|Ephesians 1:1-2. Introduction to the letter.
The letter to the Ephesians is a marvelously concise, yet comprehensive, summary of the Christian good news and its implications. Nobody can read it without being moved by to wonder and worship, and challenged to consistency of life.
It was John Calvin’s favourite letter. Armitage Robinson called it ‘the crown of St Paul’s writings’. William Barclay quotes Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s assessment of it as ‘the divinest composition of man’ and adds his own dictum that it is ‘the Queen of the epistles’.
Many readers have been brought to faith and stirred to good works by its message. One such was John Mackay, former President of Princeton Theological Seminary. ‘To this book I owe my life’, he wrote. He went on to explain how in July 1903 as a lad of fourteen he experienced through reading Ephesians a ‘boyish rapture in the Highland hills’ and made ‘a passionate protestation to Jesus Christ among the rocks in the starlight’. Here is his own account of what happened to him: ‘I saw a new world… Everything was new… I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the centre of everything…I had been ‘quickened’; I was really alive.’
John Mackay never lost his fascination for Ephesians. So, when invited to deliver the Croall Lectures in Edinburgh University in January 1948, he close Ephesians as his topic. He wanted to anticipate the formation of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam later the same year. The theme of its inaugural assembly (subsequently modified) was to have been ‘The order of God and the disorder of man’. So he entitled his lectures *God’s Order*. In them he referred to Ephesians as the ‘greatest’, the ‘maturest’ and ‘for our time the most relevant’ of all Paul’s works. For here is ‘the distilled essence of the Christian religion, the most authoritative and most consummate compendium of our holy Christian faith’. Again, ‘this letter is pure music… What we read here is truth that sings, doctrine set to music’. As the apostle proclaimed God’s order to the post-Augustan Roman era which was marked by ‘a process of social disintegration’, so Ephesians is today ‘the most contemporary book of the Bible’, since it promises community in a world of disunity, reconciliation in place of alienation and peace instead of war. Dr. Mackay’s enthusiasm for the letter raises our expectation to a high point as we begin our study of it.
*Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the Saints who are (at Ephesus and) also faithful in Christ Jesus.2). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.*
Three introductory matters confront us as we read these two opening verses of the letter. They concern its author, its recipients and its message.