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Sep 12, 2010

A Courtship from Afar

Passage: Ephesians 1:1

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Postcards from the Front: A Wartime Romance

Category: Ephesians

Keywords: romance, love, saints, identity, holy


Ephesians is a love letter between God and his church, a church in a war. This message introduces us to the human author and the divine work God had done in his life to make him the perfect candidate to communicate this message. It also begins to lay the foundation for right understanding of who we are in Christ.


A Courtship from Afar

#1 in the series “Postcards from the Front:  A Wartime Romance”

September 12, 2010

Ephesians 1:1,2

Morning Connect question:  Tell someone about one of the follow two things:

1.)    What you learned about love in some long-distance romance you have experienced in the past.

2.)    If you were involved in a long-distance romance, what would be your preferred means of communication?  Why? 

INTO:  The “Top 10” things that I learned from my 14-month long-distance relationship with Sandy before we were married.

  1.  That you can still love someone very much long-distance…without cell phones.
  2. That mail takes a really long time to get from the Philippines to Kenya…and even longer to get back from Kenya to the Philippines.
  3. That writing about in a love relationship can be a really positive, constructive thing.
  4. That I can still be an idiot, even on paper! J
  5. That I came very close to losing the most wonderful woman in the world.
  6. That people in love can still have a lot of fun with other friends.
  7. That it’s a really good idea to have a girlfriend before you go to a foreign country with lots of beautiful women in it…unless you want to do a whole lot of long-distance traveling for the rest of your life.
  8. That time can deepen, but rarely damage, a good love relationship.
  9. That it’s possible to over-analyze a love relationship.

10.  That I can be SO oblivious to what is SO clear to everyone  else around me.

Well, what does that have to do with today’s Scripture passage?  Actually, an awful lot. 

We’re launching a new study series in the book Ephesians today.  Ephesians is really a love-letter between, well, a love-triangle.  It’s not one of those weird sort of “love-triangles” Hollywood has used so many times it makes you want to puke.  This one has no jealousy junkets or seamy sexual overtones.  It’s pure, it’s powerful and it’s very personal for everyone in this room.

Ephesians is a long-distance letter from two lovers to yet another lover.

      It’s a letter from the universe’s best lover, God.

      It’s a letter from one of the best lovers of people in the ancient world, the Apostle Paul.

      And it’s a letter to some of the early church’s best lovers of God and people—specifically the church at Ephesus and some of the other churches from  surrounding cities.

We’ve entitled this series, “Postcards From the Front:  A Wartime Romance.”  We chose that for several reasons:

1.)     Ephesians is all about Jesus Christ and his love relationship with his bride, the Church.

2.)    It’s all about HOW he has and is loving his church

3.)    It’s written with very emotional language from the hearts of a man (Paul) and a god (Jesus) who were/are both very passionate lovers.

4.)    Romances seem to know no bounds.  It doesn’t matter whether you are living at peace or whether war has been raging for years. Romance continues to capture and move the hearts of millions of people.  In fact, it is probably safe to say that wartime accelerates and intensifies romance. People during war-time compress normal plans into shorter time-frames. 

ILLWWII caused many a couple to “intensify” their romances and move up their wedding dates.  It pushed many a man to “pop the question” earlier than he had planned. 

My parents were one of those couples.  They knew each other from Chicago.  Mom was headed to nursing school while Dad was already practicing law in Chicago.  The abrupt entrance of the U.S. into WWII on Dec. 7, 1941 and dad’s enlistment shortly thereafter turned their happy, orderly life upside down. 

Dad was shipped out west to Spokane with the Army Air Corp.  They decided to marry here, away from most of their friends and family, so they wouldn’t miss whatever life together they might possibly experience before Dad could be sent overseas.  They were married, in fact, just 2 blocks from here at the Davenport Hotel in a private ceremony, surrounded by a handful of friends and family. 

Wartime romances are famous in human history.

And this letter from God through the heart and pen of the Apostle Paul is a “wartime romance.” The recipients are in a war of cosmic proportionsPaul is a P.O.W. under house arrest in Rome. Some Christians are already dying in this war.  Others are going AWOL. Many others are struggling with Basic Training while some are moving on to (OCS) Officer’s Candidate School

In that highly charged and very emotional environment, Paul pens some of the most powerful words ever about the love of Christ for his people and the love of God’s people for Christ and each other. 

So let’s dive into this amazing letter and see what God has to say to us. 

Most letters have some sort of set format.  When I write a letter, I usually put the date on the right hand side or right above the “Dear so-and-so” greeting.  In the contemporary American system of letter writing, it can be a bit confusing knowing WHO is writing a letter, right? 

At Christmas our family will often get cards from dozens of people.  If someone opens the mail before I get to it and tosses away the envelope bearing the card, there are some times when I will have to ask Sandy, “Who is this letter from, anyway?  It’s just signed ‘Bob’ or ‘Jim’ or ‘Holly.”  We know a half dozen Bobs and Jims and Hollys. If they don’t sign their last name or give me some other clue in the card about their lives, I’m really stuck. 

That’s what’s nice about the way the Apostle Paul wrote.  He’d always identify himself right off the bat so you’re not reading through the whole letter wondering all the time, “Who the heck is writing this thing.” 

So Ephesians begins, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”  Names in the ancient world carried more meaning than they traditionally do today.  Paul was Saul of Tarsis’

 Greek name.  It literally meant “small.”  His Hebrew name was Saul.  Know what that name means?  “Asked for.” 

      So which one would you prefer being called?  “Hey Shorty, come here.”  OR, “Hey Golden Boy, you’re wanted in the principles office”??? 

      Here’s a man who came from the family line/tribe of Benjamin in Israel.  THE most famous Benjamite was King Saul of old, known for his height, his good looks, and his preoccupation with his public image and following.  He grew into a man who disobeyed God rather than disappoint people, a man whose ego was epic in size, matched only by his jealousy against anyone who would dare to threaten his power or position.  King Saul had spent years harassing and hunting down David simply because he would not humble himself before God and accept that God had passed the baton of leadership to another man named David. 

      Saul of Tarsus had apparently inherited that same tendency to become a people-hunter, someone who could not stand anyone or any belief in God that threatened his power and that of the ruling elite.  Like King Saul, his power-hunger drove him to murderous action.  Christ-followers posed the greatest threat to Jewish power in his day, so it was Christians he hunted, stalked and killed.  He became the Jewish equivalent of the Spanish Catholic inquisitor Torquemada.  Armed with letters from the top Jewish officials of the day, he went from city to city literally dragging men and women from their homes and throwing them in prison until they could be carted off to Jerusalem to be tried as heretics and executed.   His idea of being true to God was being deadly to those he viewed as the enemies of God. 

APP:  Does this remind you of anyone today?  Our world is filled with millions of people who think that they are being true to God when they destroy people of other faiths who refuse to deny their faith.  And it is far too easy for Christians today (at least for me) to develop a hatred of people who have a deadly, murderous religious zeal against us. 

      Did God hate Saul of Tarsus? 

      Did the Christians of his day hate Saul of Tarsus? 

There is NO indication whatsoever that such was the case.  In fact, Stephan, the first recorded martyr of the church, prayed with his last breath asking God not to hold this very man Saul guilty for his own unjustified murder by stoning (Acts 7:60).  The life of Christ that had captivated the early believers had gone down very deep, very quickly.  It was so deep that when their blood began to flow in the streets, forgiveness and prayers for their enemies began to flow from their lips.

      How would you respond if you were living in a Middle East country and Osama Bin Laden came leading a group of religious zealots to tie you to a post and stone you?  Or better yet, what if you heard rumor that he had “converted” to Christianity and was coming to town and wanted to meet with you to discuss his ‘new faith’??? 

      What do you suppose some of those Christians in prison were praying as they waited for trial and execution?  I’m sure many or all were praying for deliverance. But I’ll bet a few were praying for forgiveness and even conversion of their chief enemy, Saul of Tarsus. 

APP:  How much have we prayed for the conversion of the Muslim world?  Osama Bin Laden?  The Muslims among us? For how little I am actually threatened by Muslim zealots, I’m ashamed of how little I pray for their forgiveness and their salvation. 

APP:  Stop and pray for certain leaders of Islamic jihad and dominance.

  • Osama Bin Laden
  • Head of the mosque at ground zero
  • Head of the mosque in Spokane

Well, Saul of Tarsus become known as “Paul”—small. When God got a hold of his life, all his credentials and greatness receded into the background.  His weaknesses became what God chose to use in strong and powerful ways.  He got to that place where his weakness and “smallness” became the very places he knew Christ would be glorified in his life.   Listen to him in 2 Cor. 12:9-10 when he talks about finding God’s grace more than sufficient for his need.  “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

For those of us who may walk around in life…or in the church… feeling like we are pretty “small”—not up to the challenges, not gifted or charismatic in personality or a great leader or whatever—Paul should be a great encouragement.  Being “small” in the eyes of others or ever yourself has nothing to do with God’s plans for you. 

PERSONAL:  How “small” I often find myself feeling in ministry, in impact, in significance, in importance.  But I really want this ministry to rest upon the power of Christ, the presence of the Spirit, the work of God…not my power, presence or work.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”   FIVE times this phrase “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” pops up at the beginning of letters Paul wrote (1 & 2 Cor., Eph., Col., 2 Tim.).  “Apostle” means “sent one.”  Paul understood that he was a man with a mission.  Not any old mission.  It was truly a God-given, God initiated mission. It wasn’t something he had dreamt up.  It wasn’t a calling he had applied for.  It was a role he had been pressed into by the will of God. 

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, a follower of The Way he has laid out for those who want to be his disciple, what can you say TODAY about the divinely ordained roles God has called you? You and I aren’t ‘apostles’, but we are a number of other things “by the will of God”

  • I’m a husband by the will of God.  I know that because the Scriptures teach that when I married Sandy, God was actually joining us together in a bond that is to last until one of us dies. 
  • By the will of God I am a father.  He gave me children as an blessing to love, train and send out into this world for God’s great purposes.
  • I’m a pastor/teacher when it comes to the church of Jesus Christ.  I know that call is on my heart and life.  That’s what I do best in the church and what helps God’s people be blessed. 
  • I’m a neighbor—someone whom God has called to love others, particularly those in need,  in the same way and to the same degree that I love myself.

God has various capacities and callings for each of us:  a child of God, an important part of His body the church, a brother/sister in Christ, a gifted person in God’s family.  God’s will for us is both “common” and “unique.”  There are some parts of his will that are for all of us and there are other parts that are unique to us individually. 

How does it make you feel to be “called” by someone to a position, role or job? 

  • How do you feel when you’ve been job-searching for 6 months and you finally get that call that says, “Well, we’ve made our decision and we’d like to invite you to be part of our management team”???
  • Women, how do you feel when that special guy gets down on his knee and says, “Will you marry me?”  That’s a “call.”
  • How do you feel when someone asks you to join the soccer team…or be their tennis partner…or have a lead role in the school play…or engage in some activity or group that is a real honor? 

How does it make you feel to be “called” by the God of the universe to BE someone special in his family, to DO something eternal in his kingdom, and to enjoy a whole boatload of blessings???  May God help us feel the excitement and wonder of being “called” by Him…personally, publicly and permanently.

The old “4 Spiritual Laws”—“Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  Somewhat misleading in that many of us think of a roadmap or building plan when we think of God’s “plan” for us. 

But God does have a “will” for us.  It includes the “will” he has for every one of us to be sanctified (I Thess. 4:3), or his will that we should avoid sexual immorality…or his will that we give thanks in all situations (I Thess. 5:18).  

      But God also, I believe, has some individual components of his “will” that he wants to work out individually in your life and mine.  Mine will be different than yours.  Ours will be different than Paul’s. 

APP:  Write down several things you could tell someone who asked you, “Just WHO are you?” that you could say, “By the will and choice of God, I am….”

STOP:  Questions about this topic?

Vs. 2—“To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus….”

How many feel like a “saint” this morning?

How about particularly “faithful in Christ Jesus”?

We hesitate to put ourselves in either of those two categories, don’t we?  Paul didn’t.  He didn’t hesitate to put whole groups of people just like us in that camp—saints…faithful.

Some of you have come from Roman Catholic roots.  The Catholic church has a whole theology about saints.  And according to that theology, how many of US are saints here today?  Probably zero!

      They call the process canonization.”  Canonization (having the right to join the “list” [canon] of saint) requires extensive proof that the person proposed for canonization lived and died in such an exemplary and holy way that he or she is worthy to be recognized as a saint.  First, you can’t be canonized until you have to be dead!  (Bummer, no?  J)  That doesn’t mean you weren’t a saint while you lived, just that people around you may not have known it.   Secondly, you have to be nominated for the position or title.  Then a trial is held in which an advocate for your sainthood pleads the virtues of you before an august body called The Holy See.  Your virtues must include, among other things, that you were responsible for at least one verifiable miracle after you died.  You can see that pretty easily why none of us here today are going to be “canonized” or make “the list of saints” in this life, right?

The good news is, this notion of a ‘saint’ is a million miles from what God says qualifies as a “saint.”  The term “saint” comes from the Greek work hagios which literally means “set apart.”  Something is ‘holy’ or ‘set apart’ in the biblical sense if action has been taken to reserve it for…or set it apart for…a special, God-ordained and sacred purpose. 

This concept is really not all that hard to understand.  We practice “setting apart” things every day.

  • Clothes:  we make distinction between ‘work clothes’ and ‘dress clothes.’  Which are ‘holy’ or ‘set apart’?
  • Food:  there is an isle of food in the grocery store ‘set apart’ for cats and dogs.  Is that a more elite or special isle than the deli section or the frozen food section? 
  • Furniture:  we have set apart tables for what special purpose?  The refrigerator for what special purpose?  The carpet for what?  The door mat for what purpose?

Here’s the point:  YOU as a child of God are NOT the doormat… or the carpet…you’re the table.  You’re not the dog food; you’re the filet mignon steak. You’re not the painting clothes; you’re the formal dress or the 3-piece Armani suit! 

This can have truly profound implications for us.

  • When I’m tempted to sin, how different can that sin look if I am thinking, “Doing this is going to deface and smear the person I really am in God today.  I don’t want to make myself a grease rag when God has called me to be His dress shirt…or formal gown.” 
  • How about if I’m feeling really plain?  Really average or even below average? 

What happens when you go home after a particularly rough day at the office or in school or on the job site and someone in the family is really, really glad to see you? (It may be a little child, a parent, a spouse, etc.).  Doesn’t that make the load a bit lighter?  Doesn’t it make you want to just shut all the other negative stuff out and enjoy the moment with that someone? 

EVERY TIME God looks at us, he sees someone he has ‘set apart’ for a very special purpose.  He sees someone he loves deeply no matter how hateful someone else has been to them.  He sees someone who he knows is unique, like none other. 

How about affirming together what God has already affirmed in his word about you:  I am a saint, a person uniquely set apart by God himself for a special purpose in time and eternity.  (Say aloud!)

Paul finishes out this sentence by further identifying us as “the faithful in Christ Jesus….” 

How do you end up “in Christ Jesus”, i.e. as a part of the Body of Christ, the church, a child of God?  Is it by being faithful in everything God has asked of you in his word?  NO.  That would be putting yourself under the Law again, by which not 1 single person is “faithful.” 

      The term “faithful” here can certainly mean “keeping the faith” or “continuing in the faith.”  But even that type of faithfulness is absolutely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us to keep us moving forward in faith.

      No, in this passage, Paul is talking about people who have exercised faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s the primary meaning of this term anyway:  exercising faith in the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ by faith.  That involves all 3 of the following components:

1.)    Intellectual faith—An assent to the truth in your beliefs.

2.)    Emotional faith—a response in the heart about my sinfulness, Jesus sacrifice for me and God’s offer of forgiveness and right relationship through Christ.

3.)    Willful faith—my personal decision to trust in Christ, not self, and make Jesus Savior and Lord of my life.

In this way, every true Christian is “faithful”—they’ve put genuine faith in Christ and are therefore “in Christ”.

That last phrase “in Christ” is one we will unpack in coming months.  It is a truly loaded term in Paul’s writings and he uses it some 164 times in his letters!

I’ll end today with a few thoughts on the designation of this letter “to the saints in Ephesus….” 

ILL:  I had a conversation not long ago with a young man who is enrolled in a masters program here in Spokane.  He’s basically studying to become a Theology professor.  But his main interest is in the area of what theologians call “textual criticism.”  Basically that is the area of study that seeks to determine where biblical texts originated, which ones are most accurate and which texts might be in question. 

      His interest in this area had all begun in college when he started talking courses from professors of religion who are of what we would call a “liberal” theological perspective.  By that I mean, they don’t believe the Scriptures, as originally written, are without error.  Neither do they believe that the very words, the phrases or the syntax (grammatical structures) are inspired in the sense that they are “God-breathed” (as 2 Tim. 3:16-17 says).  So many “textual critics” spend their days trying to determine, through their own wisdom, which parts of the Bible they think were really said by Jesus or the Apostles and which parts do they think were added as time passed.

      Without giving you a course in textual criticism, suffice it to say that this approach to the Word of God will lead you down many a dark alley.  One of the most recent such attempts was done by a group some of you may remember having heard of several years ago.  It was called “The Jesus Seminar.” Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? 

      I can assure you it was anything BUT biblical.  Just to give you an idea of how unbiblical it was, let me tell you a little about what they concluded.  When the smoke cleared a tiny bit from their attempts to get at the ”real” Jesus, they were left believing that only 18% of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were actually said by Jesus. 

      For example, out of the entire Gospel of Mark, there was only one red-letter verse (meaning they believed “Jesus undoubtedly said this or something like it”).  Guess what that verse was?  Mark 12:17—“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Lucky for the IRS, no? J

      Take the Lord’s Prayer.  The only words in Jesus’ prayer that the Jesus Seminar was convinced Jesus said was, “Our Father.”  Wow.  That’s useful!

Now, sadly, the very intelligent and sincere young man I spoke with is going to dedicate his life to questioning the authenticity (and thus the authority) of the Word of God.  I don’t fault his motives: he sincerely wants to have a mature faith that is grounded in a reliable word from God.  But it is the methodology and presuppositions  about God’s Word that will lead him into a very dark and useless dead-end. 

I say all that because he grew up in an evangelical church.  He grew up in a church that held to the authority of this Word.  But when he got to college, he found out things about what other people believed about the Bible that he had never heard…and it blew his evangelical faith out of the water. 

      He found out, for instance, that, to the best of our knowledge, nobody has any of the “original manuscripts” of any of the books of the Bible.  In other words, we have copies of the originals, sometimes many years removed from the original letters.  But we not only have copies; we have thousands of them.  Some of them are just a few decades distant from the original authors while others are centuries removed. 

      So when you come to this verse in Ephesians 1:2 and it read, “To the saints in Ephesus…”, you find that many versions of the Bible (including the NIV) have a little footnote that says something like “Some early manuscripts do not have ‘in Ephesus.’”  What do they mean? 

      Here’s what the reality is.  Let me quote the words of John Stott, eminent British pastor and evangelical theologian.  He says,

“The words ‘at Ephesus’ are not to be found, however in the earliest Pauline papyrus (Chester Beatty 46) which dates from the second century.  Origen in the third century did not know them [the words ‘in Ephesus’], and they are absent from the great fourth-century Vatican and Sinaitic codices [compilations of the entire NT found residing in the Vatican and in Sinai].”

Stott goes on to explain other issues that lead many even conservative scholars to believe that this letter may have lacked the words “in Ephesus” in the original manuscript Paul wrote.  It could well have been written as a letter intended to be circulated among a number of churches in that region and that scribes later added the words “in Ephesus” to their copies of this book.  Or, it could also be that the words “in Ephesus” actually were in the original manuscript but somehow got left out in the earliest copies of this book we have in Greek or Latin.

Why bring this up?  Because I don’t want a single person, particularly young person, in this church to be ignorant about the Bible we hold in our hands, how we got it and how completely trustworthy it is.  Yes, there are minor and usually totally insignificant variations between the thousands of ancient texts we have in the world today.  But not one of them affects a central truth or doctrine of Christianity and the vast majority of them are less significant than the one I pointed out today. 

      It is truthful and fair to say that 99% of the Bible you hold in your hands today accurately and faithfully represents the very words its original authors put down as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. 

      Don’t let some liberal theologian who thinks they are smarter than God tell you otherwise.  The scholarship is there.  The refutations of their weak scholarship have already been done.  We can and must trust implicitly in the written word of God…or else we will end up where most of our mainline and liberal Christian friends have ended up—without a real faith that has any confidence in the word of God.  Rather, you will have only a faith that reflects their preferences and prejudices and leaves out the hard and often challenging demands of God. 

Having said that, pretty much everyone agrees that this book of Ephesians was, in fact, received and read by the church in Ephesus.  It is also agreed that Paul wrote this book with the Ephesians in mind. 

      Ephesian Christians were in much the same boat as we are today.  They lived in a city that had plenty of wealth flowing in and around it.  They lived in a culture that worshipped that wealth and other false gods—sex, pleasure, wealth, human knowledge, the power of the human race and being. 

      That’s why this letter is a “wartime romance.”  The Ephesian Christians were in a spiritual battle for their survival and for the ongoing advance of the Gospel.  They were in a battle for the souls of their own children growing up in a sexually-saturated, pagan, humanistic culture.  They were being attacked by the gates of hell and the governments of the day who didn’t want to cede power to anyone, not even God.  And they were being called to carry forward the torch of the light of Christ into the next province, the next generation and the next neighbor. 

Friends, we live in the same sort of culture.  We are called to engage in the same sort of war.  It will demand the same sort of total commitment to Christ and total devotion to the Kingdom of God that this book calls us to. 

But it is more than worth the battle.  The amazing nature of our God and Savior is beyond compare.  The astounding wonder of being God’s chosen people is beyond comprehension.  And the mysterious nature of being the Bride of Christ, the Church, is something for which we should never lose the capacity to wonder, marvel and respond to in total worship and abandonment.