(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

I approach a series on Ephesians, John Calvin's favourite book, with some trepidation. I have to admit Ephesians is not my favourite book. There are passages in the opening chapters that are open to more than one interpretation. The interpretation chosen will often owe a great deal to one's doctrinal position. For example that little phrase in Eph2v8, ... it is the gift of God, is quoted ad nauseam by Calvinists to demonstrate faith is the gift of God when it is probably not referring to faith but salvation.

I must confess to an antipathy to the doctrines of unconditional election and arbitary grace that make salvation a lottery. Nor am I happy with the conclusion of Francis Foulkes and many like him that Paul in his epistles emphasised both: the sovereign purpose of God and our free will .... a paradox that the New Testament does not seek to resolve and that our finite minds cannot fathom. This is certainly better than denying man's free will altogether but I believe there is a straight forward way to reconcile God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. God is not the God of disorder but of peace. 1Cor14v33. Much disorder has arisen over clashes between Calvinists and Arminians. It is surely not God's intent for us to be either confused or in disarray.

There are times, too, that I lag behind Paul's experience as revealed in Ephesians. This makes me feel uncomfortable but I am bound to say it is a consequence of my own inadequacies as a Christian. There is a lot of truth in the illustration used by Warren Wiersbe at the beginning of his book on Ephesians, 'Be Rich.' Hetty Green who died in 1919 must have been one of America's greatest misers. She was worth $300 million when she died. Hetty ate cold oatmeal to save the cost of heating it. Her son lost a leg because she spent so long looking for a free clinic to treat it. The old miser died of apoplexy arguing the value of drinking skimmed milk. Hetty Green was rich yet she lived like a pauper. Wiersbe writes: Hetty Green is an illustration of too many Christian believers today. They have limitless wealth at their disposal, and yet they live like paupers. It was to this kind of Christian that Paul wrote the epistle. He penned it for Christians like me!

In order to keep me straying too far from the truth I have used the following commentaries for this series on Ephesians:

Be Rich by Warren Wiersbe.
The Prison Letters by Tom Wright.
Ephesians to Colossians and Philemon by Marcus Maxwell.
The letter to the Ephesians by Peter J O'Brien.
The letter to the Galatians and Ephesians by William Barclay.
Ephesians by Francis Foulkes.

(B) The Writer.

There has been much controversy over the author of Ephesians. Modern scholars challenge the authorship of Paul. It is unlike most of his other epistles in style and there is an absence of his characteristic personal touches. Paul was a very warm-hearted Christian and there is little evidence of strong affection for the Ephesians in the letter.

However the epistle was ascribed to Paul from the very earliest times - the second and third century A.D.. It is reasonable to suppose that Paul wrote Ephesians not to an individual church but to a group of churches. It is not so much a letter as a meditation to be shared by the Asian fellowships.

Paul described himself: an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Let us look in more detail at this designation.

(1) He was an apostle of Christ Jesus.

William Barclay points to three things this little phrase tells us about the author:

    (a) He belonged to Christ. Paul knew that he was not his own. He was bought at a price. This is what he wrote to the Corinthians: He who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price. 1Cor7v22and23. Paul's first priority was to serve Jesus.

    (b) He was commissioned and sent out by Jesus. Paul was a man on a mission. Jesus gave him a special task to do - to make him known to the Gentiles. This gave Paul's life direction and purpose. He didn't drift aimlessly along. The apostle took up the cross daily. He was under contract to Jesus and daily Paul fulfilled his responsibility.

    (c) He had authority as Christ's specially appointed ambassador to the Gentiles. Paul did not undertake the task of evangelising the cities of the Roman empire in his own strength. He evangelised in the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry was backed by the resources of heaven.

    This is something we should never forget. Whenever a believer serves Jesus with a pure heart he does so in the strength that God supplies.

            Soldiers of Christ, arise,
            And put your armour on,
            Strong in the strength
            Which God supplies
            Through His eternal Son.
            Strong in the Lord of hosts,
            And in His mighty power;
            Who in the strength of Jesus trusts
            Is more than conqueror.

(2) By the will of God.

Paul was chosen for the task of evangelising the Gentiles. Four points follow from this:

    (a) Paul realised he was not, and never could be, an apostle to the Gentiles by his own choice. This is evident from his testimonies recorded in Acts. For example, in his defence before Agrippa, Paul recounts the words Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." Acts26v15to18.

    None of us will ever be effective in God's service unless the work we do is in his will and purpose. Some immature Christians want to chose how they serve Jesus. This is a recipy for disaster. We must do what God wants us to do - however unappealing this might be.

    (b) Paul was always amazed that God chose him for the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. He felt unworthy of the privilege! He wrote: For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. 1Cor15v10.

    (c) Now although God chose Paul to be THE apostle to the Gentiles he did not do so by pulling his name out of a hat. God realised Paul's potential even when he was throwing Christians in prison and consenting to their death. God made an informed choice that was vindicated by the outcome. This is true in the Old Testament of God's choice of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samuel and even Esther.

    (d) Paul was not without merit for carrying out the work he was given with great zeal, determination, perseverance and effectiveness. The apostle realised this. See 1Cor15v9to11, 2Cor2v14to17, 2Cor12v11to13 and 2Tim4v7and8.

    Paul taught that Christian service was like building a house. When Christ returns our work will be tested with fire. If we have built of hay and straw we will suffer loss but if we have built of gold, silver and costly stones we will have our reward. See exposition on 1Cor3v10to17.

(C) The Readers.

The very earliest manuscripts of this letter make no mention of Ephesians. The epistle was not addressed to a specific church unlike 1Corinthians or Philippians. Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus. He was dearly loved by the elders. See Acts20v36to38. So if he was writing specifically to the church in Ephesus you would expect him to include some personal greetings and deal with any problems surfacing in the church. It even seems from Eph1v15 that some of his prospective readers would be unknown to Paul which hardly seems likely if he was writing just to the Ephesians. He writes: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus.. . This implies Paul has been told about the faith of his readers rather than being personally acquainted with it.

It seems likely that the epistle was written to be circulated among several churches in Asia some of which Paul had never visited. It reads more like a tract than a letter. Perhaps it ended up in Ephesus and was kept there until Paul's letters were collected together for general use in the church.

What we know for certain is that Paul addressed his readers as: the saints .. the faithful in Christ Jesus. This designation is worth looking at in some detail. Paul's readers were:

(1) In Christ Jesus.

This means Paul was writing to those who shared the life of Christ. The Parable of the Vine indicates clearly what this means. If we believe in Jesus:

    (a) His word remains in us. John15v7. Our lives are informed by Christ's teaching. This highlights the supreme importance of the gospels for it is in them we learn of what Jesus taught.

    (b) We shall be obedient to his word. We show our love for Jesus as he showed his love for his father namely, by obedience. See John15v10. If we are in Christ we conform to his will. We do what he wants not what we want. Our guiding principle should be his new commandment to love one another. v17.

    (c) We shall share his joy. See John15v11. Jesus derived his joy or intense satisfaction from doing God's will which was to serve others. Similarly our satisfaction should stem from serving Jesus, serving his church and serving one another. There is a joy in being useful to our Saviour and Lord.

    (d) We shall bear fruit. !This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.! John15v8. !I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last.! v16. The Beatitudes give us the clearest of guides as to the fruit that Christ expects of us. See exposition on John15v1to11 and on the Beatitudes.

It is important to realise that that Christians do not become fruitful all at once. I like this illustration of Misty Mowrey's:

A man once bought a home with a tree in the backyard. It was winter, and nothing marked this tree as different from any other tree. When spring came, the tree grew leaves and tiny pink buds. "How wonderful," thought the man. "A flower tree! I will enjoy its beauty all summer." But before he had time to enjoy the flowers, the wind began to blow and soon all the petals were strewn in the yard. "What a mess," he thought. "This tree isn't any use after all." The summer passed, and one day the man noticed the tree was full of green fruit the size of large nuts. He picked one and took a bite. "Bleagh!" he cried and threw it to the ground. "What a horrible taste! This tree is worthless. Its flowers are so fragile the wind blows them away, and its fruit is terrible and bitter. When winter comes, I'm cutting it down. But the tree took no notice of the man and continued to draw water from the ground and warmth from the sun and in late fall produced crisp red apples. Some of us see Christians with their early blossoms of happiness and think they should be that way forever. Or we see bitterness in their lives, and we're sure they will never bear the better fruit of joy. Could it be that we forget some of the best fruit ripens late?

(2) Faithful to Jesus.

The parable of the vine stresses the necessity of remaining in Christ. Jesus said, "If a man REMAINS in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit." John15v5. If we do not remain in Christ we are useless to God - just like dead branches on a vine - "such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." John15v6.

Fidelity to Jesus is vital. We need to keep praying, keep obeying and keep serving. There must be no let up in our commitment to him.

The Australian coat of arms pictures two creatures - the emu, a flightless bird, and the kangaroo. The animals were chosen because they share a characteristic that appealed to the Australian citizens. Both the emu and kangaroo can move only forward, not back. The emu's three-toed foot causes it to fall if it tries to go backwards, and the kangaroo is prevented from moving in reverse by its large tail. Those who truly choose to follow Jesus become like the emu and kangaroo, moving only forward, never back See Luke 9:62. (With thanks to Steve Morrison.)

Last week I attended the wedding of Lizzy, one of my old pupils. This was an enjoyable occasion for me not least because I was able to spend time with another former student, Emma. She said in the course of conversation, "Mr Reed aren't you pleased that you were a good influence on your pupils." Well, for a start I realise that I was only a good influence on some of them! But this doesn't give me much satisfaction. What would give me satisfaction is if I had an ongoing relationship with my students. Sadly this very, very rarely occurs. Jesus wants to be more than a good influence - someone we learned about when we were young and whom we still admire in a distant kind of way. Jesus wants to be in a real, living, loving relationship with us.

(3) Saints.

If we are in an ongoing, faithful relationship with Jesus we will be different from the men and women of the world. This is what the word, 'saint,' implies - someone set apart by God as special.

Christians should be different from non-Christians in their:

    (a) Allegiance - allegiance to Christ and not to self.

    (b) Priorities - Christ's interests come before their own.

    (c) Values. Believers adopt and live by the values of the kingdom as taught by Jesus. His values stand in stark contrast to the world's values.

    (d) Goal. Our reward as Christ's followers is not wealth, status, celebrity or power in this life but resurrection to eternal bliss.

(D) The Greeting.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we experience God's grace - his goodness and unmerited favour - we shall also experience his peace - a sense of utter well-being. I think we should look at how believers experience God's grace so that Paul's greeting is more than mere words. The Lord's prayer gives us some pointers:

(1) Christians can pray to God as their father. What a comfort this is to me.

(2) What a joy when we see God's kingdom come, when we witness the outworking of his grace in the ever, onward, triumphant march of his church. How reassuring to hear about the numerous conversions and spectacular church growth in countries like Cuba, Brazil, Nigeria, Zambia and China.

(3) It is by God's grace that our daily needs are met.

(4) Every day we can come to God through Christ and ask for the forgiveness of sin. By God's grace we can have daily cleansing to remove guilt and put our minds at rest.

(5) The believer is assured of God's protection. I am given strength and inner peace because of the awareness that God graciously delivers me from temptation and evil.

(6) The Lord's prayer is a corporate prayer. We address God as OUR father. Here is a reminder that we have brothers and sisters to help and support us. Christian fellowship fosters a sense of well being.

God's grace and attending peace are not figments of the Christian's imagination. They are real and sustaining as this story illustrates:

One of God's faithful missionaries, Allen Gardiner, experienced many physical difficulties and hardships throughout his service to the Saviour. Despite his troubles, he said, "While God gives me strength, failure will not daunt me." In 1851, at the age of 57, he died of disease and starvation while serving on Picton Island at the southern tip of South America. When his body was found, his diary lay nearby. It bore the record of hunger, thirst, wounds, and loneliness. The last entry in his little book showed the struggle of his shaking hand as he tried to write legibly. It read, "I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God." (With acknowledgments to Christian Globe for the illustrations.)

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net