Why a series on Paul’s letter on Ephesians? Simply put, we are saved by grace and so it is only natural that even at least once in my life time I’d get to preach on what I consider to be a letter that most clearly and powerfully demonstrate God’s sovereign saving grace. But not only that this letter shows how God’s grace in the gospel informs how we are to live both individually and as a church for the glory of God. So the title of this sermon series is Life Founded On Grace. So I invite you to dig deep in God’s word as we hit the rock bottom of God’s sovereign grace, and let’s soar high and see the rays of God’s glory as he reveal to us the mystery of Christ.
Some suggest that the name Paul was given to Saul after his conversion, signifying his transformation. But that seems to be not the case. Because, even after his conversion up until Acts 13:9, he is always called Saul. Only then he’s always called Paul, except for instances where events that happened prior to Acts 13:9 are narrated by Paul. In other words, his conversion has nothing to do with the name change. So why is there a need for a change in the name then? The answer is what happened after Acts 13:9, namely it is the beginning of his Gentile mission. So prior to this passage, he ministered mostly to the Jews, but after it, he mostly to Gentiles. So the name change is for practical reasons, that is, Saul was his Jewish name, while his name as a Roman citizen is Paul. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gave us a more complete detail his Jewish background in Philippians 3:5-6, “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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” And we can see from this words in Acts 22:25-29, “As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”
Therefore it’s only natural for him to use his Gentile name as he address churches from different Roman provinces.
Paul, according to the opening of this letter is an apostle of Christ Jesus. An apostle can mean one of two things, first, generally as a messenger or a delegate, or second, more specifically an apostle is an authoritative spokesman sent by Jesus. Paul is the latter. We can see this in Galatians 1:13-24 and Galatians 2 where Paul argues for his apostolic authority. He’s on par with the rest of the apostles, in that he was specifically chosen by the risen Christ as stated in Acts 9:15 and later on narrated by Paul in Acts 26:12-18.
Not only is Paul an apostle of Jesus, he’s apostleship is by the will of God. The will of God here refers to His sovereign decree, purpose or plan that will not fail to come to pass. This means then that Paul never chose to be an apostle. In fact according to his own narration of events in Acts 26:12-18, he was dragged by the omnipotent will of God kicking and screaming as it were to this divine appointment. He was set apart by God before he was born not only to be saved but also in order that he might preach Christ among the Gentiles. Paul says in Galatians 1:15-16, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles..”
Therefore Paul’s authority is from the almighty and sovereign God. And so when Paul speaks, we should listen, because his word is the very word of God. In fact he wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven in the Bible, one of which is this letter to the Ephesians.
Now we can see how important the sovereignty of God is for Paul as this theme runs all throughout his letter. A simple word search on the words “according to”, “will”, “purpose” and “plan” makes this very clear. In fact Paul wrote this letter in order that we might have some insight into the mystery of the will of God. We have verses like Ephesians 1:9, 3:3-9, 5:32, 6:19. And this is for the praise of God’s glorious grace. We can say that at least, this is one of the purpose of this letter.
This letter seems to have been written from the same place as Colossians, which is more likely Rome, while in prison. Which would mean that it was written in the early 60s.
The recipient of this letter is actually contested since the prepositional phrase “in Ephesus” is absent from some early manuscript. Some manuscripts have Laodicea as the recipient, and most have Ephesus. The reason being is that this letter is more likely a circular. But the most important part here is not their physical location, but their spiritual location. The recipients are in Christ. To be more precise , they are the saints, the faithful in Christ Jesus. The Greek phrase behind “faithful in Christ Jesus” can indeed be translated as “believing in Christ”. But that’s not what’s being said here. The only other place where Paul used the adjective “faithful” in Ephesians is in 6:21, which can’t mean “believing”. It says “faithful minister”. So I think in Ephesians 1:1 it must mean the same thing. And this faithfulness is rooted in Christ. Or their being in Christ. Again if you do a word search for the prepositional phrase “in Christ Jesus” or “in Christ”, you will see how vital it is to be in Him. This is Paul’s theology about our union with Christ through the gospel. The Pauline epistles use “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” “in him,” or some variations of it 164 times. When “Christ” is the object of the preposition, it is usually used in the context of talking about salvation and its benefits, whereas when the “Lord” is the object, it is usually used to talk about Christian behavior and life. Sometimes these terms are used to convey what believers obtain in Christ (as Ephesians 1:7 : “in him we have redemption”), at other times “in Christ” describes what a person does (Ephesians 4:17 : “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord”), and at still other times the focus is directly on the fact that a Christian is a person who is in Christ. Ephesians focuses more on union with Christ and on being in Christ than any other letter, that is Paul used it 36 times.
All of the spiritual blessings are given only to those who are in Christ Jesus, therefore this should be our primary concern, not our physical location. There’s no place more important for a person to be, than to be in Christ. And if you are in Christ, then this letter is for you! But if you’re not, this letter is also for you. May the glory of the grace of God open the eyes of your heart through this word, and so be made alive together with Christ.
Lastly as is common to most of Paul’s letters, he ends his salutation with an expression of hope or wish for his readers to receive grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace is one of the major themes in this letter. Grace is the grounds and efficient cause of our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” While peace with God and peace among believers is that which secured by the death of our Lord Jesus so that we can live in unity.
So brothers and sisters in Christ, may we experience and praise the glorious grace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the peace purchased by Christ blood may richly dwell in us.