Relevant Verses: Ephesians
Leading Question: Among believers today, does being “in Christ” transform everything?
The vision in the book of Ephesians is incredibly expansive, the memory text for this week makes this bold assertion: “And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 1:10, NLT). Could one make an argument for universalism on the basis of this passage?
1. Question: According to the first chapter of Ephesians, God has a plan to bring all things together in him. Is that hyperbole, fantasy, or genuine hope?
Comment: Universalism has never found wide acceptance in Christian circles because it seems to fly in the face of a number of passages in Scripture and quite apart from the explicit statements of Scripture, the idea of promising rewards without the need of choice seems impractical. But can one make an argument for universalism based on the expansive statements from Ephesians? At the same time, one must tussle with the issue of predestination which also seems to be implied in the following verses:
Ephesians 1:3-14 (NRSV): Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
2. Question: Galatians 3:28 declares that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female.” But what does the New Testament tell us about those divisions? Does the New Testament itself testify to the fulfillment of that “promise”?
Comment: Of the three great subjugations noted in Galatians 3:28, the New Testament effectively addressed only the Jew/Greek issue, and that was with blood, sweat, and tears. Other divisions (racist, sexist) are still with us today. Even slavery was not addressed until nearly 2000 years after Christ.
3. Question: When Paul talks about breaking down the dividing wall (perhaps thinking of the walls that separated Jews and Gentiles at the temple), was he casting a vision that far transcended the actual reality in the New Testament Church? Note his line of reasoning in Ephesians 2:
Ephesians 2:11 – 22 (NRSV): 11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
4 Question: In each of the following areas that call for unity, how does the Pauline ideal match up with the reality in the church?
a. Unity as a whole.
Eph. 4:1-6 (NRSV): I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Comment: As the remainder of the book clearly indicates, Paul is not calling for lock-step uniformity, but a unity in diversity, as the next passage indicates with its description of a diversity of gifts:
b. Unity of gifts.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NRSV): 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Comment: If God doesn’t give the same gifts to everyone, then we should realize that each of us will make unique and specialized contributions to the body of Christ, a theme that Paul develops further in 1 Corinthians 12.
c. Unity within the family.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (NRSV). 21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
Comment: In some Bibles it is not clear that Ephesians 5:21 should be seen as a heading that applies to both husband and wife: “Be subject to one another.” When seen in that way, it should be difficult for Christian husbands to insist on “submission” or “obedience” from their spouses.
Summary: The book of Ephesians casts a wonderful vision of the whole creation united as one in Christ. That includes Jews and Gentiles, gifted leaders, and families. Tragically, the church often finds the fulfillment of that vision falling far short of the ideal.