Greetings in Stereo
Years ago, an immigrant from Europe was very new to the US and did not understand how everything worked. Most of us have found ourselves in a new location, new job or some other new experience where we did not know quite what to do, can appreciate his story. This particular man had a problem with the railroad. He was seen walking down the tracks in New Jersey and one day, carrying his luggage with him. An agent who saw him stopped him with threats of arrest if he didn’t cease his trespassing. Hearing the threat, the man pulled out a perfectly valid ticket from New Jersey to Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was astounded to learn that the ticket privileged him to ride a train – not merely walk along the right of way of the tracks.
Now, that’s a simple story, folks, but in many ways it is representative of the message of the book of Ephesians. You see this marvelous book was written to insure that we are not just walking along the tracks in our Christians experience but are riding the train to glory land! We are about to embark on a stupendous journey that I promise will open up new vistas of Christian experience for even the most mature among us. Let us hope and pray together all through this study that by the time we are done, each of us will be fully aboard, each enjoying fully the privileges that are ours as a child of God and each living a more full and satisfying life than we ever thought possible.
Let me make a few introductory comments and then we want to consider the first two verses today. Those verses are Paul’s salutation, but even they contain nuggets worth digging for.
Unlike virtually all of the other NT epistles, the letter to the Ephesians was not written to address any specific problem. Rather in this epistle the Apostle Paul was at pains to paint the big picture, to depict for all time what God’s wonderful intention for those who know and love Him.
At the time Paul wrote this letter, he had the luxury of time for rather than running all over the known world as he had been doing for the past 20 plus years, he was in prison in Rome. It was the early 60’s AD. Paul was likely under house arrest at this time awaiting an appeal to Caesar which was his right as a Roman citizen. While waiting, he conversed with faithful companions and received news from some of the places where he had ministered. He also dictated the letters which have come to be known as the prison epistles – Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians and Philemon. Each is a thoughtful expression of the greatness of the Lord Paul served and of his relevance to everyday life. Joy and gratitude permeate these letter even though written from jail, giving vast credibility to the message of the Apostle. Paul was very likely released from this imprisonment, but within a couple of years he was again imprisoned and this time executed at the command of an increasingly licentious emperor, Nero, when he needed a scapegoat for the Roman fire of 64 AD – a fire probably started by Nero himself to clear land for a grand palace – but for which he ordered the brutal execution of many Christians (probably including both Peter and Paul) to divert attention away from himself.
Paul first came to Ephesus near the end of his second missionary journey in the Fall of 52 AD. He came from Corinth in the company of Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tent-makers turned evangelists. Paul ministered briefly in the synagogue at Ephesus before going on to Jerusalem, but he left Aquila and Priscilla, who taught the novice Apollos while there. Paul returned a year later and spent 2-1/2 years, more than at any other place in his ministry – finally leaving in 56 AD. The church he left behind became one of the great churches of the first century. It was dominated by Gentile believers, who exhibited an occasional tendency to look down on their Jewish brethren.
The theme of the book is God’s plan to ultimately “sum up” or “unify” all things in Christ as we have seen, but particular emphasis is given to the role of the church in this activity and plan of God. The book is easily divisible into two main parts – the first three chapters are a magnificent doctrinal treatise on the church, then chapters 4-6 make practical application of that message. The two parts have variously been called a presentation of believers’ position in Christ followed by a definition of what their practice should be like. Others have termed the parts our calling and our conduct. By whatever terms, the book demonstrates in a very practical way how great doctrine should have practical effect in lives and how well-lived lives will have a basis in doctrinal teaching.
With that very brief introduction, let’s begin to look at how Paul addresses his letter. It follows exactly the normal means by which letters were addressed at that time, but in this case, very practical implications for the living of a content Christian life are evident. Further, each part of his address has a dual element, hence the title, “An Introduction in Stereo.” I think you’ll see the beauty of expression as we go.
I. Dual Name of Writer
Paul’s introduction is typical of the time in which he lived. He includes the name of the writer, the readers and a greeting. Now as you will note, only one name for the writer is listed here. He is called Paul, which means “small”. But that was not the name he was given at birth. Paul’s birth name was Saul, as most of you will recall from your studies in Acts. According to Philippians 3:5 he was of the tribe of Benjamin, and the tallest, vainest and most famous of the tribe of Benjamin was none other than King Saul – the first king of Israel. Now I must admit a prejudice here, but had I been naming a son after a famous Israeli king, I think I would have chosen David, wouldn’t you? I’d have chosen David who was so clearly a man after God’s own heart. But Paul’s parents chose Saul – I suspect in honor of the fact that he was first and they wanted their son to be first – to have ambition.
Clearly if that was their intent, they succeeded, for Paul was the image of ambition. Listen to the list of his accomplishments given in Philippians 3: 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Listen – in his youth and early manhood, Paul was a proud and accomplished man, and he had every right to be according to the measure of his society. He was Saul!
But you will recall, as Saul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to run down and persecute more of those new Christians such was his ambition, it took a single moment in time for the Lord to stop Saul in his tracks, knock him on his backside, blind him and a different man emerged. Listen to the account from Acts 9: 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing.
Now I want to tell you, though Saul saw nothing, yet Saul saw everything; he saw reality, Beloved, for he saw the Lord. I know that because of his reaction here. This ambitious, proud, confident, verbose, emotional man on a mission went in a single moment from hardnosed, focused campaigner to a whimpering, humbled shell of himself who could only utter, “Who are you, Lord?” There was no argument, no complaint, no defense, not a single attempt to justify himself, just a simple compliant recognition that he was face-to-face with someone he called “Lord” – don’t you find that interesting? His submission was immediate and total – so total that a very short time later – sometime after the three days when he received his sight again, he began to go by Paul – “small” -- rather than Saul. And though the Lord honored him with great suffering as well as great exaltation in the remainder of his life, his name was a constant reminder that he was now Paul – small – no longer strong in his own might, but a submissive servant of one who was so much greater.
I cannot leave this without wondering – have you encountered Christ as Paul did? I’m not suggesting that we all will be stopped in our tracks by a bright light shining out of heaven sent to bring us to our senses, but you see this instance is recorded in Scripture so that we all get the point that what Paul experienced in person, we must all experience by faith if we are really to be a child of God. It is very easy to be as Paul was – to be living a life that we believe to be honorable, recognized, ambitious, successful from the world’s perspective, but the question is, have you met Christ? The question isn’t do you have wealth, or fame, or position or success – the question always is, what have you done with Christ? Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. And you see, that is exactly what Saul did on that road to Damascus.
His life took a whole new direction and focus as he says in II Cor. 4: 7) But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. If you check out the context in II Corinthians, you’ll see that the treasure he is speaking of is the gospel message and that the jars of clay are our earthly bodies. Paul got it. His life was about small Paul having the wonderful privilege of representing Christ on earth. Saul had been cut down to size and his smallness became a medium for God’s biggness; his weakness a channel for God’s power.
II. Dual Source of Authority
The second thing we find in Paul’s greeting is a dual source of authority. Look at verse 1 with me: 1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: This is really quite an interesting designation. Paul identifies himself as an apostle (a representative) of Christ Jesus, but notes further that this is at the behest of God himself. Those are his two points of authority. In this brief statement he is noting both his commission to represent the very earthly Jesus whom he originally hated and persecuted as well as his selection by the heavenly father. This close connection between heaven and earth, stated directly and by implication, is everywhere evident in the book of Ephesians and is a constant reminder of how close heaven really is (I believe both physically and certainly spiritually), though we often wrongly think of it as so distant.
Now, let’s take the phrase apart. First we note that Paul is an apostle. The word apostle literally means a sent one and was used to speak of one specifically empowered to represent another and to deliver a message in his behalf. He is a designated representative.
The word apostle is used in a couple of ways in the New Testament. It is sometimes used in a general sense to designate missionaries who went out as representatives of some local church to start other churches. However, more often the term was assigned a very specific and precise definition referring to those who had been commissioned by Christ personally and face-to-face to carry on the establishment of His Church (capital “C”). In this usage the term takes on the attributes of an office, and in this sense it is applied to the Twelve apostles who ministered with Jesus during his earthly ministry and later to Paul.
To qualify as an apostle, one had to have seen Christ (as shown by Paul’s claim to the office despite being one “untimely born” [I Cor 15:8] to whom the Lord had appeared apart from his earthly ministry on the road to Damascus), to have been commissioned by Christ, and to have demonstrated the apostolic gifts of teaching and miracles. Such evidences credibly authenticated the ministry of these individuals. You will recall that after the defection and death of Judas, the remaining apostles selected another who met those requirements and later Christ specifically designated Paul as we have noted.
The apostolic duties were to preach the gospel as noted in many passages such as I Corinthians 1:17, to teach and pray, as found in Acts 6:4; to work miracles (II Cor. 12:12), to build up other leaders of the church and plant churches (Acts 14:23) and to write the Word of God as we see in Ephesians. Paul was faithful to each of these.
Now the two words that designate his authority are quite interesting. He is first of all an apostle “of Christ Jesus.” The grammar used here indicates ownership (possessive genitive), thus Paul saw himself as literally owned by Christ and sent forth to represent Him on his missions. I think it is very interesting that Paul doesn’t just say Jesus, or even Jesus Christ, but he says Christ Jesus. The significance of this is that while the “Jesus” is merely the earthly name of the Son of God, “Christ” is his title. That term indicates his messiahship and authority. In his phrasing, Paul is giving tacit recognition to the fact that the very one he had been so anxious to persecute was in fact the promised Messiah of old. Thus, he now considers himself literally “owned” by Christ Jesus. This immediately puts us in mind of I Cor 6:20: 20) for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. Paul clearly saw this as a tight bond and far from feeling compelled, he reveled in that relationship.
But he takes it even further when he notes that he is not only a commissioned representative of Jesus Christ, but it is all done by the will of God. It is not something that he chose at all. It was not an office that came to him by virtue of his prodigious education or his lofty position in Jewish circles or his success in business. It was not that unfettered ambition nor anything other than the will of God which had resulted in his being an apostle. He was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and he was exceptionally glad of that fact as will be seen in the verses to come.
But do you want to know something very special. It’s not just Paul that had an office and a mission and an assignment that gave him great joy. The same is true of everyone of us who is part of this great Universal Church that Paul is going to talk about. At least it should be true of each of us. Turn with me to I Corinthians 12:11. After mentioning various special spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to believers, Paul says, 11) All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. In other words, folks, it isn’t just Paul who under ownership of Christ Jesus and by the will of God is given a special gift to use in ministry. This is true of every single believer. Apostleship was only one of many gifts that are mentioned in Scripture, including those which are more showy, such as teaching and pastoring, to those that are behind the scenes, including gifts of helps and administration.
Paul was never able to get over the fact that even though he saw himself as small Paul, he had a task that had been ordained by the will of God, and folks, so do each one of us. Paul knew the truth of Philippians 2:13: 13) for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Isn’t that a wonderful statement? God not only gifts us in special way, but He gives us specific tasks to do that will utilize His gifts to us and finally he insures that we will take pleasure in doing his pleasure. How much better can it get? God has some task for which He has gifted you and me that will give us great pleasure. So many times we have been sold on the idea that God wants to take us and give us the most despicable job thinkable when that is the opposite of the truth.
I never have any hesitation to ask people to consider what they should be doing by way of service for God. Why? Because I know that if they get in the right place, it will only bring joy to their lives. What’s the alternative? Spend all of our time working for things in this life? I know there are necessities, but if we are not careful we will end up like the fellow in this poem:
He always said he would retire,
When he had made a million clear,
And so he toiled into the dusk,
From day to day, from year to year!
At last he put his ledgers up,
And laid his stock reports aside,
And when he started out to live,
He found he had already died!
Dear people, let’s work for what is of eternal value, shouldn’t we? Jesus himself sets our priorities. Remember what he said in Matthew 6:33: 33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
I can guarantee you that if you put the Lord’s work first you will not be disappointed; you will have no regrets; you will not be left asking, why? Of course, it will be hard at times. Of course, you will face discouragement. But you will also have great joy because that’s the promise of God.
I can equally promise you that if you put this world first you will ultimately be disappointed regardless of whether you find success or not. The late Robert Horton, a 16th century English rector, had it right when he said the greatest lesson he learned from life was that people who set their minds and hearts on money are equally disappointed whether they get it or whether they don’t.
Every believer has been called by God and gifted for some work of service that will bring him or her great joy and eternal reward. So my question to you today is, can you honestly say that you are using God’s gifts in your life in His service? Do you need help to find where you belong? Then start praying, start experimenting and begin to see God’s plan. Paul didn’t enjoy immediate success either. They Lord took him through at least three years of preparation and discovery time before he unleashed him. But just as surely as Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, you and I are equally called in Christ Jesus by the will of God for His service. Believe it and do it.
III. Dual Designation of Believers
Now that we have examined the writer of Ephesians, let’s look again at verse 1 to see the dual designation of the recipients. 1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
I suppose our first reaction might be, “So Paul is writing to the saints in Ephesus. Must be a pretty small crowd. Sure would be in Los Angeles, at least, huh?!” I mean, how many people do you know that you would call saints? Probably could count them on one hand.
So, who exactly are these saints? Well, we get our first hint by noticing that they are also designated “faithful in Christ Jesus.” The ESV translation does an excellent job here of representing a Greek construction that makes clear that “saints” and “faithful” are referring to the same group of people as opposed to two distinct groups. So, if we can identify one, we have both.
The word “faithful” is actually a word that could be translated “faithful” as it is here – or it could be translated “believers.” It is the noun form of the Greek word for believe and literally means “believing ones.” Clearly Paul’s reference here is to all believers in Christ who are living in Ephesus.
The question that remains, then, is why did he also call these believers “saints”? To answer that we must look more closely at the word Paul uses. The word “saint” is the Greek word αγιος. We get our word “holy” from that root. In its verb form it means “to set apart”. It was used by the Greeks for anything which was used in religious worship. Even such insignificant things as pots and pans in the tabernacle were called “holy vessels.” Those items were no doubt beaten and battered from desert travel in the case of the ancient Israelites, and yet because they were set apart for God’s use, they were called “holy.” Of course, the word came to have the sacred overtones that we give it today as applied to certain honored people and even angels in the OT. So for Paul to come along and apply this word to pagan Greeks, even though they had embraced the gospel of Christ was mind-boggling to those with a Jewish background. You mean to tell me those dock-working, former temple-prostitute visiting Greeks who hardly know what the Torah is, let alone what is in it are saints? Yes, they are, Paul would say, just as much as any of us, just as much as any believer.
Obviously the word is not used here in the connotation that it has come to have of someone who lives a perfect or near perfect life. It is used here as someone who has taken up his cross to follow Jesus and is therefore separated unto God. Perfect? Hardly. On his or her way to perfect? Definitely? Perfect in their standing with God? Yes a thousand times. Why? Because they are believers in Christ Jesus. It’s not their own righteousness that gives them this standing but that of Christ.
Those called saints in Scripture have no inherent or intrinsic holiness in themselves. Throughout the NT Paul addresses groups of believers as saints in his greetings and then proceeds to identify sins ranging from minor squabbles to incest that are being practiced among them. Saints aren’t perfect. But they are set apart and God is at work in them in a unique way. And if you’re a believer today, you’re a saint! You may not look like it and you may not always act like it, and you may not think of yourself in those terms, but you are! I love how the dear old radio preacher J. Vernon McGee puts it: “There are only two kinds of people today: the saints and the ain’ts. If you are a saint, then you are not an ain’t. If you ain’t an ain’t, then you are a saint.”
The Bible presents this truth in this way. When we come to Christ, we are set apart positionally. Our position in Christ is one of perfection. In our experience now we are not perfect, but we are moving in that direction. Here’s a fellow, a young man, and he’s just graduated from high school. In the exuberance of youth, his greatest desire is to see the world. He is just naïve enough that he believes everything he reads, so when he sees a sign that says “See the World, Join the Navy,” he says, “That’s for me.” He heads for the recruiting office and the next thing you know he’s a sailor.
Well, at least he has a uniform and a hat. The truth is when he actually gets on that ship heading out to sea he experiences certain difficulties. He finds that he has difficulty walking and he’s constantly grasping something to hang on to. He’s supposed to be able to climb the ropes. He can’t get more than half way. And the ship isn’t more than three miles out to sea before he is in his bunk deathly sick. He’s a sailor all right, but he doesn’t act much like one. Not just yet. It’ll take awhile before he is properly trained. Now if we see that same fellow six months later and he is still acting the same way, we’ll probably question whether he is a sailor at all because the navy has ways of getting him trained. In a certain sense, that is the way it is with a Christian. He or she is a saint, but it will take some training to bring us to the place where we look like one. If you want to know if you are really a saint, the question isn’t are you perfect. The question is, are you turned in the right direction and are you making progress. If you are really “in Christ” you most certainly will be, slow though it may be.
So, first they are designated as saints. But second they are designated as “in Ephesus.” Now I think it is interesting that this is written to the saints in Ephesus. Some early manuscripts do not have the words “in Ephesus.” That has caused some to question whether Ephesus was the real destination for this letter. Supporting this is the fact that almost no personal reference to people are made in this letter although Paul had been there for more nearly three years. Therefore, some feel that this was a circular letter intended for many churches and that the name was written in as it or copies of it went to various churches. However, there is strong evidence, both internally and externally that it was sent to Ephesus even though it probably did get passed around as Paul instructed should be the case with the letter that he sent to the Colossians at about the same time. Either is possible, but I believe the latter view is probably correct. In any case, there is no doubt that this letter eventually got to Ephesus and received its greatest hearing there.
Ephesus was one of the three great Mediterranean cities, along with Antioch on the Orontes and Alexandria on the African coast. It was the fourth largest city in the Roman empire and was the capital of Asia. The Cayster River drained into the Aegean at Ephesus and there was a large harbor there which wealthy patrons paid a great deal of money to keep dredged of silt deposits. Today, the location of the city is about 30 miles inland, the result of deposits which eventually ruined the city as a seaport when they could no longer be removed.
Ephesus was best known in the world of Paul as the center of the cult of the goddess Artemis, as she is known in Greek, or Diana, her Roman name. As worshipped in Ephesus during the time of Paul, Diana was the patron of nature and fertility. Some of you may have seen pictures of the goddess who was portrayed with numerous breasts (eggs?) as symbols of fertility, a turret crown, and a long skirt with bands of animals and birds in relief. She is often accompanied by dogs or stags on either side, a tribute to her patronage of nature. A great temple had been built to her in Ephesus as early as 600 B.C., but that one burned on the night Alexander the Great was born in 356 B.C. In about 200 B.C. construction began on a new temple which, when completed more than 200 years later, was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It lasted for more than 500 years and, though outside the city walls, it was the centerpiece of the city when Paul was there.
The temple was built of shining marble which could be seen for miles; 342 feet long by 164 feet broad; (as long as a football field, including both end zones and about half as wide); supported by a forest of columns, each 56 feet high; a sacred museum of masterpieces of sculpture and painting. At the centre, hidden by curtains, within a gorgeous shrine, stood the very ancient image of the goddess, on wood or ebony reputed to have fallen from the sky. Behind the shrine was a treasury, where, in a place known as ‘the safest bank in Asia,’ nations and kings stored their most precious things. Over the years I flew into Los Angeles hundreds of times, often looking straight down on a large building clearly identifiable as the Forum where the Lakers used to play basketball. It always reminded me of the temple in Ephesus with its own colonnades and its own worshippers of sport, though it was nowhere near the size of the one in Ephesus, nor nearly as beautiful.
Ephesus also had its Rodeo Drive, which actually exceeded our shopping centers in beauty. There was a beautifully paved marble road 36 feet wide and a third of a mile long connecting city and harbor. It was called the Arkadiana and had giant columns lining the way on each side behind which were shops selling every kind of goods. And in addition to shopping, there was a 50,000 seat outdoor theater where all kinds of spectacles in keeping with the age were staged including plays, sporting events, and fights between men and wild beasts.
Demon worship was strong in Ephesus and Paul stirred up considerable trouble with the idol makers labor unions as described in Acts 19. So great was the success that attended his ministry there that many gave up their idol worship and there was even concern that he might put Diana out of business!
All in all, it doesn’t sound all that far from our own day, does it? The fact is that people are people and hearts are the same. And just as God wanted to identify and fortify his holy ones in Ephesus, so he wants to do the same in Eaton. We don’t always like this aspect of it, but the truth is, to be set apart carries with it the connotation that we will be different. We’re in the culture and we’re part of the culture, and yet, we’re set apart.
I heard of a fellow once who was paying for gas at a convenience store in north Georgia when he noticed that the clerk looked exhausted. “Rough day?” he asked. “Nothing’s been going right,” she said. “And to top it off, some guy just came in asking directions, and he didn’t speak a word of English.” “What nationality was he?” the traveler asked. “Oh,” she replied, “I think he was British.”
Even speaking the same language, he was set apart. We’re set apart for God, folks. Doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy football games and plays and fairs and cultural events, but it means we’re going to be a little different. It means that we won’t be seeing how exotically we can dress to call attention to ourselves. It means we don’t speak in quite the same language used by some of our friends. It means there are certain activities that we can’t participate in because it would not glorify our Lord. Set apart to be a witness for Him. What a great calling.
IV. Dual Blessings of Believers
Look with me at verses 1-2: 1) Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: 2) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now that we’ve seen the writer and the recipients, look at the dual blessing pronounced by Paul to his readers. Most commentators point out that a form of the word Grace was the commonly used greeting in the Greek culture. And peace (shalom) was the commonly used greeting in the Jewish culture – Shalom, meaning not just peace but prosperity, all good things that make life worthwhile – Shalom.
But while these were common words of greeting, you see, in the hands of God they became so much more. As used by God they have been elevated in the pantheon of human expression to a position of almost unequaled eloquence, beauty and meaning. “Grace to you and peace.” Grace and peace. These words look so simple. We’ve heard them so many times that they roll off our tongues without much thought and certainly without much appreciation. They’ve become commonplace and we take them for granted. But may I ask you, please, this morning. Try to put aside what you’ve known about these words. Open yourself up and let’s try to let the Holy Spirit give us a whole new appreciation for and initiation in these words – grace and peace. Let’s bathe in them this morning.
Grace – grace. It has to be one of the two or three greatest words in Scripture. Grace. Originally it meant that property in an object which brought joy to the beholder. It then came to mean a quality applied to an act or a thought or to speech which brought joy to those watching. Thus we use it today to speak of the grace of a gymnast or the eloquence of someone’s speech. From this concept it developed to imply a favor freely done without any thought or expectation of a return favor. It was done by grace. And that’s about as far as man could go with the concept of Grace.
But God picked it up and exalted it infinitely in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. All that the human race could reasonably expect for its sin was the righteous wrath of God and banishment from His presence forever. God could have done that and still been righteous. But instead of that the holy God stepped down and humbled himself in a series of steps which we find in Philippians 2, the last of which was his becoming obedient unto death – death on a cross where he carried the sin of the whole world, thus satisfying both the justice and the mercy of God all at once. And out of that act, God now offers salvation to anyone – anyone who will accept that sacrifice on his or her behalf. And that is grace, folks. And the infinite elevation of the idea is seen in the fact that God did all of that not for friends, but for those who were His bitter enemies. All other gods hate sinners. Did you know that? You have to earn your way to salvation under any other misguided religious thought that you want to talk about. Only the God of the Bible loved sinners – loved them enough to give His own son for them, to draw them to himself even though they hated him. Grace to you. Unmerited favor extended to even the worst of sinners. Something that can never be earned, bought, paid for, deserved is ours when we come to him by faith and trade our sins for his righteousness.
Grace – the one-word description of salvation. And the amazing thing is, once we have it, it keeps on being ours though we keep right on sinning. I love how Brennan Manning puts it in Ragamuffin Gospel. He says, “You are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken, or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted. Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.” Is that good or what?
Let me try one more illustration. Johnny was a handsome bachelor in a village where the custom was that a man would pay a dowry to the father in order to be granted permission to marry the daughter. The average dowry price for a maiden was three cows, although an exceptionally beautiful girl might fetch as high as five cows. One day, Johnny went to the father of Sarita to negotiate a dowry. Tongues immediately began to wag, for it was well known that Sarita was not very pretty. In fact, she was considered quite plain. On the other hand, Johnny was known for being such a sharp negotiator that some thought that he might be able to obtain Sarita for as low as one cow. To everyone’s shock, Johnny did nothing of the sort. He marched up to Sarita’s father and offered ten cows for her hand in marriage. Ten cows! It was unheard of. No one had ever paid such a high price for a bride. And for such a plain girl as Sarita!
But after the wedding, a strange thing happened. Sarita started to take on a noble bearing. Her head was high. Her eyes sparkled. She beamed with an inner glow and in the years to come she became renowned as the most beautiful woman in the village. People would come from afar to see her as her radiant grace became legendary. One day Johnny was asked why he had paid such an exorbitant price for a wife. He replied, “I loved Sarita and wanted to express the high value I attached to marrying her. Her sense of self has been greatly elevated as she realizes that her dowry price was higher than any other woman in the village.” Then he added with a grin, “But the other reason I had was that I wanted to marry an ten-cow-wife.”
Don’t you see, Beloved. That’s exactly what God has done for us. And even that story doesn’t begin to describe how much he loves you, treasures you, elevates you, wants you, has paid for you. Do you begin to get it? Sarita could never become an ten-cow-wife, but she could live as though she were and she could gradually begin to look like one. That’s all God is asking. He knows we will sin every day. Doesn’t matter. He knows we will fail constantly. Doesn’t matter. His grace is extended. We can never earn it, deserve it, merit it. Give it up. But begin to live in the good of it. That’s grace. It’s the gospel in one word.
Now, Paul’s greeting was “Grace to you and peace.” If grace is the fountain, peace is the outcome. It is what flows naturally from grace. The two an inextricably linked in God’s economy.
That’s not really true in the world in which we live and perhaps that’s the problem. We hear a lot about peace. Everyone wants peace. We want peace in our world, our nation, our city, our home. We want peace in our heart. We talk about peace a lot. But you don’t hear too much about grace. Perhaps that’s why there is so little peace. It cannot really come until grace comes.
Look at Romans 5:1 1) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You want peace? You have to start with peace with God and that comes through Jesus Christ and is the result of grace. The first step toward peace is salvation, to be justified so that you don’t have any court worries hanging over your head about eternal life.
There is no doubt that that is what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 1. But I think he also recognizes that there is another aspect of peace. One can be a Christian and still do a lot of hand-wringing. It’s very possible to know Christ and still do a lot of fretting and worrying because you are not living in the good of what you have in Christ. That’s why Paul gives a further instruction found in Philippians 4 where he says, 6) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The peace he’s talking about here isn’t that peace that comes with financial success and worldly position. It’s that inner peace that can exist in midst of John Bunyan’s dank prison cell or even on Tyndale’s fiery stake. It’s the peace that comes in knowing that one is in the center of God’s perfect will and God is always good.
You want real peace? There’s the formula. Peace comes when we bring our requests to the Lord – and leave them there. You can’t bring them and then pick them up again on the way out the door. You have to leave them there. And a real key is that little phrase often overlooked in those verses, “with thanksgiving.” Most people are plenty willing to bring their burdens to God, but very few are willing to say, “And oh, by the way, thank you Lord.” And that’s why they don’t find peace. That’s tough. But realize that God promises nothing there unless we come “with thanksgiving.” That’s the kind of peace Paul wants for his readers in Ephesus. And it’s not just for those old-time saints – it’s for us – here – now! He wants the country song kind of peace. You know, the kind that can say, my job’s gone, my girl’s gone, my dog’s gone and my house is gone, but thank you Lord for the peace you give. You say, not possible. But I tell you, it is.
Horatio G. Spafford was a rich, successful Chicago lawyer. You would have expected him to have peace for he lacked nothing, including a wife and 4 lovely daughters. The Spafford’s were pretty well-known in 1860’s Chicago. And this was not just because of Horatio's legal career and business endeavors. The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of D. L. Moody, the famous preacher. However, no Christian is immune from suffering. In 1870, the Spaffords' only son was killed by scarlet fever at the age of four. A year later, it was fire rather than fever that struck. Horatio had invested heavily in real estate on the shores of Lake Michigan. In 1871, every one of these holdings was wiped out by the great Chicago Fire.
Aware of the toll that these disasters had taken on the family, Horatio decided to take his wife and four daughters on a holiday to England. And, not only did they need the rest – DL Moody needed the help. He was traveling around Britain on one of his great evangelistic campaigns. Horatio and Anna planned to join Moody in late 1873. And so, the Spaffords traveled to New York in November, from where they were to catch the French steamer 'Ville de Havre' across the Atlantic. Yet just before they set sail, a last-minute business development forced Horatio to delay. Not wanting to ruin the family holiday, Spafford persuaded his family to go as planned. He would follow on later. With this decided, Anna and her four daughters sailed east to Europe while Spafford returned West to Chicago. Just nine days later, Spafford received a telegram from his wife in Wales. It read: "Saved -- alone." “Saved alone”. What did that mean?
What it meant was that on November 2nd 1873, the 'Ville de Havre' had collided with 'The Lochearn', an English vessel. It sank in only 12 minutes, claiming the lives of 226 people. Anna Spafford had stood bravely on the deck, with her daughters Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta clinging desperately to her. Her last memory had been of her baby being torn violently from her arms by the force of the waters. Anna was only saved from the fate of her daughters by a plank which floated beneath her unconscious body and propped her up. When the survivors of the wreck had been rescued, Mrs. Spafford's first reaction was one of complete despair. Then she heard a voice speak to her, "You were spared for a purpose." And she immediately recalled the words of a friend, "It's easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God."
Upon hearing the terrible news, Horatio Spafford boarded the next ship out of New York to join his bereaved wife. Bertha Spafford (the fifth daughter of Horatio and Anna born later) explained that during her father's voyage, the captain of the ship had called him to the bridge. "A careful reckoning has been made", he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where the de Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep." How would you react? Would you challenge God to explain why he would take your family? Would you deny that God even exists? Would you close yourself off from the world in despair an agony? Who could blame one for any of those reactions. But here’s what Horatio Spafford did. He went to his cabin and began to write:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul
The words which Spafford wrote that day come from 2 Kings 4:26. They echo the response of the Shunammite woman to the sudden death of her only child. Though we are told "her soul is vexed within her", she still maintains that 'It is well." And Spafford's song reveals a man whose trust in the Lord is as unwavering as hers was.
That’s peace, Beloved. Do you have it? You can have it only if you have Him? But it’s all there for you if you will only reach out and take it.
V.Dual Source of Blessing
Now, finally, in this greeting in stereo by Paul, we see a dual source of the blessing of believers. The source of the blessing is the Father and the Son. And with that designation, we have come full circle, for in verse 1, it is the same pair that equipped and commissioned Paul. Now they are the source of the blessing that comes from faithful service. In the end, it is always about God.
Now look with me quickly here. You will see that Paul uses a full title for both Father and Son. It is “God our Father” (not just God), and it is the “Lord Jesus Christ” (not just Jesus Christ). All of this is predictive of what is to come and what we will see in full bloom in the verses that follow, but don’t you love the way he calls God “our” Father? That makes it very personal, doesn’t it?
To have the favor of our father is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I was fortunate to have a wonderful Christian father and nothing pleased me more than to have his favor. My dad was of that generation where people were not too effusive in their praise or show of emotion and he was of that generation where work was venerated. They had known depression and though my father had played football himself, he basically downplayed our sports endeavors even though he had 8 sons who thought of little else. Perhaps he was the balance we needed, but I can remember little encouragement from Dad to play sports. So – I got my work done first, and then I played sports. Over the years my dad got to very few games because he usually was working two jobs and there just wasn’t time. It never bothered me, never worried me. I felt he was proud of my work endeavors and if he saw sports as unnecessary and kind of a waste, that was okay.
Then one day he asked me to get something out of his wallet. And as I was getting whatever it was, out fell a newspaper clipping. It was an article from our local paper describing some game or other that I had played in and hit a home run. My dad had read and saved that battered old article. He was secretly following and taking pride in my baseball career. It gave me a whole new insight into how much my dad cared about something that I thought he really had little or no interest in.
Beloved, I pray that over the next few weeks and months, we, too, will get a whole new insight into how much our heavenly Father cares about and blesses us on a daily basis. I know that we cannot always see so clearly what He is doing or understand His blessings when it involves pain, but I tell you it’s real. You find someone telling you that God isn’t interested and involved in the everyday events of your life you tell him to go fly a kite. Grace and peace are flowing from our father all the time.
I found out another thing about my dad after I was in my early 20’s. I found that he and I had independently chosen the same life verse. Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. If that doesn’t speak of everyday blessings, I don’t know what does. We just have to believe it, appropriate it, cling to it, fight for it.
Then Paul speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ emphasizing that this is the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of all of the OT prophesies. Jesus being his earthly name. It was all fulfilled because God became a man, took on human form, had the name Jesus – so much tied up in that name. And then Lord, acknowledging the place that God the Father has given him. Listen to Philippians 2: 9) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
That’s what Paul is talking about. Think about it for a moment. Paul was old enough that he would have been alive for part of the time that Christ was on earth. He had heard the stories and he had burned with hatred at one who would so presumptuously claim to be God. When the crucifixion occurred he thought that would be the end of that. Then came the unbelievable turn of events with Christians springing up everywhere – a phenomenon that Paul could not understand, fought with all his might and only changed when he met Jesus face to face and suddenly understood, this one is Lord. He is God. He is Master. He is wonderful.
Now, one other thing I would note here. This is just one more indication that you simply cannot separate God the Father from the Lord Jesus Christ. You just can’t. We have so many who want to believe in God, who believe in His universal benevolence because it fits their limited concept of Deity, but they absolutely refuse to accept that Jesus was who he said he was – God come in the flesh. But you see you just can’t do that. You must accept the truth of the Bible and Jesus as Lord or you must reject both. You can’t have one without the other and we will see in weeks to come just how closely intertwined are the Father and the Son.
Really, this should stagger us, folks. Think about what Paul has said here. Grace and peace are flowing into each of our lives – each life who has trusted Christ as Savior and Lord – coming directly from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. There they are – Father and Son, plotting how to bless you. How stupendous is that? Going on every day of your and my life!
That’s Paul’s greeting in stereo. Just two little verses, but they were packed, weren’t they? What’s the message? The message is that just like Paul we’ve all been gifted by God and commissioned for some specific avenue of service for him. But He doesn’t just commission, He goes before us, He blesses us on a daily basis, He is the reason for the whole thing. So as He has selected us to be part of this new society – to represent Him in this world, He is with us all the way.
I like the story I heard of one 15 year old who came bounding in from school one day. He found his mother in bed and was immediately filled with concern. “Don’t you fell well, Mom?” he asked. “No, I don’t ,” came the reply. Full of good intentions, but very revealing was the boy’s next comment. “Well, don’t you worry about dinner,” he said reassuringly. “I’ll carry you down to the stove.”
Isn’t that illustrative of our Lord? Yes, he has something for us to do. He wants us to have the joy of participating in His Church. But He’s right there to carry us down to and through anything that He asks of us. We’re never alone. Every event is a blessing and every trial an opportunity. Our job – believe it and live in the good of it. Be encouraged. Take heart.