Gleanings From The Text
Like 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 and 1 Peter 1:3-9, Ephesians’ introduction begins with a blessing (berakah), a liturgical formula used to praise God for creation and redemption, as well as to describe God’s character as the giver of blessings to the people. But where 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter then shift to the current situations of their communities, Ephesians does not follow suit until chapters 4 and 5. Pheme Perkins notes that this extended blessing is “combined with the rhetorical understanding of ‘eulogy’ as eloquence or fine speaking in praise of someone.” In this sense, our text is not a theological treatise, but a poetic affirmation of faith meant to sustain and encourage the Ephesians in their worshiping life together.
It is also important to note that in the letters in which Paul’s authorship is undisputed, the expected return of Christ is conveyed in the near future, while Ephesians places significant emphasis on the cosmic nature of the church—the universal church conveys God’s wisdom as part of God’s eternal purpose (3:9-11)—with Christ as its head (1:22). We catch glimpses of this theme in our text’s blessing—God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, God has made known the mystery of divine will to us, and God’s plan for the fullness of time is to gather up all things in heaven and earth in Christ, through whom we have obtained an inheritance. Our response is to live for the praise of God’s glory in Christ.
Food For Thought
Although the author of Ephesians does not use the term “election” directly, the language of choice, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, grace and divine plan within this passage all point to this theological doctrine. Election is a source of great comfort to some and great distress to others, and preaching and/or teaching this text will most likely reveal both ends of this spectrum.
George W. Stroup offers five key insights on election pertaining to this passage in Ephesians. First, election is “a statement about the wonder of God’s grace in Jesus Christ…It is above all else an affirmation that the God Christians know in Jesus Christ is gracious beyond the wildest reaches of their imaginations.” Second, election is about God’s sovereign will, not our actions—our text notes in verses 5, 9, and 11 that “God’s choosing or election is rooted in the good pleasure and mystery of God’s counsel and will.” Third, Christ is to be the “looking glass” in which Christians should consider their election, as God’s election is always through Christ. Stroup points to Calvin and Barth, who claimed that by looking at the life of Christ and seeing the grace and mercy of God, we should be assured that we are included in God’s promises. Fourth, election “reminds Christians that they are adopted children of God;” this adoption is a gift, not a right. Fifth, we must be mindful that God’s election “does not make Christians ‘special’ in relation to other people, but calls them to specific tasks of serving God and neighbor.”
Sink Your Teeth Into This!
Terms like election, redemption, and adoption have become part of my theological vocabulary while at seminary, and while I believe that there is a plan for the fullness of time, my eyes do not always see it in the world around me. In a world full of injustice, pain and division, these words of adoption, grace and gathering all things up are sometimes hard to hear. Indeed, there is tension between what God has already done in Christ and what is left to be done in the world.
When I took Hebrew, our professor, Dr. Carson Brisson, would end class with the same benediction every day. One line of this benediction comes to mind as I reflect on Ephesians 1:3-14 — “May you be blessed and a blessing.” God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and our right response to these blessings is to live for the praise of Christ’s glory. As the church, we are to live lives of service, working for peace and reconciliation among our brothers and sisters all over the world through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Martin, Ralph P., Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Interpretation series (Atlanta: John Knox, 1991).
Perkins, Pheme, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 11, (Nashville: Abingdon, 2000).
Stroup, George W., “Theological Perspective: Ephesians 1:3-14,” in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 230-234.
Elizabeth Smith (M.Div) is a 2009 graduate of Union-PSCE. Originally from Texas, she is moving to Connecticut and starting a 9-month Chaplain Residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital at the end of August. Gently-used coats and snow tires are welcome!