Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT
Paul sat in a Roman prison, dictating his latest letter to yet another church, desiring to encourage them in their faith and strengthen them as they lived out that faith in daily life as a body of believers. Paul's desire is to reveal to them the uniqueness of their position as believers and the necessity of their presence within the corporate community of Christ. It is important to remember that this letter is written to the church as a whole, not to individual believers. While there are certainly messages we can apply to our individual lives, Paul's intent was to address the needs of the family of believers. He starts out his letter addressing them as "God's holy people in Ephesus." The Greek word he uses is hagios, which is usually translated "saints." The Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as "things which on account of some connection with God possess a certain distinction and claim and claim to reverence." It can also mean "to be set apart for God for His use." So Paul addresses his letter to those in Ephesus who have been set apart by God for His use and according to His divine purposes for them. Paul does not want them to lose sight of the fact that God chose them and set them apart for a reason. Amazingly, God chose each and every one of the believers in Ephesus "even before he made the world" (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). "God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do and it gave him great pleasure" (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). In other words, the salvation of each and every individual in Ephesus was not happenstance or left up to each individual's whim – this was the work of God. Think about it. If God had determined far in advance those whom would come to faith in Christ, then He would have had a plan in place for each and every one of them. We tend to think of the church as a motley collection of individuals with little or nothing in common except their faith in Christ. And while that may appear true on the surface, what Paul seems to be telling us is that there is a divine strategy or plan to what is taking place. God is adopting into His family those whom He has chosen, and there is a method to His seeming madness. Rather than question the fairness of it all, Paul's response to this amazing fact is praise. "So we praise God for the glorious grace his has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son" (Ephesians 1:6 NLT). He is blown away at the grace, mercy and love of God. He is amazed at the forethought and planning of God.
Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to understand that their placement into God's family and the local body of Christ in Ephesus was the work of God. He has placed each of them into His family and under the authority of Christ. They are no longer independent individuals, but interdependent members of Christ's body. They have been united with Christ and with one another. God has placed His Holy Spirit within each one of them, and His presence is a guarantee that some day they will ALL experience God's final redemption and ultimate glorification together. These same individuals will spend eternity together.
Like any group of people who have been drawn together under some common cause or mutual interest, they were going to find plenty of reasons for concentrating on their differences. They would discover more than enough causes to argue about and ample excuses to find fault with one another. They would find it easy to discover those things about which they disagree. So Paul's intent is to remind them that God had chosen them and placed them together for a reason. The very fact that there were Jews and Gentiles in the same church was ample proof that this was a God thing. Their church was made up of rich and poor, slaves and freeman, educated and uneducated, old and young, and singles and married couples. And Paul knew that this diverse blend of individuals could be a recipe for disaster and disunity unless they constantly reminded themselves of their God-ordained unity in Christ. They had been chosen by God and set apart for His purposes and plan. The body of Christ is not about me or you. It is about US. It is about the body, not the individual parts. Together, we can and should accomplish the will of God. Together, we have what it takes to do what God has set us apart to do. This letter will drive home those messages over and over again as Paul promotes the value and necessity of the body of Christ in the life of the believer. We are His people, and we exist to accomplish His plan – together.
Father, thank You for this unique organism called the body of Christ – Your Church. Give me the ability to see it as a single organism with a single purpose, not as some collection of individuals who each have their own agenda and separate cause to pursue. Make the reality and necessity of the body of Christ come alive to me as I read this letter again with a critical eye and an understanding of Your purpose for Your church. Amen.