A Commentary by John Stott
This message of the church as God’s new creation and new community is of particular importance for those of us who call ourselves or are called ‘evangelical’ Christians. For by temperament and tradition we tend to be rugged individualists, and are thought to care little about the church. Indeed, the expressions ‘evangelical’ and ‘low church’ are generally supposed to be synonymous. Yet they should not be. The true evangelical, who derives his theology from the Bible, will be bound to have the very ‘high’ view of the church which the Bible has. Today more than ever we need to catch the biblical vision of the church. In the West the church is in decline, and urgently needs to be renewed. But what form of renewal do we desire? In the communist world the church is always stripped of privilege, often persecuted and sometimes driven underground. Such situations prompt the basic question: what is the church’s essential being, without which it would cease to be the church? Then in several regions in the third world the church is growing rapidly, and in some places the growth is faster even than the population growth rate. But what kind of churches are coming into being and growing? Thus in all three worlds – the free world, the communist world and the third world – we need to be asking radical questions about the church. And Ephesians will supply us with answers. For here is Christ’s own specification of his church, the church for which once he ‘gave himself up’ (5:25), the church ‘which is his body’, and even his ‘fullness’ (1:23).
Much of the message of Ephesians is adumbrated in the apostle’s opening salutation: *Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ* (verse 2). True, this was the customary greeting with which he began all his letters, a Christianized form of the contemporary Hebrew and Greek greetings. Yet we may safely say that nothing from Paul’s pen was ever purely conventional. On the contrary, both these nouns are particularly appropriate at the beginning of Ephesians – ‘grace’ indicating God’s free, saving initiative, and ‘peace’ what he has taken the initiative to do, namely to reconcile sinners to himself and to each other in his new community.
‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ then are key words of Ephesians. In 6:15 the good news is termed ‘the gospel of peace’. In 2:14 it is written that Jesus Christ himself ‘is our peace’, for first he ‘made peace’ by his cross (verse 15) and then he ‘came and preached peace’ to Jews and Gentiles alike (verse 17). Hence his people are to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (4:3). ‘Grace’, on the other hand, indicates both why and how God has taken his reconciling initiative. For ‘grace’ is his free and undeserved mercy. It is ‘by grace’ that we are saved, indeed by ‘the immeasurable riches of his grace’ (2:5, 7, 8), and it is by the same grace that we are gifted for service (4:7; cf. 3:2, 7). So if we want a concise summary of the good news which the whole letter announces, we could not find a better one than the three monosyllables ‘peace through grace’.
Finally, before leaving the introduction to the letter, we must not miss the vital link between the author, the readers and the message. It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. For Paul the author is ‘an apostle *of Christ Jesus*’, the readers are themselves *in Christ Jesus* and the blessing comes to them both from God and our Father and *from…the Lord Jesus Christ*, who are bracketed as the single spring from which grace and peace flow forth. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ dominates Paul’s mind and fills his vision. It seems almost as if he feels compelled to bring Jesus Christ into every sentence he writes, at least at the beginning of this letter. For it is through and in Jesus Christ that God’s new society has come into being.