Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

Ephesians 1 (6) The blessing of the big picture

November 21, 2011
21 Nov 2011

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every blessing in Christ… He has made know to us the mystery of his will… to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Ephesians 1:3-10

Most of us live pretty much from day to day most of the time. It’s what to eat tonight; where to go on holiday; whether we’ve done enough work for tomorrow’s meeting. And then suddenly we are faced with a bigger picture. Some crisis or shock, personal or national – even a positive one like finding out it’s triplets, or a big promotion – forces a new perspective on us, a bigger picture. Our lives, our purpose, our death, our world.

Paul is passionate about the bigger picture. We are, he says, blessed in the heavenly realms. Not just blessed here and now, and sometimes not feeling very blessed here at all. But we are chosen before the foundation of the world to be significantly part of the great drama set out in scripture. Chosen before it all began and chosen to be there when all things come together in Christ.

So, however tough it gets in the meantime, lift up your eyes and your hearts, says Paul. Lift them up above the daily worries and concerns of ordinary human life, and see the amazing blessings that are yours in Christ. In accordance with the riches of his grace and love he has chosen us to be holy and blameless, to be changed from one glory to another until we are like him, to demonstrate his character to our world and to build here and now in our work and in our relationships a foretaste of the new creation, the recreated heaven and earth, where all things are under Christ’s Lordship.

It’s not easy, but instead of living head down, bound in to this life’s small ups and downs, making do with the little blessings and the little picture, look up today and see the bigger picture.

 

Margaret Killingray

Ephesians 1 (5): First Class Mail

November 14, 2011
14 Nov 2011

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:1-3

Emails and text-messages – sometimes deep, often trivial, always instant, frequently deletable – dashed off like a postcard, but with no need of a stamp or a trip to the post-box. And better still, always carrying the potential for an intimate immediate reply.

But letters? Who writes letters any more? (At least, not the personal ones – the kind you would love to open, and read, and savour, and re-read.) Letters are just not the way most of us do things.

For Paul, John, Peter and the other letter writers of the New Testament, it must have been a major effort; using carefully sharpened quills, with ink they probably made themselves, on parchment difficult to handle. Their letters were carefully carried for hundreds of miles, then circulated around small fellowships, and, to our abundant profit, kept, protected and copied carefully over the centuries. These are letters of loving concern and teaching written to groups of Christians, faithful brothers and sisters – the saints.

So, when we read them, let’s do so in awe at their survival and appreciation of the care that went into them.

But there is another big difference between our systems of communication and theirs. We are, of course, great communicators, but our communications are mostly personal, individual, and one-to-one. Theirs were not primarily to encourage the isolated Christian. The grace and peace were not just for keeping happily to oneself, even on a Monday at work. They were written to be read by everyone together, not even by the minister on his own first. They tell us how to be the people of God, gathered together and scattered in the world.

Reading Paul’s letters, we learn together how to support each other in the grace and peace of the Father, so that we are better able to be his when we are apart. And we don’t have to wait for the next courier to Ephesus to write to each other during the week – we can always send an email or text a message or two, maybe now.

 

Margaret Killingray

Ephesians 1 (4): Is anyone out there praying for me?

November 7, 2011
07 Nov 2011

…Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Ephesians 1:15,16.

Why does ‘I’ll pray for you’ sometimes sound a bit like a threat? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something I don’t know? Am I ill?

Paul, having filled his readers’ ears with his breathless ecstatic praise of our spiritual blessings in Christ, then tells them that he has been praying for them. In fact he says that he hasn’t stopped praying for them. And why has he been praying so earnestly? Because he wants to say thank you for them – for their faith in the Lord and for their love for each other.

In effect, he tells them that he is thankful that they are there, that they encourage him, that he knows they love him because he knows they love all the saints, that the gospel is bearing fruit in their lives and that he has heard about them.

He does go on to pray for more specific things, but he begins by thanking the Lord for them, even though he may never have met them, and even though they lived many hundreds of miles away from him.

Of course, prayer is primarily our communication with God, whether alone or with others, but Paul wants to let them know that he’s praying for them regularly and with thanksgiving, and not just when they are having a bad time.

So if you are praying for and about someone today, why not encourage them? Thank the Lord for them, telling him why you appreciate them. And then tell them.

 

Margaret Killingray

Ephesians 1 (3): The blessing of belonging

October 24, 2011
24 Oct 2011

…He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world… He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:4-6

In 1962, in an Irish youth hostel, we met a young man. His earliest memories, as a small child, were of a German wartime labour camp. He was looked after, in a rough and ready fashion, by the older men of his hut. He had no idea who he was, where he had come from, nor even what his name had been. When the war ended he was taken to a children’s home, which he left as soon as he could. He was stateless and travelled on temporary papers from the Dutch government. Every border crossing meant hours of waiting. I have never forgotten him.

To be secure in our belonging – to family and place – is a great blessing, but one we take for granted, until we are confronted with what it means to be totally rootless and homeless. Yet here, at the heart of this powerful chapter of blessing upon blessing, is an amazing picture of a lost child, who is sought out, chosen, adopted legally, acquiring a loving parent, brothers and sisters, a new name and a new home – for ever. Chosen, in Christ, before the world was made, to be an heir of grace, loved, cherished and valued.

The extended metaphors and analogies taken from our ordinary human relationships are a feature of the biblical narrative. They help to explain in terms we understand some of the great spiritual blessings of our relationship to God. But these blessings should not be just nuggets of joy we hug to ourselves. The characteristics of God revealed by them are the characteristics Christians are called to demonstrate in daily living in this world. Thus we need to demonstrate the security of belonging to him by building loving security into the lives of others. We show our gratitude to him by our constancy and commitment in our own relationships of love, whether by birth or by choice, even when it is hard. And when we have to face up to insecurity and vulnerability, perhaps today, then in total confidence we claim all these promises and remember that ‘his incomparably great power’ holds us secure in his care for ever.

 

Margaret Killingray

Ephesians 1 (2): The Blessing of Forgiveness

October 10, 2011
10 Oct 2011

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
Ephesians 1:7

What does forgiveness mean? We all assume we understand the word, yet in practice it is sometimes very hard to know where it begins and ends. It may involve battling with powerful emotions – resentment, deep hurt, a longing for justice and retribution. It is difficult sometimes to see whether full forgiveness is always right, and whether there is such a thing as partial forgiveness.

Yet the desire for a fresh start with the slate wiped clean is very strong and without forgiveness that is not possible. How do we live with the memory of some of the things we have done? How can we bear the burden of words we cannot withdraw, or change actions we have bitterly regretted for years? How do we deal with difficult on-going relationships at work or in the family where everything that’s said is misunderstood?

Forgiveness between human beings is complicated because it involves pride, humility, and even sometimes humiliation and unbearable indebtedness. But forgiveness, Paul reminds us, begins as a blessing from God. We are free from all penalties and punishments, because he has redeemed us through the cross of Jesus. The Almighty God, supreme, perfectly holy, with all authority, is willing to forgive anyone for anything. So we are all in the place of guilt, all humbled by our need for forgiveness. When we know this, it is easier to forgive and be forgiven for our lesser debts and trespasses against each other.

But forgiveness is costly. When we understand, even in part, the cost to the Creator and the Saviour of the world, then the cost to pride and confidence as we face our own need to seek forgiveness from others seems a small price. Our acceptance of the cost of dealing with the consequences of what we have done, as well as that of forgiving those who have hurt and damaged us, begins the process that leads us into the full, joyous and blessed freedom of the children of God. It is also an essential part of extending the Kingdom of God into a troubled world.

 

Margaret Killingray

Ephesians 1 (1): Blessing God for blessing us

October 3, 2011
03 Oct 2011

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.
Ephesians 1:3

Bless you! It’s easy to say – an automatic response to a sneeze, although I haven’t the faintest idea why, or a slightly cheesy way of saying thanks. Some react with an even briefer exclamation – just ‘Bless’, when touched by sweetness.

The first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a breathless outpouring of praise and prayer about being blessed. It has very few full stops and to get the full flavour you need to read it out loud very fast. It must have tested the abilities of the scribe taking down Paul’s passionate paragraphs.

Are you blessed? If so what do you count as your blessings? Health, wealth, family, a partner who loves you, children? A job you love, the opportunity to travel, a warm sunny day in summer? The freedom of technology – instant communication, instant music, instant film? And then, of course, there is food and wine, books and conversation…. Are you blessed?

Apart from the opportunity to travel, Paul would not, by these measures, be called blessed. He was in prison, alone, having travelled hundreds of miles on foot, sometimes hungry, thrown out of villages with a mob howling at him, beaten up. Writing to small groups of believers, some of whom were slaves and most poor, he didn’t begin this letter with the hard things, with an attempt to bring consolation and sympathy from one unfortunate to others, equally bereft. He began with praise, not just praise because God is God, but grateful passionate praise for all the blessings God has showered on him and on all Christians.

Absorbed with work, home, money, weather, anxieties about relationships, shopping, we forget that we are shining examples of the wholly blessed. We are chosen, adopted, loved, redeemed, forgiven, destined for heaven, marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Ten times in the first fourteen verses Paul uses the phrase, ‘in Christ’, or ‘in him’. In Christ, we are blessed beyond all blessing, and blessed for ever.

 

Margaret Killingray