Monday, May 31, 2010

Our common Grace

Ephesians 1:3-7 Our common Grace

As stated earlier, verses 3 through 14 some have interpreted as one sentence, and broken it by commas and semi-colons. I like this interpretation, because it honors the "stream of consciousness" Paul was displaying with his use of relative pronouns and prepositional phrases.
For the sake of focus, I will break these 11 verses into three groups of thought: our common grace (3-7), our shared purposes and blessings (8-12), our common salvation experience (13-14).

Verse 3:
ευλογητος ο θεος και πατηρ του κυριου ημων ιησου χριστου ο ευλογησας ημας εν παση ευλογια πνευματικη εν τοις επουρανιοις εν χριστω

Paul begins this section with a call of corporate praise, drawing the believers of Ephesus into his own worship: "Blessed be God and (also) Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who has blessed us (the readers are included here) in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, in Christ."

How can we help but break out in praise, when we consider the intent of Paul's 'grace and peace' (see notes on verse 2), and Paul's own intimacy with the Ephesian believers compels him to draw them into his own private moment of worship. Paul reminds them Who it is that they (including himself) adore and worship: "God", and/also "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". The first two persons of the Trinity are mentioned, and one superior to the other, or seemingly so. Had Paul stopped at that point, we might think that Christ was less than God, not equal to God.

Paul continues, "... the One Who has blessed us in every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, in Christ." All the spiritual blessings of heaven is ours, because He has so desired it. The phrase, " the One Who has blessed" is the substantive use of a past tense prepositional phrase. This reminds the believng reader that "every spiitual blessing" is not something to come in the future (near or far), not something we must earn through penitential acts of deprivation, not something only a special "anointed" few experience, but that it is for all believers. These spiritual blessings are ALREADY given to those who belong to Him through Christ. And here is where the equality to God is established, by the simple phrase " Christ". God has not acted outside of Christ, as though Jesus was one of many ways to access these spiritual blessings. They are only to be experienced by those who are "in Christ", the only Redeemer. As one who is "in Christ", the believer (saint, one set apart), the realm in which we live and breathe is also populated with EVERY spiritual blessing, readily accessible, by His grace.

Ephesians 1:4
καθως εξελεξατο ημας εν αυτω προ καταβολης κοσμου ειναι ημας αγιους και αμωμους κατενωπιον αυτου εν αγαπη

"Also as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, us to be saints (set apart) and blameless in His presence, in love."

There are some interesting word playing happening here. The verb in Greek for "chose" in this case is using the middle voice. Whereas English has active and passive voices of verbs ("He throws the ball", "The ball is thrown"), the Koine Greek also has what is known as the middle voice ("He throws the ball for himself"). In its usage here, the verb "chose" indicates we were not chosen to be merely trophies on a shelve, as if to say, "Ah-ha, Satan! I have these as my prize!". No, rather, the choosing is more intimate, "He chose us for Himself". The Greek verb is in the past tense, indicating it is not an ongoing event, and this coincides perfectly with the statement "...before the foundation of the world". This is, believer, what real grace -- unmerited favor of God -- is: that He chose to redeem us before we appeared on the earth and fall to sin, He had already chosen us. Not because our parents brought us to church, not because of our socio-economic standing, not because of our nationality -- the God Who sees the end from the beginning chose us FOR HIMSELF.

To what end were we chosen? He chose us to be set apart from the world by our lives and that we would stand blameless before HIm (in Christ), and all of this in the envelope of love ("in love"). That last prepostional phrase in this verse, "in love", ties us back to the intimacy suggested by the use of the middle voice. "He chose us for love". These are the bookends of verse four, and a reminder of not only grace, but love that God poured forth in our redemption.

Ephesians 1:5
Verse 5
προορισας ημας εις υιοθεσιαν δια ιησου χριστου εις αυτον κατα την ευδοκιαν του θεληματος αυτου

"He predestined us to sonship in Him through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of His will"

As we (Pam and I) will be building a house one day in the not too distant future, after we have drawn up the plans for the house itself, we will then be tasked with placing it on our property. We have determined that with driveway, garage, house, and yard, we will need about one-half acre for the house's 'compound'. Before we send the construction team to the site, we will have to outline the area where everything will be placed, and declare to the builder, "The house goes here, and nowhere else!"

The Greek for predestined is similiar. It means to surround or draw a line around, and with the prepositional prefix "pro" it draws emphasis to the action of 'selecting', 'drawing a line around', or 'choosing' was done in advance of the named act's fulfillment. In all of time and all of humanity, God has drawn a line around those whom HE has chosen by His grace and declared to all creation, including Satan and his angels, "These are appointed to be My sons and daughters, and and they shall be Mine forever!". God faciliated this adoption THROUGH Jesus Christ alone (God does not operate among us apart from Christ, as Christ is the equal second person of the Trinity). Why, how, to what end, did God do such a thing? He did it according to the pleasure of His will. It PLEASED God to choose His elect before all time. It PLEASED Him to declare and make us His sons and daughters. It PLEASED God to redeem us through Jesus Christ. He Who sees the end from the beginning acted with PLEASURE and according to HIS will.

Ephesians 1:6
εις επαινον δοξης της χαριτος αυτου ης εχαριτωσεν ημας εν τω ηγαπημενω

"in praise of the glory of His grace, which He bestowed us in The Beloved"

Here again, Paul returns to the theme of this section of the Ephesians preamble, God's grace. Paul is trying to help us all understand, not just the Ephesians, of the magnitude of God's grace, and what glory it is. We sometimes get caught up in blessings, provisions, mercies, and the rest, but Paul is driving home the point that regardless of anything else, it is God's grace toward us in Jesus Christ that should evoke our highest praise.

In this phrase here, the meaning of the word "bestowed", sometimes translated "gave" or "blessed", is the verb form of the Greek word for 'grace'. In light of the Christian meaning of the word "grace", we see the translations fail to capture the breadth, height, and depth of God's action toward us (the verb is in the active voice) when it comes to Him imparting His grace.

But this grace, by which we are saved, Paul writes, occurs in the realm of The Beloved, Jesus Christ, and can never occur apart from Him. Jesus is God's agent of grace to those whom He has chosen.

Ephesians 1:7
εν ω εχομεν την απολυτρωσιν δια του αιματος αυτου την αφεσιν των παραπτωματων κατα το πλουτος της χαριτος αυτου

"in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the wealth of His grace."

The phrase "in Whom", points back to "The Beloved" of verse 6, and Paul, with the positioning of this preposition at the beginning of what he is about to say, reinforces its primacy. Paul continues, "...we have redemption through His blood the forgiveness of sins..." The sentence structure suggests two objects: both "redemption" and "forgiveness" are in the accusative case, and their respective descriptive phrases are not separated by a conjunction. Rather than suggest one is the modifier of the other, I think Paul is presenting the "two sides of one coin", emphasizing that one does not get one without the other. We do not get forgiveness of sins, then later, if we pass the test, we obtain redemption; nor do we obtain redemption, then have to "work off" our sins in penitential labors. Perhaps a man-made plan would have suggested such things as a means of promoting fairness, but Paul states such a "plan" is an extension of, you guessed it, God's grace: "...according to the wealth (riches) of HIS grace".

God's grace shown to His elect in Jesus Christ is unfathomable in every way. We have nothing to offer but praise: praise to God for His grace, praise to Jesus Whose blood allowed such grace to be so richly and abundantly poured upon us.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Greetings and opening herald

Ephesians 1:1-14

The "Greetings" element of this epistle's opening is only verses 1 through 2. The "Herald" portion some see as a single sentence of verses 3 through 14 (I will bring these verses to you in another post, lest the blog get tedious and wearisome). Keep in mind that punctuation is a late phenomenon, the New Testament in the original Greek was writing in unical form (all "upper case" letters) and no punctuation except a paragraph break was used. Punctuation appeared the century after the writings of the New Testament. Here is an example of John 1:1-2 as it would appear in the unical form:


How is punctuation determined? The punctuation is interpreted from an analysis of the noun declensions and prepositional phrases. Unlike English, which has only retained the genitive/possessive declension, every Greek noun had a declined form for nominative, dative, genitive, accusative, and vocative forms. These enabled the reader and hearer to process what looks like a stream of letters into separate thought and communication elements.

Why go through all this before talking about Ephesians? In one English version, verses 3-14 might be one sentence, others might make it two or three. It does not matter. I just want to remind you that punctuation is interpretive, but the Word is inerrant.

Ephesians 1:1-2 (Darby)
Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by God's will, to the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus who are at Ephesus. Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul asserts his own role, though it is not necessary as he had been with these people for 3 years. They knew who he was, what he was about. Paul never lost sight of the fact that he was entirely a work of God's grace. Nothing about him was his own; it was all of Christ. He was not an apostle because he had studied for it, been promoted to it, progressed unto it -- no, he was an apostle of Jesus Christ ONLY because it was God's will that he be so. And in bringing this before his brothers and sisters in Ephesus, he is reminding them that it is not he that should be held in high regard, but that Jesus Christ alone is the worthy person of their adoration. All that they received from Paul, was not of Paul, but of Jesus Christ, and Paul's assertion of the humility of his office is his reminder to them.

Paul then extends his standard greeting of grace and peace, but not in a generic, humanist manner. He points them to the source of both "...from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ". 'Peace' outside of Christ is more a 'detente', an agreement to ease tensions -- a tenuous peace at best; 'grace' is a synonym for politeness and pleasantness. Yet, "grace and peace" mean so much more to the saint: grace is the unmerited favor of God, the only mechanism for salvation coming upon a person; peace is the eternal reconciliation we have with God through Jesus Christ, incapable of being disturbed or distressed in any way. More than saying, "pleasantness and an ease of tensions in your relationships be unto you", Paul says, "the unmerited favor of God and eternal reconciliation be yours in Jesus Christ".

Humility in service, unmerited favor of God in salvation, eternal reconciliation in relationship to Jesus Christ: these are representative of a continuum of attributes of the life in Jesus Christ.

His grace and peace be yours today.

Friday, May 21, 2010


The Lake poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once stated that Ephesians was "Queen of the Epistles" (which may be why some believe the epistles were wives of the apostles), and I for one would never want to say that any part of the inspired inerrant Word of God was superior to another part, but I find in Ephesians a cohesive, nearly exhaustive soliloquy on the Christian experience, from before salvation, salvation itself, its purpose here and now, and the Great Show that awaits. I will study Ephesians this weekend, and begin with a post of the first few verses. Those who have heard me preach (to whom I offer my sincere sympathies) or teach know that I do so in an expository manner.

Grace and peace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

Why this blog?

Why have, as my older brother might ask, YABFM (Yet Another Blog From Mark)? The answer is simple: accountability. My accountability in service to the redeemed of Jesus Christ, and those seeking to know Him. I need this, to focus my attention on the Word of God, knowing that I am, as a teacher of the Word, accountable for using the gift given freely to be a part of the building up of the Body of Christ. I find when I am not using that gift, giving by Him according to His own will, my own walk suffers.

With that, I will blog my own study of the Word of God, trusting the Lord that He will use it as He sees fit, whether it blesses only me, or others who read it. May He, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, be glorified.