Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ephesians 1:1

We will now begin our study of Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. For context, read the first several verses here. This lesson will focus on verse one: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the holy ones who are (in Ephesus) faithful in Christ Jesus . . . "

Ephesus was the cultural center of Asia Minor. The city was also the center of the worship of Diana, the goddess of fertility (also known by her Latin name of Artemis). The temple dedicated to Diana in Ephesus was the largest Greek temple ever constructed. You can read more about Ephesus here, and here. For a glimpse into the religious fervor of the Ephesians for Diana, read this account in Acts19 beginning with verse 24.

It is important to note that the words “at Ephesus” are not found in the earliest manuscripts. Consequently, some scholars believe this letter was more of an encyclical to be read in the churches within Asia Minor, such as Laodecia, Colossea, Lydia and Smyrna. Church Tradition, however, gives us the title of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Regardless of the specific audience, the subject matter of this letter focuses on issues faced by those churches – that being all forms of idolatry and sexual immorality. Issues, by the way, not too dissimilar to those you and I face in our culture today, as we shall address in later lessons.

But for now, the take-home lesson is this: Whether to the Ephesians, the Laodiceans, the Colossians . . . or to the Americans, Canadians, or whomever we might be, the gospel entered this milieu of immorality and changed individuals. As a result, the culture in Ephesus experienced a transformation, so much so that Ephesus became a center of Christian worship within a generation.

This is not a point we should forget. When people receive and believe the gospel, their lives are changed.

That shouldn't surprise anyone. As St. Paul noted in his letter to the Romans, the message of Christ is the “power of God unto salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first, and also to the Greeks. (Romans 1:16)

If you remember the story, you know Paul experiences the gospel’s power first hand.

Paul, known as Saul before his conversion, was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a fierce persecutor of the Church, and responsible for the martyrdom of many Christians, including St. Stephen. And then Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus and life for him . . . and for the Church . . . was never the same.

Saul never forgot what he had done to the Christians. I’m sure he never forgot the look on the faces of those who died under his hand or his authority. We catch a glimpse of his remorse during his defense before King Agrippa here and in his letter to Timothy here.

St. Paul’s conversion is a great example of the gospel's power. When the message of Christ takes root in our hearts, we are never the same. We cannot be the same. That is why Paul exhorted his Corinthian readers in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?" And in 2 Cor 5:17, he wrote, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

When St. Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and so, Paul's words also apply to you and me. That is why I often ask myself, Is Jesus Christ in me? How do I know? Am I a new creature? Have old things, old ways, old habits, old lifestyles passed away and given way to new ways, habits and lifestyles? If not, why not?

Questions for Reflection:

1. Think about your life before you experienced an adult conversion. How is your life different today than it was before your decision to follow Christ?
2. Ezekiel 16 is a graphic picture of ancient Israel’s spiritual adulteries. What is the relationship between this passage and, for example, James 4:1-4?
3. What do St. Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20 mean to you, in light of question 2?
4. Here is something to help you further reflect on these questions. (Sadly, I cannot edit out the obscene and spiteful comments at the bottom of the YouTube. I consider them the Enemy's method of attempting to distort the beautiful music our faith has to offer the world).

1 comment:

Matthew Ross said...

Hey Rich,

This is a great start for the study.
I enjoy following the links that led to the historical contexts of Eohesus. The other night i heard someone say that since the 300's we have lived under the age of Constantine and now that time is coming to an end. So we might fond ourselves living in a society that increasingly resembles that of ist century Ephesus.