Christs Letter to the Ephesian Church

September 16, 2012 / No. 3637

Dear Radio Friends,
Thanks you for tuning in today. I count it a privilege to be given the opportunity by the Reformed Witness Hour to address you for the next several months through its broadcast. I wish to devote my time to what I believe is a timely subject: the truth concerning the church. The teaching of the Bible about the church is one of the most misunderstood and maligned truths of Scripture. While many in our day are intrigued with such subjects as salvation, creation, or the last things, few take time to ponder the nature of the church.
The letter of Paul to the Ephesian church, although not a comprehensive study of the doctrine of the church, nevertheless gives us solid instruction concerning it and our calling in it. For that reason it is my intention to spend the next several weeks with you in a study of this book of the Bible.
It is important for us to know what the Bible teaches us about the church. There is a modern push toward the unscriptural view that a person can belong to the body of Christ in this world without joining himself to a church institute. We will learn in this letter of Christ to the Ephesian church that Christ condemns such an error. This letter, written to the Christian congregation in Ephesus, has much to say about the unity of the church, the offices in the church, and the place of the believer in the church institute.
We begin our study of Ephesians with the first couple of verses of chapter 1. They read: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses present us with an introduction to this letter.
Paul’s address in the verses we consider is already packed with instruction regarding the church. Paul identifies himself, first of all, as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. Immediately Paul lays claim to the apostolic authority entrusted to him by God. Immediately, therefore, Paul silences the gainsayers who would argue that the word that he now writes is the word of a man. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ—an apostle, that is, belonging to Christ. The word he now writes is not his word but Christ’s Word. In this way Paul asserts that the church need not listen to him as a man, but it certainly must listen to and learn from Christ. This is true because Christ has been ordained by God and anointed by the Spirit to hold office in the church. Paul uses that particular name of our Savior: the name Christ. That name means “anointed one.” In the Old Testament, a man was anointed to hold office in the church. This anointing Christ received when He was baptized in the Jordan River. At that time the Spirit anointed Christ to be the chief office bearer of the church. Christ sits in heaven as our chief Prophet and Teacher, who fully reveals to us the counsel and will of God concerning our redemption. Likewise, He sits in heaven as our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit.
In other words, Christ gives the Word. He is the Wisdom of His people. Our calling as God’s saints is to listen to Him. It pleases God to govern His own church. He has given that privilege to no man. And God reigns over His church by His Word, a Word before which all men must bow. When God anointed Christ with His Spirit and then exalted Him at His right hand, God gave Christ the authority to speak the Word to His church. Christ earned this right by His own death and resurrection. Paul acknowledges all of this in the way that he identifies himself: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
Since Christ is our chief Prophet, who alone imparts to His people His perfect knowledge, Paul insists that he is an apostle of Christ. Paul does not make an issue of this in these verses. He was called to be an apostle directly by Jesus Christ Himself on the road to Damascus. His conversion and calling are recorded for us in Acts 9. There were those in some of the churches of Paul’s day, however, who hotly disputed his apostleship. If you care to read Paul’s defense of himself as an apostle, you need only read the first couple of chapters in Galatians. You will be left with no doubt that Paul was indeed called by Christ and that Christ was then speaking through His chosen ambassador. But this point was not being argued in the church of Ephesus. That is why Paul really makes no more of an issue of it than merely to identify himself in this way.
It is important that we understand the significance of being an apostle of Christ. You see, Christ had appointed Paul as an apostle to speak His Word of life. For the welfare of His church on earth, Christ called and appointed this servant to the work of teaching His Word. Certainly we can understand this. Christ is our chief Prophet. But Christ is no longer with us on earth as He was when He walked the earth with His disciples. Christ is in heaven. And for that reason Christ Himself chooses men to particular offices in the church in order that they might make known His Word to His church today. Paul was chosen and appointed in the church to be an apostle. We will learn a little later in this letter the particular function of this special office appointed in the church. But the truth is, when Paul taught God’s Word, he taught what Christ had chosen to speak to His church. It was not Paul’s word, but the Word of His master, Jesus Christ. That Paul preached and taught God’s Word does not contradict that Christ is the sole teacher of His church. That, in the first place, we understand.
In the second place, Paul was an apostle by the will of God. Paul’s office in the church was appointed him by God. It was God’s will. God had determined his place in the church from the foundations of the earth. Paul, therefore, was an apostle by virtue of the sovereign, determinate will or good pleasure of God. Who could question that?
But the beauty of it all is this, that God willed that Paul be an apostle for the welfare of His church. God so loved His church from eternity that He chose to give them the gift of His apostles. And the Word that Paul now writes is God’s Word given to His church through Paul in order that His church might have peace and joy through Christ.
This Word of God already teaches us something very practical. In the first place, it teaches us that in order to maintain order in His church, God appoints and calls men to hold office in His church. And the charge that He gives to them is: “Teach My Word.” God does not give that charge to anyone or everyone in the church. Paul was called to his office and given by Christ the charge that he had. So is every officebearer in the church lawfully called into office by the church.
John Calvin, in commenting on this very phrase here in Ephesians, writes: “For if a man were the most gifted and excellent in the world, yet if he thrusts himself forward under his own impulse, he disturbs all order. And we know that God will have order and not disorder amongst us. He then that speaks, at least to teach, must have a calling. That is to say, he must be admitted and have his charge given him so that every man may not put himself forward by reason of an unadvised zeal.”
Paul speaks of his office as apostle in defense against those in the church who would challenge his office by flashing as a badge their own knowledge of the Scriptures. In doing this, of course, he also defends the office Christ has appointed in the church, especially the office of the ministry of the Word and sacraments. That is not to say, of course, that Paul defends those in office who would use it to advance themselves and their own ideas. The officebearer in the church who uses his office to advance his own cause, even if that man were an apostle, does not speak on behalf of the ascended King. But that minister of God’s Word, lawfully called by the church, and who, by faithful service, expounds the Word, sacrificing himself in the building up of Christ’s church, that man speaks on behalf of Christ. He is Christ’s ambassador, even as the apostle Paul, though he does not speak infallibly the Word of God as did the apostles. He is a minister of Jesus Christ, by the will of God.
Woe to that man who does not teach the Word of that One who appoints him to office. That is Christ’s order in the church. That is what Christ has ordained for the benefit of His church. This order is established for the peace and joy of His church. In this way the word of salvation, the word of reconciliation, might be proclaimed to the church of Jesus Christ, as Paul writes in I Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” Christ has given such gifts unto men for the building up of His church.
Paul addresses this letter to the saints who are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus. These are the same body of saints. They were both holy and faithful. Further, they were members in the congregation of believers in Ephesus. In other words, Paul addresses the saints who are members of the church, the local congregation that was established in Ephesus. He is not addressing a vague body of people, the membership of which he could not be certain. This letter was addressed to the church institute in Ephesus and was probably read by its minister or one of the elders during a gathering of the church. We must recognize already at the outset in this letter that the church of Jesus Christ in this world becomes manifest in the institution of the church. It always does. We will discover that the church of Christ is that body of believers that He gathers and preserves from the beginning of time to the end and from various lands. But, wherever Christ chooses to save His people, He does so in connection with the church institute.
The church in Ephesus was such a church—a local body of people that gathered for worship under the rule of elders. This church was located in the large metropolis of Ephesus. It would be worthwhile to check a map to see for yourself where Ephesus was located. Ephesus was a city in the province of Asia, on the west coast of Asia Minor, a little inland from the Aegean Sea. It was a large, busy city, one of the top five cities of importance in the Roman Empire during the first century. It was a typical city in its culture and development of the arts and, of course, in the development of its sin, too. There was a huge temple built there as a monument to the Roman goddess Diana. The temple and its worship was one of the wonders of the ancient world. This city was known, therefore, for its worship of and the trades surrounding Diana. In this large worldly city, God had chosen to establish His church through the missionary labors of Paul.
Paul had labored there for some two years during his third journey and had learned to love the saints there dearly. This particular letter Paul sent to Ephesus while he was imprisoned in Rome. More than likely it was intended as well to be read in other of the churches in Asia. Take note, however, how this letter was sent to the church as a whole. It may be that Paul addresses the saints and faithful in Ephesus, but this designation was given the congregation as a whole. In other words, this local church in Ephesus was made up of saints and faithful. Paul addresses this congregation organically, that is, as a unit. As we mentioned earlier, he was not writing to a group of scattered, unrelated individuals in Ephesus. He was writing to a particular body of people. And he addresses them now as the saints and faithful.
This does not mean that every individual in that church was a saint or was faithful. The church institute does not consist of all believers. The church as the body of Christ does, but when the church organizes into an institution, it is not made up of only saints and faithful. But, you see, that does not matter. This letter is sent to a church of Jesus Christ. And that church, as a whole, may be addressed as saints and faithful because that is what the church is. The church consists of those called out of sin and into the fellowship of Christ. It is made up of those who are sanctified and holy in the Lord. The church is the embodiment of those who believe in Christ and follow Him. The faithful church institute is viewed collectively as saints and believers, even though there may be weeds mixed in with the wheat. And this is why the instruction of this letter of Paul can be readily applied to a congregation in the church today: faithful saints.
That is how Paul addressed members of the church, in particular the members of the church of Ephesus. He calls them, first of all, saints. A saint is an individual who is sanctified through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result of that work of Christ, he is holy unto the Lord, that is, he is set apart by God unto the service of God. This service of God, however, is not mere lip service. It is not an outward form of service that consists in outward deeds. When one is a saint, when one is sanctified, he is cleansed from within. His heart is renewed. And the result is dedication and consecration to God in the heart. He purposes in his heart to serve God. As a result, his mind, his will, his actions are that of holiness. By means of calling these believers saints, Paul reassures them that they are the “set-apart ones,” they are God’s people, who by grace belong to God and His Son. This is true of them as they are in Christ Jesus.
I realize that it seems as if Paul simply writes that they are faithful in Christ Jesus. But that phrase “in Christ Jesus” applies both to the term saints and to the term faithful. These saints were holy because they were in Christ, that is, united to Christ, so that they were one body with Him. The holiness of Christ became theirs. They possessed holiness just as they possessed faith in Christ Jesus. That is the idea of the term “faithful” in this address, too.
These saints possessed faith. They knew Christ. They were committed to the cause of Christ in this world. By grace, they were saved, through faith. They knew Christ and were confident that He was the One who had separated them from the darkness of unbelief and called them unto Himself. As a result of this work of faith, they belonged to Jesus Christ. They were one body with Him.
This address, therefore, was meant to encourage the church in Ephesus and her individual members. In it, Paul reveals the great love of God in Jesus Christ toward them.
So also did the blessing Paul now pronounces on the church. Read verse 2: “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, we need not develop the concepts contained in this particular salutation of Paul to the church, since they will be developed in coming passages. But notice whose greeting this is. It is not Paul’s salutation. It is God’s and Jesus Christ’s greeting to the church. Obviously Paul recognizes that this letter, though written by his hand, was sent on behalf of God and Christ. And this is really what makes this letter mean something. It is sent by God. Even more, it is sent by God, our Father. These saints were called into the fellowship of God. In His great mercy toward them, God had adopted them to be His very own children. This is true of you and me, fellow believers. We have a God in heaven who says to us that He is our Father. God Himself tells us that. He tells us that in this blessing. What is true of the saints in Ephesus is true of the saints in the church of Jesus Christ today. God is our Father. He has entered into an intimate bond of fellowship with His church, with you and me as believers. Likewise, the church today and her members hear such greetings from our Good Shepherd, our Chief Prophet, the One who laid down His life for us. This is what our Father and our Savior say to us: “Grace to you and peace.”
When they pronounce such upon us, what joy that gives to us as God’s children in the church. Jesus Christ, on behalf of our heavenly Father, reveals His grace, His undeserved favor, to His people. How foolish to imagine that God reveals His favor upon those who walk outside the confines of His church and kingdom in this world. Those who refuse to walk in the sphere of Christ’s church can only be the objects of God’s curse. But those who are in Christ are the objects of God’s favor, His grace, His sovereign, free, undeserved favor. God smiles upon us always. Under every circumstance of life we are under God’s divine favor.
And that means peace. We are at peace with the living God. The wrath of God is no longer revealed against us. We have been reconciled unto God in Christ. Christ has made peace between us and God. That peace is declared to His church in this world. And that peace results in peace in our hearts. Peace to you, saints of God. Come, hear now what Christ writes to us in this blessed epistle to the Ephesians.