Our preaching for this morning focuses on first two verses from the 1st chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian believers. It is the author’s formal salutation to his readers or hearers in a congregation formed during his missionary visit to their city. While Paul followed the customary ancient formal greeting, he adds a distinct flavor to it. He wrote them a benediction.
The word benediction is combination of two Latin words “bene” which means well or good and “diction” which means to say or speak. It is essentially words of well-being or in a distinct Christian sense, it a form of blessing. Back in the wilderness, God commands Aaron to bless his people with shalom or peace (Numbers 6:24-27). And in the same sense, God blesses his people through his Word.
The greeting is composed of thirty words (Greek) and it can be broken into three parts. These three sections form the points of our sermon which I categorized as (1) The Messenger from God, (2) The Saints in Christ, and (3) The Blessing of Grace and Peace. The first two parts establishes the relation between God’s Word and God’s people and the last part pronounces God’s Benediction to them.
In summary, we can learn from this short exposition of God’s benediction from Ephesians 1:1-2 that God speaks to his people, His Word sets them apart as God’s people, and in response, we receive Him by faith. Our Triune God pronounces his blessing to us which comes from His grace and in effect, provides reconciliation. and produces in us a life of peace and spiritual well-being.
The Messenger from God
verse 1a: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”
Paul is author of this epistle/letter. Modern scholarship casts doubt against Paul’s authorship. They raised the issue of writing style and formal tone. Paul wrote a very long sentence in 1:3-14 and his formal greeting at the beginning of the letter creates an impression of distance between him and his readers.
But against these two issues we can uphold Paul’s original authorship over this epistle because writing style does not deny divine inspiration. The personality and style of the Bible’s more than forty writers shows great variety in form but unity in their content. God’s inspired word comes through these human agents. God works through human personalities and He preserves them as they wrote his Words. The alleged “impersonal” tone of the letter does not prove anything except points to a variety of expression. The formality of the greeting expresses a formal tone but it does not mean it is impersonal. The former does not cause the latter. It is possible to have a formal personal letter.
Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus. Apostles are messengers sent by God to proclaim the message of salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. They are God’s emissaries or bearers of good news. Their authority comes from God alone and as instruments in God’s service, they only bear witness to God’s Word.
Paul is an apostle by God’s will. Apostles are recognized by the message they carry and by the calling they receive. Paul was the apostle of the Gentiles. He was called by God during his journey in Damascus. It is by God’s sovereign power and providential will. Peter and the rest of Jesus disciples were commissioned as apostles before Christ’s ascension but Paul admits his calling came in differently with the rest (1 Cor 15) and yet his apostleship comes from same source. Their authority comes from God.
Do we submit to God’s authority that comes from His Word? Reading these words from Paul written thousands of years ago comes to us in power and authority because they are God’s Word. It calls our attention and demands our submission. What we have heard is not less than the very word that comes from the mouth of God. They speak to us God and his will. Let us receive them in faith.
The Saints in Christ
After identifying himself as the author of the letter, Paul then specifies his recipients and they are the believing saints in Ephesus.
verse 1b: “the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus”
Paul identifies his hearing congregation as hagiois or saints meaning those who are set apart, the holy ones.This is the Old Testament designation for the people of God. It comes with the privilege of being identified with the Holy God and being included in his covenant. To be a saint means to have a vital relationship with the living God.
Paul then specifies these saints as the believers who are in Ephesus. Latest manuscript omits the term in Ephesus. This created some controversy in determining its original recipients. However, inerrancy and infallibility are attributes only in the original letter and do not cover the copies. It is still reasonable to conclude based on the number of manuscripts recovered, in Ephesus belongs to the original.
Paul, by the authority given to him by God, declared the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant with God in these short greeting. The barrier separating Jews and Gentiles are finally broken down. There are no more racial distinction in order to belong inside the covenant community. There is now one unified people of God. This reconciliation comes with faith in Christ Jesus. Paul then specifies the means of inclusion. The term “pistois” translated as “faithful” is the adjectival word which means the “believing ones”. They are those who posses faith and put their trust in the redemptive work of Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant. These are the believers united to Christ by faith. According to Dr. John Calvin, “No man, therefore, is a believer who is not also a saint; and on the other hand, no man is a saint who is not a believer.”
We as believing saints here at Imus belongs to God and by redemptive work of our mediator, Jesus Christ, are included in the Covenant of Grace. We may sometimes feel unworthy or even discouraged when we fail in this Christian life but God’s Word encourages us this unchanging reality set for us by God himself. We belong him body and soul. We are his and we call him ours.
The Blessing of Grace and Peace
verse 2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Finally, after identifying himself as the author and specifying his recipients, Paul pronounces to them God’s benediction of grace and peace.
Grace and Peace summarizes for us the content of the entire epistle/letter. Ephesians 1-3 is the Grace section which in sum comprises of the doctrinal basis of God’s redemptive work in Christ. It explains to us the great indicatives of the faith. They are meant to encourage us by providing the grounds of our salvation. They are secure because it is the Father who plans it, the Son who accomplishes it, and the Spirit who applies it. The great work of redemption comes from God and everything about it is due to his grace alone, to be received by us through faith alone, because it was done all by Christ alone. Ephesians 4-6 is the Peace section which in sum describes for us effects of living faith. It is a life in Communion with God. It is a life of peace or “shalom”. It is blessed life here and now but more so into the next. Peace comes to us by the blood of Christ, our mediator. The washing of the blood unites us with God through Christ and his Spirit which cleanses us from all unrighteousness. It enables us to live according the precepts of God. It activates us to live in gratitude and service.
All these benefits comes from our Triune God. He is the source of all the blessing we receive. He is the blessed One who blesses his people. The Blessed One is the Blessing.
ZCRC (Imus), I pray that when these words are spoken in our liturgy we now have an understanding of what they mean. Rather than hear them as vain repetitions, may it brings assurance and comfort to our weary souls. Let us hear God’s Word of grace and peace. May the Lord continue to bless his people. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.