To my fellow community group leaders of Macedonia. In love I say:
You all have been given to this years journey and I hope in whatever way it has begun I trust you are receiving it as the good and perfect gift that it is. My hope is that a year from now when your group splits from formal gathering that you get the gracious gift of missing them. And I hope that you have been present enough that they will miss you too. Not that the feeling is a good one. But in the fact that everybody has to go at some point we get the objective hope that one day we will all be rejoined in the New City [or maybe sooner]; working, serving and living for God and for one another without flaw forever more.
Ephesians is one of my favorite Epistles. I am not an expert on backgrounds and languages but the time in the school of architecture and Greek in seminary and following has been useful. If for nothing else it has made it clear that some 2,000 years, multiple cultures, and countries removed is no small cliff to jump. The illiteracy rate may not have been as high as 60 or 70 percent but the vast majority would have understood more common language. Ephesian is a letter before a theological treatise. Inspired by God through human hands to common folk who have not had 2000 years of reform to get to where we are today. It makes me tend to think that Paul’s urgency most likely while in prison (awaiting death perhaps) was to explain this Gospel in common language, in word pictures and familiarity that they would be used to. So that they would be together (One Lord, One faith, One Baptism.)
This may be why there are so many building terms used in the Epistle. Assuming it is not simply a coincidence that the terms correlate with the incredible architecture in Ephesus: Temple of Artemis one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to this day, the library, the marble roads, the toilets, and so on. The structures have such significance not only to the Ephesian residents but those who traveled there to visit the greatest of the temples to Artemis in the whole world (Acts 19:27.) They knew great buildings. But Paul tells them about a better building. One made of people joined together so tightly the seams are not seen. It is reasonable to see some benefit to use those masterpieces in Ephesus as pictures to demonstrate that God has a better masterpiece [Eph. 2:10.] One He is able to build and whose measurements use four(?) dimensions [3:18] and whose planned layout is far beyond what we could have asked or thought of.
Rainer begins his lessons giving you as a controlling thought that “membership has its privileges.” Lesson one is settled in chapter 2 where Paul begins to establish (again) that you ‘far off ones’ (Gentiles) and ‘you who are near’ (Jewish) are corporately made into peace in two ways. One, peace with God and two, with peace one another. He concludes that our understanding (which is really a good place to begin the repentance process) it that our membership (or better ‘our citizenship in the church’ and also kingdom citizens) is a gift. If we are honest about sin we learn to accept that we do not just disagree with God in some rhetorical manner, we disagree with God in principle and practice and because of sin we also forget that we disagree.
I mention repentance because if the church is a gift and my membership is a gift then I must admit that because of sin I will disagree with God. Fallen nature is inclined to not see the church and therefore my membership of the church as a gift. I pray that you and your community will embrace first and foremost (before the consumer mentality “what can I get out of the christian club” kicks in,) that our being together IS a gift. I pray you all are keenly aware that every seat filled says to us that God did something. I hope you recognize that every brother or sister that speaks is a child of God. I pray that you walk with a repentitive heart learning more and more to value the gift of being together with God and with one another. Jesus paid a hefty price for us to be together.
Membership indeed has privileges. I think we tend to forget something important about membership. When I finished my degree in engineering or joined a historically African American fraternity or even got a card to Costco I was excited about the benefits because I already knew about the organization. I knew what it took for them to make the program, how old it is, how it began, the sweat and tears of sustaining it. I knew what I was getting. Our value is immediately elevated because we are acquainted with the history of it. The rest of the value is predicated in us: we value an organization because we achieved our membership. With the the kingdom of God everything is reversed and 2 key points help us approach this issue of membership properly.
- We do not get in the kingdom by our record or accomplishments or even our capability. In fact we get in by admittance that those accomplishments [with respect to my identity, my personhood] mean nothing. They did not give me identity and it is my fault for asking them to do something they never could nor asked to. It is not our accomplishments that get us in, it is Jesus fulfillment that does. It is truly a gift because I did not earn this membership.
- We do not get in the kingdom by historically knowing the kingdom. I have become a member of something that I did not necessarily want to be a part of. And with each passing day I am learning just how much I did not know about it [and thus myself.] Where I join other organizations based on its value, in the kingdom I am called into it and learning to value it more [while admitting that I do not value it enough.]
The second point above especially makes chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to common folks just trying to understand what it means to follow Jesus crucial. We are learning the history (and the present and future) of just how important the Church and the Kingdom of God is. My prayer is for just a few moments you may be able to put your bents down and reread Chapter 1 of Ephesians trusting that the Author is present with you. With respect Rainer’s membership context we would find:
- That those who are members are declared to be called [the church, Ekklesia: called into assembly]; holy (set apart for a purpose) and faithful (trusting in Jesus) ones. This is especially encouraging because it reminds me of something that often I feel like I fail miserably at being and also exhorting because it reminds me to get up and keep moving when I am acting as something I am not any more. [Eph. 1:1-2]
- That Paul in a somewhat hymnic form with three verses and one chorus (“to the praise of His glory”) gives utter praise where this membership has come from and set among the heavenly ones:
- The Father planning the redemption of Mankind to the praise of His glory [Eph. 1:3-6]
- The Son who provided redemption by His own [sacrificial] blood. To the praise of His Glory [Eph. 1:7-12]
- The Holy Spirit who protects redemption; the inheritance until the day. To the praise of his Glory [ 1:13-14]
- You get it. That we understand what we are members of. With all wisdom and insight to know that this membership process began well before creation was created, well before you begin to think about your own disobedience, well before you noticed that the kingdom must affect how you see [and not ignore] everything else. He called before we asked or even wanted to be called. He called with power, the same power that raised Jesus from the grave. That power is in Jesus and Jesus is in control of everything [every part of creation and the church] in every way. [Eph. 1:15-23]
I believe it was first American Express got it right when they made the slogan ‘membership has its privileges.’ This organization; this organism rather, made up of born Jews and Gentiles trusting in Jesus is more privileged. This membership which gives admittance solely because they trust in the One who reigns over creation and inaugurated that reign through His own death on a cross. It is a better history, its value is eternally significant, its glory [reputation] cannot be duplicated. We learn to become more grateful the more we reach back and forward from the cross.
This membership is not Costco. Why do they close so early? And why is everything in colossal super-bulk? I like the bulk items in some cases but in others it is a chance I will not use it all and it spoils. We are members of a Church where whatever is given is sufficient for us and most likely good enough for the comfort of others. We have treasures that should neither rust nor rot We are a part of the body, the fullness of Jesus who fills in everything in every way.