Dear Paul

Ephesians 1:1-2
July 22, 2018
Abraham Hong

 

Before the world had social media and cell phones, people wrote letters. Letters that were stamped and sealed in envelopes. Letters that were handcrafted with ink and paper. And the way to start a letter is with a greeting or salutation. “Dear Mom.” “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith.” “Dear Santa.” “To Whom It May Concern.” And that’s about it. The greeting or salutation of a letter was hardly a big deal. Just a simple way to say hello.

But it doesn’t quite work this way in the Bible. The book of Ephesians is actually a letter. And we just read its greeting or salutation. But there is so much to say about it. There is so much gospel and theology in it. So much warmth and heart. I don’t know if you noticed, but there are a lot of names and titles in these verses. And a lot of history and glory behind them.

In other words, the greeting or salutation of Ephesians is so much more than just a simple hello. This morning we are considering its wonderful opening line: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”

The greeting begins with the name of the letter’s author: Paul. Paul was born and raised in the city of Tarsus, which was and still is to this very day located in what is now modern-day Turkey, where the southern coast meets the Mediterranean Sea.

Paul was born into a well-to-do family that was both Greek and Jewish. Paul was Greek by nationality and language. And he was Jewish by blood and religion. Paul was actually his Greek name. His Jewish name was Saul.

Paul wanted to be a rabbi, that is, a scholar and teacher and leader of the Jewish religion. And he was well on his way to becoming one. He belonged to the Pharisees, who were the strictest group or sect within Judaism. He knew the Old Testament like the back of his hand. He was a student under Gamaliel, who was one of the greatest rabbis who ever lived. And having surpassed all of his peers in terms of zeal, he was basically the next big thing in Judaism.

But here is the really important thing about Paul. Paul was confident in who he was. He believed that he was special. He thought that he was religious. He was proud in his knowledge of the law of God. And he trusted that his own righteousness was good enough to earn eternal life with God. Paul confessed all of these things in Philippians 3.

Because of all of this, because of everything that he believed about himself, Paul hated the Lord Jesus Christ. He hated Jesus for two basic reasons.

First, Jesus was not the messiah or savior that he was looking for according to his religion. He expected a messiah or savior that would be glorious and powerful, not a messiah or savior that would die on a cross. So he hated the fact that this impostor Jesus had the nerve to blaspheme the name of God by claiming that he was God’s promised savior.

Second, Paul hated Jesus because he loved his own righteousness. He believed that he could fulfill the law of God and be good enough before God to have eternal life and earn a place in heaven. And Paul hated Jesus. He hated Jesus so much that he breathed threats and murder against Christians and dragged them into prison.

But one day, Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus when suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” This moment was recorded in Acts 9. And the rest is history.

Paul hated Jesus. But Jesus loved Paul. And Jesus changed Paul’s life. He gave Paul repentance and faith. And he called Paul to be his instrument to spread his gospel of salvation to the world.

What a story! Paul was at one point in his life throwing Christians into prison. But today we read the opening of the book of Ephesians, and the very first word is his name. Paul.

Do you know what this means? This means that God can change anyone. God can change criminals. God can change adulterers. God can change haters. God can change the sinful heart and mind. God can change the enemy and rebel who is against him. God can change the evildoer who persecutes his church. God can change the fool who does not fear him. God can change the dead. God can change anyone.

And God changed Paul and made him an apostle. An apostle was someone who was a direct witness of Jesus and his resurrection, and someone who was directly sent by Jesus Christ to proclaim his resurrection and the gospel of his salvation to others. So for example, the twelve disciples of Jesus, minus Judas Iscariot and plus Matthias, were apostles. And so was Paul.

The apostles were important. They held authority. They declared the words of Jesus Christ. And they said everything that needed to be said and wrote down everything that needed to be written down. We have a completed Bible because of them. We no longer have apostles in the world because Jesus has, so to speak, dropped the mic. We’ve got everything that we need to know in the Bible. And now we are just waiting for Jesus’ return.

A lot of people have doubts about the concept of the apostle. And one important question that a lot of people ask is this: How can we say that the Bible is the word of God if it was written by human beings? How can Paul’s letter to the Ephesians be authoritative for us today?

The answer to this important question is found in 2 Peter 1:21. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

This means that God is the ultimate author of Ephesians, not Paul.

Yes, it was Paul himself who literally wrote this letter to the Ephesians. But God used him to write it. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a mere transcriber for God or that Ephesians is just a recorded dictation of God’s word. This means that God sovereignly guided and used Paul’s thoughts and memories of everything that Jesus said and revealed to him and everything that was written about Jesus in the Old Testament to declare his salvation. This means that God used Paul’s heart and vocabulary and style and personality to craft this letter. This means that this greeting is ultimately God’s greeting. This salutation is ultimately God’s salutation. This is how we can say that the book of Ephesians is the very word of God, even though it was written by a human being named Paul. It is amazing. It is solid. It is the wisdom and plan of God. And it is right in front of us.

So now, let us move on and consider who the ultimate author is. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. To be precise, the word “Jesus” is a name and the word “Christ” is a title. The name of Jesus means “God Saves.” And the title of Christ means “God’s Promised Chosen One.” But why do we need to be saved? And what is the story behind this name? To truly understand who Jesus Christ, we have to see the big picture. To truly understand why we need Jesus Christ, we have to go back to the start.

In the beginning, God made Adam. And God made a relationship with Adam. It was a relationship that was based on a test of love and obedience and worship. If Adam passed the test, he would enter the same holy rest that God entered into after he finished creating everything. If Adam honored God, he would enter into a perfected relationship with God.

But Adam sinned against God. He failed God’s test and disobeyed and rebelled against God. We call this sin. Because of his sin, Adam failed to earn the reward of rest with God. He failed to earn a perfect relationship with God. And instead of earning all of this, Adam earned suffering and death. It was a just punishment for his sin against God. And in Adam, all humans receive suffering and death. We all get it. And we all deserve it because all humans are sinful, just like Adam.

But God out of his love and grace made a promise. He promised that a special person would come one day and do two amazing things for a chosen people. First, this special person would take Adam’s test again. This special person would pass Adam’s test. And this special person would do so on behalf of a chosen people so that they would be able to have what Adam failed to have: eternal life and rest with God. Second, this special person would take the punishment for the sins of a chosen people so that they would not have to pay it themselves. This special person would receive suffering and death. And so for thousands of years, heaven and earth waited for this promise to come true.

And then, one day, in the town of Bethlehem, a baby was miraculously born. A boy, who would grow up to live a perfect and sinless life in obedience to God’s law. A man who was actually the very Son of God. A messiah who would be that second and last Adam. An avenger who would crush the Devil. A payment for sin, a redeemer from death, and a king with an everlasting kingdom.

This special person was Jesus Christ. And in Christ, God’s loving and gracious promise of salvation came true. Those united with Jesus through repentance and faith would share in his reward: holy rest and a perfect relationship with God.

This is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. And it was Jesus’ will to save Paul and use Paul for his service. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….”

It was all God’s will. It was not Paul’s will. This is amazing. When Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus, his will and his plan was to put Christians into prison. But when Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus, God’s will and God’s plan was to rescue Paul out of a greater prison. God is good. And his will, his plan, and his salvation cannot be stopped. Paul had his own dreams and desires and decisions and decrees. He was against Jesus. But Jesus spoke to him. Jesus saved him. And Paul went on the do things that he never imagined doing before Jesus met him on that road to Damascus. It was all God’s will.

Isn’t that the story of our lives as well? I can’t believe that we are all here like this before the Lord. We were not necessarily on a road on our way to persecute Christians. But we were definitely on a road on our way to hell, with no heart or mind to believe in Jesus and bow down to him. But along the way, God came to us. God in eternity chose us to be saved. We may not have hated God like Paul did, but we definitely did not love God as we ought to have. We were sinners. But God’s out of his grace and mercy saved us. It was his will.

Paul was getting at something simple but profound when he said that he was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. His life belonged to God. He didn’t plan to be saved. It was not his will to serve God. But God gave Paul, so to speak, a letter of salvation. A letter that was stamped and sealed by his love and his promise. A letter that was crafted with the body and blood of Jesus Christ. His greeting, his salutation, was “Dear Paul.” And his greeting, his salutation, to us, is “Dear Highland” - words that are so much more than just a simple hello.

End


Summary of Sermon

Today’s Scripture text is a greeting or salutation of a letter.

But it is so much more than just a mere hello. There is so much gospel and theology in it. So much warmth and heart. There are a lot of names and titles in these verses. And a lot of history and glory behind them.

The greeting begins with the author of the letter: Paul. Born into a well-to-do family in Tarsus, Paul was Greek by nationality and language and Jewish by blood and religion. His goal in life was to be a rabbi. And he was well on his way to becoming the next big thing, having belonged to the strict Jewish sect of the Pharisees and having studied under Gamaliel.

But above all Paul was confident in who he was. He believed that he was special. He thought that he was religious. He was proud in his knowledge of the law of God. And he trusted that his own righteousness was good enough to earn eternal life with God (Philippians 3).

Paul therefore hated Jesus Christ. Jesus was not the messiah or savior that he was looking for. And Jesus was an affront to his own self-righteousness. Paul hated Jesus so much that he breathed threats and murder against Christians and dragged them into prison (Acts 7-9).

But the Lord Jesus Christ met Paul as he was on his way to Damascus. Jesus gave Paul repentance and faith. And Jesus called Paul to be his instrument to spread his gospel of salvation to the world (Acts 9). 

What a story! Paul hated Jesus. But Jesus loved Paul. Paul once threw Christians into prison. But after his conversion, Paul wrote this beautiful letter to Christians in Ephesus and throughout the world. God can change anyone.

And God changed Paul and made him… an apostle. An apostle was someone who was a direct witness of Jesus’ resurrection, and someone who was directly sent by him to proclaim it. Paul and the other apostles said everything that needed to be said and wrote down everything that needed to be written down. We have a completed Bible because of them.

Even though the Bible was written by human beings, we can say that the Bible is the very word of God. According to 2 Peter 1:21, God is the ultimate author of Ephesians, not Paul. The Holy Spirit guided Paul’s thoughts and memories and vocabulary and personality for his letter to the Ephesians. This greeting or salutation is therefore ultimately God’s greeting or salutation. This is amazing.

Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. The name of Jesus means “God Saves.” And the title of Christ means “God’s Promised Chosen One.”

In the beginning, God made Adam. And he put him to the test. But Adam sinned against God. As a result, all mankind received suffering and death.

But God out of his love and grace made a promise. He promised that a special person would come one day and do two amazing things for a chosen people. First, this special person would take Adam’s test again and pass it and secure for a chosen people its reward: eternal life and rest with God. Second, this special person would take the punishment for the sins of a chosen people so that they would not have to pay it themselves. This special person was and is and always will be our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus… by the will of God. It was all God’s will. It was not Paul’s will. Paul did not love God first. God loved Paul first. This is amazing.

This is the story of our lives as well. We have repentance and faith because it was God’s will, not ours. God gave to Paul and to us his letter of the gospel of his salvation. And his gospel begins with a greeting or salutation: “Dear Paul” and “Dear Highland” - words that are so much more than a mere hello.

Questions for Discussion & Sharing

What do you think about Paul's conversion? In what ways was his conversion like yours? What was your Damascus?

How does Paul's conversion and the vast difference between his old life and his new life inform your view of our Lord Jesus Christ and his power to change people?

What does the name of Jesus and the title of Christ mean to you?

Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus… by the will of God. We too are saved by the will of God. How does this fact change the way that we understand and appreciate our salvation in Christ?