“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1,2)
The letter begins with a list of intersecting descriptors. There is a description of who Paul is, who the people at Ephesus are, and who Jesus is. One of the themes in the letter is “Identity” so that’s appropriate.
Thomas Merton once said: “First of all, although men have a common destiny, each individual also has to work out his own personal salvation for himself in fear and trembling. We can help one another to find the meaning of life no doubt. But in the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. You cannot tell me who I am and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you?”
Paul is quite aware that the answer to Merton’s question is God. God is, very truly, the “author” of our lives. We are not simply his creation, but we are in his heart. We are closer to God than is imaginable. A mother may look at her baby and discern the traits that the baby has taken from her, physical, -and later on, mental and emotional traits. This must be something of what the Bible means when it says we are created “in the image of God.”
So these descriptors are derived. Paul carefully shows that his identity is “by the will of God,” and that “Grace and peace” are given “from God our Father.”
But Paul’s task, despite Merton’s honest analysis, is to encourage the people of Ephesus to know more fully who they are in Christ. In other places (look at 1 Corinthians) he gently reminds them that they have a responsibility to work things out for themselves, but here he begins with a few broad brushstrokes of who they are. Later, the wonderful truth of identity in Christ is more fully explored.
So who Is Paul? He is an “apostle … by the will of God.” Who is Jesus? He is the “Christ.” Who are the Ephesians? They are “holy people … the faithful… in Christ.”
This is Paul’s gist here: On a need-to-know basis, this is where we start. You need to know that God has sent me to you. I have a mandate to tell you these things.
An “apostle” here means something like “Town Crier,” one who speaks out important news, which derives from an external authority. Paul claims that he speaks with the authority of God.
And in that tone of prophetic proclamation, he begins to outline who these people are. As Shakespeare put it, “We know what we are, but not what we may be.” There’s a disjunction between real and ideal, and it is into that middle place that Paul begins to speak.
He calls them “holy.” Such a strange word, overlaid with a hundred ecclesiastical images, smells and bells and remembrances. And to a first-century Jewish writer, such resonances are not inappropriate. I mean that they were almost certainly in Paul’s mind too. “Holy” spoke of Torah, Temple, Israel.
But Paul looked much deeper, and so must we. To call the Ephesian Christians “holy” was to utilise that very context of thinking and to point to inner reality, and first intention. “Torah” meant the word that God had spoken. Temple meant the place God dwelt. Israel meant the people of God. And these are the ways by which Paul spoke of the church. They were the people of God. They were the presence of God in the earth. They were the word of God lived out, made flesh and dwelling among us.
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor 3).