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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Grace and Peace to you!
Text:Ephesians 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 34:1,4                                                                                            

Ps 97:3,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Acts 19:1-20; Ephesians 1

Ps 125:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Ephesians 1:1-2

Hy 82:1,2

Hy 52:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, imagine for a moment that you’re the apostle Paul. You’re somewhere in the regions of the Roman Empire, busy spreading the gospel: preaching every day, teaching, baptizing. It’s beautiful work, but the problem is, you’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years and you’ve left behind you a long trail of dozens of churches. Some in Greece, others in Macedonia, and Palestine, and who-knows-where-else. And every one of these new congregations need care and support. Some have leadership struggles, others are dealing with false teaching, still others are getting sucked back into worldliness. Other churches seem to be doing OK, but still need to be built up in the faith.

What would you do, if you were Paul? You could drop in and visit the churches, of course. Transportation around the Mediterranean is pretty good, but it all takes time. And the winter months are a bad time for sailing—you’ve learned that from a couple shipwrecks. It’s also hard to travel if you’re in jail, like Paul was more than once.

So how would you pastor all these churches? How could you keep bringing Christ’s Word to his people, scattered far and wide? Supposing you were Paul, and it was the first century (not the 21st), you’d probably sit down and write a letter. You’d write many letters! That’s what makes up a good portion of the New Testament, the letters of the apostles, which were often written to address churches in their local situations. From Paul’s hand we have thirteen such letters, and he wrote at least a few more that are not preserved in Scripture.

Today we open our Bibles to the letter to the Ephesians. This majestic letter has been called “the Queen of the Epistles,” because it provides such a clear and powerful account of our redemption through the Triune God. The first half of Ephesians (chapters 1-3) is a lesson on the teachings of salvation through Christ; the second half (chapters 4-6) explains how the gospel gets worked out in Christ’s people, the church. First doctrine, then lifestyle—and as always, the two are tightly linked. Faith bears fruit; a creed must produce deeds. Focusing on the letter’s first two verses, this is our theme,

            God greets his church with grace and peace in Christ Jesus:

                        1) his appointed messenger

                        2) his holy people

                        3) his precious gift

 

1) his appointed messenger: If you take a quick glance at the New Testament letters, you’ll notice that almost all of them begin in a similar way. Ephesians is a classic example: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ… To the saints who are in Ephesus… Grace to you and peace.” This was the basic format for letters in the Roman world—secular letters too, like when a government official would send a message to one of his subordinates in the city down the road. In a typical letter, you would first state your name, the name of your recipients, offer greetings, and then get into the substance of your message.

We see Paul using this familiar format, but this is more than just an address label. This is Scripture, so we need to read carefully. We begin with how Paul introduces himself, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (1:2).

Already there’s something different here, because in most of Paul’s letters, he signs not only his own name, but includes other people too: Silas, Timothy, Sosthenes… Or in Galatians, “Paul…and all the brothers who are with me” (1:2). Paul was conscious of the fact that a servant in the church never works alone, but in communion with others, dependent on their support and prayers. But at this time, Paul was on his own.

Let’s recall who this man was. He was formerly known as Saul, and he was from the tribe of Benjamin—just like Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul was a highly-educated Pharisee, and one who was so zealous for the law that he tried to destroy the church of Christ, because he saw it as a threat to true religion. There was a time in Saul’s life when he devoted himself to pursuing the followers of Jesus, even witnessing them put to death. 

But God had other plans for Saul. He broke into his life in a dramatic way on the road to Damascus, when Saul had a vision of the resurrected Christ. This changed everything for Saul, who began to turn his passion and knowledge toward a new purpose, preaching the gospel of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Sometime during his first missionary journey, he changed his name from Saul to Paul—a name that was more Greek, and one that might’ve commemorated his first Gentile convert, Sergius Paulus.

Paul’s preaching took him everywhere, we said, and it even landed him in prison. It’s good for us to know that Ephesians was actually written while he was in jail. If you look ahead to 3:1, you’ll see that Paul refers to himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus,” and again in 6:20, “an ambassador in chains.” We don’t know for sure where Paul was being imprisoned: perhaps in Caesarea (where he was locked up for two years), or in Rome. But his chains could not restrict his love for God’s people.

In opening this letter, Paul wants to establish his credentials. And he begins with the only two claims that he had: he was an apostle, and he was such “by the will of God” (1:1). What did it mean that Paul was an apostle? The word is used in different ways in the New Testament; in the four Gospels, it refers to the twelve men who accompanied the Lord Jesus during his earthly ministry and witnessed the events of his life, death and resurrection. Later on, “apostle” comes to refer to a larger group, one that includes Paul, Barnabas, James, and Apollos; these were men who were given a unique authority for establishing the church.

The word “apostle” comes from the Greek verb which means “to send out.” So an apostle is kind of like an ambassador or emissary, someone sent out to represent the interests of his country in another land. This is essentially what Paul had to do as an apostle: he was an authorized representative of Christ, one sent to teach not his own opinions, but to share the very words of God, the gospel of salvation. His mission began years before on the Damascus road, when Jesus sent him to go and preach to the Gentiles.

For Paul, this was his identity, “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” This identity was a deep privilege—it’s an honour to be in service of the great King!—but it was also a heavy obligation. Because he had been sent by the Lord Jesus, his life was no longer his own. This is why in another place Paul describes himself as a bondservant: someone under the compulsion of service. Paul couldn’t do whatever he liked, but in everything he had to be driven by this one rule: What does the Lord call him to do? What does Christ want him to say?

We’re not apostles. Yet there’s a real parallel from Paul’s position to our own. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called. We are appointed to a task. In whatever position of life we occupy, we need to see ourselves as members of the task force of the Lord Jesus—you’re a man with a mission, a woman with a mission. That’s our deep privilege, and serious obligation. Everything in our life must be shaped by our glad submission to Christ. What is Christ’s will for our home? For our relationships? For our life together as congregation?

It’s easy for us to do Christian things that agree with our character. It’s easy to do things that don’t threaten our comfort level. We prefer the kind of Christian service that allows us to maintain our present standard of living—but a servant of Christ is willing to sacrifice, willing to do hard things, to spend and be spent for the Lord.

Paul was an apostle, he also says, “by the will of God” (1:1). Paul had a deep awareness that his entire life was directed by God. It wasn’t an accident that Saul had once been trained as a Pharisee, that he lived in Jerusalem while the church was first growing, or that one day he set out for Damascus. It was the will of God. You might’ve noticed how this phrase “the will of God” occurs four times in the next half chapter, as Paul talks about God’s saving plan and his electing grace. It’s all “according to the counsel of his will” (1:11).

Paul sees that even his ministry has its place in the gracious plan of God, a plan put together before the foundation of the world. And he says this in amazement, that God chose a man like him to do his work. Elsewhere Paul speaks about the incredible grace shown to him, the greatest of sinners. “For I am the least of the apostles,” he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, “who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” It was all by God’s will, all by God’s grace.

Once more, these are words that we can echo. Our life today is unfolding according to the Lord’s wise counsel, every event and every circumstance “by the will of God.” God’s plan for us is something much larger and more complete than the individual dates and appointments in our dayplanners. From where we sit, we don’t see that overarching plan—just as Paul didn’t—yet we can have the conviction that God is governing all things wisely, that God is moving us to exactly where we need to be. No accidents, no randomness, no loose ends—but there is purpose. We are here, and we belong to Christ, “by the will of God.”

 

2) his holy people: The next part of the letter’s introduction is the address line, “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). Who were these people? First of all, they lived in Ephesus. If we wanted to make a list of the top five cities in the New Testament, Ephesus would definitely get onto the list. Not just because of its size—perhaps the fourth largest city in the empire—and not just because of its economic importance, but because for a long time it was a focus for the apostles’ work.

Decades earlier, the Lord Jesus had established a church there. He did so through Aquila and Priscilla, who were the first to bring the gospel to Ephesus. Later, Paul visited Ephesus for almost two years during his second missionary journey—by his standards, that was a long time.

The city itself, we said, was of top rank. It had a favourable location at the mouth of a river, and stood at the crossroads of three trade routes. It was also known as a centre of science and art and theatre. Yet for all of its comforts and fascinations, Ephesus was also a dangerous place. Not unlike the city of Perth, or Sydney, or New York: Ephesus was a comfortable place to reside, and to earn a good living, yet for a believer wanting to be faithful to Christ there were some real hazards.

In the first place, Ephesus was a completely pagan city. This was hardly unusual during that time, for the worship of idols was widespread throughout the empire. But in the idolatry department too, Ephesus was renown. It used to have a massive temple dedicated to Artemis (or Diana), the goddess of fertility; her grand temple was one of the seven wonders of the world!

Besides paganism, Ephesus had a culture of the occult and magic arts. In Acts 19 we read how God worked a change among many people, and in coming to Christ they rejected these practices, even burning their expensive manuals of magic.

 All of that was some years ago. And now when Paul writes to the Ephesians, there actually doesn’t seem to be any major issues or problems going on: there were no heresies (like the Colossians were dealing with), and no conflicts (like the ones in Corinth). This is unusual—in fact, it makes this letter far more impersonal than the others. He just says very generally in 1:15, “I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.” In other letters too, Paul usually greets all kinds of people by name, but there’s none of that here.

It’s hard to know why this is. Some explainers suggest that Ephesians was something like a circular letter, one intended to be read in a number of churches, not just in Ephesus. To make it relevant to many, Paul doesn’t refer to their local situation but keeps it general.

Something else noteworthy about this letter is how similar it is to Colossians. If you compare the letters, you’ll notice that they’re quite alike; in fact, in the two letters 55 verses are almost exactly the same. It could be that Paul wrote to the Ephesians immediately after writing to the Colossians—copy/paste/edit—wanting to share the same message with both churches.

What we do know for sure is that there was a church at Ephesus, made of some Jews and many Gentiles. In verse 1 Paul calls them “saints.” Don’t picture people with haloes—that word describes people who are consecrated, set apart for the service of God. It’s a word with Old Testament roots, like when God calls the people of Israel his “holy nation” (Exod 19:6). We are holy, not because we are very pious, nor because we’ve done so much for God, but we are holy because of what God has done for us, and in us. A couple verses later Paul says that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy” (1:4). It’s God’s choosing, and his transforming, that turn us into saints and servants.

“You are saints,” Paul says, and “faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). When we hear that word “faithful,” we think about showing devotion and loyalty, but here it probably means that the Ephesians are people of faith. That’s the critical question of our life, after all: Do we believe? Have we put our faith in God?

And now notice in what sense we have faith, “in Christ Jesus.” This is easily the apostle Paul’s favourite phrase in all his letters: “in Christ.” In the next fourteen verses he will use it eleven times. It’s a special term for the closeness of our relationship and unity with the Lord Jesus. We’re not just believers in Christ, but we are “believers who are in Christ.”

The reason this is such a special phrase is that it refers to our status and position before God. It expresses that our very life is in Christ. If you are “in Christ,” then everything that is Christ’s is yours. By faith you have been joined to him, so his righteousness is your righteousness, his holiness is your holiness. For sinners who used to have nothing, who used to be nothing, who once were “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1), this is an immeasurably rich gift. All our needs are satisfied in him, all our emptiness filled. If we have Christ, we have all.

So see again how Paul addresses these believers. The recipients of this letter are in Ephesus, and they are in Christ. And that second bit is the essential part. The secret of our peace is that wherever we are, we are in Christ. We can move far away, we can feel like we’ve sunk into the deepest pit, we can be near to death, but we are still in Christ.

Think of the beautiful Christian hymn, “In Christ Alone:” “No guilt in life/ No fear in death/ This is the power of Christ in me/ From life’s first cry to final breath/ Jesus commands my destiny.” How much our outlook on this life can change when we consider this truth more often and reflect on it again and again: “I am in Christ.”

 

3) his precious gift: We’ve spent twenty minutes or so on the first verse of this letter, so we better move on. Verse 2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Once again, Paul takes the standard letter formula, and he sanctifies it. The normal greeting in those times, even among unbelievers, was something like our word “grace”—basically a wish for someone to be happy and well. Paul takes that and expands it into a prayer. He uses a similar word that describes God’s attitude of love toward us.

“Grace” is a gift, but this is not the kind of gift that you can go to the shop and acquire for yourself if you didn’t get it for your birthday. This gift was impossible for us to get, inaccessible and out of reach. It is God’s unmerited favour, something that Paul will say much about in coming chapters, like in 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Paul then adds to the normal Greek salutation, “grace to you… and peace.” This was the traditional Hebrew greeting; Jews would say “shalom” to each other in order to wish God’s blessing on them. This peace describes wholeness, completeness—when all things are as they should be, well-being not just in body, but in mind and in spirit.

And this state of being sound and whole can come only from God the Father “and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Take a moment to notice how even in these first two verses, Paul keeps mentioning Christ: he is an apostle “of Jesus Christ” (1:1), the saints are “faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1), and now grace and peace come through “the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). This foreshadows a key thought in Ephesians, that Christ is the centre in whom all things unite, He is “the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building… grows into a holy temple” (2:20-21).

So the way that peace is possible is through Christ; says Paul in 2:14, “He himself is our peace.” This is so needed, because in this world there is much conflict—constant war. For instance, there is sharp conflict among people: in Paul’s time, Jews and Gentiles were divided by jagged barriers of hatred; in our own time, even within the church, there can be hostility between people, resentment and anger. No peace.

What’s true among people is also true within human nature, because within us there is a tension. Inside us there is a battle between sin and holiness, between light and darkness. Every person a walking civil war. Daily we wrestle with the power of temptation, and without Christ and his Spirit, we will not know peace.

Later in Ephesians, Paul will speak about how this battle even extends to the heavenly places. There is warfare right now between the powers of evil and the powers of good, between holy angels and evil spirits, those “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). And each of us is caught up in this cosmic battle.

And worst of all, there is discord between God and mankind. He designed us for a good relationship with him, but by sin we have been estranged from him, separated from the God of our life. Still today, we rebel against him, and consequently we deserve his punishment. There is no rest—no peace—for the wicked.

In a world without Christ, there is nothing but disunity and conflict. But because God is God, it’s not his will to leave it this way. God graciously resolves all this disharmony through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ. He reconciles us, Paul says in chapter 2, “putting to death the enmity” (v 16). God creates peace between us and him, bringing us near, making us his children.

Through Christ, God also creates peace between us and others. This second aspect of peace comes out repeatedly in Ephesians, which has much to say about the church. It’s within the church that the walls of division are torn down. The church is the one place in the world where Jew and Gentile can meet, the one place where enemies can be joined as friends, where conflict can be put aside and true peace enjoyed.

And so right at the outset of his letter, the Spirit greets us with two profound terms of gospel truth: “grace and peace.” He calls you to let this gift transform your life. Depend on God’s abounding grace in Christ Jesus, a grace that is sufficient for each day. Strive to live at peace with everyone, in the power of God’s love.

God knows that we’ve already received these gifts from him. It’s his desire that these twin blessings may now be experienced in greater measure, in deeper truth and with a more lasting effect: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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