Wednesday, March 29, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10

These "passes" are designed primarily to help the folks of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Church, to get ready for weekend worship. If others find them helpful, that's great.

For readers who have been keeping up with the 40-Days to Servanthood daily readings (or the weekend messages which, during Lent, are also focused on servanthood themes), this pass might be helpful to you as well.

The Bible Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10
1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

General Observations:
(1) Authorship of Ephesians is disputed. Traditionally, it has been attributed to Paul. However, the vocabulary and theological categories used in Ephesians are sufficiently different from those used in the acknowledged writings of Paul (what's called the Pauline corpus) that many scholars dispute this. Furthermore, in the ancient world it was deemed legitimate for the followers of teachers or those schooled in their ways of thinking to write as though they were that teacher.

On the other hand, many argue that distinctions in style, vocabulary, terminology, and theology between this letter and other writings of Paul can simply be attributed to his growth and maturation as a Christian.

(2) One strong argument in favor of this being the handiwork of Paul, so far as I'm concerned, is that verses 1-7 comprise a single sentence! This is characteristic of Paul, who, except for brief greetings he might include in his own hand, always dictated his letters to an amanuensis. (I've always been amazed by Paul's facility for juggling so many thoughts at once, ultimately bringing them to a logical conclusion. Whether this blog proves it or not, I've always found that easier to do on paper than while I was speaking.) Often, when I'm translating some of Paul's writing from Greek, I find myself thinking, "Alright, Paul, bring it in for a landing!"

(3) The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) points out that the phrase "by grace you have been saved" appears both in v.5c and in v.8. Being with Christ and the new life we have in Christ has nothing to do with our jumping through the proscribed hoops, it has everything to do with the charitable gift of God, granted through Jesus Christ!

(4) NIB also says that our passage features:
"Three negative statements [that] are reversed in the event of salvation: (a) dead through trespasses (vv. 1, 5), made alive in Christ (v. 5); (b) living according to passions (v. 3), risen with Christ (v. 6); (c) subject to demonic power (v. 2; v. 3b, treating 'children of wrath' as equivalent to 'those who are disobedient'), seated in the heavenly regions with Christ (v. 6)."
(5) NIB notes that the "co-enthronement language" in v. 6 isn't to be found anywhere else in Paul's writings.

I would point out though, that something like it is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, Jesus is recorded as speaking with the Twelve:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:28-30)
In Luke, where Mary speaks of the great leveling work of God in the Magnificat ("He has brought down powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly"), Jesus later tells the Twelve:
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Luke 22:28-30)
(6) NIB also rightly points out that in this passage, Ephesians "removes all spatial and temporal separation between believers and the exalted Christ." In v. 6, for example, believers are seated with Jesus right now.

I observed that this is consistent with the varied theologies of Mark (with his frequent use of the word, immediately); Luke (for whom the presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ now is so important); and John (with its frequent allusions to the coming kingdom that now is, and its notion that as we follow the way today, we are already in eternity with God).

(7) In a beautiful reflection on this passage, the master preacher Fred Craddock reminds us that many scholars believe that the first three chapters comprise an address to ancient baptismal candidates. (In the ancient church, in many places, adults who were to be baptized underwent a period of instruction in the faith--a catechesis--and were baptized and confirmed during the Easter Vigil.)

In our lesson, Craddock suggests, the Church is interpreting Christian experience, answering the question, "What does it mean to become a Christian?" Craddock says that our passage in Ephesians answers the question in three different ways: (a) Experientially; (b) Historically; (c) In a cosmic context. (I may very well steal Craddock's outline for my message this weekend...with due attribution, of course.)

Through each of these answers, the Christian and the Church are seen to be "with Christ." As Craddock writes:
The life of the believer is set in a narrative far grander than the narrow parentheses of one lifetimes.
The believer's story is part of God's story. Without God, our own personal life histories make no sense. The believer lives with the awareness that even when we don't know what we're doing or why, while we walk with Christ, our story is moving in the right direction. To paraphrase Craddock, our lives move from God to God. For the follower of Jesus, the part in between is a life lived with Christ, just as He promised.

Another pass at this lesson later in the week, maybe.

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