[For a first look at this weekend's lesson, look here.]
1. For a general overview of Ephesians, see here.
2. The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) puts the text before us in context:
Ephesians expresses an understanding of Christian life that runs throughout the Pauline tradition. [The Pauline tradition is the undisputed writings of Paul, as well as of those associated with his school of thought.] Christians have been transformed in Christ. The Spirit of God works in the community of believers to effect a new way of life. At the same time, Christians must be actively engaged in strengthening what they already are...[Believers in Christ are part of] the body of Christ, which is still in the process of growing into its head [Christ].3. The Biblical literary genre of our lesson is parenesis. It's composed of a series of exhortations to various ethical practices. The virtues commended in these exhortations are, generally speaking, not unique to Christian faith. What is unique about them is the reasons for the ethical behaviors commended. The reason given for adopting each virtue is rooted in the changed relationship with God that comes to us through Jesus Christ and incorporation into His community of faith, the Church.
As the NIB puts it:
Believers are to feel a particular concern for their behavior because it affects the holiness of the community.This communal orientation, central to Old Testament and Jewish ethics as revealed to God's people by God Himself, was a new thing for the Gentile converts to Christian faith. Gentiles tended to be individualists and, as this and other New Testament passages show, driven by self-serving passions.
One can observe God's perfect plan for humanity in this. God birthed and cultivated a chosen people, the Jews, schooling them in His will for humanity, that we live in community with God and each other. The Jews knew that God wants to free the whole human race from our slavery to the deathly ways of selfishness and individualism, freeing us to live rooted in God and to each find our own strengths and gifts for the purpose of helping one another--and so, all of us--to become our best selves. After the Messiah had come in Jesus, it was the Jews who were able to teach Gentile converts to Christian faith what it meant to live in the living community of God, the body of Christ, as Ephesians calls it...the Church. This was one of the many gifts Jews were able to bring to the early Church.
4. My seminary professor, Wally Taylor, in his commentary on Ephesians points to a pattern that prevails in most of these exhortations--there are seven of them. The pattern is:
- vice to be avoided
- virtue to be embraced
- motivation for adopting the virtue