Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Live-blogging Ephesians? Part 1

Reading Dr. Pursiful, I found out about a conversation taking place about the "Romans Road" and the "Ephesians Road" (whether we view the gospel mainly through our understanding of the epistle to the Romans or that to the Ephesians). I started to type up a nice point-by-point response covering exactly why I thought Ephesians said something a little bigger, more vivid, more far-reaching than what was being discussed. I still have it in my drafts box; maybe I'll post it when I'm done here. But what I really would hope is that people would share Paul's enthusiasm and vision which he poured out in Ephesians. So I'd like to start with just a read-through.

Don't worry, I'm not going to quote the whole thing, I'm more going to cover Ephesians "live-blogging" style on a read-through. I'll cover that absolutely bedrock foundation -- the opening section -- here in this post, & keep going I hope through this week with other installments. I hope to be able to blog more frequently than my usual this week, since the live-blogging approach isn't as research-intensive as some of the things I post here.)

Some quick points on the words before we start: I think Paul's message gets distorted because of the translation. Some words have shifted meaning between what he said and what we understand, & I think we'll catch his point better if I say up front: let's drop the "Churchese" which hardly existed in his day. Churchese is a real obstacle to understanding Ephesians, even more so with this writing than with others because several of the things we obscure are actually Paul's key points in the letter. So to clear the ground first:

  1. Gospel does not mean a set of propositions or a doctrine which requires our assent. The gospel means good news, particularly the good news of what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ. When the early church wanted to explain the good news to someone, they talked about Jesus and how God has blessed the world through him. That's how Paul spends his opening section of Ephesians; we'll get to that in a moment. When the new Christians asked the early church to explain the gospel more fully, they came up with four biographies of Jesus and called those "gospels". What Jesus said and did, who he is and why he came, that is the gospel. It is our tendency to focus on the trivial that makes us try to turn those back into theological treatises and call those the gospel, rather than seeing the risk that the treatises and propositions may obscure the gospel.
  2. Church does not mean a building to which you may or may not go, or an institution to which you may or may not belong. It means first and foremost the people who have been drawn by Christ's call, by the message of the goodness of God seen in Christ, and the hope for the future. Paul actually goes into this, again, in some depth.
  3. Saints does not mean merely people who lead exemplary lives (though they do that) or those who believe in Christ by assenting to certain doctrines about him (though they probably do that too). Saints are those who are holy because Christ's life continues in this world in them, God's presence is manifested to those around through them. The shape that even "holiness" takes is far different than we have become accustomed to thinking, and again Paul spends a large portion of his letter on that.

So enough preliminaries, and on to Paul.

A quick note on the greetings. Paul frequently makes use of the greetings -- how he describes himself and how he describes his addressees -- to frame the actual point of his letters. He makes his point here that it all starts with God in Christ. He only takes 3 words to get to "Christ" (5 in translation). I wish more sermons were like that. The letter is addressed to the "saints" -- translate "holy ones" -- and faithful in Christ Jesus. How exactly are they holy and faithful? Nearly the whole letter answers that question.

Again with the meat of his letter, like with his greeting, he starts with Christ. Paul's opening statement is laid out so logically that you can literally outline it by simply moving the clauses into that structure without doing any violence to the text. It has a topic sentence and supporting points, each and every one of which clearly supports the original topic sentence. You could use vv. 3-14 in a writing class as an example of how to stick to a topic and support it with details. The topic is this: "Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Each of the supporting points under it shows 1) That God is blessing us, 2) that we have a lot of spiritual blessings, and 3) they all come through Christ. Most people notice the first two; some miss the third point. But Paul makes a point and hammers home the point: after saying in his topic that all the spiritual blessings come to us in Christ, he follows through not only with a list of God's spiritual blessings, but also with a note on each and every one how Christ is the key to the blessing. "In him ... through Jesus Christ ... in the One he loves. In him ... through his blood ... he purposed in Christ ... one head, even Christ. In him ... in Christ ... in him ...". Paul also keeps up the theme of praise and glory to God nearly as consistently as he makes his point that there is no spiritual blessing from God that comes to us apart from Christ.

So Paul's opening salvo is this: that salvation starts with God, and God blesses us through Christ, and of all the multitude of spiritual blessings we have -- cause for praising God -- all of them without fail come to us only through Christ.

To be continued ...


Unknown said...

Great post, WF. I look forward to future installments.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Excellent points, all.

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

That's a good job of clearing the ground.