. [22] And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Digression 1: At this point, “Paul” interrupts his prayer for the Gentile believers with the first of 2 digressions.

The first part of the first digression continues the 3rd hope for Gentile enlightenment in v. 19 by elaborating on the greatness of God’s power. This power is at work in Christ (1:20-23) and at work in Christians (2:1-10).

The power of God at work in Christ raised him from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God in the heavenlies. (cf Psalm 110:1) This act placed Christ above all other powers, both natural and supernatural. These other powers are rule (archēs), authority (exousias), power (dynameōs), and dominion (or sovereignty, kyriotētos). (cf I Cor 15:24; Col 1:16)

There will never be another with greater authority or a greater name, and his authority will never end. All things are under his feet (cf Psalm 8:6) and he is head over all things for the church (or the universal church, ekklēsia), which is his body.

We (the church) are his fullness because he first fills us. (cf Col 2:9-10)

[Ch 2 v. 1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – [3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – [6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

What was our existence like before Christ? Note that “you” in v. 1 is plural and refers to Gentiles. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were conformed only to the world and could not avoid following Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air and the spirit (pneuma) at work in the sons of disobedience (or obstinance, rebellion, disbelief, apeitheia – the source of our English word “apathy”).

But the Gentiles were not alone in their plight. Note that “we” in v. 3 refers to the group to which “Paul” belongs – Jews. Jews who did not yet know Christ also lived according to the desires of the flesh and were by nature children of wrath (or desire, violent passion, orgē – the source or our English word “orgy”) like the rest of us.

The power of God at work in Christians has saved both Jew and Gentile by making us alive together with Christ. God’s mercy, love, and grace saved us from the literal and figurative death of our sin and raised us instead to new life. In this new life we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies so that we will be living examples of God’s immeasurable grace and kindness.

Talbert emphasizes that the theology of Ephesians does not indicate that this raising and seating of believers is a literal bodily transportation to heaven. In Talbert’s view, Ephesians is speaking of believers who are still physically alive and on earth, but who are spiritually reigning with Christ over sin and the powers of Satan. In Talbert’s words, “Believers…are alive upon the earth and alive in the heavenlies at the same time…It is, moreover, their participation in the heavenlies in dependence on Christ that enables them to resist the evil powers that impinge upon humans on earth.” (Talbert, p. 61) In this way, Christians partake in the resurrection power of Christ.

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Christians have been saved by grace (charis) through faith (pistis). In other words, God’s grace enabled our salvation and our faith in Christ was the vehicle for our salvation. Talbert puts it another way, “The content of God’s charis is salvation.” (Talbert, p. 67) And not only is faith the vehicle of our salvation, but it is also our response to our salvation. While our faith that led to our salvation was a single event, our response of faith to our salvation is a life-long process.

God’s divine influence on our heart is his gift to us and has nothing to do with our own merit or worthiness. Note that the word “gift” (or offering, specifically a sacrifice, dōron) used in v. 8 is the only use of this word in the entire Pauline corpus. In the ancient world of sacrificial cults, it was possible for humans to gain the favor of the gods through their works. Ephesians is clearly rejecting this notion.

The result of God’s generous salvation is a people who are his workmanship (or product, fabric [literally or figuratively], poiēma). We are knitted together both within ourselves and with each other in Christ Jesus with the purpose of performing the good works that God has predestined for us in this life.

C.      The Major Issues

1.       Opposing spiritual powers

a.      “The earth below and heavens above”

  • Ephesians depicts the heavenlies as the realm of God and Christ (1:3, 20; 2:6) that is far above the realm of hostile spiritual powers (1:20-21). Humans are directly affected by the spiritual powers in the heavenlies – either God (1:19; 3:20) or the “prince of the power of the air” (2:2). Ephesians indicates that evil powers are behind human sin (2:1-2; 4:27).
  • Ancient Jewish and early Christian cultures held to the belief of multiple heavens. Mormons still hold to this belief today. Multiple heavens are mentioned in various ancient Jewish and Christian texts (Testament of Levi, 1 and 2 Enoch, and Ascension of Isaiah).
  • In Ephesians, believers in Christ are “raised up” and seated with Christ “in the heavenly places” to share in Christ’s transcendence over sin and death. Talbert says, “Now that believers are seated in the heavenlies in dependence on Christ, it is possible not to sin.” (Talbert, p. 72)

2.       Participation with Christ

a. The view of Ephesians

  • Believers do not “participate” in the death of Christ – Christ alone dies; no reference is made to Christians dying.

Christ’s death was strictly for believers by redeeming us through his blood (1:7), bringing us near by the blood of Christ (2:13) and reconciling us to God through the cross (2:16).

Christ’s death provides Christians with a model for life: walking in love as Christ loved us (5:2), husbands loving wives as Christ loved the church (5:25).

  • That raising and exaltation of Christ are shared experiences in which Christians participate (1: 20-22; 2:5-6)

Homework for Week 4:

Read Ephesians 2:11-22 and consider the following questions:

  • Ephesians 2:16 tells us that Christ has reconciled both Jew and Gentile “in one body” to God. What do you envision as the body of Christ? Who makes up this “body”?
  • How do we further unity in the body of Christ as individuals? As a church congregation?
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