What does it mean to be the Church? The New Testament word for “church” literally means, “Called out.” Join us as we explore what it means to be “called out” by God in our upcoming All Church Study on the Book of Ephesians. Our six-week study entitled “Called Out,” will begin on August 4th and conclude on September 14th. Most of our current classes and small groups will be doing this study together. We also have new groups forming for this study as well. Sign up below!
Week 3: Called Out in Wisdom
So far in Ephesians, Paul has given us a picture of the Church – the “called out” ones – who are united, filled, and exploring the riches of God. The Church performs a crucial function: to reveal the wisdom of God to powers and authorities. The Church is the embodiment of a new humanity, in which Jew and Gentile are participants together. This is a living testimony to unite all things in Christ (1:10). The union of Jew and Gentile in the Church is the first installment of the reunification of the cosmos, the reconciliation of all things. Here, the Church’s existence is bearing witness to the powers that contribute to the disunity and brokenness in the universe.
Week 3 – Discussion Question 1: When have you seen a picture of God’s Kingdom-values in the Church? What did it look like? What specific message does that picture send to the powers that contribute to disunity and brokenness in the world?
Week 3 – Discussion Question 3: Why do you think God would want God’s wisdom made known to the rulers and authorities?
God’s wisdom is shown in and through the united body of Christ, the Church. The embodiment of a new humanity is a demonstration to the world of the work God is doing to reconcile humanity to one another and to God’s self. It takes the whole people of God to understand and convey the whole love of God, all the saints together – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, all ethnicities – with all their varied backgrounds and experiences.
Week 3 – Discussion Question 5: What is your attitude toward the Church of Jesus Christ, and how might that attitude grow or change?
Week 2: Called Out in Unity
It is not hard to look at the world around us and see evidence of brokenness and division. Hostility between humans has been a reality of our civilization since Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4). The Bible speaks of alienation from God and from one another. And nothing is more dehumanizing than the breakdown of human relationships. It is against this backdrop that Paul writes Ephesians 2. He begins with a pessimistic reflection about humankind and then rises to the heights of optimism about God. Paul paints a vivid picture of what humanity is by nature and what it can become by grace. This “new humanity” is personified in the Church.
Week 2 – Discussion Question 1: When have you sought to be a part of a new group (e.g., a new country, a new circle of co-workers, a new group of friends at school)? Describe your experience. What did you learn from that experience?
Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Paul is not giving us a portrait of some particularly decadent tribe or degraded segment of society, or even of the extremely corrupt paganism of his own day. Instead, this is the biblical diagnosis of fallen humanity in fallen society everywhere. True, Paul begins with an emphatic you, meaning his Gentile readers, but then he goes on to write (v. 3) that “all of us once lived” in the same way (meaning himself and his fellow Jews), and he concludes verse 3 with a reference to “everyone else” in humankind. This is Paul’s assessment of everyone without God, of the universal human condition. Then comes a turn… “But God” (verse 4), heralding this gracious initiative and action of God. We were the objects of God’s wrath, but Godout of his great love had mercy on us. We were dead, but Godmade us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a position of dishonor and powerlessness, but Godraised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand, in a position of honor and power. Thus God has taken action to redeem our condition in sin. It is essential to hold both of these parts together: what we are by our own nature and what we are by God’s grace.
Week 2 – Discussion Question 2: Based on what you’ve seen in this passage, how would you explain what salvation is?
Week 2 – Discussion Question 3: Why does Paul work so hard to make it crystal clear that salvation is by God’s grace, not by our works or any human effort?
Read Ephesians 2:11-22. It would be hard to exaggerate the grandeur of this vision of the new humanity that God has brought into being. But when we turn from the ideal portrayed in Scripture to the concrete realities experienced in the Church today, it is a very different and sometimes a very tragic story. For even in the Church there is often alienation, disunity and discord. Now Christians build new barriers in place the old ones that Christ demolished. Racism, class systems, personal animosities engineered by pride, prejudice, jealousy, and an unforgiving spirit are all frequent threats to the unity of the Church.
Week 2 – Discussion Question 4: Think about this spiritual building that is being constructed. Why is Jesus considered the chief cornerstone of this building? What does it mean that the apostles and prophets are the foundation?
Week 2 – Discussion Question 5: How does understanding that salvation comes through God alone, and not through any human act, affect how and why we work for the unity of the Church?
The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians is a letter of both depth and beauty. No one
can emerge from a careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with an
individualistic gospel, because Ephesians is the gospel of the Church. It sets
forth God’s eternal purpose to create a new society (a new humanity) through
Jesus Christ that stands out sharply against the background of the old world. The
Church is God’s vision of a renewed humanity in a renewed community. The
Church heralds a new reality, based on God’s love.
In Ephesians, Paul uses the word ekklesia nine times. This word is often
translated as “Church.” It is understood as the universal Church – the Church in
its entirety. But the Greek word literally means “called out,” referring to those who
are called out to be a follower of the Way. The Church are the “called out” ones,
who are chosen to be part of a new reality – a new community, where we are all
part of God’s household.
The Letter to the Ephesians was written by Paul of Tarsus and was intended to
be a circular letter. This meant that it was intended to be read by multiple
churches, not just the community at Ephesus. This letter was known and
considered authoritative very early in the development of Christianity. It was likely
written in the mid-first century. Scholars are mixed on the likely purpose for the
writing of Ephesians, but since no specific problem within the church is
mentioned in the letter, it is likely that it was written for the purpose of identity
formation. Paul is urging the Ephesians to adopt an identity of a new society that
accurately reflects who we are, and who we are becoming, in Christ Jesus.
One final note, whenever the word “Church” appears in uppercase, it is referring
to the universal Church – the singular body of Christ comprised of all Christians
in all places. When the word “church” is employed with a lowercase, it is referring
to a specific community of believers in a single place or location.
May God’s grace and peace be with you as you study the Letter to the