Leave a comment

The Calling . . . The Inheritance . . . The Power

In Eph 1:18-19, Paul sets forth 3 topics that he wants the audience to come to understand by reading/hearing his letter: (1) the hope of his calling, (2), the riches of his inheritance among the saints, and (3) the surpassing greatness of his power upon us who believed . . . So what do these phrases mean? And where are they developed in the book?

Let’s start with the first one: “the hope of his calling.” By the end of chapter 3, Paul prays again that God would grant his listeners to understand with all the saints the full dimensions of God’s love in Christ—as if, they are now in a better position to understand. After its introduction in 1:18, the word “calling” is not used again until the beginning of chapter 4, where, with multiple repetitions of the word, Paul exhorts them to live up to the calling with which they have been called. Again, the implication is that the first theme—the hope of his calling—has been developed by the beginning of chapter 4. How can they live up to what they don’t understand? So it would appear that the “the hope of his calling” has been discussed somewhere between 1:23 and 3:14.

So let me just ask you, what does it mean to be called by God? And what are the riches of his inheritance among the saints? (We’ll look into the 3rd theme of the greatness of his power next time.)

In the opening prayer passage (1:3-14), Paul enumerates some of the blessings of God poured out on “those who were the first to hope in Christ” in two major sections: (1) “adoption as sons . . . redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (1:5-8) and (2) the revelation of the mystery to sum up all things in Christ . . . having “obtained an inheritance” (1:9-12). Paul then moves to the audience who also had (1) heard and believed the gospel of salvation and (2) had been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, the guarantee of the inheritance. Beginning to see a pattern? Grace as adoption/redemption/forgiveness and grace as inheritance/Spirit/gifting? (These are the 2 basic meanings of “grace” in the Bible: grace as pardon and grace as power.)

Calling . . . inheritance.

Okay. In the spirit of this progression, check out Eph 2:1-10 and then Eph 2:11-22. Think “hope of his calling” while you read 2:1-10. Does it fit? Let’s approach it from the other side. What do you have if you don’t have “the hope of his calling”? Eph 2:1-10: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . . good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And what if you don’t have “the riches of his inheritance among the saints”? Eph 2:11-22: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise . . .” But now, those who were far had been brought near in Christ—with all the trimmings. They are now “no longer strangers and aliens, but . . . fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Or as Paul says in 3:6, they had become “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” described as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” in 3:9. In other words, they are full members of God’s house and partakers of the riches of his inheritance.

There’s a lot more to be said about these subjects, but as you study 2:1-22 this week, see if this section (in 2 parts) doesn’t “open the eyes of our hearts” to “the hope of his calling” and “the glorious riches of his inheritance among the saints.” And note that they are among the saints.

6 Comments

Extra, Extra: “. . . we who were the first to hope in Christ”

This is “extra.” So no worries if it seems a little too academic. But give it a try. You might find it interesting.

Classical Greek Rhetoric taught speakers how to make good introductions for their speeches. The primary goals were to gain the favor of the audience, often by praising them, and to bring up or “introduce” the subjects and purposes of the speech. In his letters, Paul uses a section of material at the beginning (that’s come to be known as the “Thanksgiving”) to accomplish these goals: “I thank my God always for you, making mention of you in my prayers . . .” In these paragraphs, Paul often praises the audience for various aspects of their faith that will be important for doing what he will ask of them in the letters.

Ancient Rhetoricians also taught that in cases where the audience may not be receptive to what you are about to say, you have to approach the introduction differently. In these cases, you may have to take a more “subtle” approach and “insinuate” yourself or your topic into the heart of the audience. They called this type of introduction an “Ephodos” or “Insinuatio.” It took careful planning and skill to defend someone whom an audience didn’t like, change people’s minds, or convince the listeners to do something they didn’t really want to do.

Instead of praising his readers (the Gentile Christians) in the opening of Ephesians, as he usually does (and he does a little later), Paul starts the letter praying like a Jew, praising God and celebrating the good things (“spiritual blessings”) he has poured out on the “we” group—those who were the first to hope in Christ. It doesn’t become clear exactly who he’s talking about, however, until he switches to “you,” the Gentile readers, in 1:13. Interesting. Subtle and crafty.

Commenting on a certain type of introduction, Aristotle said,

“. . . one must make the hearer believe that he shares the praise, either himself, or his family, or his pursuits, or at any rate in some way or other. For Socrates says truly in his Funeral Oration that ‘it is easy to praise Athenians in the presence of Athenians, but not in the presence of Lacedaemonians.’”

By celebrating God’s blessings upon the Jews in the form of a Jewish prayer in a way that seems to include the audience, but then gradually makes it clear that he’s not yet talking about them, Paul builds an important foundation for accomplishing the purposes of the letter (unity between Gentiles and Jews in the church). He reminds them that he himself is a Jew, and by the time the audience is able to tell that he’s not talking about them, the Athenians have been praised in the presence of the Lacedaemonians (= the Jews have been praised/affirmed as part of God’s will and divine plan in the presence of the Gentiles).

Wow! How skilled and crafty! How inspired!

Leave a comment

The Challenge of Reconciliation

You have to write a speech. There are two people who don’t like each other, or two groups of people who are “feuding” and don’t get along very well for some reason—people who have had a long history of hostility, called each other names (how about “the uncircumcision” or “foreskins!”, e.g.), look down their noses at one another, etc. It’s your job to convince one of the groups that it’s vital for them to think differently, respect, and learn to get along with the other group. That it’s a new day, a new world, and the two sides are actually being brought together for a new future and purpose. (I’m thinking of Hezbollah or Hamas and Israel, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, the Hatfields and McCoys, etc.)

How would you start that speech? What strategy would you use to convince your audience that “peace” is important and even vital to their own well-being? And what if something had recently happened to inflame old prejudices and passions? In other words, you have a difficult case.

Ephesians is written to Gentile Christians to maintain and support peace in the church between Jews and Gentiles as part of God’s new creation in Christ. (Remember, many Jews wouldn’t even eat with non-Jews because they thought they were beneath them—spiritually unclean.)

Put yourself in Paul’s place. How do you start? What do you say? How do you change hearts and minds about deeply engrained prejudice and even hatred? Think about that as you delve into Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I believe realizing the difficult nature of Paul’s task in Ephesians will help us “get” some of the things that seem unique or different in this letter.

Leave a comment

“Get into Shape” or “Make a Map”

The Week 1 Ephesians Study Guide has two main goals:

(1) become familiar with the content of Ephesians (by reading it several times) and

(2) discover the basic 3-part shape of the text.

Most genres of written communication have some sort of Introduction and some sort of Conclusion, which means they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Finding the Introduction and Conclusion thus isolates the basic 3-part shape of the text.

In general, Introductions prepare the audience for a positive hearing of the material to come: psychologically, emotionally, and conceptually. They frequently “introduce” the main topics of a discourse. Conclusions sum up and wrap up, bringing home the most important points. In addition to helping us get “the lay of the land,” finding the Introduction and Conclusion thus helps to zoom in on some of the most important ideas and to interpret them in relation to the rest of the book.

When you find the Introduction and Conclusion, you know, to some extent, where you’re coming from and where you’re going. The Middle is how we get from here to there.

(Hint: In looking for the Introduction and Conclusion, remember, you are looking for sections of material that are long enough to introduce, sum up, and drive home the message and/or ideas important for the message—not just the initial and closing greetings.)

I often like to compare these sorts of exercises—when studying a Bible book—to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Our first task this week (reading the book several times) is like taking a good, hard look at the picture on the top of box (which will become clearer as we go and to which we can refer throughout the process). Finding the Introduction and Conclusion—our 2nd goal—is like finding the corner pieces and straight edges. They are relatively easy to find and, once connected, provide a framework for the rest.

Though it may not sound like much, if you can complete the 3-part shape of Ephesians from your own work, you will be a good distance down the road toward being able to read the verses in context. We are, in other words, making a map of Ephesians—and a map is the key to knowing where you are.

Introduction: 1:1 – ??
Middle:
Conclusion: ?? – 6:24

So . . . make a map!

4 Comments

If you can answer this . . .

If you can answer this, I believe you will have great insight into the Bible book of Ephesians. This is sort of a pre-study test question, one that I hope will guide you to make some important discoveries as you explore Ephesians. Here it is:

Why did Paul write Ephesians in the language and style of worship?

That’s it. But can you answer it? Can you answer it with a personal understanding from your own reading/study of the book?

The answer—I believe—is a game plan for life.

3 Comments

God’s Priorities

What are God’s priorities? . . . for you? . . . for me? And how do we know?

The only sure way we can know is if God tells us. That’s why the books of God (in the library of God—what we call the Bible) are so important. But how can we know and hear the voice of God if we don’t listen? That’s why learning to listen carefully to the messages of God in the books of God is so important.

Each book of God in the Bible reveals to us a set of priorities about God: what he loves and what he wants from us. Rediscovering those books and that voice is what our virtual small group Bible studies are all about. When we finish with our journey through the book of Ephesians, our goal is to know some (a piece or set) of God’s priorities. The Bible often refers to this as “the will of God,” which we can rephrase as “what God wants.” Can you think of anything more valuable that knowing “what God wants”!? When we get through with our study, you should be able to make a list of God’s priorities from Ephesians. I don’t know about you, but that’s tremendously exciting to me.

Just think what could happen to your life when you are able to complete the following list from Ephesians (and all the other books of God in the library of God).

God’s Priorities from Ephesians
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

If you’re signed up for the Ephesians Virtual Small Group (VSG), starting September 1, you might consider making a pre-study list—from memory (don’t look at the book)—of what you think the priorities of God are from Ephesians. You’ll make a new one at the end of the study. This is a good exercise for gauging the “distance” or value of your discovery/journey.

Leave a comment

Welcome

Welcome to the discussion on anything about reading and understanding the Bible, stemming primarily from my 2 volume book set, Inkblotitis: Christianity’s Dangerous Disease.  We’ll start with the first few paragraphs from the introduction of Book 1:

What if I told you we were in danger of losing one of the most valuable gifts of his­tory?  . . . a priceless treasure beyond all wealth and imagination?  What if I told you that in many cases we already have?

Most people don’t know the Bible as it really is, even those of us who are per­sonally familiar with the Bible.  The Bible is a collection of the books of God.  In a sense, it’s the library of God.  Each book contains a unique set of teachings from and about God.  Most of us, however, only know the Bible as verses—a verse or a short set of verses that we’ve heard or memorized or are read­ing.  This switch from books to verses is not a small change.  In fact, it actu­ally redefines the Bible and has real poten­tial to hide and distort the word of God.  What message has God revealed to us through the book of Genesis?  What about Exodus?  What message does God give through the book of Ruth or Isaiah?  What primary truths are disclosed in the book of Mat­thew?  Mark?  Romans?  Revelation?  The extent to which we can’t answer these questions is the extent to which we have lost the books of God.

So is this true? Let’s take one book for example. What’s the main point of the book of Matthew? Is it important to know?