Okay, so I want to resume blogging through Ephesians bit by bit. Keep in mind I’m not trying to write a commentary or answer all the textual and theological questions; rather in an effort to let Ephesians seep down into my skin, I’m thinking out loud, meditating on paper, reflecting on what the text says and how that resonates. Here is all of verse 1:
Ephesians 1.1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (TNIV)
Let me begin by making a very simple observation: words are capable of doing many different things. Sometimes we use words simply to refer to an object: table, coffee, paper, etc. Other words, such as names, identify not an object but a person: names like Gregg, Sue, Eric, Andy, or titles such as boss, wife, brother, barista, etc. But very often words do more than identify; to put it one way, they tell a story. Or at least they don’t make sense apart from the larger story of which they are a part. When used in a certain way, the words “I do” are a great example of this. They tell not one but countless stories of love, commitment, etc.
Closer to home (or at least closer to Ephesians 1.1b), think about the phrase with liberty and justice for all. Rarely do we think specifically about what we’re saying (or not saying) when we speak these words, but they are anything but empty. These two words tell the story of the American experiment and are a window into the basic convictions of this country. To put it simply, justice names a socio-political ideal — right relations between citizens and groups of citizens — and liberty names the belief that the clearest path to justice is by establishing and protecting the rights / freedoms / liberties of those citizens and groups of citizens.
The phrase Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ does much the same thing. The words grace and peace, like justice and liberty, name what it is we’re trying to achieve and how we believe that achievement will come about. In one simple sentence, peace names what we are here to do and grace names how we believe it will be done.
But what do these words mean? Again we’ll have to be brief. Peace in the full biblical sense is much bigger than merely the absence of war, the lack of hostility in our “personal relationship with God,” or some vague inward sense that everything will be okay in the end; it is not unrelated to any of these things, but to define “peace” in any of these ways is to constrain it. The Hebrew concept of shalom refers to the world functioning as it should. It speaks of harmony and love between God and people, people and each other, people and creation. It encompasses all our “peaces” — a sense of personal wholeness, right relationship with God, absence of war — and goes beyond them. It speaks of a sick world healed, a broken world put back together, an evil world redeemed. It is comprehensive, cosmic, holistic.
This is what we are to look and hope and wait and work for, but it is not finally our looking, hoping, waiting, or working that brings it about. Here is where grace comes in, which reminds us that it is God’s action that establishes and sustains peace. Again grace is more than what we typically think; it includes God’s “unmerited favor” and forgiveness but goes beyond that. Grace is God actively involving himself in our lives, our histories, our world. We have not been left alone, helpless, “dead in our sins” as Paul puts it a couple chapters from now. God has picked us up, forgiven our sins, dusted us off, and infused us with his Spirit to be and do what humans were put here to be and do: peaceful people making peace.
And lastly, it is in no vague vision of God that Paul expresses this hope, but rather in the very particular God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This peace is a gift God in grace has given the church through the death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus the Messiah, and we are to enjoy and celebrate and reflect it in the present time as a foretaste of what’s to come.