Ephesians: You’re Special

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers a good mix of theological insight and practical advice. It’s the practical advice, invoking first-century household codes, that most people probably associate with Ephesians, and I’m with Rachel Held Evans in thinking these are grossly misinterpreted and applied in the twenty-first century. I think Paul’s intent in advising adherence to Greco-Roman societal norms was more along the lines of “keep a low profile and pick your battles” in order to stay out of unnecessary trouble. Some trouble was unavoidable, because the early Christians insisted that Jesus, rather than Caesar, was Lord, and that loyalty wasn’t negotiable. Why add to the trouble they were facing by behaving in socially provocative ways that had nothing to do with their faith in Christ? Why distract from the main Christian message? Imagine someone shouting something while standing in the middle of a busy freeway, barefoot and wearing only a loincloth. His words might be entirely reasonable and true, but it’s unlikely they would be given much credence, and he might get run over. The principle of living within commonly accepted cultural norms is still a good one, but I think we do Paul a disservice when we insist that the examples he used to illustrate this principle are treated as permanent rules for all people living in all times and places. In fact, I think we risk doing exactly what Paul hoped the Ephesians would avoid: being a distraction to the main Christian message. If people get frustrated in heaven, I can just imagine him doing a face-palm when he sees how his words are being misused today.

Rather than the household codes, it is Paul’s theology that caught my attention on my read-through of Ephesians this year. He uses the language of poetry and metaphor to try and communicate the good news: God thinks we’re pretty special. We are blessed, chosen, adopted, heirs to a fortune. God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and we are “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ”. This is not because of anything we have done or not done, but because of the nature of God.“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” and  “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast” God does not plan to abandon or destroy humanity, but to redeem and restore it to what he always intended it to be.”He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. And he invites and expects us to join him in “making it so”.“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

It’s easy for me to be overwhelmed and discouraged by all that is going on in the world today, for “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men”. Paul’s words to the Ephesians remind me of not only the confidence we have in God, but of the confidence God has in us.  One of my favorite quotes is “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” which to me, means that God has built a moral law into the fabric of the universe, and that moral law is built on love, of which justice is a part. However, I recently read a political opinion piece which observed that “the arc doesn’t bend by itself”.As I understand it, bending the arc is exactly what God has invited us to do. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone in it did a better job of doing the good works- acts of kindness, justice, and love- which God intended to be our way of life.

I believe God, and love will win. In spite of, and through us. And that’s good news to me!