Hello, hello!

In the salutation…

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1-2)

Paul opens his letter to the Ephesians with a warm greeting offered twice-over.  In this salutation, Paul presents the dual source of his apostolic authority, a dual designation of believers, offers a dual blessing to those believers, and points them to the dual source of their blessing.

…Paul establishes his authority…

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God…

Paul comes out of the gate by identifying himself as an “apostle” (apostolos) or, “one sent forth with orders.”  Those orders, as put forth in the scriptures, are as follows:

  1. To preach the gospel (I Corintians 1:17)
  2. To teach and pray (Acts 6:4)
  3. To work miracles (I Corinthians 12:12)
  4. To build up other leaders within the Church (Acts 14:23)
  5. To write the Word of God (see…Ephesians 1:1 and others)

The office Paul is claiming is an exclusive one, and it uniquely positions him to offer guidance and direction in the things of Christ.  This title, “apostle,” has only been rightly applied, in the way that Paul uses it here, to 14 men in all of human history.  Apart from the original 12 and Matthias, who replaced the fallen Judas (Acts 1:26), Paul is the only other man who could claim apostolic authority, having fully met the requirements for that office.  Paul’s identification with this exclusive office indicates that he sees himself as possessing the very same level of God-given authority as those who participated in Jesus’ earthly ministry and were later sent forth by Him with orders to perform the duties listed above.   Yet when Paul identifies himself as an apostle, he is not doing so in an effort to elevate himself above other believers.  He is still acutely aware of who he is and where he came from. (Paul repeatedly refers to himself as the chief of sinners: 1 Timothy 1:13,15; as the bond-servant of Christ: Romans 1:1)  To the contrary, Paul’s use of the title is born of humility in the understanding of God’s sovereignty and grace in using even one such as him.  Paul identifies himself as an apostle in the salutation of each of his letters save only Phillipians and the letters to the Thessalonians.

After setting forth his position of authority, Paul goes on to show that the authority isn’t inherent in title, but flows from the dual source of that title.  He is not just any apostle, but an “apostle of Christ Jesus.” Paul has the authority to speak as he does because he was sent by Christ to do so.  He is a man sent forth by The Risen Lord, with orders to spread the gospel, particularly to the gentiles (Galatians 2:7).  Acts 9:1-8 records Paul’s experience with Jesus on the Damascus road and is a dramatic object lesson in the sovereignty of God in administering His grace.

Secondly, Paul says that he is an apostle of Christ “by the will of God.”  In Acts 22:14ff, Paul tells of his conversation with Ananias after reaching Damascus.  In addition to giving Paul his “orders,” Ananias says the following: “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and hear Him speak.  You are to take His message everywhere, telling the whole world what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:14-15).  So we see that it was the message of Christ that Paul was carrying (hence “apostle of Christ Jesus”) but it was by the will of the Father that Paul would carry that message.

In addition to Paul’s justification of his own apostleship, perhaps the strongest testament to his recognition as such comes from Peter, who in 2 Peter 3:15-16 not only refers to Paul as “our beloved brother,” but also speaks of Paul’s writings, apparently ascribing to them an authority on par with “…the rest of the Scriptures…” (v.16).

…designates his audience…

…to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus…

Make no mistake, Paul is writing to the Church (big “C”).  This is not a letter directed at unbelievers.  This is a fact that is very important to bear in mind while reading this letter.  When Paul refers to “us” or “we” or “you” in this book, he is making specific and exclusive reference to those who are in Christ.  And there is good reason to believe that the letter was intended for more than just the believers at Ephesus.  On the contrary, most scholars agree that Ephesians was intended as an “encyclical” letter, meaning that it was intended to be shared first with the church at Ephesus, but then to be circulated through all of the churches in Asia.  This theory is based on the fact that the phrase “who are at Ephesus” is not found in many of the earliest manuscripts and because there is no mention of a local situation or individual believer.

Just as Paul sees fit to cite a dual source for his authority, so also he uses a dual designation for believers.  They are “saints” and they are “faithful.”

The word, “saint” (hagios) carries the idea of holiness or of being set apart unto God.  In fact, the word is actually translated “holy” 161 times in the King James Bible.  Paul uses it here to reference our designation according to divine perspective —  that we have been set apart from the world and unto God.  It is unfortunately all too easy to forget that believers are to be “set apart” and “holy” unto God.  While holiness is not a condition of salvation, which only comes by grace through faith (Ephesians 3:8-9), it is the natural outward expression of salvation through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.  There is no such thing as an “unconverted Christian” and the rebirth of a person will necessarily be characterized by a change of nature and a progressive conformation to the image of Christ (sanctification).  2 Corinthians 5:17 makes it clear that the man who is “in Christ” is a “new creation.”  “The old has passed away.”  If this is true (and it is), it will be evident in the life of the believer.

Secondly, Paul refers to the believers as “faithful,” offering a nod to our designation from a human perspective.  Believers are not only “holy” in the sense of being set apart unto God, but they are also to be trusting and trustworthy in Christ.  The word used here (pistos) bears more than the mere notion of believing, confiding, and trusting  in Christ.  It is also used to describe those who can be trusted in their dealings with others in such things as business transactions or the carrying out of orders.  In a sense, one could say that referring to believers as “faithful” is akin to saying that they can be “trusted to trust Christ.”  Which ought to beg the question, “can I be trusted to trust Christ?”

…blesses them…

Grace to you and peace…

This is a common greeting of the time and yet don’t make the mistake of viewing it as an antiquated “how you doin’?”  There is depth and meaning to be found even here, as Paul follows his pattern of duality in offering a double blessing to believers.

You have probably heard it said that “grace” (charis) is God’s “unmerited favor.”  And while this is true, there’s more to it than one might understand from just those two words.  I want you to understand that if it is unmerited, then it is up to God to choose it’s object.  Take a second and read that last line again because it is extremely important to a proper understanding of grace in the biblical sense.  God actively purposed and chose to show you a favor beyond description in it’s depth, and beyond your ability to earn.  The reality of that truth should bring about profound humility in the realization that God favors us for no other reason than because He wants to.

God doesn’t love you because He has to.  Because that’s His job.  God loves you and shows you favor because He wants to.  It brings Him joy to do so.

I don’t know how to properly communicate the depth of that truth and what it means for us.  Suffice it to say that unmerited favor can only be given by an act of affection, born of desire.  Whereas earned favor can be given grudgingly, offered as the just wage due the earner, grace never can, for if it is earned it is not grace at all.  God is under no obligation and grace is a gift in the truest sense.  So grace is not just God’s unmerted favor.  It is God’s unmerited favor on those to whom He chooses to offer it.  While it may be a minor distinction, the implications are profound.

The word, ‘grace,’ is used 156 times in the New Testament to refer to the favor of God on His chosen vessels which results in salvation and, beyond that, keeps, strengthens, and increases them in Christian faith, knowledge and affection, and kindles them to the exercise of spiritual virtue.  Further, it is this very grace which results in the second blessing offered by Paul, that of peace.

Strong’s beautifully describes “peace” (eirene) as:

…the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.

Peace, as Paul uses it here, is not dependent on circumstance or exterior factors.  It is solely tied up in the believer’s understanding of his position in Christ and the irrevocable security of that position for all of eternity.

To greet a Christian brother or sister with a wish of “grace and peace” is much more than a mere “how are you?”  It is a recognition and acknowledgement of the divine tie that binds us together in love and brotherhood.

…and points them to the source of all blessing and authority.

…from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The dual source of the blessing is the same as that of Paul’s authority and is not two separate and distinct sources but rather two manifestations of the same source as indicated by the connective “kai” (and) which can indicate equivalence.  In this case, Jesus is held to equal position and divinity with the Father as the source of the authority and the blessing.

The beginning and the end.

The Alpha and Omega.

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4 responses to “Hello, hello!

  • angelogonzalez

    Like it man. What do you say about the title of apostle as stated in Ephesians 4? You mentioned that only 14 men have been rightly titled apostle. Do you make a distinction between the, for lack of a better term, “founding apostles” and other “apostles” or do you think that there are no other apostles? Just wondering, good stuff man.

    • assuranceagent

      Hey, Angelo. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you’ll stick around and contribute your thoughts as things go on…

      As to your question, I would hold to the latter. Namely, that there are no more apostles after Paul (in the sense in which the word is used of him).

      Allow me to elaborate. The word “apostle,” in it’s most basic sense, is simply as set forth in the text of the post: one sent forth with orders. In that sense, the word is used of a number of others, in a more general way, such as Barnabas (Acts 14:4), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6), and a few others (I can provide those references if you are interested). In this more general use of the term, those who are referred to in this way called “messengers of the churches” (2 Cor. 8:23), whereas the fourteen were “apostles of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1, etc.).

      In this latter sense, the use of the term “apostle” to signify a specific office within the Church, it is only used to refer to the fourteen mentioned in the text of the post, and is qualified in having been chosen directly by Christ, and having witnessed the resurrected Lord. (Mark 3:13, Acts 1:22-24). It is in this sense of the word that we find the New Testament test of “apostolicity” applied to the determination of the canon.

      In other words, while in the more general sense, one could see some level of apostleship in all believers under the great commission, “The Apostles” bore a special, Christ-given authority and a revelation that went beyond that of those covered by the more general use of that word.

      With that said, neither group was self-perpetuating and the word “apostle” is not used in the book of Acts after 16:4. Nor is there any record in the New Testament of any apostolic succession at the death of a particular apostle.

      The office of apostle was instituted to lay the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20), receive and declare the revelation of God’s Word (Acts 11:28, 21:10-11, Eph 3:5, etc) and to perform miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12, etc). I believe the office of apostle ceased at the completion of the New Testament as it is no longer possible to satisfy the pre-requisites of that office. While there is no mention of the offices of “pastor and teacher” replacing those of “apostles and prophets” (as outlined in the succession in 1 Cor.), I believe that the former DID ‘pick up the baton’ as it were, from the latter and continued to build on the foundation they laid. The lack of any such mention is attributed, I believe, to the fact that all offices were active in the Church at the time of the NT writings.

      So that’s my take. And after thinking about it as I scribbled it down here, I’m not sure if it matches your first or your second option better. I think it’s a little of both. I believe that the office of apostle is one that ceased with the completion of the New Testament (or, to be more specific, that Paul was the last apostle in the official sense). But I recognize a more general use of the term within the scriptures as well.

      My apologies in advance if this is jumbled. I’ll admit to not taking the time to organize my thoughts before I just started pounding on the keyboard with ham-fisted enthusiasm. If something needs clarification, let me know. 😉

  • angelogonzalez

    I agree with Alan Hirsch when he says that apostles and prophets are still valid offices as put forth by Scripture, although not in a big “A” Apostle like authority (writing Scripture, etc.). Read this article by him and tell me your thoughts.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2008/spring/7.32.html

  • Brian Yakov Sallee

    I realize that I am hellalate on this, but the whole apostolic succession caught my eye and felt my need to comment irresistible. On the whole idea of apostolic succession though, not expressly written about in this article, it would seem that Paul had the idea (and the original 12 [11?]) to have these students that would in turn lay the foundations of the church for the coming generations. Not moving from Christ, but rather to refocus upon Christ- I can think of no other reason for there to be people such as Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, John Mark and in the case of John; Polycarp without the goal of having them continue the faith and/or tradition. (tradition being used in the sense of keeping the original intent of the church as a body alive)

    The way I see it at the very least is much in how the way I view you both. You guys both invested time in myself, a lot of your view I have either held or still do hold and my faith has only grown deeper because of the teaching and the edification offered. As a student, my job is not to hold on to what little knowledge I do have (admittedly rather insignificant) but to relay the teachings and re-lay the foundations- that are rooted in Christ- that I was given for the present and coming generations. (however, while using myself as an example, I do not perceive myself to be an apostle [in the literal office sense])

    Though not canon, writers from the church fathers through even today by the likes of John Piper or have written things that are meant to edify, rebuke, and teach the church universally and not just a specific group. Such as the original intent with Paul’s letters. Though while not canon (speaking of contemporary writers) they are indeed re-laying the foundations upon which our faith is built upon (again, not diverting the focus of the gospel, but rather refocusing us upon it).

    There’s more of a case for apostolic succession than we often give credit for, but along with the idea of apostolic succession, the entire idea of being granted special powers ought to be thrown out the window and/or burnt at the stake (joke). Just to throw the entire mix of culture into the conversation, this was the practice of Rabbis in regards to their students. This is exactly why when asked by who’s authority do you teach and Jesus replies with “Oh, its all good, I’m just God, nbd” the pharisees nearly crapped bricks. This tradition allowed the student to draw a lineage of his teachers theological, philosophical, and intellectual roots. Much as it ought to be the same for us in lieu of sitting in a musty classroom learning about biblical hermeneutics (yes, I took a course in it).

    I prefer to look at the saints and apostles this way- it is by their blood and dedication that we have the Christian faith, and though Christ is the head, it is on their shoulders that we stand, able to talk about such things.

    I hope this all makes sense, I’m kinda tired and waiting for Mr. Sandman to carry me off into the night. if clarification is needed/wanted and I don’t reply right away hit me up on FB and I’ll get to it as soon as possible.

    Brian

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