Our lives as God’s children are blessed beyond comparison. It is hard to understand what has really transpired to bring us into such a fortunate state. It is this very thing that Paul the Apostle attempts to do for us in this letter that he has written to the disciples in Ephesus. Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire and sat at the end of the famous Silk Road that traveled from Asia to the Mediterranean. He traveled there on his second missionary journey. It was then he founded the church in Ephesus.
Paul was asked to be the middle man, the preacher and author, to tell these disciples about the good news of what the Lord wants to do in their lives. He wasn’t the man one would expect for this job. All we need to do to more fully understand this is to we remember, the Apostle Paul was a strong Hebrew Pharisee who went so far to persecute Christians far away from his home in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
When Paul describes himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” he is no doubt not only referring to his special status as an apostle but the way God brought him to that point. As I said, he was not going to just drift into that position. God Himself decided that he would make him His apostle. It was God’s will that brought him to that point.
God takes a man who is not at all interested in Him and, in fact often rather antagonistic, then does some significant work in his life. As a result, the person is radically changed. Paul used the words ‘by the will of God’ to describe the unbelievable change in his life. But as I said, this change was two-folded. He not only became a believer of Jesus as the Messiah but also devoted himself to serve the Lord. Both steps are miraculous and awesome by any standard one might use.
Although this process is so dramatic, it is happening all around the world. Of course, these apostles had something special about them because they lived during the time of Jesus. We have no record with the Apostle Paul as to whether he met Christ. He noticed this and called himself as untimely born, (“and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:). The point is that God is doing a mysterious work in many people across the globe whether it be in South America, Africa, Middle East, India or China. We might think God does things differently now in our age, but in fact, I have met a number of individuals who were just like Paul. They even have gone through a name change. Let me mention one.
I have visited Pastor Stephen a number of times in India. His father is named Paul (with Bible in hand). Of course, this was not his original name. In India, when one becomes a Christian, they believe they must take on a new name. This is not necessary, but it does nicely represent their new life in Christ. Just like Saul the Pharisee was devoted to his religion, this man was devoted as a Hindu worshipper. He did all the Hindu rituals but found no peace of heart. He thought Christianity was foreign and so he said abusive words to Gospel workers. God sent a man to share the Gospel to him and He came to know the Lord. He went all around the district and the east side of the state of A.P. preaching the gospel, often with hostile audiences. He even brought the gospel to cannibals. (See his short testimony). My point is not to lift up this man, but to show you that God is doing the same thing today, bringing radical change of individuals who have found the amazing love of God in their lives.
The apostle will talk more about his call at a later point, but the key point is that as God’s people, we all have gone through times of transformation by God’s presence and now in gratefulness carry out God’s work to others.
Paul as a good instructor is helping us recognize the special work that God has done in our lives. The more you understand it, the more you step back in amazement. Becoming a follower of Jesus is absolutely the greatest thing that could happen to us or anyone, rich or poor, good family life or bad family life, Muslim or Buddhist or Catholic or Protestant. Please note that Paul doesn’t use this phrase ‘becoming a Christian’ and in fact does not even use the word Christian in this book. He uses the word saints to describe the Ephesian believers. This only reinforces what we have been saying. We are wholly unworthy of the kind favor of God in Christ Jesus.
Today in Roman Catholic circles, the word saint refers to great Christian heroes of the past. In other words they are dead. Here, however, Paul uses it to describe God’s people who are living. You might think of it more personally. You as a follower of Jesus are saints. Although we believe Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, the word Ephesus might have not been in the text at all. Some ancient manuscripts do not include this word. It is possible it was later added. He perhaps sent it to Ephesus and then was passed around to other churches in Asia Minor, now known as Turkey. So the apostle would call the disciples in New York, ‘the saints who are at New York.’
The word ‘saint’ literally means ‘separated one’ or ‘holy.’ If you are a believer in Christ, you are set apart as God’s holy one. Paul is not describing the apostles this way but all of Christ’s disciples. This is what a true Christian is. If you believe in Christ and faithfully persevere in your faith you too can be assured of place before God. You might feel uncomfortable with this thought. After all, you think of your lusts, impatience, your selfishness or lack of love. You don’t feel holy. How can we be a special person in the holy service of God? This is part of the mystery that Paul will later share with us.
Paul had received a call as an apostle, but the matter of fact is that each and every disciple of Jesus can be sure that they are called of God. They no longer belong to themselves but to God. It might help to remember the background of this epistle. One of the seven wonders of the world was right there in Ephesus. It was a huge temple dedicated to a goddess named Diana (Artemis). People from all around would flock to that great temple. She, after all, had a history of falling down from the sky. Her origins were probably just a meteorite. (How this contrasts with Christ who not only came from God but ascended back up to heaven (see Ephesians 5:8-10)!)
The temple was full of goddess prostitutes. People could experience more of the goddess’ power by sexually intimacies with her priests and priestesses. It was a wicked city. Immorality flourished. These disciples were not set apart to this temple or Diana, but instead set apart for God. They would belong to God and serve Him. I know we often use the word ‘serve’ for just full-time ministers of God’s Word, but we must even by this usage of saint realize that it is every disciple’s calling. He will talk more about that in Ephesians 4:12 speaks about "equipping the saints."
What happened to Paul also happened to us. We were unlikely candidates for living in God’s holy presence. We were impure people of the world, not looking for God. And yet we were called to belong to God and to serve Him. The word ‘grace’ used in verse 2 reminds us of the riches of God that have been poured out into our lives by this calling. The word ‘peace’ refers clearly to the way God through great sacrifice completely satisfied God’s wrath through Christ’s death on the cross and made rebellious man His own precious and cared for children. This grace and peace is unmistakably from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We should never get in our mind that we earned it. Paul will discuss this later, but for now and through the first chapter, we are to bask in this divine and undeserved goodness. The apostle kept shaking his head wondering how he of all people, a murderer of God’s people, would now be employed as His apostle. We too are awed and wonder how He would ever call the unlovely as His servants in Christ.
Introduction to the Book of Ephesians
We have not yet stepped pass the threshold of this letter, and yet we already find ourselves inundated with thoughts of God’s mercy and grace. As we continue on into an exploration of the Book of Ephesians, we will discover much more of this amazing work that is going on in the lives of these believers. Let us take a look at the overall view of Ephesians as we continue on and examine Ephesians 1:2.