The Messenger 1
In the 90’s stereograms, you may recall, were all the rage. A stereogram, of course, is just the fancy name for a 3D image hidden within another picture.
When you first look at the picture it appears as nothing more than a meaningless jumble of lines and colours. It does not make any sense at all. Then as you continue to stare at it, and it takes a bit of practice, a 3D image suddenly appears out of those lines and colours. It is like a little bit of magic.
I remember well my struggling to see what lay behind the picture in those stereograms and my frustration at not being able to make any sense of it. I would stare and stare but nothing changed, nothing emerged, nothing made sense. Then all of sudden, quite unexpectedly, I saw what previously was hidden from me. It seemed to leap out of the picture. It was fascinating. I could not wait to look at more of those stereograms
The Bible is, in some ways, like a stereogram. To some it is just black ink on white paper, a collection of words that do not seem to connect with us at all. Then suddenly the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and we see what had been there all the time but hidden from our natural mind. Out of the words Jesus appears, the living Word. It was a bit like that for John Wesley who, although he had tried so hard, just could not grasp the truth that God loved him and had a wonderful plan for his life. Then one day he had a revelation. As he was listening to someone reading from Luther’s preface to the book of Romans he suddenly saw it, and with it came a deep understanding of what God in Christ had done for him. It changed his life forever.
As you come with me on this journey of reflections based on the first three chapters of Ephesians, I trust that the Holy Spirit will inspire you. Out of the many words may Jesus, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, suddenly appear to you in a fresh and life-transforming way. May what you see and read in this amazing letter from God’s Word challenge you, in the words of an old Methodist hymn, “to rise up and have done with lesser things.”
In today’s reflection, I want to highlight three things about this letter that will provide some important insights into its contents and help us understand its message.
Firstly, the letter as a whole can be divided into two distinct halves. The first half of the letter (chaps 1-3) is doctrinal in its emphasis and it informs us of what we have received in Christ. The key verse is Eph. 1:3. It is this first half of the letter, the doctrinal section, that will be the focus of the reflections that are to follow. The second half of the letter is practical in its emphasis and deals with a number of important practical issues that flow out of the believer’s relationship with Christ. The key verse is Eph. 4:1. Take a few moments now to read those two key verses
There is a reason why I want to draw your attention to that division in Ephesians. Doctrine and practical action always belong together. What we believe ultimately impacts on how we behave and what we do in the name of Christ.
The second point I want to highlight is the difference in emphasis and focus that Paul places on salvation in Ephesians compared to his emphasis and focus on the salvation message in Romans and Galatians. This is not just of academic interest. It is significantly going to impact the way in which we read and understand the message of Ephesians.
To illustrate this difference let me quote Dr CJ Ellicott: The Galatians and Romans epistles (as the history of the Reformation of the 16thcentury showed) are the treasure-house of the truths of personal Christianity: for the very thought of justification, dominant in the two letters, brings each soul face to face with its own sin and its own salvation…………….. Ephesians is the storehouse of the less vivid yet grander conception of the Church. The central idea is of Christ the Head and the Church as His Body. Jesus is conceived not solely or mainly as the saviour of each individual soul but rather as ‘gathering up’ all humanity in Himself.
In Ephesians the Spirit is inviting us to catch a glimpse of the enormity of what God planned in Christ before time even began. When God planned salvation He did not purpose only to restore the individual to Himself, wonderful as that is, but “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (1:10).
Finally, I want to draw your attention to the two prayers that appear in this letter to the Ephesians 1:15 ff and Eph. 3:14 ff. Their contents, as we will discover, are significant because they will provide us with a real understanding of what God has purposed for every believer. Read through those prayers and you will have a better understanding of what God wants you to know as a believer, what He wants you to experience as a believer and how He wants you to live as a believer. What an incredible depth of insight those prayers give us into the meaning and implication of being a follower of Jesus.
Three things to take note of then:
- The natural division that appears in the letter between doctrine (1-3) and practical action (4-6)
- The insight it gives us into Jesus and salvation where “Jesus is conceived not solely or mainly as the saviour of each individual soul but rather as ‘gathering up’ all humanity in Himself “
- The two prayers that appear in this letter
With this brief foretaste of what is to come, let me conclude this reflection with these words from Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Ephesians is the sublimest and most majestic expression of the Gospel…there is nothing more sublime in the whole range of Scripture than this epistle to the Ephesians.
If that does not encourage you to want to explore the treasures of this amazing letter in the New Testament, nothing will!
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