Many scholars evaluate Ephesians as a pseudonymous letter of Paul's, attributing it to a period some twenty years, approximately, after Paul's martyrdom, and composed by disciples of Paul, sometimes styled as a "Pauline school." Others note that the earliest manuscript traditions lack "to the Ephesians," and propose that the "letter to the Ephesians" was a circular letter, perhaps composed by Paul himself, and possibly the same letter noted at the end of Colossians which was sent to the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16) as well as to other churches. Whatever the case may be with respect to authorship - Paul or a circle of disciples - the Pauline themes in the letter to the Ephesians are notable, as is the beauty of the letter. Both elements are present in this Sunday's reading, Ephesians 1:3-14; indeed so many Pauline themes and so much elevated rhetoric are present that it can be difficult to comment on all aspects of the reading. Let me list some of the themes, however, which take us to the heart of Paul's, indeed, Christian, theology. One, is that we have been "chosen" by God. Two, we are redeemed through Christ. Three, we are called to be "holy and without blemish." Four, we, through Christ, have been "destined" for "adoption" into God's family. Five, we have already received, through the Holy Spirit, "the first installment of our inheritance." When I reflect on these many themes in concert, however, I come back to one overarching theme: we are called to be a part of God's family. The cosmic realities of Christ's sacrifice, the plan for all humanity "before the foundation of the world," is intended so that we should enter into God's family.
And centuries prior to doctrinal defintions of the Trinity, the reality of the Trinity imposes itself on the language of Ephesians through the experience of God as relational, not only in the inner workings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but their relationships with humanity. The Holy Spirit is "the first installment of our inheritance." This is language of belonging; inheritance is family language. So, too, is the language of "adoption": Christ has acted on our behalf, "we have redemption by his blood," and redemption is language borrowed from the ancient slave trade, so that we can become brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ in God's family. Inheritance, adoption, these were intended for us from the beginning.
Yet, it is not just "us" who were chosen from the beginning, as opposed to the notorious "them," for all of humanity is intended by God to be a part of God's family. The biblical language of "chosenness," in the passive voice, can obscure that God has chosen us all (1 Timothy 2:4; cf. Ezekiel 18:32), and that it is up to us to respond to God's choice. In Ephesians this response is noted by the call to be "holy and without blemish," terms, or similar ones such as teleios (mature) and amemptos (blameless), which are found throughout the Pauline epistles as descriptions of the manner of life to which the Christian is called. Hagios (holy) is a word that described Israel's vocation, and God himself, and now could be applied to those adopted into God's family. Amomos (without blemish) is a term that defined the proper sacrificial victim, but was extended to apply to the moral blamelessness Paul called for amongst the members of his churches. Neither, Ephesians 1:4 seems to imply, will be completed prior to our entry into God's presence, the fullness of his family, but, as with all family life and family members, we strive to grow, to develop as complete people, to move from infancy to maturity. We encourage our family members to reach their full potential. Paul called for the same from his family members.
I know, I know, how do I move from the soaring notes of,
"In him we have redemption by his blood,
the forgiveness of transgressions,
in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.
In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us
the mystery of his will in accord with his favor
that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times,
to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth" (Ephesians 1:7-10),
to what seems like the spiritual equivalent of "clean up your room"? I can only say this: God acted on a cosmic scale so that we could have a place we could all call home, a family to which we all belong, participation in a love that never ends. Now, clean up your room.
John W. Martens