Last chapter we studied the two creation stories in Genesis with the first story about God creating order out of chaos and the second story that led to the ‘fall from grace’ as Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God and then were exiled from the garden. The story continues to God sending the big flood that will wash the world clean. We stopped reading just after Noah, his family, and all the saved animals were back on dry land. Next month we will continue these foundational stories of the creation of God’s chosen people through Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. God makes a promise with them which includes a ritual cutting (male circumcision) as a visible mark of the promise and as a sign of belonging. We will continue reading the story right up to Moses leading the people out of slavery in Egypt. God’s also gave more promises and a law (Torah) for the people to follow to show their righteous connection to God. Both this visible mark and the following of the law were significant parts of being God’s chosen people. Jesus was first sent to these people as he proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Yet only some of the Jewish people accepted Jesus as God’s Messiah (Christ).
|The name Saul (Jewish) means ‘asked or prayed for’. The name Paul (Latin/Roman) means ‘little or small’. Paul would certainly agree with becoming less or smaller so Christ could become greater. It is a meek humble name. (1)|
This month we jump forward to one of St. Paul’s letters. These letters were written to the various churches and the people who were the earliest followers of Jesus. The churches had started to spread from the mainly Jewish, Christ followers in around Jerusalem and Galilee. Paul was one of the main apostles that traveled all around the Mediterranean spreading the word about Jesus although Paul (known as Saul then) was originally set against this ‘so called messiah’ and Saul/Paul persecuted Jesus’ first followers. Jesus had already ascended to heaven but he appeared to Saul and temporary blinded him on the road to Damascus. Saul “fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:4). Jesus revealed himself and his message directly to Saul/Paul who then became one of the most effective apostles and teachers about Jesus Christ. Paul started to claim and use his Roman name.
The newly converted Paul took the message of Jesus far beyond the Jewish people and he spread the word to much of the Gentile (non-Jewish) world around the Mediterranean. Paul was like a bishop guiding, correcting and teaching the various congregations that he had started and he would write letters to give encouragement or to admonishment as it was needed.
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus (located in modern Turkey) and he reminds the people of how God has also adopted them as God’s own children and not just the Jewish people (Ephesians 1: 1-2). This is new and good news to the people and now these new non-Jewish Christ followers were also part of that exclusive relationship of being God’s chosen people. Read Ephesians chapter 1 and watch for these terms: grace, beloved, adopted, inheritance, marked, enlightened. Paul is laying his message on thick – ‘you too are God’s chosen and beloved children’. It is beautiful, powerful and poetic.
However, Paul continues in chapter 2: 1-3 to remind these non-Jews who would:
- not consider themselves as descendants of Abraham (the faith father of the Jewish people)
- not feel connected to the sins of Adam and Eve in Genesis
- not feel subject to the Jewish laws
that they were still guilty of sin and the under the power of the passions of the flesh.
Read forward in chapter 2 from verse 4 to verse 22. Paul writes again that they too are part of God’s chosen people and that compliance to the Jewish ways of obedience, or any other means of earning God’s good favour, is not going to work. It is God alone who chooses and picks who God’s people are going to be:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The key word is ‘grace’. Grace is God’s desire and will to be generous, kind and loving towards us – not because we have done well or pleased God in some fashion, but simply because God has chosen to be gracious.
This term ‘grace’ captures the essence of Paul’s message of Christ to the Gentile nations. God’s loves you and through Jesus Christ, God forgives all of your misdeeds and wrong doings against God and against one another. What a beautiful idea and a beautiful place to be … loved and forgiven.
So now what? If I am loved, a chosen child of God and forgiven – and also I cannot earn this gift from God, nor can I make things better for myself in any way or earn extra credit, what should I do now? Paul continues to write to the congregation in Ephesus to encourage them to continue in the faith by becoming more God like and to be ambassadors of God’s love and forgiveness.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Continue to read through to Ephesians 5:20 as Paul exhorts the people to lead good lives, engage and support the workings of others in the church of Christ, and to live as children of the light. What a beautiful idea and a beautiful and grace-filled place to be.
Next Chapter: Genesis & Exodus / Abraham to Moses – Ancestors of Faith
Written by Pastor Steve Johnston