I have not had the opportunity to deliver a new sermon, even after starting what I hoped would be a series, so this follows my sermon on Ephesians 1. For those who want a second opinion, I recommend the one delivered by Charity Sandstrom at Emporia Friends, or if you prefer ancient preachers — then Chrysostom’s 4th homily on Ephesians.
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 or we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
It is easy to forget that an epistle is a single unit, and not a whole lot of unconnected paragraphs. This section is a continuation of the first chapter, and part of the whole book. When we study this, we must remember that Paul is still speaking to the Saint’s that he addressed in the first chapter. We could best look at this chapter as expressing the change of identity from sinners to saints.
One of the accusations people bring against the church is that it is a crutch for the weak. I tell you, these critics are right. Some people refuse to be involved in Christianity because they feel they are strong enough that they do not need such a crutch. I do not wish to judge whether or not these people are strong enough for life without God’s grace – it is not my job. Instead I wish remind those who are Christians that they are are Christians not because they are better, but because they needed a miracle in their lives.
Chrysostom reminds us that those who are dead are without hope of their own. He tells us that it is worse to be Spiritually dead, as we are dead by our own guilt, and it is even a greater miracle to turn sinners into saints than to wake the physically dead into life. I do not know what to say except the dead cannot wake themselves – they are not asleep. We had no more hope than dead-men for righteousness, but God gave us hope.
In Matthew 9:9–13, Jesus calls Mathew the tax collector to become his disciple. The Pharisees of course do not approve of those Jesus reaches out to, People such as Mathew are not good enough for the religious people of his
age – but Jesus tells them “It is not the strong that need a physician, but the sick”. Jesus’ mission was not to save those who were not in danger, but instead to turn people so far in sin that it brought them death into living saints.
Here is the good news for all of us who are weak. Jesus, unlike the Pharisees does not
ask people to become good enough to approach Him, instead he gives people what they need. The passage tells us that we are made alive by Christ’s grace. Grace is nothing more or less than someone finding “favor”. Funny thing that – God’s grace is simply saying that even at our worst, God saw us – liked us, and had pity on us. He gives hope to the hopeless, new life to dead men, and everything that we need. God’s gift of grace is why those in His Church are no longer sinners, but have the new identity of saints, and are given a new name, Christian.
The bad news is, we do not see Christ offering his gift of healing to the Pharisee, just as we see John turning them away when they came to be baptized. Perhaps the Pharisee did not need healed, perhaps he was whole – but this is not the picture that Christ painted when he described them. I am sometimes uncomfortable suggesting that people must admit they are helpless, but it appears that pretending that you can make it on your own, and that you are better than those who need mercy is not a way to impress God. While man can only see the outside, God can see the heart – and the heart of a hypocrite is truly black. Those of us worshiping in Church must never forget that we do not produce our salvation. There is nothing that someone saved by Christ did to deserve it – God’s grace is the whole, and if any of us have a reason to boast of finding salvation that salvation is not from Christ.
One thing that we often forget about our Salvation is that God does not abandon us. Many of us think that we are saved by Christ’s grace from Hell, which is true, but we forget that we were saved from the forces of hell working in our own world. We think that we will someday go to heaven – but we forget that the Kingdom of heaven meets us hear on Earth. We remember that we are not saved by our own work, but we forget that God has given us good work to do in life.
People have always been workers. Eden is described as a place that our first parents tended, suggesting that even Paradise was a place of work. It makes sense that God would give those saved from the soul-killing poison of sin good and healing work. I could suggest what the good work might be, however this could easily be suggesting too much. I could cite passages such as the “Great Commission”, or perhaps passages about social justice or meeting the needs of those around us. I could cite later portions of Ephesians (and will at a later date)…but, all of these are only general tasks. A good part of me feels that it is our duty to find the good that we must personally do.
I find it interesting the reason God gives us good works to do, that we might “walk in them”. I submit that God’s choice to give us good work to walk in is to meet our own needs as well as one another’s. several passages call us to “work out our salvation”, and there is no doubt that we grow stronger and more Christlike if we walk in good works…if after our identity is changed to “saint” we start living the new identity we are given. I also find it interesting that the life of the Saint is death-wrappings of the hypocrite. A sinner doing good works for the eyes of man is a hypocrite and gets no value other than the praise of men. Those God has made a new creation continue to be recreated by living in the work that God has given us. Works without Faith are futile, but as James teaches us Faith wothout works are dead.
At this point, Paul is writing about attitudes. The language is clearly abstract and metaphor. There is no advice, nothing specific to do (practical advice comes a few chapters later.) This passage is informational. In a culture that values action, we think the thoughts behind actions to be irrelevant, yet our faith teaches that people are defined by their thoughts.
This passage is most relevant and practical as it teaches us our position in Christ, and how we achieved it. It reminds us that none of us has the right to be proud and superior, nor a reason to despair. We cannot take pride that we are better than our neighbor, nor should be mourn our inability to save ourselves.
This passage also corrects some of our thoughts. There are people who take religious pride that they never do “good works”…as they see that good works cannot buy God’s favor. Here we see that God himself provided good works. This passage corrects two errors that one may make – on one extreme, that we must make ourselves acceptable to God, and on the other – we must never do good works. Instead, this teaches us God gets all the glory, and we do the good God has provided for us.