Now that we’re half way through our study of Ephesians, I thought I’d do something different to wrap up the first half and prepare us for the second. What I’d like to do is a targum, an extended paraphrase of the Scriptures applied to contemporary circumstances. This is an ancient rabbinic practice, but has been revived in recent years by, among others, Canadian New Testament scholar Sylvia Keesmat in her fascinating commentaries on Romans (Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire / Demanding Justice (2019)) and Colossians (Colossians Remixed (2004)).
Without further ado, here we go:
Paul, a God-chosen ambassador for God’s Anointed (who is called ‘Christ’),
To God’s people, holy and faithful in Christ, Jesus of Nazareth:
I wish you grace and peace from God our loving Father and our master Jesus Christ.
Let us begin by blessing the God and Father of our master Jesus Christ:
Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the cosmos:
Who chose us to be holy and pure before God, in love, before even the Big Bang;
The Heavenly Father who chose us to be his adopted heirs through Jesus Christ, out of his benevolent will, which was so abundantly demonstrated for us in Jesus the Beloved, whose blood bought us back from slavery to sin to true spiritual freedom;
For everything, in every aspect of the cosmos, to be brought together in Christ, in whom we have placed our hope and received our divinely determined inheritance, so that our lives might reflect God’s glory, to God’s praise; and, in whom you heard the true message, the Good News that you are safe from spiritual harm.
And, since you have entrusted yourselves to Christ, you have been stamped and verified by the long-promised gift of the Holy Spirit as the first installment of your full inheritance, which is nothing less than to be God’s treasured possession — all this that God’s glorious name will be praised.
That the God of our master Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give you a wise spirit and would reveal to you the knowledge of God; That with your spiritual eyes opened, you would understand three things: the hope to which you’ve been called; just how rich the Father considers himself to be with the holy ones as his inheritance; and how unimaginably great the power of God is that is available to us who are faithful.
God forcefully demonstrated this power in Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him at God’s right hand, far above every type of spiritual power active in the world, no matter what name or title they go by. Let me reiterate: God has subordinated everything — everything — to Christ. Christ also has authority over everything in the faithful community, which is the ‘body’ to his ‘head’, and which fully expresses Jesus, who fills everything in every way.
I needn’t remind you that it wasn’t always this way. Once you were dead in your wandering and errant ways — when you lived under the influence of the inertia of ‘the way things are’, of those who traffic in twisted logic and ‘alternative facts’ (who are still at work in the world in those who are not yet living lives of good faith), and of the distraction of our bodily appetites and rationalizations. We were no different from any of them!
But God, who is rich in mercy and mighty in love, brought us, dead as we were in our wandering ways, back to life with Christ — remember: you were saved by grace, by God’s generous heart and nothing else. In Christ, God raised us up with him and sat us down with him in the place of power, so that, when all is said and done, this would be a demonstration in front of the whole cosmos of God’s all-surpassing generosity and kindness for us in Christ Jesus. Again: you were saved by God’s generosity, through faith — and this is not about you, or anything you have done or can do, whether that’s good works, pious acts, maintaining so-called religious purity, or wearing charms or performing rituals. It is only about God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. We are God’s creations, crafted in Christ Jesus to bear the good fruit God has prepared for us.
With this in mind, remember that in a world of religious ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, you were once on the outside looking in. Based on their superficial criteria, the ‘insiders’ called you ‘Foreskin’ and themselves ‘the Circumcision’ — but that is a superficial act as manufactured and artificial as the idols they hate. But more importantly, you knew nothing of God’s Anointed, you were foreigners to God’s chosen people and exiled from the relationships on which God’s promises are based. You were cast to the fates without hope and without God, despite all your gods.
But now, you who were once outsiders participate in the life of God’s Anointed, and are therefore insiders too. Just as on the Day of Atonement, when the priest would make a sacrifice that would permit him to enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple, where God resided, so have you been given access into God’s Presence by Christ’s sacrifice. He is our peace. He is the one who brought insiders and outsiders together into one community, breaking down the barriers that once divided us. He did this by nullifying the Law and its rules, bearing its full force in his own body, so that both those who were insiders and those who were outsiders would be built in and through his own body into one new humanity. The Law, meant to create one people as a witness to the world, had the effect of dividing the world, and so by getting rid of it, he removed the source of division, reconciling both groups to each other and to God.
To those who were outsiders, he says “Peace! Come in from the cold! Be welcome in our family!” To those who were insiders, he says, “Peace! Make the circle wider! Welcome your newly adopted siblings!” And now we are one family with one Father, with one Spirit motivating and moving us. So then, you are no longer foreigners or exiles, but full citizens, no longer orphaned to fate but full members of God’s family. ‘Insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ alike, you are yourselves being built together, like stones in a temple, whose firm foundation is the witness of God’s ambassadors and prophets, and whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. Upon him the whole temple is built and takes shape, becoming a place of holiness, the very place where God resides through the Holy Spirit.
And this is why I’m a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you who were once ‘outsiders’; you’ve no doubt heard of the mission of God’s generosity I was given for your sake: While it was shrouded in secrecy, God’s plan has now been revealed to me. This plan revolves around Jesus and has been revealed not just to me but to all of God’s ambassadors and prophets empowered by the Spirit: For the outsiders to be brought inside, for the orphans to be adopted as full children, co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-sharers of God’s promises with those who were insiders from the start. This is the Good News for which I’ve given my life, by God’s generosity, according to God’s power working within me — least of all the saints as I am: to proclaim the incredible riches of this Good News of Christ to those who were outsiders, and reveal this mystery in all its Wisdom to all of this world’s so-called powers and authorities through the Church. This is itself part of that same eternal plan which God enacted in Christ Jesus, the master of our household. Because you share in all that he is and has done, you are now allowed in God’s presence and to speak your mind and heart before God without fear. No matter what I have gone through on account of this mission (and therefore on account of you), I don’t want you to feel badly about it. Know that as far as I am concerned, it has been beyond worth it to me.
This is why I get down on my knees and pray to our Father, the common source of every family and every thing: that he, because of his glorious abundance, strengthen your hearts with power through his Spirit, that Christ dwell in your hearts because of the bonds of faith, and that, rooted and grounded in love as you are, you may have the strength to understand the immeasurable power and all-surpassing knowledge of Christ’s love. Indeed, my prayer is nothing less than for you to be filled up to the brim with all that God is.
Now, to God who has the power to do so much more than anything we could ask or imagine — by virtue of the power working within us — be glory, both in the church and in Christ Jesus, to all generations, for ever and ever.