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The Ephesians Overture - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:1-2


Today we begin what I trust will be a rich and profound journey over the next many months through Paul's letter to the Ephesians. This is my favorite New Testament epistle, I think, although it's a close second to Romans. It's hard to know between those two. In fact, I think the reason we enjoy the epistle of Ephesians so much is because it rivals Romans as the greatest of Paul's writings. It plumbs the depths of deep theology—deep and profound and rich theology, but it also contains some of the most practical counsel and instruction in all of the New Testament.

That's what prompted one writer to call it The Grand Canyon of scripture. It's like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. It literally takes your breath away. You just can't take it all in. And that's how it is with this magnificent letter. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the great English poet, called Ephesians "the divinest composition of man." John Stott writes about Ephesians "it is a marvelously concise, yet comprehensive summary of the Christian good news and its implications. No one can read it without being moved to wonder and worship and challenged to consistency of life." This was John Calvin's favorite book in the Bible. John Bunyan gleaned much of what he used as the basis for Pilgrim's Progress from this letter. As John Knox, the great Scottish reformer lay on his deathbed, he had his wife read sermons from John Calvin on Ephesians, because he loved this letter so much. Many of our greatest hymns arise out of the content of Ephesians. So, it's no wonder that some have come to call Ephesians the zenith of New Testament revelation: The height, the apex, the high point of the New Testament.

Today I want us to begin to enjoy this book; to introduce ourselves to it by studying just the first two verses, the introduction that Paul gives to this letter. Turn to Ephesians chapter 1. Let me read these two introductory verses to you. Paul writes "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Now, you understand that this was originally a letter. A letter much like many other letters in the first century. In fact, all first century letters were typically written on a piece of parchment or on papyrus, which are reed-like plants that were pressed together to form an ancient writing surface; or for more important documents, on vellum or animal skin. But whatever the material that was used, once the letter was complete, instead of folded like our letters are folded, it would have been rolled up like a scroll. That made it important that the very first information on the scroll as you began to unroll it was who the letter was from, and to whom it was addressed. The sender and the recipients. So, at the very beginning of the scroll would be that information, followed usually by a very simple greeting. That's the form that all first century letters took. In fact, I spent six happy months of my seminary education translating Greek papyri. Few of you have an aspiration to do that, but it was quite an interesting enterprise to look back on all of those scrap pieces of paper discovered in the ancient waste bins, if you will, of history, from the time of the New Testament, written in Koine Greek, the language that our Bible was originally written in—the New Testament, that is. And as I pored over those documents—there were letters, there were title deeds, there were various pieces of papers of transaction—but there were many letters, and all of those letters had this same basic form.

Although the New Testament letters, and especially Paul's, follow the same basic form of all New Testament, or excuse me, of all first century letters, Paul never wasted any words. We have a temptation when we read Paul's letters to just skip over those first couple of verses and get to the good stuff; get to the heart of the letter, but there are no throw-away words in the Bible. The Holy Spirit doesn't include words that aren't important. So even in the introduction to this letter, there is great and rich truth to be mined. In the simple greeting that begins the letter to the Ephesians, Paul provides us with several reasons that we must read, and we must study this magnificent letter. What I want us to do this morning is consider those reasons together.

The first reason that we should pore over this letter is found in the first few words: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." This letter is worthy of our careful study because of its ultimate source, it's ultimate source. This letter is from Paul. Now that alone should motivate us. Next to Jesus Christ, Paul we could argue, has had the greatest influence on the world of any man who ever lived. Think about it for a moment. Even today, of the planet's five billion plus people, more than two billion of those people would hold Paul as one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, and perhaps second only to Jesus Christ. He was a remarkable man. I don't think we really understand this man who wrote this letter to the church. We have perhaps heard of him all of our lives if we grew up in the church. I want to take just a moment, and I think it would be wrong for us not to pause as we begin this study and take a look at the life of this man, the Apostle Paul.

Paul was born around 2 or 3 BC, probably into a wealthy aristocratic family. We suspect that he was born into that kind of family because he was born a Roman citizen. That means that his parents already had Roman citizenship, and as Jewish people in a Roman empire, they had probably had to purchase that citizenship at a very high price. And so, probably, a wealthy aristocratic home. His Jewish parents originally named him Saul after the first King of Israel, and the most important person to ever come from their tribe, the tribe of Benjamin. Benyamiyn as Joseph named him "son of my right hand." One of the two tribes that stayed true and loyal to God in the apostasy of ancient Israel.

As was common for most Jewish families living outside of Palestine, not only did this young man receive a nice Jewish name, Saul, he also received a Roman name. In Latin, Paulus. In English, Paul. He tells us a little more about his upbringing in the books of Acts. I want us to turn to Acts 22 because here we learn a little more about his early life. Acts 22. Just a brief window into the home and circumstances into which he grew up. The circumstances here in Acts 22, of course, you remember that his very presence had created a near riot on the Temple Mount, and as the soldiers were leaving him off up the steps he asked for a moment to speak to the mob that tried to kill him, and verse 1 of chapter 22 of Acts says this, "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.' And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect [that is, in Aramaic] they became even more quiet; and he said, [this] 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia.'"

So, Paul was not originally from Palestine. Instead, his hometown was Tarsus. Now, we only know of Tarsus today because that's where Paul was from, but in the ancient world, it was actually a very notable city. It was a huge ancient city. Really third to Rome and to Alexandria. This was a city, Tarsus was, of a half-a-million people. It was a major area of commerce. There was a university there which was famous. It was a major city. It's in the territory that today is Turkey. Now it might seem strange to you when you hear that Paul was born and brought up in Tarsus, that here is a good Jewish family living outside the land of Israel. But realize that by this time in history, the Jews were scattered all over the Roman empire. And as they scattered, unfortunately many of the Jewish people began to embrace the culture in which they lived. They began to be influenced by the prevailing Greek culture, or as it's called, they were Hellenized, a trend that Alexander the Great began as he exported Greek culture around the world and tried to convert others to that culture. And many of the Jewish people bought into the Greek culture. But those Jews who refused to compromise with the culture, who remained committed to their own culture, were often referred to as Hebrews.

And in Philippians chapter 3 Paul describes his upbringing as one of the Hebrew of Hebrews. That means that Paul's home would have been steeped in the Hebrew language and the Hebrew culture. It was a part of the tradition. Now, obviously as you read Paul's letters, you know that he was acquainted with the Greco-Roman culture, but he tells us he was completely uninfluenced by it. How could that happen? Well, part of the reason was his education. He would have been taught as the rabbinical literature prescribed. He would have been taught scripture from the time he could speak in his home by his parents. He would have started school in the local synagogue by the age of 5. Here in Acts 22 verse 3, he tells us, however, that he was brought up in this city. A reference to Jerusalem. So, he was born in Tarsus but brought up in Jerusalem. What does that mean? Well, about 13 years of age, Paul would have officially become a man in the Jewish culture. He would have had, in modern terms we would say, his bar mitzvah; he became a son of the law. Around that age of 13, apparently Paul's parents arranged for him to live in Jerusalem. We don't know exactly what the conditions were like in Jerusalem where he lived, but perhaps Paul stayed with his married sister who is mentioned in Acts 23:16. She lived in Jerusalem. Remember it's her son, Paul's nephew, who warns him about the ambush that was being staged for him. So, it may be that he stayed there with his sister—his older sister. Saul was very close in age to Jesus. Christ would have been, at the most, three years older than Paul, and Paul then would have been in Jerusalem during the annual trips that Mary and Joseph took with Jesus to the temple, and perhaps, even during the ministry of Jesus Himself—although there is no indication that they ever met.

Why is it that Paul went at such an early age to Jerusalem? Well, he tells us there in verse 3. To be educated under Gamaliel. He went there for education. Paul went there as the bright and shining light of his parents to study under the greatest rabbi of the time in order to become a rabbi. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel I. He was the greatest teacher of Israel in the first century. Even his contemporaries called Gamaliel, "the Beauty of the Law." He was a brilliant teacher. And Paul sat at his feet, learning. This would have been an intensely demanding education. In addition to rigorous training in the content and meaning of the Old Testament, often rabbis would have their students memorize huge portions of the Old Testament, as well as learn all of the interpretation of it. In addition to that, he would have studied all the rabbinic writings as well. And become familiar with all that was prescribed. He would learn language. In fact, Paul knew three different languages. Hebrew was probably his primary language and the one that was spoken in his home. Obviously, he knew Greek because the letters we have in the New Testament were originally written in Greek, and he also knew Aramaic, the language that permeated the land of Palestine after the Babylonian captivity. In fact, on the Damascus Road, Jesus speaks to Paul in Aramaic. Paul had a brilliant mind. And he quickly became one of Gamaliel's best students, and one of Judaism's brightest lights. Listen to what Paul himself said in Galatians chapter 1 verse 14. He says, "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." Paul says, "Listen, I was surpassing many of my contemporaries, even the best and the brightest of Israel as we sat as students of Gamaliel I."

But the first time we actually meet this man in scripture, he's no longer a boy. He's no longer a teenager, he's called a young man. Turn to Acts chapter 7. Acts chapter 7. We meet him at the end of the story of Stephen. Stephen finishes his sermon. Verse 54 of Acts 7 says this: Now when those who were gathered there heard Stephen's sermon,

They were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. [They are filled with rage.] But [he] being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and [he saw] Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." [But] They cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

The witnesses would have, in the Jewish law had the responsibility for throwing the first stones. Again, when you think of Jewish stoning, don't think of men standing at some great distance with small little rocks in their hand pelting someone. Jewish stoning was a brutal affair. If there was sufficient time a small pit would have been dug and the accused placed in that pit. And over the top, over the head of that person, would come the first of the witnesses, not with a small little rock, but with a huge boulder, and if he were gracious, the first blow would crush the skull of the victim to be stoned and kill him. If instead there was anger and bitterness in the air, the first blow would be a glancing blow—just enough to cause pain and torment the person who was being stoned. The witnesses here, the ones casting the first stones, we're told, laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. Now that may mean nothing more than Saul was there, he kept their coats and he agreed with what they were doing. But it might mean more. It may also mean that they were stoning Stephen under Paul's authority. It's very likely that at some point Paul became a member of the Sanhedrin—that Jewish ruling body of 70 men. Notice in verse 1 of chapter 8, Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. Again, that could be merely a reference to his agreeing with what was done, but it could be implying that he cast a vote. We know, when we get to Acts 26 and verse 10, as Paul describes himself. There he says, "I cast my vote for the death of Christians." Literally he says, "I threw my pebble"—in the Greek text. A reminder of the custom there in the Jewish first century, to use small colored stones to cast a vote. Paul says, "I cast my vote for the death of Christians." Now, there's a lot in that phrase because only the Jewish Sanhedrin could vote on and impose the death penalty under Roman law. So, Paul was probably a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin—actively involved in the death of Christians.

As a rabbi, as a Pharisee, you can just picture him being eager and zealous for the ancestral traditions as he describes it, and as a member of the ruling Sanhedrin, Paul saw one huge first century threat to the religion that he loved. And that was the followers of a dead carpenter named Jesus Christ. And so, he levels his sights on this sect of Christians. Perhaps he learned of their danger through the ministry of Stephen as he saw just how dangerous they were. So, he sets out to arrest, to torture, and to kill those who follow Jesus Christ. But of course, all of that changed just outside the city of Damascus. The Syrian city of Damascus became the flash point for this young Pharisee as he came to genuine understanding of who God really was.

The New Testament provides us with three accounts of Paul's conversion. In Acts chapter 9 we have the historical record as it occurred. In Acts chapter 22 we have Paul's description of it to the Jewish mob gathered there on the Temple Mount. And in Acts 26 Paul stands before King Agrippa and gives an account of it in Caesarea. I want you to turn to that account, Acts 26. Here Paul tells us exactly what happened. In verse 4 he says, "You know about my manner of life from my youth up." This is Acts 26 verse 4,

From the beginning [which] was spent among my own nation at Jerusalem [at least from the time he was 13]; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. [Verse 9] I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death, I cast my vote against them. [Give them the death penalty—they're deserving] And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme, [that is to renounce Jesus as God] And being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities. While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It's hard for you to kick against the goads." [A picture of an animal with goads, being driven a certain direction, you're kicking against them, Paul.] And I said, "Who are you Lord?" And the Lord said "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, [and here's your mission] to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been set apart by [their] faith in Me."

It's an amazing story. It tells us all that happened just about two years after Jesus' crucifixion. This is very shortly after the crucifixion. Those are the historical facts. If you want to know what was going on in Paul's heart, if you want a spiritual biography of what was happening leading up to that Damascus road experience, go to Romans 7. We won't take time to turn there this morning, but in Romans chapter 7 Paul describes the reality that although he kept all the laws externally, he did all the right things in all the right places in front of all the right people, when he came to the Tenth Commandment "you shall not covet" he realized that God was also concerned about what was inside. The desires of his heart. And he said, "When I came to understand that, I understood what a terrible sinner I was. In fact, it awakened in me coveting of every kind." Paul began to be convicted, even as a self-righteous Pharisee, of his sin. Go to Philippians chapter 3 and you see there an additional part of the picture. He came to understand when he saw Jesus Christ, that all of those things that he thought were spiritual assets were in fact spiritual liabilities. And he said, "I was willing to count them all loss—write them all off for the sake of Christ." That's what happened on that road outside of Damascus. Just two years or so after the death of Jesus Christ.

Paul, then, would spend the next 34 years as an apostle to the Gentiles. Some of those who were reading this letter to the church in Ephesus, and to other churches, as we'll discover next time, some of them understood this about Paul. They knew him well. They knew his background. How? Because he'd been with them. In fact, he was responsible for the founding of the church.

Turn back to Acts 18. You remember that Paul, after his conversion, took three missionary journeys. The first one was just before the Jerusalem Council in AD 50. And then there were two more that followed the Jerusalem Council in AD 50. So, you have sort of a timeline to help you piece together Paul's life. Saved shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, and then about 20 years later he takes these great missionary journeys that he's famous for. It was on his second missionary journey, sometime around AD 51, about 20 years after his conversion, that Paul arrives in Ephesus. Look at chapter 18 verse 18.

Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him were Priscilla and Aquilla. [Verse 19] They came to Ephesus and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them, and saying, "I will return to you again if God wills," and he set sail from Ephesus.

So, Paul begins to plant the seed of the gospel there in Ephesus, and he leaves Aquilla and Priscilla, two trusted friends and co-laborers there. Another man arrives, we're told down in verse 24, by the name of Apollos. And Aquilla and Priscilla take Apollos aside—he was already mighty in the scriptures, but they take him aside and give him an education—a seminary education if you will, and he comes to understand the truth of God more fully and completely, and he has an amazing ministry there in Ephesus. And eventually, verse 27 says, he goes on over to Macedonia, to Achaia, and to Corinth. Paul, after he left Ephesus, verse 22 says, went to Caesarea, and then went to his sending missionary church, the church there in Antioch, and gave a report from his second missionary journey.

On his third missionary journey, Paul returns to Ephesus. Look at chapter 19 verse 1, "It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus." And this time, Paul stayed for three years. Look at the account that's recorded in Acts chapter 19 verse 8. After coming to Ephesus "he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months," so he does an evangelistic ministry in the synagogue for three months, "reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily instead in the school of Tyrannus." So another place—not the synagogue now. "This took place"—verse 10—"for two years. So that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." Paul was always choosing those strategic cities, and Ephesus was the capital of this Roman province. A city of a half a million people, and here he uses the influence of that city to reach out into the area surrounding there, for three years.

Chapter 20 verse 1. You remember that—and we'll cover this more next time-—but you'll remember that there in Ephesus while Paul was there, there was this great riot led by the silversmiths, who were afraid that their trade was going to be undermined, as people came to faith in Christ. And, after that riot, verse 1 of chapter 20, "after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left [Ephesus] to go to Macedonia." So, from the fall of AD 52 to the summer of AD 55, approximately—in that time frame—Paul ministered and stayed in the city of Ephesus. A few months later, after he left Ephesus, he meets up with the elders to tell them a permanent goodbye. This is recorded for us in Acts chapter 20, beginning in verse 17. From his words to the Ephesian elders here, those that he'd come to love so much during those three years, we get a picture of what his ministry in Ephesus was like. Look at verse 18. "You yourselves know, [he said] from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, [along with difficulties] trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; [and] how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable," and I taught you publicly in the school of Tyrannus, in the synagogue, and other places, "and privately from house to house." In small house gatherings around that great city of Ephesus, "solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." He says I started with the gospel, but his ministry didn't end there. Look at verse 25. He says to these elders, "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom"—you're no longer going to see my face—"I am innocent of the blood of all men"—verse 27—"for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." I started with the gospel, but then I went through the entire Old Testament, and I taught you the entire purpose of God.

Verse 31, "Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years"—night and day—"I did not cease to admonish each one"—a very individual ministry in that small church there in Ephesus, "with tears. And now I commend you to God and to

the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." He goes on to describe his ministry, in terms of his financial support—verse 33—I didn't covet anyone's silver or gold or clothes, and you know that with my own hands I "ministered to my own needs," as well as those that were with me. Paul, you know, was a tent maker by trade. Now to us that doesn't sound like a great and noble calling, but in the ancient world, that was actually a very good job to have. It didn't involve a lot of the extremes of weather and being out exposed to the sun that many of the jobs of that day held. It was one that was universally needed, and so it was a very good occupation that his parents had taught him, that he learned there in Tarsus. And that's how he supported himself. Verse 36 tells us a little bit about the relationship that Paul had built with these people over those three years. "When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud, and [they] embraced Paul and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially" that he said they wouldn't see him again. "And they were accompanying him to the ship." That was Paul's ministry in Ephesus.

It was about six years later, after this episode with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20—about six years later—that Paul writes them the letter we call Ephesians. Ephesians is one of four letters called the Prison Epistles. The other three are Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians. All four of those letters were written during Paul's first Roman imprisonment. Most of you know that Paul was imprisoned twice by the Romans. The first time he was released, but the second time—at the end of that imprisonment, he was beheaded. And so, we know that these letters called the Prison Epistles were written during his first Roman imprisonment. That period of time is described in the last two verses of the book of Acts. It reads, "[And] he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." So, for two years, under a kind of house arrest in Rome, he taught, and he wrote these letters. The letter to the Ephesians was probably written near the end of that time, so sometime around AD 62 while he was under house arrest in Rome. That's Paul.

And when you and I see the name Paul, that alone should excite us to study this letter. What if you had lived then and had personally received a letter from the Apostle Paul? What would that mean to you? How eagerly would you read it? Well, you have received a letter from Paul. It's right here. The letter we're going to study together. But Paul wants us to know that ultimately, he is not the source of what we will study. Again, notice verse 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus." You see, this letter is not only from the individual, the man, Paul, but it is from an apostle. This is how Paul begins most of his letters—with an expression similar to this. The English word "apostle" is not a translation. It's simply an Anglicized version of the Greek word. The Greek word is apostolos. It's transliterated, if you will, into English. So, what does it mean? It means "one who is sent." It was used in classical Greek of ships that were sent for specific purposes. And eventually it came to speak of individuals sent on behalf of another as their representative. An apostle had the full authority of the one who sent him. Whatever he spoke, whatever he wrote bore the full weight and authority of the one who sent him. The best English equivalent to this word "apostle" is the word "ambassador." That's what Paul was. Webster defines ambassador in English as "a diplomatic agent of the highest rank, accredited to a foreign government or sovereign, as the resident representative of his own government; An authorized representative or messenger." That's exactly what Paul was. He was an ambassador. An ambassador or apostle for whom? Notice what he says—"of Christ Jesus." Christ, of course is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or "Messiah." It means "the Anointed One." And Jesus was Jesus' human name. The name is the equivalent to the Old Testament name Yeshua. "JHWH saves," or "JHWH is salvation" is what it meant. So, Paul was saying this in this brief introduction. He was saying, "I am an authorized, official representative of Israel's Messiah, who was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Listen to what I write."

But notice, he takes his statement of authority one step further. Verse 1, he says, "Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." He says, "I am an apostle, I am an ambassador by means of or through the will of God. I'm not an apostle because of my own initiative, because of my own gifts, or my heritage or my merits. I'm an apostle because God decided to make me an apostle." This is what Paul said in Galatians chapter 1 verse 1. He says, "Paul, an apostle, not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father." That's what he's saying. "Why is it important for you to listen to me? Because I'm an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God." Now, Paul, here, is not highlighting, I don't think, his authority. He's not pulling out his authority like a trump card and throwing it on the table. I think Paul, really, as he begins this epistle, is talking about how he became an apostle. "I became an apostle by the will of God. It's not because I deserve it. It's not because of my merit or my choice or my ambition, but it's by grace alone. That's how I became an apostle." In Ephesians chapter 3 verse 8, he says, "To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."

This was why Paul was an apostle. In Galatians chapter 1 verse 15, he says, "But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles." Paul says, "Listen, I'm an apostle not because I deserve to be one. It's not that I was such a great guy that God said, 'We have to get that guy on our team."' You know, so many Christians are always looking for some superstar. If only he would come to faith in Christ. What a spokesman he would be. Paul says, "It's not that I was some great superstar who God just had to have. It was grace. It was God's grace." In fact, back in Acts chapter 9, when Ananias shows up to Paul, and He says, "I want you to go tell Paul that he is a chosen vessel." You know what it really says in the Greek text? "He is a vessel of election." That's what it says. "I chose him." Paul says, "Listen, it's not me. It's God's grace. That's why I am what I am." Why should you and I spend the next year or two studying this book together? Because of its source. It comes from the pen of Paul. But more to the point, it didn't originate with Paul. Its ultimate source was God Himself. He's merely speaking as an apostle—as an ambassador. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 2, and we won't turn there, but in 1 Corinthians 2 verses 12 and 13, Paul says, "Even the words I use are taught to me by the Spirit." Even the individual words of this letter find their source in God. Let me ask you a question. Do you really believe that? I'm not talking about your stated theology. I'm talking about in your heart this morning—in your mind do you really believe that? Do you believe that the Apostle Paul speaks as the authorized messenger of the risen Christ? Do you believe that he was appointed by God to write this letter? Do you believe that even the specific words he chose are the words of the Spirit, the words the Spirit directed him to choose? Do you believe that God intended you and I to be studying this book over the next number of months? Do you treat the Bible like that? That's what Paul's saying. You and I, over the next few weeks, are going to run into some pretty challenging topics. Topics like, dare I say it, election. And pre-destination. They're there. We have to deal with them. We must approach this letter without our own little pet ideas. We must sit in humble submission at the feet of the official messenger Jesus Himself picked and be willing to learn. We need to study this letter carefully because of its source. It came to us from the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through their official messenger. You know, when I think about Ephesians, I think about this. If the Ephesians who had heard Paul teach for three years night and day, needed to hear this stuff, how much more do we need to hear it? We know it's important because of its ultimate source. Its source is God. You know, look at that phrase again—Ephesians chapter 1. As we finish our study together, you see in that phrase we've looked at this morning, a first lesson in grace. Because it shows us that there is no sinner beyond the reach of God's grace. I wish you'd never read this letter before. I wish you'd never heard anything about Paul but what was true of him before his conversion. And then you could read these words as if it were for the first time. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ." How did that happen? Is there someone you know about that you've given up on? Is there someone that you just think is never going to come to Christ because of their intellectual antagonism? Because they're just too rebellious? They're too sinful? They live too profligate a life? Maybe someone you've considered as absolutely hopeless? Perhaps a wife or a husband, a parent, a child, a friend. Listen, don't give up. Don't give up. The grace of God is capable of reaching the lowest life. And everyone between. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Timothy chapter 1. Turn there, in fact, just as we close our time. 1 Timothy chapter 1. Paul says in verse 12, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief." In other words, he didn't really understand the claims of Christ. He thought he was doing God a favor. And the grace of our Lord was more abundant, more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. "It's a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance"—here was a statement from the early church—"that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." And Paul tags on, "among whom I am chief." I am the foremost of all. I'm the greatest. Yet for this reason, I found mercy. Paul says, "Here's one of the reasons God saved me. So that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would eventually believe in Him for eternal life." Listen, that person you think is beyond the reach of the grace of God, Paul says, "Oh no, look at me. They're not as bad as I was. And God sets me up as an example and says, look at Paul. If I can save him—if my grace can reach him, there's nobody it can't reach."

Perhaps you're here this morning and you think that about yourself. Maybe you've said, listen, you don't know what I've done. You don't know what goes on in the private dark chambers of my heart. You don't know. Listen, I don't care what it is, it's not as bad as Paul was. You've been set on a course of murdering those who named the name of Christ and causing them to blaspheme Him. That's what Paul did. Paul says, "Listen, look at me. If grace can reach me, it can reach you too."

What if you're in Christ this morning. How do you respond to grace like that? With doxology. Look at verse 17. Paul can't help himself. After he's described the grace that's come to him in Christ, he says, "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever amen." That's how you should respond. Your heart should break out in praise to God for the incredible grace He showed you like Paul, in snatching you up. Listen, like Paul, I wasn't seeking for God, and neither were you. There's none who seeks for God. The reason you're in Christ this morning, if you're in Christ, is because God did to you exactly what He did to Paul. He interrupted your life, and He confronted you with Himself, and drew you to Him, gave to you the gift of faith and repentance and made you His own. To Him be the praise forever.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we're amazed and overwhelmed at Your grace in the life of Paul and as we think about it in our own lives as well. We thank You and praise You for this great letter. We thank You that You have put Your own stamp on it by giving it to us through Your divinely appointed messenger. And Father, I pray over the coming weeks and months and years that the truths that are found on the pages of this letter would ignite our hearts in fresh love and adoration of You, our Great God and Savior who has lavished grace upon us in Christ even as You did upon Paul. Father, I pray for the person here this morning who has never experienced that grace but who even this morning has in their hearts a longing and desire to experience it. I pray that You will draw them to Yourself. That You will give them the faith and repentance they need to come to Christ. For it's in His Name we pray. Amen


The Ephesians Overture - Part 1

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:1-2

The Ephesians Overture - Part 2

Tom Pennington Ephesians 1:1-2

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The Ephesians Overture - Part 2

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Sovereign (S)election - Part 4

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Sovereign (S)election - Part 5

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Sovereign (S)election - Part 6

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Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 1

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Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 3

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Christ's Role in the Drama of Redemption - Part 4

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Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 3

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Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 5

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Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 6

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This Is Your Life - Part 1

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This Is Your Life - Part 2

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This Is Your Life - Part 3

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This Is Your Life - Part 7

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This Is Your Life - Part 8

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This Is Your Life - Part 9

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He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 1

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He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 2

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He Himself Is Our Peace - Part 3

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Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 1

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Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 2

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Our Union with Christ: Three Compelling Illustrations - Part 3

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God's Great Secret - Part 1

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God's Great Secret - Part 2

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God's Great Secret - Part 3

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 1

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 2

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 3

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 4

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 5

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 6

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How to Pray for This Church - Part 7

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Walk Worthy!

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Preserving the Unity of the Church

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Attitudes: the Petri Dish of Unity

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The Ties that Bind

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Our God & General

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Church by the Book - Part 1

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Church by the Book - Part 2

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Christ's Goal for His Church

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The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 1

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The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 2

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The Implications of Christ's Plan for His Church - Part 3

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How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 1

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How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 2

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How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 3

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How to Live Like a Pagan - Part 4

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Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 1

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Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 2

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Real Change From the Inside Out - Part 3

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 1

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 2

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 3

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 4

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 5

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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 6

Tom Pennington Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 7

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Free from the Slavery of Sexual Sin

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God's Standard of Sexual Purity

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How to Pursue Sexual Purity - Part 1

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How to Pursue Sexual Purity - Part 2

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Don't Be Deceived!

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Walk As Children of Light

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Let Your Light Shine

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Watch Where You Step! - Part 1

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Watch Where You Step! - Part 2

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Watch Where You Step! - Part 3

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Watch Where You Step! - Part 4

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Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 1

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Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 2

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Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 3

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Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 4

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Three Primary Effects of the Spirit's Influence - Part 5

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Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 1

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Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 2

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Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 3

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Husband, Love Your Wife - Part 4

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Parenting For Life

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Don't Forget Who You Work For

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 1

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 2

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 3

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 4

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 5

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 6

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 7

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Learning to Use God's Armor - Part 8

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The Belt of Truth

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The Breastplate of Righteousness

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The Helmet of Salvation

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Watch and Pray - Part 2

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The Book of Ephesians

Tom Pennington Ephesians