Hey, Ephesians, long time no see

A few weeks ago a passage in Ephesians leaped off the page at me. It’s the stretch in chapter 4 where Jesus gives the global church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers so they can equip the saints for the work of service, and from there the Body builds itself up in love, with life flowing from Christ and with the Body growing to eventually match the head. A beautiful passage, and a strategically important one for me right now. I’m sitting in that passage in particular, praying with it, dreaming around it, and executing much of what I do in light of it.

I’ve also decided to take a few months and study Ephesians in depth. I have always loved this letter, but I’ve been leaving it alone for the past several years. The group I was with in Nashville studied Ephesians together for about 35yrs (well, maybe 2), and though it was good, it wore me out a bit. But it’s been long enough now, apparently, and I am seeing things this time through that lead me to believe my last pass may have overemphasized a few things to the exclusion of some others. As I go along, I’ll be posting bits – not my whole study, but bits and pieces that are germane to something like a blog.

This time I thought I’d tell you how I got started. These letters were originally read aloud. They are written with that in mind, so a good way to get a feel for the overall rhythm and structure of a letter is to read it out loud. Another practice, one I use a lot, is the fly-over. I leave my Bible open somewhere and as I pass by throughout the day I glance down and look at few places on the two open pages I can see. Or I’ll flip the page back and forth a few times and look for points where I can see the argument being tied together. This takes patience, and you usually have to do this for a period of days before all the significant patterns emerge. Using this method I came across three things of interest to me today.

The first thing is the basic layout of the letter. I grew up being told that the first half of Paul’s letters are often theology and the second half ethics. At least with this letter, that kind of approach doesn’t do justice to the genius. The first half repeatedly insists that there is a Story afoot, it’s God’s story, and we have found ourselves in it. And it insists that it is being in the Story that totally defines us now. By telling and re-telling that story in the first three chapters Paul tells us what God is up to, how Jesus fits into that, how we fit into that, and who we are as a consequence of that. From there, the second half of the letter is given to teaching us how to walk out what we are – how to live in the Story.

The second thing I saw was the looping Story-arcs. Four times Paul tells basically the same Story, focusing on one thing here, on another there. But, taken together, we get a thorough picture that I’m not sure we could have gotten another way. We are ready, by the time he’s done, to learn how to live in that Story. More on that later, maybe.

The third thing is cool. Twice in the space he uses to tell those four versions of the Story, he pauses to pray, and to tell his audience what he prays. When you examine the prayers, you see that Paul appears to be telling the Story, and then pausing in the realization that unless God helps them see it – deep in their bones see it – they won’t understand or be able to mobilize the Story inside them. So Paul prays specifically for God to do what they cannot do for themselves, but he prays it as a support measure to the telling of the Story. One layer of Story, seal it with prayer. Awesome.

Tomorrow I will sit down into the four arcs. I’ll let you know what I see.


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