Friday, October 23, 2009

Ephesians 3:1 (part one)

A Special Note: As I wrote in the last posted study, I recently started a new job that occupies much of my time. As a result, I will not be able to post new lessons as often as I used to -- or would like to. Thanks for your patience and please check back periodically. I will, however, continue posting at my contemplative site with a fair degree of regularity.

Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ (Jesus) for you Gentiles-- if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, (namely, that) the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier (Ephesians 3:1).

Before we look at chapter three, a word about the divisions within the books of the Bible is in order. The text itself (i.e. the words written by the various authors of the Bible) is fully inspired of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (paragraphs 105-107):

God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . . To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.

And neither should we miss this point:

The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures (my emphasis in bold).

But while the text itself is divinely inspired, the chapter and verse divisions are of human origin and put in place for human convention. The origin of the divisions has a long history, but most scholarship places the addition of chapters and verses to the 13th century A.D. You can follow these links for further study here and here .

So, when the apostle opens chapter three with the words, "Because of this . . . " we know he is referring to his remarks immediately preceding. Unfortunately, the chapter division interrupts the flow of St. Paul's argument. So, for a quick review, I include the last few verses of chapter two, and then add the first verses of three to create a more fluent flow of the apostle's thoughts:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles . . . . (Ephesians 3:1).

The Romans thought they had imprisoned Paul. But the apostle had a different perspective. He knew Whose he was, and to Whom he belonged. He knew the Romans didn't imprison him. God did -- for reasons known only to the Almighty. But as far as Paul was concerned, that he was Christ's prisoner was sufficient for him because his imprisonment had a purpose -- that the people of Ephesus might hear and understand the gospel message, and find eternal life in the process.

Somehow, St. Paul caught a glimpse of life and its true purpose. Somehow he was able to integrate the Lord Jesus' statement into his own spirit: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal (John 12:24-25).

St. Paul's entire life-focus was to serve his Messiah. Here is what he wrote to the Corinthians. And here to the Romans. And here to the Philippians.

So what was it that helped St. Paul catch that glimpse of life's true purpose? To say it was the grace of God that captured Paul -- grace that captures any of us -- is always a correct answer. But to satisfy ourselves with only that answer, and not reserve some responsibility for ourselves does us -- and God -- a disservice. Too often Scripture tells us to seek after God, to seek after His righteousness, to seek after heaven for those exhortations to be incidental.

Blessed Mother Teresa said: The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give God to fill us. And St. Augustine summed it very well when he discovered: Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I love Thee! For behold, Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made . . . . I was kept from Thee by those things . . .

St. Paul "only late" discovered that to be a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ grants us freedom that defines freedom. No wonder he could proclaim, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." No wonder he could demonstrate it again and again with his pen and with his life: But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

What was it that helped Paul lay himself fully at the feet of Jesus? God's grace, yes. But the apostle took it upon himself to also seek after Christ. It seems from the evidence of Scripture that when he had opportunity to serve himself or serve his Lord, he chose the latter.

And so can we . . . so must we . . . if we are to accomplish the mission God gave each of us to bring the only effective message of hope and eternal salvation to others.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage mean to you as you reflect on our call to be evangelists for Christ?
2. Read this passage. What do you think Paul's comment here has to do with our ability to accomplish Christ's purpose on earth?

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